Michael Ainsworth: Music promoter on why he loves Yorkshire's 'moody skies and glorious views'

Michael Ainsworth is a bar and venue owner in Halifax. A lifelong music promoter, he set up the Halifax Music Heritage Trail, founded the first grassroots music festival in the town and co-founded the Halifax Festival of Words.

What’s your first Yorkshire memory?

My family (on my mum’s side) are from Keighley and going to see various relatives was a regular thing. I particularly remember going every Boxing Day to a family gathering at a farm on the hills above the town and on arrival walking through a very muddy farmyard, with the sound and noise of cows nearby to be met by a proper friendly welcome, sheep dogs, open fire and all.

What’s your favourite part of the county and why?

Pictured owner Michael Ainsworth in the smallest live venue in the UK, The Grayston Unity in Halifax.Pictured owner Michael Ainsworth in the smallest live venue in the UK, The Grayston Unity in Halifax.
Pictured owner Michael Ainsworth in the smallest live venue in the UK, The Grayston Unity in Halifax.

Yorkshire has so many wonderful parts but I’ve always loved the Calder Valley where I live. A short walk or drive and you can be in amongst the hills and valleys, with dark moody skies and glorious views, something you don’t get living in a city, but equally, the cultural and historical towns of the valley are equally are just as close.

What’s your idea of a perfect day out in Yorkshire?

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I’d start with breakfast with my wife Jess at the Temperance Movement cafe in Halifax, perhaps pop into the Book Corner in the Piece Hall before travelling over to Huddersfield to see Town play, something I’ve done regularly since 1979, it makes no sense but a win helps makes a Saturday evening, so calling back for a pint at The Big 6 before seeing a gig at our venue would be a pretty perfect day.

Do you have a favourite walk, or view?

Piece Hall, Halifax, West Yorkshire.Piece Hall, Halifax, West Yorkshire.
Piece Hall, Halifax, West Yorkshire.

Leaving my home I’d walk to steep hill to Beacon Hill that overlooks Halifax and where in days gone by the gallows pole was positioned. From there a careful walk down medieval Magna Via before making my way to the wonderful Shibden Mill Inn for a pint before heading back up hill to make my way home.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star would you like to take for dinner, and why?

I’ve never been a star struck person but I reckon having a beer with Hull’s Mick Ronson would be a fun experience, listening to stories of his life working with surely one of the most creative musicians ever, David Bowie.

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If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what or where would it be?

It’s not really hidden but over the years the Yorkshire Sculpture Park estate has opened up so you can walk different routes around this beautiful place and then of course there’s the static and ever changing sculptures culture, art and nature combined and I find myself drawn to return at least a couple of times a year.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

I have travelled throughout the country and overseas and undoubtedly we do things differently here, we always have and always will. We’re industrious, political, never backward at coming forward and always spirited and aware of our identity in a way that other parts of the country just don’t have. Going back to people like Benjamin Rushton who fought for the right to vote back in the 19th Century, our county’s history is full of those who have stood up for what’s right, regardless of the challenges faced.

If you could own, or have access to, one thing in Yorkshire for a single day, what would it be?

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I am going into fantasy land. I’d have the Piece Hall in Halifax for the day and put on a day of live music starting off with Dilettante followed by Lisa O’Neill, The National, Joanna Newsome, Nick Cave, Little Sims and Young Fathers. It’d be free to attend but everyone who came would have to donate to support the grassroots venues of the Calder Valley, or Calderfornia as we call it.

Do you follow sport in the county?

I’ve been a Huddersfield Town supporter for many years and as such it’s been a cause of great happiness and disappointment. I used to go with my dad till he passed and then my mum took his season ticket till she too died. Years on I still miss them both as much as ever and being a lifelong socialist football was always a point of neutrality if we didn’t agree on other things.

How do you immerse yourself in Yorkshire’s cultural life?

Without setting out to do so I’ve ended up dedicating most of my adult life to trying (in however small a way) to try improve the cultural life of my town of Halifax, mainly through gig promoting or celebrating/remembering the town’s heritage. Aged 18 in 1985 I gave up a job opportunity to manage a band and that started me off in a life of promoting gigs which lead to a love and passion for the cultural life of the town. It has always had great things going on but it has done so quietly and without fuss, it’s only recently that a spotlight has been shone on it but its place in limelight is deserved and is founded on the cultural hotbed that it is.

Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub?

I’d have to say Gimbals private dining in Sowerby Bridge. Wonderful food without pretension and served in a lovely setting by people who care about what they produce and serve.

Do you ever find yourself ‘selling’ Yorkshire to others?

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To be honest we regularly get visitors coming into the bars from outside Yorkshire and we really don’t need to sell it. A warm welcome is something we perhaps take for granted but we don’t employ anyone who can’t give at least that.

How do you think Yorkshire has changed, for better or worse, in the time you’ve known it?

It’s definitely changed and from my memories of childhood and growing up in a North hit by industrial decline it has done so for the better. It’s more tolerant, more diverse and more multi-cultural than in the past.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

I’m not sure it has to be honest, well not directly anyway. Perhaps in its makeup and the nature of its people it has subconsciously, I’m spirited, don’t suffer fools gladly and can be stubborn, is that due to being a Yorkshireman? Who knows?

Name your favourite Yorkshire author/artist/performer

For his originality, uniqueness and style it has to be Jarvis Cocker.

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