25th anniversaries for The Marsden Jazz Festival and Kirklees Light Railway

PUBLISHED: 10:19 07 October 2016 | UPDATED: 10:19 07 October 2016

Nicola Wilcock from the Kirklees Light Railway at Clayton West

Nicola Wilcock from the Kirklees Light Railway at Clayton West

Joan Russell Photography

There are two birthday parties coming down the tracks this month as a pair of Kirklees institutions celebrate their silver anniversaries.

Barney Stevenson, organiser of the Marsden Jazz Festival with children Connie and ScarletteBarney Stevenson, organiser of the Marsden Jazz Festival with children Connie and Scarlette

It’s celebration time this month as two Kirklees institutions mark their 25th birthday. The Marsden Jazz Festival and Kirklees Light Railway will both celebrate their silver anniversaries but both popular attractions could have turned out very differently.

The creator of the railway considered laying the track elsewhere and the founder of the jazz festival could have chosen any other genre.

‘It could have been anything,’ said Barney Stevenson, who has produced the festival for the last three years. ‘The festival was founded at the same time as the Mechanics Hall was re-opened following massive renovation having been saved from demolition. One of the people very much involved in the campaign to save the hall was Mike Lucas. He wanted to establish a festival to make use of the building and to help regenerate Marsden – with the mill winding down, things around here were getting a bit depressing at the time.

‘He looked for a gap in the market and saw that Huddersfield had a contemporary music festival, Holmfirth had a folk festival, but no-one locally had a jazz festival. We could have ended up with any kind of festival but he spotted an opportunity.’

Operations Assistan Chris Rogers with some of the Kirklees Light Railway engines. All but one was built on-siteOperations Assistan Chris Rogers with some of the Kirklees Light Railway engines. All but one was built on-site

The festival has grown each year and this year 107 events will be held at 25 venues around the village – most of them free to attend – from October 7-9. Among the highlights of the eclectic and varied three day festival will be performances by established names such as Paul Jones who used to be with Manfred Mann and Digby Fairweather who played at the first festival back in 1991.

‘This year’s will be the biggest festival we have ever had,’ added Barney, who moved to Marsden in 2005. ‘We’ll have an amazing range of music, from traditional jazz to more experimental, progressive stuff. We’ll have a 20 piece hip hop big band, family friendly events, late night events and lots of outdoor events.

‘The street parade is always a highlight and this year we’ll have three bands – a Balkan band, a Bangra band and a traditional New Orleans jazz band – all parading at the same time from different parts of the village. The community create their own instruments and we encourage other musicians from the festival to get involved.

‘It’s a big scale event, the biggest in England outside London in terms of the number of events and that’s quite an achievement for a village with a population of 4,500.

Marsden Jazz Festival attracts performers of all agesMarsden Jazz Festival attracts performers of all ages

‘When Mike set up the festival, his motivation was very much how a festival would benefit Marsden and the local community. The place has changed in the time I have been here, there are more places to eat and drink, but there’s still a lovely village feel. Marsden is now becoming a destination as people come here for the festival and see how lovely it is. I know people who have moved here after visiting for the festival. It’s impossible to say how much of that change is down to the festival but that’s what it aimed to do and I’m sure it has played a role.’

And while the first notes were drifting out of Marsden’s pubs and clubs, a few miles away at Clayton West a different rhythm was building up a head of steam. The first passenger trains chuff-chuffed along the 15-inch gauge Kirklees Light Railway on October 19th, 1991. Those initial journeys didn’t go far, but the line was extended in stages and by May 1997 trains were puffing along from Clayton West to Shelley.

The railway’s marketing manager Nicola Wilcock, who started work there while she was studying event management at Huddersfield University, said: ‘The line used to be a standard gauge line, the Clayton West branch line which joined the Penistone line at Sherry but that closed in the early 1980s.

‘Our previous owner Brian Taylor was looking to build a narrow gauge railway. He had three different sites he was looking at and found this was the best. He laid track from Clayton West to Cuckoo’s Nest and he built our first steam locomotive, Fox.’

All but one of the lie’s engines was built in-house and most of them will be in steam for the anniversary celebrations on the weekend of October 15th-16th.

‘Fox is being overhauled at the moment and although I had hoped it would be ready for the anniversary weekend, there is still quite a way to go but I hoping that will be on display,’ added Nicola. ‘We will have trains running from 10am to 4pm with trains every half hour. We’ll have photo displays showing the development over the years and children will be able to travel at 1991 prices; £1.’

And while they celebrate their first 25 years, Nicola and her colleagues are planning for the future as well. Work is underway to extend the tearoom at Shelley station and there are plans for developments along the line too, particularly at Clayton West.

Five reasons to visit Huddersfield

* This Might Hurt, a new comedy by John Godber, will be at the Laurence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield from October 13-15 before moving off to York Theatre Royal from October 27-29.

* Huddersfield Art Society’s annual exhibition is at the Art Gallery on Princess Alexandra Walk until October 22.

* Although Colne Valley Museum remains closed while renovations are completed, they will have a presence at Pudsey Lace Fair on October 22. The museum, at Golcar, nominated a handloom and a par of clogs for our History of Yorkshire in 70 Objects series.

* Huddersfield Town FC will hold their annual firework show on Sunday October 23 at their training ground, PPG Canalside.

* The Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival will take place from Novermber 18-27 with about 50 events including concerts, dance, theatre, talks and films. hcmf.co.uk.

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