The Old Woollen, part of the flourishing Sunny Bank Mills complex in Farsley, which now hosts an ambitious and eclectic mix of music, comedy, theatre and the spoken word, has unveiled its exciting programme for the late spring and summer this year.
The completely derelict mill building has been sympathetically restored to become one of the most exciting entertainment venues in the Leeds region.
Upcoming acts include the Beat, the legendary 2-Tone Punk Ska Reggae Group celebrating their 40th Anniversary; Wolfgang Flur, electronic percussionist with influential Kraut rockers Kraftwerk; Dave Ball, founder member of Soft Cell, in conversation with Guardian journalist Dave Simpson; folk-punk outfit Mr Irish Bastard; and Wannabe, an acclaimed Spice Girls tribute band.
There will also be appearances by pop star-turned-vicar the Rev Richard Coles, mountaineer Simon Yates and Baga Chipz, one of the stars of Ru Paul’s mega-popular Drag Race.
The Old Woollen, which has a capacity of 450 (225 seated), is run by William and John Gaunt, owners of the award-winning Sunny Bank Mills, in conjunction with Yorkshire events company Trouble At Mill.
William Gaunt explained: “Bringing the Old Woollen back to life was a true labour of love. The building had been completely derelict for 50 years and had fallen into an advanced state of delapidation. So far we have spent £150,000 on bringing back a section of the ground floor into use.
“We have ambitious plans to redevelop the whole building, once funds have been secured. We have intentionally left the Old Woollen in a state of ‘arrested decay’ which gives the audience a direct connection with the past.
“We have been absolutely delighted with the acts we have been able to book so far and the reaction to them. This year’s line-up is equally exciting. It has been a great success story and maintains the mill’s proud connection with the arts, as both Yorkshire Television’s Emmerdale and Heartbeat were filmed here, and we have a thriving art gallery on site, too, ” said Mr Gaunt.
Dick Bonham, a director of Trouble At Mill, commented: “I think the line-up for late spring and summer this year is exceptionally eclectic and has something for everyone, perfectly suited to Farsley’s diverse demographic.
“I believe we are punching well above our weight, having established ourselves as one of the finest independent arts and music venues in the Leeds area. We are inspired by the example of the legendary James Corrigan of Batley Variety Club, who put an unassuming Yorkshire village on the world map by tempting stars like Shirley Bassey, Roy Orbison, Eartha Kitt and Tom Jones, not to mention Morecambe and Wise, to come to Batley.
“We are not there yet, of course, but the Old Woollen is now increasingly being regarded as a vital West Yorkshire arts venue. And we don’t just host arts events, our monthly Bingo for the People event is always sold-out, while the Vroom, Vintage and Vinyl event at the end of May, will feature 100 Vintage Cars, a Vintage Flea Market and Vintage Clothes, with indoor and outdoor bars, food & DJs.
“In a nutshell, we’re absolutely delighted to be part of such a wonderful thriving community centre like Sunny Bank Mills. We started our Trouble At Mill journey with a series of pop-up events at the Mill, which featured a whole range of great shows and acts. The Gaunts have always been incredibly supportive, and we’re thrilled that, together, we have re-purposed and re-energised The Old Woollen.
“Working together we know the Old Woollen has an incredible vibe, with some brilliant acts. People always say to us they can’t believe things like this are happening in a place called Farsley - well, this is only the beginning and we are delighted to share some of the great events we have in store – with many more to come.”
Significantly Mr Bonham is also a director of the acclaimed production company LittleMighty, whose offices are now based at Sunny Bank Mills.
He explained: “Sunny Bank is a fabulous base from which to launch our tours across the country. As it’s grown and developed over the past few years, it’s become a real creative hub, with lots of interesting artists and companies. That’s a really nurturing and energising environment to be working in. Plus, it’s only five minutes from my house - what could be better?"
The Old Woollen was one of the first mill buildings at Sunny Bank, dating back to 1830. It was built by a group of men who included John and William Gaunt’s ancestor John Gaunt. It was originally used for a process called “scribbling” and “fulling”. Scribbling was the process of combing the wool fibres in order to straighten them. Fulling was the process of washing and shrinking the cloth after it had been woven. This made the cloth thicker and stronger.
Interestingly, the building – until recently – had no toilets. That’s because, before the advent of modern chemicals, urine was collected and used to clean the wool in the “fulling” process.