Community Pub Clubbing. Interview with Waka from The Golden Lion in Todmorden

Community Pub Clubbing. Interview with Waka from The Golden Lion in Todmorden

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

by Tat

I quit drinking alcohol by the time I had turned 20, which living in the then still industrial, post miner’s strike region of the North East Midlands was quite a statement to make. Don’t get me wrong, I like pubs and the socialising that takes place in them, but nearly 40 years on I never thought I would travel for nearly three hours to go to a boozer. Except this is not an ordinary drinking establishment, which those just passing through the West Yorkshire town of Todmorden might be fooled into believing it is. Located close to the Lancashire border and less than 20 miles from the centre of the North’s cultural hub that is Manchester, the Golden Lion has created something very different and well worth the visit. Set up by Richard ‘Waka’ Walker and Matthanee 'Gig' Nilavongse, the venue is a welcoming space that is part craft beer pub, Thai eatery and acid house party. The venue has been host to several notable DJs and live acts over the last few years including Jarvis Cocker, David Holmes, Kevin Rowland and Andrew Weatherall who made the venue a home from home. It is a cultural and creative hub for the town and an inclusive one at that.

The Golden Lion Pub Todmorden
I spoke to Waka ahead of AW61, a celebration of Weatherall’s life who would have turned 61 this year. The three day event sold out in just a few hours and will play host to Radioactive Man, Sons of Slough, Flightpath Estate DJs, Sean Johnston & Duncan Gray among others. Thankfully I have managed to get a ticket for the Saturday night but the Sunday day time session is a free event, so is well worth the travel, especially for the incredible food. There is also the Golden Lion Sounds record label which is celebrating Weatherall’s creative genius with a new double album titled; ‘Sounds From The Flightpath Estate’ with tracks by Justin Robertson, Richard Sen and a previously unreleased Two Lone Swordsmen track. Sadly (for me that is) the record sold out straight away but copies may be available at the weekend and via a few independent record shops. 

First of all, if you had to describe The Golden Lion for anyone who has never been, what would you say to them?

To me the Golden Lion is a pub and boozer in Todmorden that sells a good selection of real ale, lagers and serves a delicious selection of Thai Food. We’ve got a weekly agenda of live music, DJs  and community groups. Others have described it as a festival within a pub - you can only come and make your own mind up

I’ve been a couple of times with friends from various parts of England, we would regard it as a bit of a pilgrimage. Do you get that impression others might feel that way?

We are greatly honoured that you feel that way. I do know that people make a massive effort from far and wide to visit - it’s quite astonishing actually - we are very grateful indeed. If I was from out of town I think I’d make the pilgrimage - it’s quite different to other pubs for sure.
Golden Lion Pub and Canal Todmorden

It feels like a sanctuary, a safe space for old acid house ravers and their kids alongside the next generation also looking for something discerning and different, is that a fair assessment?

Possibly, as what we do isn’t conceited and we just be ourselves and really do enjoy people visiting. We are natural - really just want people to feel comfortable and relaxed - I like being that way.

Love from Outer Space Flyer

It’s not just the music, the food is truly incredible, and the decor adds to the overall warmth and feel of the place. You must feel very proud of what you have built?

We all work very hard and are dedicated. The Thai kitchen is a separate business that works with us, we complement each other. We try to keep it all simple and relaxed, which makes for a good relationship with our customers and friends. We are proud folk - normal as could be.

How did it come about in the first place? What were your backgrounds before starting the venture?

That’s a long story as both our backgrounds are quite similar and quite opposite. Matthanee (Gig) is from the big city of Bangkok and I'm from a small farming village in Lincolnshire. We’re both a bit rebellious and creative, but in a nutshell Matthanee saw a vision with the building (Golden Lion). At the time I was doing lots of promotion stuff so we hooked up and joined forces - Collaboration is good.
AW60 photo

You hosted AW60 last April to honour what would have been Andrew Weatherall’s 60th birthday. How important was Andrew to The Golden Lion and yourselves?

Andrew is and was a believer

You are hosting AW61 next month with another great line up that Andrew would have approved of. What have you got lined up and is this likely to be a yearly event?

We are honoured to have been asked to host the event.  Ian and Elizabeth have helped immensely in curating the forthcoming event. The future is not important right now, we just want to put on a good show in April. All the DJs and live acts playing have a connection.

Who have you enjoyed hosting the most and who have you yet to lure to Todmorden to play a set or a live gig that you’d love to see. 

Daniele Baldelli was incredible. When he played I saw colours - remarkable - I’ve enjoyed everyone who has come so far. I’m extremely grateful and lucky, as for the future I’m not there yet. I’m in the present so I look forward to everyone who we have booked. 

What about the record label, what plans have you got for 2024?

We have a double LP coming out in April. I’m very proud of it and my son Matthew has coordinated the whole process with The Flightpath Estate. All will be revealed
Sounds from the flightpath estate

The venue’s popularity must have bolstered the local economy from bed and breakfasts to taxi drivers. What do the people of Todmorden feel about the venue, there must be some distracting voices as with any live venue?

As with any pub or venue that makes noise there will always be issues. you just have to manage it the best you can and don’t upset people.

There can’t be too many places like this outside of such as London where such a rich cultural hub operates so well in such a rural location. You’ve proved a proof of concept. Do you think you’ll inspire others to try to emulate your model?

We don’t have a model. It’s purely natural and we make it up as we go along - there is no master plan. Anyone can have a go and put their own imagination and personality into it.

Going forward, what are your plans for the coming year or so?

My plans are to go fishing as much as possible - it’s an obsession …!




AW61 Weekender

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