tct6: belgrave music hallBack
Right now the Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen doesn’t have the canteen, and the only music to be heard is Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ duet Islands in the Stream, echoing through the stairways from a builder’s radio.
It does, however, have the hall. “We’ve taken out false ceilings and carpets, and figured out how much space we’ve got to play with above,” said Simon Stevens, who along with Ash Kollakowski is transforming what was recently a snooker hall into a new music venue. “It’s great because it feels quite grand, it feels like a hall. The floor had carpet tiles glued to it and it’s covered in dust now, but it’s hardwood, we think maple floorboards. The architect says it reminds him of a ballroom floor. It kind of fits in with what we’re doing – it’s the same sort of ballpark. Maybe the music will be slightly different!”
The building itself tells a confusing story. Tucked among council offices between New Briggate and the side of the Merrion Centre, you have to know where to look, although stand near any of its near neighbours – The Reliance, The Wrens, Sandinista right next door – and you’ll find it.
Old maps show an independent chapel in 1851, with a Sunday School added by 1891, while foundation stones on the side of the building give construction dates in the 1930s. Then it was intended to be a ‘Children’s Palace,’ a sort of creche meets youth club made of two buildings joined together. Maps call it a ‘lecture hall,’ though, before it became Ike’s Bistro and later Riley’s snooker hall.
“The majority of what we’ve done so far is to take stuff out,” said Simon. “We’ve gone back to what the building was in the thirties. As a snooker hall their thing was to keep as much daylight out as possible, so there are three big windows that we’ve reinstated back to the original designs. We’ve got some great stuff like glazed bricks which were covered it in some sort of screen, they’re just going to get scrubbed up and sealed and that’s pretty much it.”
The ground floor canteen will have two kitchens: one permanently serving in-house Dough Boys’ pizza, the other rotating different styles of street food overseen by Andrew Critchett of Northern StrEATS, starting with Fish& but changing according to demand, season, or just to try something new.
The first floor will be the music hall, programmed by Simon and Ash, who have previously worked on Constellations, The Iron Wagon and Beacons Festival, and at venues like Nation Of Shopkeepers and The Cockpit. “I started work behind the bar at The Cockpit in 1999, and I’ve always maintained that I didn’t set out to get involved in this part of the industry,” said Simon. “I was in bands and thought it’d be good to meet a few people. But I started getting involved in promotion, and started to think how if I had my own place I might do some things differently. Ash as well, working at the Faversham and Nation of Shopkeepers, I’m sure he’s thought down the years it’d be great to have his own place. It just felt like a natural point in both our careers to go, ‘well, we’ve found the venue and the opportunity is there, so let’s just go for it.’
“With more control over the venue, hopefully shows will run more smoothly, and people that work for us will have an appreciation of the things going on here. That’s something we’re really keen on; we want to bring people in who like the music and are interested in the events we’ve got going on, so they can be part of this whole project. We want it to be a nice place to come, for food and drinks and music, and for the venue to be part of the gig as much as possible.”
Acts booked for the first month include Active Child on Saturday 12 October: “I’ve been trying to book him for ages, he does laid back electronica stuff, with an amazing falsetto voice”; Spector on 30 October: “They’re road testing some new material before recording their new album”; Sweet Baboo on 9 November: “A Welsh singer-songwriter, reminds me of elements of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci”; with more booked and even more to announce.
That’s all after the free opening weekend party on 4-5 October, the Belgrave Street Feast, with bands, street food and drink outside in tandem with Sandinista, and the first opportunity to enjoy the building’s crowning glory: the roof terrace.
“I can’t think of anywhere else in the UK with something like this,” said Simon. News articles about the Children’s Palace describe a “roof garden with plants and playthings for the children,” and Simon and Ash are bringing that back, for a slightly older clientele. “It’s huge. It’s big. It’s almost a bit too big. We’re decking it, doing some planting, some covered areas, temporary kitchens for food and a little bar.
“In most beer gardens in Leeds, you hit 6pm and the sun disappears behind a building, wherever you go.” That’s no problem here, where the nearest tall building is St John’s Church, too far and too slender to cast a shadow. “When we took the building we weren’t 100% sure we would be able to use it, until we got it tested out. But it’s been great to get the all clear.
“It’s difficult to find people who know the building at all. I know of only a couple, which is really unusual. So I hope it’s going to be a surprise for people to see what’s actually here.”
Originally published in The City Talking Leeds: Issue 06