tct 14: outlaws yacht club in their own wordsBack
“No one tells us what to do” – Joe Gill, Craig Christon & Jonny Gilroy, Outlaws Yacht Club.
“When Joe opened Dock Street Market, Craig was doing a night at the Adelphi called Lunar Jam. Craig’s partner, Andy Whittaker, had gone down to London so he was stuck for somewhere to put the parties on. Craig just went to Joe and said, can we do a party here? Let’s do it together. Joe’s Bakery came from – it was a bakery and it was Joe’s place. So let’s just call it Joe’s Bakery. It took a year to get it going.
“Dock Street was trying something different for Leeds at the time, trying to create a space that wasn’t a bar, or anything. Joe just wanted a continental style cafe bar with a working bakery – and that’s basically what it was. It was inspired by lots of places, in Berlin, Barcelona, Tokyo. It’s not a weird concept to us to have different uses for spaces, in this day and age it’s the way forward. There are cool places everywhere, wherever you go in the world there are cool places.
“Our friend who had a clothes shop in the space next to Rebel Pin Up had moved on, and Craig spoke to Jonny about it while he was cutting his hair. He said, let’s get our heads together and create Outlaws. That’s how it all started. Jonny was having his haircut, Craig said, ‘Do you fancy it?’ and it was as simple as that. Joe had just finished down at Dock Street Market and we thought we could instantly get that crowd of people and get things together and start Outlaws. You have a space, and then things happen in the space.
“There are effortless places, and that’s what they are, effortless. They’re not trying to be something, or pretending. It’s just a space with good people and great music and it just sort of creates itself. What comes around it just naturally develops, like Dock Street Market developed into what Joe’s Bakery is and now what Outlaws Yacht Club is. It’s quite a big risk, it’s quite hard. Leeds is quite a hard crowd to try something different with, it takes a while for people to get it. As we’ve gone along, we’ve got our own little posse now of regulars and friends, so we’ve got a really nice Outlaws Yacht Club crew.
“We’ve been in Leeds for years doing events and we’ve always had that problem where people didn’t quite get what we wanted to do. Wherever you go and put a night on you’ve always got the club owner or the bar owner saying you can’t do this or you can’t do that. So we said, let’s do it ourselves. No one tells us what to do. We want to be as creative as we are – there are no limits, and we can do exactly what we want in our own space.
“Outlaws is unique, we didn’t come into it and say right, this is what we need to have. We built it around what we already had. Stuff that was reclaimed or that was already here, wallpaper that we came across, a name that we devised from throwing words together. The space just builds from itself. Joe’s crazy thoughts, Craig’s crazy thoughts, Jonny’s crazy thoughts, and this is it. Although if we carried out all our crazy thoughts we’d be locked up.
“We did want to put red lights in the window and get that really seedy vibe when we first opened, but people would have thought it was a knocking shop. We have got red lights now… it bring a warmer look about things. It looks a bit seedy as well though. We all like a bit of seediness.
“It was a bomb site. And Craig was trying to operate the salon as well. We had a massive tarpaulin all the way across just to keep everything behind and get the work done. All three of us painted walls and scraped floors, and all our friends pitched in. We haven’t had workmen in, we’ve had Jonny’s brother and a couple of Craig’s mates tiling, Craig and Joe painting and doing the floor, we’ve done it all ourselves. A labour of love.
“When we first opened it was a lot more sparse, but as it gets more lived in we keep adding things. We decided the other day that we’re going to change the tables round, and put some more sofas in, so it’s a bit more laid back. That’s what we wanted, the front room vibe. We’re thinking about changing these windows so we can open them in summer and get a bit more air through. It’s a work in progress. We just keep changing little bits here and there.
“All the food is locally sourced. We normally have three or four beers from Yorkshire, all the meats are from a farm in Holmfirth. All the cheeses are Yorkshire cheeses, all the bread’s from Leeds Bread Co-op. Golden Owl Brewery does about ten kegs at a time and we take pretty much all of it; Magic Rock have just won a really big medal for their beer in America so we’re getting some of that on. And Clara, Estrella Damm with Fanta Lemon, that’s one Sean the bar manager brought back with him from Barcelona.
“It’s music and the arts this place, and every few months we have a different exhibition that gives it a different vibe straight away, so it changes constantly. The exhibition that’s on can give a different sort of feeling. We’ve had loads of really cool people, and we’ve got loads of really cool people coming. Nicolas Dixon has been, and then Dave Little, who did all the original Boy’s Own and Spectrum artwork from back in the acid house days, his stuff is really iconic, and we’re talking about developing an Outlaws and Dave Little collaboration t-shirt. He’s going to redesign the logo and put his twist on it. We had Ian Tilton too, the photographer – what bands he hasn’t photographed aren’t worth knowing.
“We want to promote local artists as well, not necessarily people from far afield. We’re always up for working with other people, anyone who wants do art or music is welcome to come down. We just try to find people who are interesting.
“Chinwag was an idea of Craig’s when we first started, because so many people come to see DJs and things and we really wanted to do an All Back To Mine type thing, to get these people to come and talk about who they are and what they are. Craig asked Chris Madden, who is a life coach and an old friend, if he would be up for it. Chris had just been helping out on a film with Alan McGee and Dean Cavanagh, so Chris said let’s get Alan and that’s how it began. That led to us showing the premiere of the movie, Kubricks, in here. Irvine Welsh is coming to do a Chinwag here as well. Tim Burgess has come down from The Charlatans, Eddie Piller who started the Acid Jazz label and released Jamiroquai and Brand New Heavies, and that’s all through our network of people. We’re quite lucky, because we have got a good network of creative friends. A lot of our friends are quite colourful characters, and they’ve all got a story.
“This has followed stuff that we’ve been into for years, and there’s not been the space to do it. We’ve all been around for a while. Some a bit longer than others. And there’s nowhere for us to go anymore. So we just created our own place where we can come and listen to an interview, come and listen to the music that we all love. The Adelphi and The Palace are the only places we go really, but that’s not a good thing! We’ve all just given 100% for this place, and that’s why we’re doing alright now. I think if we’d not been here every day keeping our eye on this ball, then we wouldn’t be heading in the right direction.
“The more people that know about us the better it’s going to get. It’s grown organically with friends and word of mouth, and we stuck our neck out in the beginning and said we wanted to be like nowhere else. Because we’re all music obsessives people recognise that, and we get recognition worldwide rather than just Leeds. The traffic to the website for the first six months was 50% from Leeds and 50% London. We’ve got a really good following, and people travel from all over the country for the events we do.
“We had got the Boiler Room here for our Tour de France event, so over a million people were watching our little bar in Leeds. It’s the first time the Boiler Room has been in Leeds, so that’s a massive coup for us.
“A million people – we thought Joe was going to have to wear a mask! It’s like going out to prime time television. We played to 10,000 at a festival in Lyon. And that’s 10,000 real people in front of us. Craig has played to 10,000 before. He couldn’t even put the needle on. We thought they’d need one of those hooks to drag us off the stage.
“Our next step is to take this on the road, to the festival circuits, to have an Outlaws tent. We want to do a marquee and just transport what we do here into that. Imagine a Sunday afternoon listening to Jonny playing reggae in a marquee in the middle of a festival, and then Joe’s Bakery, and just doing what we do somewhere else.
“The bigger picture for us is to do it elsewhere. We’d all love to have a place in Barcelona, we’d all love a place in Berlin, and we could build a brand. We want to do a soundtrack, like the CDs from the Buddha Bar in Paris, where you know the music on that CD is played in the Buddha Bar. That’s worldwide then. Over the years in Leeds no one has ever done that. We want to stay in Leeds, but if we can do something elsewhere that’s great. We’ve started here and who knows what’s going to happen next. All three of us have got big ambitions.”
Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 14