“two years down the line, who knows?” — andy smith — live at leedsBack
200 acts will play at this year’s Live at Leeds, according to the infographic produced by the organisers to give an impression of the scale of Saturday 2nd May.
They’ll be playing in 23 spaces that, taken together, add up to the size of 16 football pitches; with 483 guitars and 63 keyboards, there will be 6400 minutes of live music to hear in the heart of Leeds.
Imagine being involved in the 900 hours of organisation (so far) the infographic says has gone into make those 6400 minutes happen on Saturday; and imagine waking up on Sunday and you’ve seen none of it.
“If people tried to follow me around on the day, they probably wouldn’t have as much fun as they think they will,” says Andy Smith, booker and promoter of Live at Leeds, not to mention Slam Dunk Festival. “And they probably won’t see many bands. There have been years where I think I’ve not seen a single band because I’ve been so busy with the work aspect of it.”
If ever there was a year to follow Andy across town from venue to venue, this might be it; he’s making a conscious effort to leave the backline breakdowns, absent bands, and all the other problems that crop up in the course of 6400 minutes of music on 23 different stages, to other people, so that he can enjoy it more. And do some crucial audience-level research at the same time.
“Usually I go from venue to venue making sure everything is okay,” he says. “But I feel like we’ve got a team in place now who are all so good that each venue runs itself and doesn’t need me there all the time.
“This year I’m going to try not to get involved in that side – hopefully my work will all be done in advance. I’m going to try and enjoy it a little more, and see it from the audience’s perspective. Have a few drinks, watch some bands. I’ve never done that before.”
Even in the years when he doesn’t see a minute of music, travelling the city real-time ironing every Live at Leeds wrinkle means Andy can feel something that punters might not necessarily see; the change in the city on the Saturday of Live at Leeds.
“I come into town first thing in the morning on the Saturday, 7am, and you can see it build up over the day. When I drive around I like to see all the people on the streets; if the weather’s nice and they’ve all got t-shirts on, you can see the bright wristbands as people go from venue to venue having a good time in the sunshine. I like that aspect of it.
“It’s a busy day in the city: it’s just after payday so it’s a big shopping Saturday, the festival is on, the football is on, and having that collection of people in town together means that it’s a really buzzing atmosphere in Leeds.”
That’s one of the advantages of the growing wave of metropolitan festivals – of which Live at Leeds was voted the best last year – that a wander into town on a (hopefully) sunny Saturday is all festival attendance will take out of you.
“I think those days might have gone now,” says Andy. “The Woodstock, covered in mud, sliding down a hill thing; each has its own merits, but we’ve seen in previous years when weather has been so bad at those festivals and I think it puts people off – it certainly puts me off.
“Metropolitan festivals are a bit more affordable. It doesn’t cost as much to put on in town, and there are lots of spaces in Leeds we can utilise. Every day when I walk around Leeds I’m looking for interesting spaces. We’ll be looking at taking some of it outdoors for 2016, so we might look at incorporating Millennium Square – and the Arena, depending on how big we’re going to take it.”
The Town Hall will be just about as big as it can be this year, where The Cribs headline show is the big moment Andy is looking forward to in 2015; but it’s the chaotic joy of the heart of the bill where Live at Leeds comes into its own.
“I like to see all the new bands earlier in the day, the things that I haven’t seen before. I’ve booked it and I’ve listened to it but I haven’t seen all the artists play.
“People at Live at Leeds always go and see bands they wouldn’t usually see. Online and on social media there’s always feedback from people who found new bands first at Live at Leeds, and seen a year down the line that they’re popular and on the radio and have grown.
“We’ve had some big acts over the years that played when nobody had heard of them, like Ed Sheeran playing in Cockpit 3 to a hundred people, Mumford & Sons at the Brudenell, Jake Bug also in Cockpit 3. In the afternoon in 2013 at Holy Trinity Church we had Nick Mulvey, George Ezra and Sam Smith all playing.”
Does Andy hide those treasures away deliberately, to put the fun in the finding?
“I wouldn’t say deliberately. It’s early days for some of the bands, and I can take an educated guess about who is going to be the next big thing. That’s kind of my job. But there are bands hidden in there earlier in the day that, two years down the line, who knows?”
Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 23