“if you’re from leeds then everyone gets behind you” — joe and tom axeBack
Jennifer Lee O'Brien
We met Tom and Joe Axe, the FIFA-playing, LUFC-supporting, metal-loving, room-sharing brothers in the mood-lit backroom of Crowd of Favours. It had been a damp, rainy afternoon in Leeds, and it felt appropriate to end the day in warm darkness around a table at one of our Leeds locals.
We had asked these Leeds lads to come and chat about themselves for the paper and at first it seemed like they didn’t know why.
There’s Tom – he’s twenty-one and the frontman of local indie band Neon Dolls; so of course, we could talk to him about music in Leeds. And Joe — well, at thirteen Joe was scouted at a high school game and asked to join Manchester City’s youth team. Eventually, he suffered an injury, and then turned down an offer, when he’d healed, to go back. There’s that story — a kid on the rise, and the weight of your dreams. Football.
It’s surreal to listen to someone so young talk so nostalgically about playing games on the training pitches next to Barnsley’s Oakwell stadium, so close to first team league football, like they were the good old days. Those cheering crowds were nearly all for him. Joe still plays for fun (“He just dominates, it’s silly,” Tom tells us), but the imaginary crowds in his future would now be there for music, not goals.
We ask Joe if he likes his brother’s music, and he begins his answer with a weighty, “Uhmmmmm.”
“I’ve listened to some of it,” he says. “I haven’t listened to his full album yet. I haven’t got round to it. But from what I’ve heard he’s pretty good.”
Joe’s heard right; Tom is pretty good. He began playing guitar aged ten, was on stage by fourteen, and at twenty-one is the most recent member of Neon Dolls, a band that formed only a year ago but has already played Live at Leeds and released an album, Imperial, that got Jumbo Records’ own Matt Bradshaw ‘rocking out’. “Reminds me a little of Jane’s Addiction and even the Arctic Monkeys at times,” said Matt; “Bet they’re great live too.”
We ask Tom about his dream venue to play live in; he pauses and then begins with “realistically…”
“Realistically,” he says, “I think my favourite place to play would be the O2; I played there when I was a kid for a centre stage competition and it just blew my mind. But in Leeds, it’s all about the Brudenell. It’s just my favourite venue, I love the Brudenell.”
So, Tom Axe is a twenty-one year old who played the O2 in Leeds as a kid, and when we offered him the world’s stages, he said the Brudenell Social Club. You would think he’d want London, or Tokyo, or New York, but that’s not Tom Axe.
“Growing up in Whinmoor, you know, that’s still my bread and butter; I love being around there,” he says. “There’s nothing better than drinking in your local, in my opinion. I’d rather go to The Station than go out. I’ve always said it since I was a kid: no matter what — I could win the lottery, I could be a millionaire — I wouldn’t leave Leeds. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”
Tom and Joe Axe are brothers who have grown up in a Leeds that’s reimagining its potential, a Leeds that has known for a while that it has more, and is now starting to grab hold of all the more-ness it can get.
“If you’re from Leeds, you’ve got to support where you’re from, and make the best of it,” says Joe. “It’s good, because everyone supports everyone else.”
“It’s a thing of pride,” Tom adds. “I think if you’re from Leeds, you become massively engrossed in everything Leeds.”
Tom and Joe are both massive Leeds United fans, and have been season-ticket holders since they were old enough to recognise a ball moving on a pitch.
“I started going in 1998,” says Tom. “My dad started taking me when I was five. I saw the team coming through that had Harry Kewell and Alan Smith and all those players, and I got to go to all the Champions League nights. I’ve seen us near to as good as it’s got, and Joe probably came in two years after that.”
“My first year was when we got relegated from the Premier League,” Joe says.
“It’s probably his fault,” Tom adds. “Pretty much 99% of our family on both sides are massive Leeds fans; it’s like as soon as you’re born you’re in a Leeds kit, and that’s it.
“But look, it’s just one of those things, especially with Leeds itself. If you look at a band like Pigeon Detectives – if you’re from Leeds, everybody from Leeds will go to see you play. At a Pigeon Detectives gig it’s like a football game rather than a concert. It was the same when Kaiser Chiefs played Elland Road, it was ridiculous. It was just like a football game.
“It’s brilliant; if you’re from somewhere like Leeds then everyone gets behind you. Look at the support Josh Warrington gets. It’s because he’s like you, and he’s doing well. It feels like Leeds against the world when that happens.”
Joe and Tom Axe share football, music, genes and a bedroom, and both are heavily tattooed. We ask them if they’ve ever had a tattoo done together.
“No,” they respond quickly, in unison.
“We were supposed to but it never happened,” Joe says.
“We’re both really different in what styles we like,” says Tom. “Mine are really traditional, and Joe likes a lot of designs based around the music he likes.
“We can be polar opposites about stuff that we like, like tattoos. But I do have his name tattooed on me,” he adds, looking over at his brother. “He’s not returned the favour yet.”
Do you think you’re going to?
“Maybe,” Joe replies, unconvinced. “I’d have to find the right design to put his name on. We’ll see.”
Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 25