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meanwhile, in leeds — the city talking: music in leeds, vol.1

meanwhile, in leeds — the city talking: music in leeds, vol.1


There is no history of Leeds music. But that’s not because music in Leeds doesn’t have a history. Or, at least, a kind of one.

What Leeds has is stories, untold numbers of stories. In a new documentary made in partnership with the BBC, Hebe Works and The City Talking are going to tell some of them.

Definitive histories have been compiled, multiple times, in cities that are very much like Leeds: Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow; although the similarities have been buried. The documentaries and books and exhibitions and websites have piled up over the years and created an evidence base for an argument that Leeds is not like those cities at all, at least not when it comes to music. But that’s just a question of quantity, not quality.

The video for Brassneck, by The Wedding Present, has been watched 60,159 times on YouTube. As the band are buffeted by ballet dancers, while David Gedge growls hurt colloquialisms to camera, there’s a thumbnail over to the right of the screen, suggesting that you watch I Wanna Be Adored by The Stone Roses instead. That has been viewed more than six million times, and they look like a proper band, don’t they? With decent haircuts.

But that’s neither injustice or the full story, because music only becomes about numbers if you make it a competition, and allow other people to make the rules. I have little doubt that a geographic breakdown of the viewers of that Stone Roses video would show that it’s a hit that has had hits from all around the world: the world has always been willing to listen to Manchester. But then, Manchester has always been willing to speak to the world. In fact, it has insisted on it.

Brassneck? Most of those viewers probably watched the video in their living rooms in Leeds when it first got shown on The Chart Show. A decent number will have genuflected outside David Gedge’s house on Brudenell Road, hoping to catch a nasal scale on the wind through an open window. Another bunch will have seen them play at Ritzy’s or the Poly. Views from abroad? Absent Leodensians, carrying the message with them.

To be fair to the world, though, it has been as willing to listen to Leeds as to anywhere else. The Weddoes were a cult sensation Stateside, and aren’t the only band from Leeds to have made that all-important mark on music’s all-important map. But the map, and the world, doesn’t seem to matter as much if you come from Leeds; in fact, it’s out there in the wider world beyond West Yorkshire that the problems start.

The story of Manchester music, to continue the example, is international. Joy Division and New Order vs The World, Happy Mondays vs The World, Oasis vs The World. Like conquerors of old, Manchester bands set out across oceans from terraced houses and tower blocks, and even if they didn’t return with riches, they returned with ears, and hearts. That’s the rhythm of the stories cities like Manchester tell; of trying to get away to new horizons, and of coming back, if they make it back it all; away and back, away and back. It’s always a search for glory, for something better than home, and for a way to leave home; and that’s how their stories come to the attention of the world those bands and artists want to enter.

But what if your city is your world? What if the map you want to mark includes your mum’s house, and your mates’ houses; and the venues you want to fill are the same venues where you are the audience? What if you don’t want to search for somewhere better, because there is no such place?

‘We want to be the biggest band in Leeds.’ Some people might say that’s unambitious. But those people probably haven’t been to Leeds.

Leeds didn’t want ’em to anyway. It’s not that the city has ever been unfriendly; just the opposite. In the late eighties and early nineties, The Gallery and Orbit and The Warehouse were full of revellers from out of town; the Motorway City of the Seventies was gorgeously accessible as the Party City of the Nineties. So you drove across and you parked up and you queued up and you paid up and stayed up and danced up and drank up and got up off the floor and drove home. Until next week, thanks Leeds.

Photo courtesy Dave Beer

Photo courtesy Dave Beer

They were the revellers, though. When the journalists called up, wanting to come up from London to listen to what Leeds had to say for itself, the welcome wasn’t quite — well, there wasn’t one. Publicity? Cheers mate, but the clubs are already full, full to bursting with people who already know it’s the place they want to be, all the time. Why would we need publicity, to convince people that aren’t sure, who would only take the place out on the floor of the people for whom this is their whole life? Stay in London, mate. Or, go to Manchester.

The journalists and the TV crews and the filmmakers did go to Manchester, and documented what they found there, and that local sorta story became a national story and an international legend, because it was the story that wanted to be told. It wasn’t just the rave era; time after time Leeds had the chance to show off to that fabled ‘wider audience’, and time after time Leeds demurred, and let some other place spread itself that thin.

Meanwhile, in Leeds. It could be the slogan for the city’s entire musical history. If you weren’t there, you didn’t know; and if you didn’t know, you weren’t there. A lot of people were elsewhere, and thought they were where it was at. But meanwhile, in Leeds. People did know, and people were there, and to them the untold stories are the best history of all.

The documentary we’ve made will tell some of those stories, some of the best stories that have never been told. It won’t be a definitive history of every Leeds band or genre; nobody could ever do that. But it will tell some of the stories we’ve been told, stories that we think say something about music in this city, stories that will have musicians and heads across the city nodding and knowing. Thankfully, living in Leeds, it will apply.


Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 27


The City Talking: Music in Leeds, Vol.1 is made by The City Talking and produced by Hebe Works in partnership with the BBC; direction is by Lee and Stacey Hicken, and narration by Johnathan I’Anson.

The film is supported by Blacks Solicitors, Leeds College of Music, East Street Arts and the Leeds BID Company.

The film will premiere at Belgrave Music Hall, December 8th and be available to watch online from the 9th December.