FEATURE: Music Cities of the World: Leeds



Music Cities of the World:


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THERE is no doubt there are some fantastic cities…

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for the music-lover. I have long said Britain is leading the race when it comes to great music. We have London, Manchester and Glasgow: three of the finest areas for new sounds on the planet. If we had L.A. and New York then we’d have it all – let’s give the Americans Nashville too and make it a real fight! If you need another British city to make the battle less fair, let’s put Leeds into the pot! It may sound like a journeyman but that is not the case. Yorkshire is awash with terrific venues, talent and history. I look at Leeds and some of the new acts coming through at the moment; the artists that put the city on the map and the ten best venues for the local musician and curious tourist alike.



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To me, Leeds is the most varied and eclectic cities in Britain. In terms of music, the place is overrun with all sorts of genres, sounds and possibilities. In the years I have been doing this blog; I have witnessed so many awesome Leeds artists that differ from everything out there. That is personified in the dichotomies and multiplicity of Little Violet’s Electro.-Swing-cum-Smooth-Soul balances. One only need to listen to this to get an idea of what she is about. I have heard few Electro. artists that have a modern skin but a 1930s/’40s heartbeat. One thinks of The Andrews Sisters: if they had been put in a timer machine and spent the weekend with Kylie Minogue. I will include Little Violet (Cherie Gears) in my rundown of great Leeds newcomers but, to be fair, she does cover a lot of Yorkshire – and has played in Harrogate very recently. Before I move on, let’s, with the help of Wikipedia, have a look at Leeds’ history and importance:

Historically in Yorkshire’s West Riding, the history of Leeds can be traced to the 5th century when the name referred to a wooded area of the Kingdom of Elmet. The name has been applied to many administrative entities over the centuries. It changed from being the appellation of a small manorial borough in the 13th century, through several incarnations, to being the name attached to the present metropolitan borough. In the 17th and 18th centuries Leeds became a major centre for the production and trading of wool.

During the Industrial Revolution, Leeds developed into a major mill town; wool was the dominant industry but flax, engineering, iron foundries, printing, and other industries were important.[6] From being a compact market town in the valley of the River Aire in the 16th century Leeds expanded and absorbed the surrounding villages to become a populous urban centre by the mid-20th century. The main built-up area sub-division has a population of 474,632 (2011),[7] and the City of Leeds metropolitan borough, of which it is a part, has a population of around 757,700 (2011) making it the third largest city in the United Kingdom.[8]

Today, Leeds has the most diverse economy of all the UK’s main employment centres and has seen the fastest rate of private sector jobs growth of any UK city and has the highest ratio of public to private sector jobs of all the UK’s Core Cities. The city has the third largest jobs total by local authority area with 480,000 in employment and self-employment at the beginning of 2015.[4]Leeds is also ranked as a gamma world city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network;[9] and is considered the cultural, financial and commercial heart of the West Yorkshire Urban Area.[10][11][12] Leeds is served by four universities, and has the fourth largest student population in the country and has the country’s fourth largest urban economy”.

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IN THIS PHOTO: Little Violet (Cherie Gears) who used to be signed to Leeds-based label, Cuckoo Records

If you want a taste of London without the sheer rush, shoulder-cramming and bustle then Leeds is a great alternative. It is just behind the capital in terms of its finance and legal sectors – second-place and happy with it – and is one of the busiest manufacturing centres in the country. There are plenty of busy railways – if one wants a sensation of metropolis life within touching-distance of some incredible scenery and panoramic views. I will come onto the music but, to put the artists in context with the people; let’s have a look at the demographic of the Yorkshire city:

At the 2011 UK census, the district had a total population of 751,500, representing a 5% growth since the last census of 2001.[65] Of the 301,614 households in Leeds in the 2001 census, 33.3% were married couples living together, 31.6% were one-person households, 9.0% were co-habiting couples and 9.8% were lone parents, following a similar trend to the rest of England.[66] The population density was 1,967/km2 (5,090/sq mi)[66] and for every 100 females, there were 93.5 males.

Leeds is a diverse city with over 75 ethnic groups, and with minority ethnic populations representing just under 11.6% of the total population.[65] According to figures from the 2011 census, 85.0% of the population was White (81.1% White British, 0.9% White Irish, 0.1% Gypsy or Irish Traveller, 2.9% Other White), 2.7% of mixed race (1.2% White and Black Caribbean, 0.3% White and Black African, 0.7% White and Asian, 0.5% Other Mixed), 7.7% Asian (2.1% Indian, 3.0% Pakistani, 0.6% Bangladeshi, 0.8% Chinese, 1.2% Other Asian), 3.5% Black (2.0% African, 0.9% Caribbean, 0.6% Other Black), 0.5% Arab and 0.6% of other ethnic heritage.[67]

The majority of people in Leeds identify themselves as Christian.[68] The proportion of Muslims (3.0% of the population) is average for the country.[68] Leeds has the third-largest Jewish community in the United Kingdom, after those of London and Manchester. The areas of Alwoodley and Moortown contain sizeable Jewish populations.[69] 16.8% of Leeds residents in the 2001 census declared themselves as having “no religion”, which is broadly in line with the figure for the whole of the UK (also 8.1% “religion not stated”). The crime rate in Leeds is well above the national average, like many other English major cities.[70][71] In July 2006, the think tank Reform calculated rates of crime for different offences and has related this to populations of major urban areas (defined as towns over 100,000 population). Leeds was 11th in this rating (excluding London boroughs, 23rd including London boroughs).[72] Total recorded crime in Leeds fell by 45% between 2002/03 and 2011/12.[65]

The table below details the population of the current area of the district since 1801, including the percentage change since the last available census data”.

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Let’s deviate to the meat of the pie and have a look at the reason why Leeds is such a productive and exceptional place for music. You do not need me to tell you how many wonderful museums, nightclubs and galleries there are around the city. It is designed for those who want to seek out culture and a diverse stock of options. One can enjoy some fine art but spend the night at a wonderful Dance club; take in a local rugby game or see one of the city’s landmarks and historical architecture. The musicians seem to reflect the diversity and excitement of the city. They cannot held but be infected and infused by the mood and majesty of Leeds.


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IN THIS PHOTO: alt-J, who released their third album, RELAXER, yesterday

We all talk about new artists and why a place is so relevant but that can only happen because of its foundations. Leeds would not be such a respectable and acclaimed area of music were it not for the acts that put it on the map. Consider mainstream artists like alt-J and Kaiser Chiefs and here are two examples of what Leeds is about. I am more a fan of the former, if we’re honest, but one cannot deny the popularity and potency of Kaiser Chiefs. Al-j have recently released their third album, RELAXER, and been met with, so far, critical acclaim. They are one of those bands that do not like the conventional and are always looking for ways to skew the mainstream and subvert expectations. Maybe their music is too complex for undecided voters but that is not to say they are niche and exclusive.

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They are part of a local scene that has urged its artists to think beyond the obvious and push music to its limits – whether that is through detailed and colourful songs or something quite simple. Dinosaur Pile Up and Sky Larkin are two groups who have produced some stunning albums. Duels, Eagulls and The Sunshine Underground are more-recent examples of Leeds’ banquet but let’s consider the legends – the likes of Soft Cell and Gang of Four. In fact, The Wedding Present released Going, Going… last year to acclaim and positive reviews. There is something about musicians here that promotes longevity, invention and progressiveness. Whilst a lot of Rock bands in some cities have a similar and honed sound; Leeds’ musicians are not similar to one another and, in fact, different to everything out there. Even so, they manage to assimilate into popular culture and inspire generations of fellow musicians.


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If one is looking for great acts playing around Leeds at the moment, I can recommend Allusondrugs and Heir. The latter are a band I recently reviewed and create a wonderfully evocative and delightful Pop/Indie sound. I’ll Pick You Up is overflowing with hooks, catchiness and wonderful melodies. It is a compendium of Pop genius and one reason why the boys are worth huge affection. They have the potential to make a big impression and remain in music for many years. I suggest you check them out and get involved with everything they do. Allusondrugs are fascinating for more reasons than the fact their frontman, Jase, has more than a passing resemblance to Kurt Cobain – a genetic fortune rather than a conscious decision. Listen to the music of the band and it does not resemble the Seattle legends at all. What it does provide is music to unite crowds and get bodies jumping. Here are a sprinkling of reviews that have come in for the lads:

These West Yorkshire newcomers create a mesmerising concoction of psychedelia set to blissed-out vocals that sound like they’ve arrived via some metal influences. New single “Nervous” features spaced-out guitar work set to a sultry bass line that quickly expands into a chorus of full-frontal grunge fuckery

”There’s few who would contend Allusondrugs are easily one of the most exciting new bands the UK has to offer

A trippy injection of bulldozing riffs, hypnotic vocals and mosh pit igniting fury… Grunge revivalism is in rude health, thanks to riff-hungry bands such as Allusondrugs and Dinosaur Pile Up

A Brilliant D.I.Y video with an awesome ending.”

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IN THIS PHOTO: Allusondrugs

The guys are Grunge lords who borrow from local icons like Dinosaur Pile-Up and have a great D.I.Y. approach. They are a fantastic love act and band that are going to be a huge proposition down the line. In terms of some other Leeds options, I will borrow the advice of Fred Perry and some fantastic acts we should investigate:

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Fizzy Blood

Kicking off the list – one of the best, surprisingly sophisticated yet rockin’ rock songs we’ve heard in a long time, Fizzy Blood‘s ‘I’m No Good’ was released at the end of 2015. You should also check out their equally surprising track ‘Sweat And Sulphur’ which was released through Come Play With Me, a Leeds based social enterprise putting out music from the region on split 7 inch singles.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Derek D’Souza (www.blinkandyoumissit.com)

The Velveteens

A five piece who wear their 60s influences on their sleeves without sounding like a tribute band! The Velveteens manage to avoid the pitfalls of nostalgic novelty and make something that sounds modern, refreshing, new and edgy. Recent outings have included support slots with Subculture faves The Spitfires at The 100 Club. Listen to The Velveteens‘ quality songcraft on Soundcloud.

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The Chessmen

Another band that you may have come across at This Feeling. The sort of 60s psych-garage that pleases mods and rockers alike, The Chessmen boast an endorsement form Hofner Guitars to validate their rock n’ roll credentials. Watch the suitably trippy video for their latest song ‘GONZO’.

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Edgar Duke

A band, as opposed to a man, Edgar Duke describe themselves as psychedelic funk, but on further inspection, despite song titles such as ‘Physchedelic Spaghetti Western’ the psych and funk takes a back seat with quality songwriting and a nice Beatles vibe to a lot of their songs. That’s not to say they don’t have a track subtitled instrumental cosmic jam. Like many of the bands in this list they’ll be playing at Leeds’ Kazoopa festival in November – well worth a look.

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The Dangerhounds

More young indie rockers, The Dangerhounds only formed in 2015 but already have their debut EP, ‘Big Bad Wolf’ (sticking with the canine theme).

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Moving towards the more contemporary and less conventional, Deadwall‘s ‘Ballad Of Kasumi’ brings things right up to date, and recently appeared on a compilation to raise money for victims of flooding around Calder Valley. The beautiful track was produced by MJ of Hookworms and Menace Beach fame.

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Lastly, but in no way least, Harkin, AKA Katie Harkin of Sky Larkin, who also found time last year to be the fourth member of Sleater Kinney. Harkin is another artist to release through the Come Play With Me project, and her hugely emotive version of Apostle of Hustle’s ‘National Anthem Of Nowhere’ is a fine way to bring this list to an end.

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In fact, Dangerhounds are a band I am familiar with and can attest to their joys. Singer and leader Adam Hume is one of the most impressive young songwriters we have and proof Leeds can produce stellar and hypnotic Rock/Alternative band. The above is a summary of Leeds’ best new music but there are many other acts worth your time. Here is some support from the guys at LEEDS-LIST:

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White Royal

This chilling Leeds trio have the musical power to cool the hottest summer nights. Debut track ‘Embassy’ was slowly filtered through the city’s music scene with a cinematic confidence, defiantly restrained, and oozing with its mournful refrain,”been knocked back down, don’t let it go, turning my back now”. It’s Akin to Foals’ ‘Spanish Sahara’ in that it never kicks in – not that White Royal need it to – and follow up ‘False Window’ only inspires more confidence in a bright future.


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There are a few artists who can stop you in your tracks with just a guitar and a voice – yet there’s not many who have the genuine warmth that Joseph Lyons owns. ‘Drawing Demons’ is chock full of aching wonder, ‘Timber’ reaches the strained notes that few can attest to since the late Jeff Buckley, yet it’s ‘Little Rock’ shows more than a snippet of promise – with Eaves, Leeds may just possess a singer-songwriter who everyone else will want a piece of soon.

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Zealous Doxy

How much damage can you do with a banjo and a voice? The stunning, soaring roar of Sami Graystone on ‘Finistere’ is frankly captivating, whilst Rose Love provides a virtuoso lesson on the banjo. The raw, acid psych folkery of Zealous Doxy is utterly beguiling and their début self-titled EP – seek out ‘Katie Cruel’ and ‘Doxy’ alongside the aforesaid – should be grabbed before they become as rare as a month of Sundays.

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Alex Turner might have a lot to answer for with his heavy use of lacquer on his coiffured boffin, but let that not take away from the stripped back rock’n’roll of Leeds’ Carnabells. There seems to be an abandon of cheery indie pop bands, but so many do it without grace, charm or talent – three qualities that these five lads have in buckets. Boundaries aren’t being pushed, and there seems to be a clever formula at work, but with jangly ditties such as ‘Call the Sunshine’, it’s hard not to see them rising to the top.


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IN THIS PHOTO: National of Shopkeepers

Before I round up and give you indication where Leeds’ music scene is heading, a collection of the best venues one should investigate if they are heading to the Yorkshire city. Even if you are a musician in Leeds; some of these spots might be unfamiliar so it is a good opportunity to check out some brilliant local spaces. Thanks to Time Out for the first few tips.

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Fab Cafe

Few bars can boast a reputation as legendary as Fab Cafe’s. The small pink UFO of the bar’s logo gives a tantalising glimpse of what’s to come as you step down the space port-like stairs into the mind-bending maze of memorabilia and sci-fi artefacts. Kitted out to look like a cross between Jabba the Hutt’s cave and a 15-year-old trekky’s bedroom, it is bedecked with decades’ worth of toys, posters and statues. The weekend hosts house and often famous guest DJs who spin the best rock and pop from a kind of space pulpit elevated above the dancefloor, while a life-size Darth Maul presides over a row of arcade games.

The Wardrobe

This St Peters Square pub has enjoyed enduring popularity in a rather challenging location, thanks to solid word-of-mouth reviews of its menu, a packed calendar of gigs, and excellent cocktails whipped up by friendly staff. The upstairs bar has a trendy, unbuttoned vibe, hosting live funk acts on Saturdays, while monthly burlesque show The Wet Spot and a number of larger gigs held downstairs mean the venue is regularly packed.

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Nation of Shopkeepers

Those in the know will eschew the surrounding chain pubs in favour of the invitingly worn leather sofas of Nation of Shopkeepers. Frequented by the bearded, tattooed, fixie-riding denizens of Leeds, the large, open-plan and undeniably trendy bar offers a place to hang out, take a first date or watch an up-and-coming indie act break in their stage routine. Mirrored tiles and copper piping in the loos make you want to powder your nose for that little bit longer, and there’s a constant pump of synthpop being played all day, before things get noisy with a club night or gig.

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Belgrave Music Hall

When the Belgrave Music Hall opened in 2013 it responded to a need for a large-room music venue with a decent bar and reliable food. What was once a large nursery school in the city’s Northern Quarter is now a vibrant, youthful, multi-storey hangout that, after having only been open for a year, could be considered the city’s best live music venue. Larger than its closest Leeds counterpart, Nation of Shopkeepers, Belgrave is the brainchild of the Beacons Festival organisers, and offers all the socialising opportunities and entertainment of an outdoor event without the rain, mud and portable loos.

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02 Academy Leeds

Having spent the 90s as the Town & Country Club, this gothic venue was refurbished and opened as the O2 Academy in 2008. Old bands reuniting to pay their mortgages seems to account for half of its schedule, and tickets are normally quite pricey – nearly £30 to see the The Boomtown Rats, for example – but it also attracts more  current names. In the past 12 months, it’s hosted chart stars such as Clean Bandit, Sam Smith, The Courteeners and a two-night Christmas extravaganza by local indie icons The Cribs. Propaganda, a popular student night that offers cheap Jägerbombs and beer, offsets the big-ticket events.

IN THIS PHOTO: Seasick Steve at O2 Academy Leeds/PHOTO CREDIT: Ed Fielding

I shall let LEEDS-LIST take up the baton:

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Brudenell Social Club

Possibly the highest regarded music venue in Leeds, and Brudenell Social Club is utterly deserving of that. It’s over 100 years old, but still at the forefront of the very best music. From the best up and coming talent from Leeds and beyond to bringing huge names to play intimate shows in the heart of Hyde Park, it’s become the cornerstone of Leeds’ music scene and here’s hoping it stays that way for the next 100 years.

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Leeds University Union

Not that they’re being greedy, but Leeds University boasts three different music venues. The Refectory is the historic one, where The Who’s Live at Leeds was recorded and David Bowie once played, however it’s not in use as much anymore. The smallest one is Mine holding just a few hundred people, it’s for the more intimate gigs by up and coming talents. The main venue, however, is Stylus, with its eye-catching well-like stage, and has managed to attract the likes of The XX, Refused, Neutral Milk Hotel and Catfish and the Bottlemen.

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Hirst’s Yard

Chances are you might not have come across Hirst’s Yard before, as it’s tucked away just off Call Lane, but if you ever fancy a decent craft beer, tasty cocktail and some cracking live music, then it’s one of the best venues in Leeds. Every Thursday and Saturday, they’ll put on a diverse range of musical talent and the kicker is, entry is absolutely free, so you can head for some tunes and not spend a fortune for a change.

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Leeds Town Hall

If you’re a fan of classical music then the chances are you’ll have experienced the vast array of concerts Leeds Town Hall hosts as part of the Leeds International Concert Season each year – and a mighty impressive line up it always seems to have too. But it’s not just about classical here, in recent years the 1,200 capacity venue has welcomed The Cribs, John Grant, Daughter, Ocean Colour Scene, Ludovico Einaudi, Morrissey and Kaiser Chiefs, while it’s got a history going back to the late 60s as gig venue with Pink Floyd and Bee Gees both playing here.

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The Key Club

Out of the ashes of The Cockpit, a venue was needed to cater for the rock, metal and punk community – enter The Key Club. Formerly Beat Bar and Subculture, the subterranean Merrion Street venue has become the go-to venue if you like your music harder and louder. Since 2014, they’ve welcomed the likes of We Are The Ocean, Decade, Frank Iero, The Answer, Frank Carter and Fearless Vampire Killers – not bad for a 300 capacity venue.

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Rock music lovers have the perfect venue in an unassuming spot – Grand Arcade’s Santiago. Being surrounded by some cracking independents doesn’t stop it from being one of the best venues to create a din. They have bands on regularly on Fridays and Saturdays, the majority of which are free, while it’s even played host to one-off gigs by the likes of Frank Turner in the past. Oh, and it’s a whiskey bar too, and what goes better with metal than a dram or two?

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I know that is, technically, more than ten venues but that is the thing with Leeds: there are so many excellent locations for live music. You might be wandering down an alleyway and happen upon a great Jazz or Blues bar. Walk through the city centre and one might encounter a heaving and buzzing Rock club. It is a wonderful city that not only provides the country these characterful venues but some of our finest upcoming musicians.


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I shall keep the Wikipedia interjections sparse as we close this down but it is clear Leeds has a rich heritage and clash of the modern and classic. I have, through other sources, provides a guide to the new Leeds crop – the bands and acts we might expect to see more of in the coming years. I have never been to the city yet have a huge affection for the people and the music there. Nobody needs to go to Yorkshire to know what a fine and wonderful county it is. Away from Leeds and one can experience a variety of cultures and music markets. From York to Harrogate through to Sheffield: there will be something for every taste and persuasion. Ensure you familiarise yourself more with Leeds and the incredible music coming from there. I will continue the feature in the coming weeks and will travel around the world; representing the best places one can experience new music. Leeds, together with Glasgow, Manchester and London, are at the precipice of the British music scene (maybe Brighton too). If you have been sleepy to Leeds’ charms and brilliance I feel…

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NOW is the time to take action.


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