Leeds has a rich history when it comes to music for which it has played a significant part in the development of artists and genres over the years.
From providing a platform for some of the most significant names in music history at the start of their careers, to hosting some of the most memorable British gigs in history, Leeds has played its part in nurturing music and subcultures for generations and continues to do so to this today.
You could spend hours going through the countless amounts of music venues that were instrumental in Leeds’s music history. Many people reading this will remember the still-fairly recent closure of The Cockpit, while others may remember the likes of The Chemic and Brunswick Terrace, as well as The Fforde Grene.
If you were lucky, you may have memories of Le Phonographique (‘The Phono’ for short) which was a basement music venue centred underneath the Merion Centre. Entering via a spiral staircase at the centre of the Merrion, and the club is known for being instrumental in supporting the arrival of the goth subculture, with many stating it was the first ever goth club. Nowadays however, there are absolutely no remains of this club ever being there, with its only surviving legacy being in the form of memories and the odd photograph.
Le Phonographique was one of many physical spaces which was part of a jigsaw that made up an influential music scene in our city. Some of these clubs still put on music to this day, while others have had their spaces closed and have been taken over by alternative ventures from shops to car parks. Here’s a brief history of some of the bricks and mortar venues which have hosted some of the most memorable nights in Leeds’s music history.
The magnificent Queens Hall was once one of the largest music venues in Leeds in the late 70’s up until 1989. With a capacity of roughly 5,000, the old transport depot had everything that you can imagine would come with playing live music in a building of its size, open space and high ceilings. Its acoustics were terrible, and the place had absolutely no heating. In the freezing cold winter months, gig-goers would be able to see ice formations in some points of the building. Although you almost definitely wouldn’t go there for the sake of great sounding music, Queens Hall hosted some of the most well-known bands that the city has ever seen, such as Pink Floyd, AC/DC, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
A lot of people may remember Queens Hall for its hosting of Futurama Festival, which is the only single-venue music festival in Leeds’ recent history. The festival was organised by John Keenan, renowned for being the secret hero of Leeds’ music scene, and the city’s answer to Manchester’s Tony Wilson. The festival was very much of a very post-punk/early goth vibe, and therefore, like Le Phonographique, played a very significant part in helping to grow the goth genre and subculture.
Standing on Somers Street in what is now often related to as Leeds’ ‘Business District’, The Warehouse is a legendary Leeds music venue that still puts on gigs today. With a massive stage, the venue has hosted the likes of Oasis, The Stone Roses and Sugar Hill Gang in its nearly 40-year history. In the early 80’s, it was a thriving venue that was hugely popular among young locals and students. Having met studying fine art at what is now known as Leeds Becket University, Soft Cell’s Marc Almond and David Ball would regularly run nights at The Warehouse, where they’d spend their nights playing David Bowie, Roxy Music and Kraftwerk records, along with many more. This was at the tail end of the underground romantic period, shortly before the likes of Adam and The Ants and others would take this scene overground.
The Duchess of York.
One of the most spoke about music venues from the past is The Duchess of York on Vicar Lane which is now a Hugo Boss store. Once upon a time however, their premises hosted a young Nirvana, three months after the release of their first studio album Bleach. After a typically lively performance, Kurt Cobain stayed the night on the resident sofa.
Like a lot of these old music venues, everything about this place was cheap. It was a very small venue that would host very small bands, which ironically would go on to become some of the world’s biggest. Remembered for its grottiness where you’d find your feet sticking to the floor at the beginning of the night, never mind the end, ‘The Duchess’ was shaped very inconveniently like the letter ‘L’. Walking through the door, you’re immediately faced by the bar, and the band would play around the corner of the end, towards the top of its shape. This means that if the venue was packed to the rafters, you’d find yourself trying your best to see the band from around the corner. Everything about the venue was very low budget, from the beer to the venue maintenance. The changing room was in fact no bigger than a broom cupboard. However, what The Duchess of York did offer, was a compact venue which delivered the most intimate of atmospheres. With the stage being barely off the floor, the bad was effectively at eye level, meaning the grottiness of the venue was often ignored due to the distraction of an amazing show.
In addition to these highly sought of music venues that housed music from years gone by, the University Refectory still puts on notable artists whilst many still know it for putting on The Who in 1970 where they recorded their famous first live album, Live at Leeds, which is honoured by a Leeds Civic Trust blue plaque outside the building. And at the other end of the scale, you have the Astoria on Roundhay Road, which has now been converted into a block of flats.
‘The History of Music Venues in Leeds’ is one of a collection of articles on Leeds’ music scene, brought to you by Welcome To Leeds.
A History Of The Leeds Music Scene: Volume 1
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