The Beautiful North ?

The Beautiful North ?
A run down of music from Leeds …

There aren’t that many names that spring instantly to mind when you’re asked the question :“Which famous bands or musicians came from Leeds, then?”

Normally, it’s being asked by a Manc, a scouser or – worst of all – someone from Sheffield. Those three illustrious cities have given the world many, many household names and I bet every single person reading this will own something by an act from each of them.

Don’t believe me? Well, consider this little lot :
Liverpool – The Beatles, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Farm, OMD, Atomic Kitten, The Real Thing, The Zutons
Manchester – The Smiths, Oasis, Bee Gees, The Buzzcocks, New Order, Joy Division, The Fall, The Happy Mondays, Simply Red, Take That, 10CC, The Hollies
Sheffield – Arctic Monkeys, Joe Cocker, Def Leppard, Pulp, Human League, ABC, Heaven 17, Thompson Twins, Cabaret Voltaire
… and that’s just a few off the top of my head.

The fact is, all three cities have had distinctive “scenes” on the go at one time or another and that’s something that can never be said for our own fair city. Okay, so we’ve got the festival once a year and one particularly big band at the moment named for one of our football legends, but these things just don’t hold up when compared with Merseybeat and Beatlemania in the 60s, or the birth of indie on Moss Side and the later Baggy/Hacienda scene. Even Sheffield single-handedly brought electronic music to life in the UK with the various offshoots of The Human League. The fact that two of the members of the original line-up also brought about the resurrection of Tina Turner’s solo career is one thing we don’t need to thank them for ….

So what’s different? Isn’t Leeds the new capital of the north nowadays? (Some would say it always was, my dad for one). It’s famously a one-club football town, with cobbled streets housing hi-tech industries, Harvey Nics in the shopping centre, throbbing nightlife, thriving universities and a thrusting economy. Why can’t we do music too? It can’t be any less inspirational a place to live than miserable old Manchester, or smokey old Sheffield or manky old Merseyside?

I’d say it’s easily the most picturesque of the four places (especially if we include Harrogate). It doesn’t rain that much. It’s full of life, with great people … funny people … people who aren’t afraid to do or say anything. I say what I like, and I like what I bloody well say. Maybe that’s the problem? We don’t have anything to prove to outsiders, we love our city and don’t feel the need to move away or defend it to anybody. If you don’t like it, or us, or anything here then you know what to do … ger’out! We don’t need to pretend … to look at all those stars on Top of the Pops and know you could have done better. Or to listen to Kraftwerk in our bedrooms while we fiddle with our synthesisers. Or to get blasted off our nuts and start dancing like a loon. Or to put a bowl on our heads and start a new hair craze. Or produce an album for a fading 60s soul star. Or muse about Oscar Wilde and be vague about our sexual orientations.

And while we’re on the subject of Yorkshire stardom, what about actors? How many famous thesps can you name from Leeds? Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia) and Tom Wilkinson (the plump older bloke in The Full Monty, now doing rather well as a character actor in Hollywood) are the only ones I can think of.
Liverpool has given us Hilda Ogden and Len Fairclough from Corrie, Michael Angelis (The Liverbirds), Tom Baker (Dr Who), Kim Cattrell (Sex & The City), Daniel Craig (the new James Bond), Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady), Sharon Maughan (Holby City and those coffee ads), Paul McGann (Withnail and I), Leonard Rossiter (Rising Damp) and Alison Steadman (various Mike Leigh projects).
Manchester blessed the world with the likes of Harry H Corbett (Steptoe and Son), Mike Leigh himself (British director), Nick Park (creator of Wallace and Gromit), George Formby (When I’m Cleaning Windows actor/singer), Carolyne Ahern (The Royle Family), Burt Kwouk (seriously! The guy who played Kato in the Pink Panther movies, and nowadays shouts “Banzai!” a lot on tv), Glenda Jackson (Women In Love, now a Labour MP), John Inman (he’s free!), Dame Judi Dench (too many to mention), Dame Thora Hird (ditto), Jane Horrocks (Tesco ads, among others), Bernard Cribbins (Carry Ons), Arthur Lowe (Captain Mainwaring) and Sir Ian McKellan (Gandalf from LOTR).
Sheffield offers us Sean Bean (LOTR again), Michael Palin (Monty Python, and probably the nicest man in the world), Keith Barron (various crap sit-coms) and … er … that’s about it. I guess we could call that a goal-less bore draw.

So are we an entertainment desert? Are we totally bereft of talented people? Well, I’d disagree actually : the underground hip-hop scene is strong, like the house movement was in the past (and I don’t mean your nan’s garage subsiding), there are LOADS of excellent DJs working around Leeds every night of the week across all musical genres, and hopefully The Kaiser Chiefs will inspire a whole new generation of up-and-coming rock bands. But it’s the people themselves, the residents of Leeds that make the best entertainment. That’s why we love the place. Pound for pound, I’d say there’s more “characters” per square mile than any other town in Britain. Biased? Of course I am … like I said, I say what I like and I like what I bloody well say!

Just in case you were wondering about who those other famous bands are, here’s a list of the most famous :
Gang of Four
Red Lorry Yellow Lorry
Soft Cell
Sisters Of Mercy
Wedding Present
Utah Saints
The Music
Kaiser Chiefs
Corinne Bailey Rae

The question is, apart from the last two, do you own any albums from the others? Have you even heard of them all?
I rest my case.
Guess we’ll just have to concentrate on the football after all, eh?


1 thought on “The Beautiful North ?

  1. I never knew that the Thompson Twins were from Sheffield . . . even more reason to despise them I suppose.
    Soft Cell weren’t really from Leeds. Marc Almond (bit of a nut) was from Blackpool if my memory serves me right. But he and his mate did go to Leeds Uni. They used to come into the pub I worked in during the early 1980s . . . the Eldon, just over the road from Leeds University’s iconic Parkinson Building. And young Mr Almond used to be the cloakroom man at the Warehouse round about the same time . . . the coolest night club I have ever been to.
    But the biggest band to have sprung from Leeds was Be Bop Deluxe. They were massive(ish) in the 1970s. A prog rock band with a bit more emphasis on rock than prog and their 1974 debut Album ‘Axe Victim’ was stunning. I’ve even heard them played on American radio in places as far apart as Louisiana and North Carolina. It made me proud to think that I used to go to see them in the Staging Post, a dodgy little estate pub in the (not so) fashionable Swarcliffe district of East Leeds and less than half a mile from my home.

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