We arrive at Duke Studios’ little-known Sheaf St. Cafeteria after a 45-minute wander through the fresh squabble of Wednesday night’s hopeful drunks and yet-to-bes. The squawk of Fibre’s hen-party smokers fades to nothing as we cross the Aire, and even the reliable shunt-and-wheeze of Leeds’ constant bus traffic gives way to silence by the time we reach The Tetley. The venue sits just across the road from here – a fitting place to find the newborn cries of a label that doesn’t so much beg for attention but demand it – a long way from the desperates of Leeds’ gentrified core, instead settled at the end of Sheaf St. We enter, greeted by the gentlest bouncer West Yorkshire might have to offer.
Come Play With Me is a new breed of Leeds label, its conceit being the release of singles by established upcoming local bands solely on high quality, well-packaged 7”s – with ‘a few surprises along the way’. To announce their stake in Leeds, and the fineries of their upcoming releases, they held a very special kind of launch party, again a far cry from the metropolitan bombast of their Leodensian contemporaries in venues and promotion.
And so it comes to pass that myself and my associate Dylan are standing in a trendy courtyard, below a giant 3D sign that reads ‘DO NOTHING’. While he snaps a picture for his girlfriend, I can’t help but feel it’s the perfect location for a UK-set ‘Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist’ sequel, wherein Kat Dennings dumps Michael Cera to the distant sounds of The Smiths somewhere between the fairy light installation and the DIY bar. With Red Stripes in hand and Sufjan Stevens wafting into ears, perhaps we’re not far off.
Our first spectacle of the evening is an interview; Guardian columnist and professional The Fall documentarian Dave Simpson sits down with our evening’s headliner David Gedge, of Leeds’ late-eighties export The Wedding Present. The interview lasts a little over half an hour, and consists mainly of Gedge curtly slapping down or correcting the implications of each of Simpson’s questions; no, he doesn’t think his music has a ‘Leeds-ness’ to it; no, he didn’t print 2000 of that record until the following year; and so on. This aside, the interview is engaging in its surrounding subject. Through Gedge and Simpson’s anecdotes, a very particular picture of the northern music scene is painted – one where a band’s, or even a city’s, cultural success depended on the whims of John Peel and the frequency of the National Express.
After this, a cursory wee and another Red Stripe, we stand for the next band. Post War Glamour Girls shamble onstage with their typical lazy swagger and inject the room with stripped down sounds from across their catalogue. A particular highlight is their cover of Elvis Costello’s ‘Shipbuilding’, to which frontman James Smith’s voice lends itself impeccably. The set is a strange success, as PWGG’s danger-drunk-and-lairy stage presence is replaced with a musty opium malaise, Smith’s drawl sinking into plush guitars, profound bass and jangled keys. It’s a pleasure to get tipsy while watching.
We quickly, and sadly, find out afterwards that Post War Glamour Girls were not who the evening’s audience are heree to witness. David Gedge takes to the stage, accompanied by his bassist, a guitarist with an unfortunate quasi-matador frilled shirt, and a human-sized rabbit. They are The Wedding Present, and our audience reacts favourably.
Their way of following tonight’s stripped down sentiment echoes my associate Dylan’s observation that an ‘unplugged’ or ‘stripped’ down’ set tends to mean near-exclusively the removal of the drum kit. Their solution, though, was not to keep the music drumless and quiet, but instead have their 6-foot rabbit sit on stage with a vinyl player, and pressings of each song’s drum track onto myriad 7”s. The result isn’t quite worth the gimmick. To ears not so well versed with The Wedding Present’s back catalogue, the set sounds like 12 songs from a lacklustre clatter-indie-pop Los-Camp-lite album up for free on Bandcamp. They prove popular nonetheless.
This gets me to thinking; looking about the crowd, I notice a literal generation gap. Post War Glamour Girls, their fans, the journos, the young bucks hot on the tail of a new label, they number amongst the young, while the rest of the audience can safely be described as a traditional Leeds crowd. The latter are here not just for the craic but for The Wedding Present, for the songs that feel uncontextualised by today’s scene, today’s artists. The contrasts are stamped all over the night: a new label’s night and the talk of old records; a new Leeds band followed by an old one; the promise of new 7”s, and 7”s on stage with 25-year-old drums printed on them. The night brings new blood and old blood together, but they prove immiscible in this case.
This might raise some interesting questions about Leeds music culture, its foundations and the pedigree of its older venues, but in the meantime we’ve finished our 3rd Red Stripe and David Gedge is lining up to play his last. He sees the night out with ‘What Have I Said Now?’, during which the bunny stands and crosses the stage to rest behind him. There it stays until the song’s conclusion, whereupon it leaves with the band. Jose Gonzalez then plays from the PA while the vague smatterings of an argument can be heard occurring over by the kooky signage.
In all, we enjoyed the night. There was music, fun, beer, and the promise of a quality way in which new Leeds bands can make a name for themselves above all that Leodensian babble. We bin our cans and head for the door, muttering convivially about returning to the venue some other time. Ahead of us is the 45 minutes home, past The Tetley, through the buses and on into that hen-heavy Wednesday night.
Come Play With Me will soon be releasing their 7″, comprising Sky Larkin lead Katie Harkin and David Gedge’s ode to old Hollywood Cinerama.