Your place or mine? Leeds venues pt1

By July 30, 2014

Music. Leeds.

[Image: Belgrave Music Hall. Photo – Giles Smith]


All Leeds venues are created equal. Some are more equal than others.

Please note: this is not an exhaustive or definitive review of venues in Leeds – it is simply one man’s opinions on some, not all of Leeds’ music halls. In other words, this is just what I think, and I may or may not have been drinking.

So. Live music in Leeds. Pretty good, eh? Whether you’re looking for premium arena fodder or local fringe acts, there is something for everyone, Buble to Blacklisters. The acts may vary in quality and the world and his wife has got something to say about them, but what about the locations, locations, locations? Surely someone has something to say about them? Maybe, but as the saying goes, ne defacatum quo tu gustatem… time to break a few unwritten laws.

first direct Arena

The one Leeds music fans were waiting for (at least, some of them) for so long finally burst onto the scene with a triumphant bit of upstaging of the official opening gig (featuring local lads Kaiser Chiefs and Pulled Apart by Horses) by ‘The Boss’… Elton John… and Leonard Cohen. Recently it has seen the likes of Depeche Mode, Manic Street Preachers and the diminutive yet debonair Prince and will welcome Dolly Parton, Ant and Dec and Jack White to its hallowed halls in the near future. Something for everyone… at a price. Yes, it’s not cheap, but that’s hardly unexpected, and the beer is cooking lager at imported American craft ale prices, but the venue itself definitely has music in mind; rather than build an arena that is essentially a warehouse with a scoreboard dangling from the rafters somewhere in the middle, the space is more of an amphitheatre, with a vast standing area, huge stage and terraced seating providing unobstructed views of the act. The sound is also superb for a space of its size – crisp, clear and nicely balanced. It’s not your everyday venue but it doesn’t feature your everyday acts. An occasional treat if you can afford the second/third mortgage.

 O2 The Academy

Formerly the Town and Country (I saw Slayer AND Marilyn Manson there, don’t you know?) the O2 is one of those big old places that is not as big as you imagine it. Specialising in middling to big bands, it’s tall and wide but not so long that you can’t get a good view (and it has a balcony), and beneath the main hall is a disco where you can lose yourself amidst the dry ice and patchouli. The sound can sometimes be a bit muddy and the drinks are again expensive cooking lager and generic cider, but the door and box office staff are friendly and helpful and ticket prices are a bit less terrifying. Plus there’s the whole heritage thing and the high frequency of old goth bands – perfect for the previously hirsute man in your life.

 Leeds Metropolitan University

Previously the daddy when it came to seeing big bands, the LMU has experienced a bit of a partial eclipse, which is a shame as it is still a quality venue… if a bit odd: the stage is very high; the roof is very low (Spiritualised did their entire set seated… though that might not have had anything to do with the roof). But again, you get a good mix of turns, from the enigmatic anarcho-post-rock of God speed you! Black Emperor to the electrocroon of John Grant. Having a lower roof makes for a more compressed, focussed sound  – Royal Blood and Black Moth with their huge noise blew the bloody doors off at Live at Leeds. The concrete motif is a bit austere and the subsidised university booze prices don’t extend to the bar (not as expensive as the Arena or O2 though) but it is the one big venue that feels like a small venue. Maybe it’s because of the whole student thing. Anyway, don’t write this place off – it is far from being a hasbeen.

 The Cockpit (currently closed for the summer)

The one beneath the arches and champion of the avant garde, the up and coming and a great place to see bands that are due to go stratospheric. Always a gamble, I know, but you do get to see some cracking stuff. This place is also heavily involved with Live @ Leeds, is synonymous with Futuresound (my money is on Kleine Schweine or Allusondrugs to ace it but… what would I know? One out of two is…ok – Ed) and has a nice little microvenue upstairs for acoustic acts. It’s not perfect, though. Built inside what is essentially an air raid shelter, the sound can be a bit… clangy and depending on who is engineering can veer from good to bloody awful. There is a bit more of a selection re. drinks, but the one thing that fills me with dread when going to The Cockpit is running the gauntlet with the door staff. They give you the impression that it is their goal in life to make sure that NO ONE gets into the venue and are as rude as you like, on the whole. I know bouncers that aren’t complete charlies, so don’t tell me that it is obligatory to be a dick on the door.

 The Belgrave Music Hall

The relatively new kid on the block, built in the shell of an old pool hall (apparently, there is still a floor full of abandoned pool tables… note for photo shoot idea) and boasting a load of appealing features like in house pizza, down stairs DJs, Fish & and a roof top beer garden. Hip does not even begin to describe it. It also has a good line in craft beers, and tinned IPAs that are so strong that you need a back brace to drink them. And though the beers aren’t cheap, you can appreciate what you’re paying for. The band roster is pretty eclectic – British Sea Power, Wet Nuns, Vessels – and the sound within the venue is stunning… sometimes so much so that it makes your ears bleed, and the door tax is manageable. The decor is very Vice, if you know what I mean and if you are a man of a certain age you will feel like a corpse at a christening (look, everyone there is really young and hip) but if you like good beer and good music you will be very happy. Not only that, but the door staff are nice too.

 Brudenell Social Club

Okay, before I go all kiss arse on this, the Brudenell is not perfect. I nearly got thrown out on new year’s eve and was only rescued by my considerably drunker friend (I think the bouncer took one look at my friend and realised that, if he kicked me out, he’d have to deal with him) for climbing over one of the walls surrounding the dance floor… so it could do with a bit more dance floor access. Right, time to pucker up. Picture a venue that gets in the sort of acts that could easily play venues four times the size of that venue, or the sort of acts that only play once or twice a decade, for a very reasonable price, with beer that is both decent and affordable, a resident pooch and an owner who wanders around drinking tea and enjoying the vibe. Plus add to this the chance to hang out with genuine stars of stage and page (sometimes screen). That is the Brudenell, possibly one of the best venues in the country for all the above reasons. A great hangout, venue, session haunt and you can play pool there too. Why are you even not there already?

Right, that’s five venues for now. Next time I shall be looking at some other places that I haven’t been barred from yet. * This means that I shall never be writing about the World’s End in Pudsey.

*accurate at time of posting.


Rob Wright

Filed under: Music