The ‘Leeds’ Sound: 1979-1984 An exploration of the relationship between space, place and sound.
Introduction A night at the Brudenell Social Club – ‘A panel on Post-punk Leeds: 1979-1984’ It’s £2.50 to get in. We’re given a bingo ticket along with our stamp. I get a Crabbie’s alcoholic ginger beer, with a pint of ice. Some nuts. I’ve brought my friend Steph and my (cool) friend called Cameron along. We sit down at the front. I get my notes out, a biro and my Poundland purple notepad. On stage there is a wide, old, dark brown, battered leather sofa seating three men, each with a distinctly different appearance. There are another three chairs on the end for the remaining three men and each is handed a beer by a member of the bar staff. These guys have ‘lived’; you can see it on their faces. Kelvin Knight, Delta 5’s drummer, who sits on the far left of the sofa has, concealed underneath his heavy leather biker, something resembling kwashiorkor. Then Tony Wolgarh, ‘gig goer and journalist for the Leeds Other paper’ sits quietly cooped up, nervously scoping out the room, perhaps actually very excited although he’s keeping it under wraps. John Keenan, Leeds’ biggest (figuratively and now literally) promoter, (we are in December and Cameron makes a joke that we’ve come to Santa’s grotto by accident), sits on the end in denim. On the first chair, Mark Wilson, lead singer of a band called pink pencil-axe; dapper, quiffed and doc Marten’d. On his right, Paul ‘Grape’ Gregory… (?). And last, but certainly not least, Steve Goulding, drummer of The Mekons, looking like a healthy Kentish commuter in a suit. This is the panel.
Figure 1: A diagram to show members of the panel. Background slide reads ‘Cheerful Rockabilly’s in a Sea of Miserable Goths’.
Despite first impressions, it very quickly became apparent that before us were not just any old men. Some thirty years ago, they were Leeds’ coolest kids. A short film is played to set the scene, featuring clips from a BBC4 documentary titled ‘Punk Britannia’, wherein the post-punk movement is discussed by its pioneers.
The host asks the panel one by one to introduce themselves and follows up with his first question. ‘What influenced the beginning of playing in bands?’, and so the discussion begins. Kelvin Knight casually tells tales of hanging out with The Clash and letting Kurt Kobain sleep on his sofa. John Keenan reels off lists of bands he’s put on stage; Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, U2, Nirvana, The Police, Radiohead, Blur, Muse, The Stranglers, The Specials, Black Uhuru, B52s… It’s enough to rival a decade of Glastonbury line-ups. As the conversation develops throughout the night, and endless stories and questions are thrown across stage, I cannot stop scribbling. I am writing so furiously that after part 1 of the event, Steph and Cameron make their excuses and leave.
Figure 2:Me and my notebook before the event had begun.
Prior to beginning this research, I had not heard of any of the bands involved with the postpunk ‘scene’ in Leeds. When I tell fellow student comrades of my dissertation topic, they too are bemused and bewildered, having never heard of these musicians before. In fact, only one friend had heard of Gang of Four and he is in a band. I had not planned on writing my dissertation on this topic until I went to see a play in October 2013 at the West Yorkshire Playhouse called ‘My Generation’. Set in Leeds, the play explores the social, cultural and political shifts occurring at intermittent periods of time; 1979, 1984, 1991 and 2013. Written by Chumbawumba’s lead singer, Alice Nutter, the topics delved into within the first half of the play included the punk and squatter ‘scenes’ of the late ‘70s, radical feminism, the Yorkshire Ripper, Thatcherism and the Miner’s Strikes. I left the play feeling inspired, intrigued and keen to examine these events in Leeds’ history in further detail. As a student of Leeds University, the motives behind my decision to confirm my place were heavily impacted upon by a fascination with the ‘North’ and an appreciation of what Katie Milestone refers to as ‘Northernness’ (Milestone, 1996; 2008). It seemed both apt and fitting to investigate a relatively under-researched period within the scope of geographic academia; and more particularly, to focus upon one of its primary features; the music scene.
Academic Introduction The relationship between space, place and sound is documented in detail amongst a small pool of academic researchers within human geography. Nevertheless, the body of research I will be contributing to is not strictly bound to geographic study and is also widely spread across the disciplines of sociology, music technology and history. As put by Ray Hudson, ‘it is surprising that music and its relation to place has been a rather neglected topic in human geography’ (Hudson, 2006; p. 626). Nevertheless, he goes on to note the increasing interest in ‘the importance of space and place in relation to making music and issues of identity’ (Hudson, 2006, p. 626). Indeed, the recent emerging literature on the role of music within geography coincides well with the general broadening of themes within the discipline.
There is a tendency amongst human geographers when researching this relationship to draw upon the most obvious examples of Manchester, Bristol and Sheffield. Thus, there is a significant lack of reference to the Yorkshire story and it’s music scene; meaning that my findings will fill a Leedsshaped gap within the literature. It is highly useful and interesting to compare and contrast the similar scenes that emerged from Sheffield and Manchester, particularly due to their similar backgrounds as towns of the North heavily affected by the introduction of neoliberalism, deindustrialisation and privatisation. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=91A8z__t0o0 - Wot’s For Lunch Mum (Not beans again!) The Shapes Through examining and assessing the relationship between ‘sound’ and the city, I will undoubtedly navigate into a wider web of issues regarding the complexities of place, identity and the shaping of social and cultural meanings. Using the Leeds story between 1979-1984 paves the way to a theoretical understanding of how and why politics, cultural contestations and societal shifts can shape musical identities and solidify those of particular places.
To Sum In sum, I will be exploring the relationship between sound, space and place; using the story of the Leeds post-punk music scene between 1979-1984 as a case study through which an understanding of this connection will be embodied. In order to do so, I will look at the impact of punk as a precursor to post-punk, and both subcultures’ influence on musical history and the formation of place-based identity, fundamentally focusing on the effectiveness of each. Did these ‘scenes’ fulfil their ideological, political and lyrical aims, and what kind of legacy remains of these movements?
Ultimately, I will be contributing to an academic body of research exploring the links between music and the multifaceted entities of place, highlighting that music plays an important part in forming hybridised geographies of place making and more importantly, vice-versa. The distinct ‘sound’ which surfaced from Leeds at this particular time, serves to inform future explorations of the ways in which political structures, societal shifts and cultural change can contribute to the creation of genres, subcultures and sounds.
Aims and Objectives
‘If the North, historically, has been regarded as a psychic lightning conductor for suffering and random evil, informed by legends of witchcraft, the exploits of Brady and Hindley on the Moors, the horror of working conditions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the botched redevelopment schemes of the 1960s and 1970s and the collapse of local industries throughout the 1980s, then you have a region of mythological darkness.’ (Bracewell, 1997, p. 172)
I have chosen firstly to look at the movement of punk comparatively with the post-punk music scene, focusing in particular on the political agendas and motives laced within each ‘scene’. I aim to unveil the flaws and successes of each movement, in particular looking at the meaning behind the music and the effect it had on its audience and on the music industry in general. The primary research I will be using is the information collected at the Brudenell Social Club panel event, where I conducted informal and unstructured interviews with the primary players of the post-punk music scene in Leeds in the early 1980s. Secondly, I shall be examining the ‘Leeds sound’, looking closely at the music of bands Gang of Four, The Mekons and Delta 5; who all attempted to champion political uniqueness in lyricism and pioneered the notoriously and controversially radical tone and sound embedded within the genre.
The existing literature on the Northern music scene of the time generally utilises the Manchester post-punk movement as a primary case study, highlighting the connection between the sounds of bands such as Joy Division with the grey backdrop of Mancunian industrial urbanity (Bracewell, 1997; Connell and Gibson, 2003; Milestone, 1996; 2000; Nehring; 2007). I intend on briefly drawing upon the similarities and differences with the scene in Manchester, using both informal journalist sources and academic research to outline my comparison. The literature I will be reviewing is divided into these two streams of writing; the opinions and recorded writings of contemporary journalists writing around the time of post-punk or shortly after, alongside academic literature from geographical, sociological, anthropological, psychological and musical backgrounds. By objectively and methodologically addressing the relationship between music and place from a series of different perspectives, I aim to conclude with a dynamic and in-depth analysis of why exactly Leeds produced the sound it did at that time, whether or not this was more effective than the punk movement before it, and what sound/space/place relationships can tell us on a conceptually wider scale. Background to Britain ‘Outside the trains don’t run on time’ – Gang of Four Britain. 1977. Jim Callaghan is running the country under a Labour government. The welfare state is suffering, unemployment is on the rise and the North/South divide feels more prevalent than ever. The industrial towns of the North are failing to provide economically and it is becoming increasingly evident that drastic political change is looming. By 1978, extensive striking and dispute amongst trade unions lead to ‘the winter of discontent’, marking Callaghan’s reign as highly unpopular. When gravediggers nationwide went on strike regarding pay freezes, and the unemployment figure for the country stood at 1.1 million, there seemed for many no other option but to vote in the Conservative party, regardless of ideological values upheld. This is arguably one of the most politically significant times of the last century.
Between 1979-1987; total employment in England fell by 1,321,000 1, yet it was the emerging North-South divide which caused most resentment; (in the North employment fell by 1,357,000, however in the south it rose by 3,5002). Margaret Thatcher incited an undertone of hatred across the counties of
the North, arousing political activism, strikes and demonstrations en masse, widening social segregation and raising racial hostility (Spracklen, 2013). Nevertheless, along with this harsh introduction of neoliberal policies and the damning effects of the inflation that followed it, an unexpected development of alternative culture arose. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uhsl0QHSDWE - Margaret Thatcher talking on Miners Strikes In his account of punk ‘In the fascist bathroom’, Greil Marcus features the prime-minister at number 10 (ironically) in his ‘The Real Life Rock Top Ten 1980’; ‘10. Most Valuable Player: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom. Raising unemployment and inflation with her right hand, while slashing social services and pressing if-you’re white you’re right immigration policies with her right hand, she fostered an upsurge of music made in a critical spirit.’ (Marcus, 1993, p. 175). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-K6YWX4OL0o - the beat (stand down Margaret dub)
1 http://www.leftfootforward.org/2013/04/margaret-thatchers-legacy-was-to-ingrain-a-north-south-divide/ 2 http://www.leftfootforward.org/2013/04/margaret-thatchers-legacy-was-to-ingrain-a-north-south-divide/
It is debated by some that punk resorted to converting political revolt into a kind of exhibition to be marvelled at, whereas the antecedents of the post-punk circle focused on effective and cutting lyricism to present their views (Bracewell, 1997; Frith, 1983; Reynolds, 2005). Furthermore, it is generally agreed upon that the impact of drastic political change upon the Northern landscape and environment provided a perfect backdrop for post-punk’s boom (Bracewell, 1997; Connell and Gibson, 2003; Frith, 1983; Nehring, 2007; Marcus, 1993; Milestone, 1996; 2008; Reynolds, 2005). There is a difference, however, between the musical contributions of those who grew up in the cities ‘physically and mentally scarred by the violent nineteenth century transition from rural folkways to unnatural rhythms of industrial life’ and the ‘art school, university undergraduates’ (Reynolds, 2005; p. 15). In the case of contemporary music journalists, the questions were consistently posed as to why songs fervently discussing consumerism, sexual relationships, and the mundane occurrences of everyday life came so prominently from bands ‘up North’. As put by Simon Reynolds (2005; p. 24), ‘it is no coincidence that these declining industrial cities formed the bleak heartland of British post-punk.’
Literature Review Intro The literature review is divided into four sections; punk as a precursor to post-punk; the Leeds faction 1979-1984; the North and a comparison with the Manchester ‘sound’ and finally space/place and music relationships in general. The existing literature on the topic is shared across journalist viewpoints and contemporary writings from the time alongside academic perspectives from a broader range of disciplines including geography. I aim to cover both in order to provide a range of insights, thus building a review which functions historically, analytically and theoretically. The authors I have read from interact differently with the themes involved and offer contrasting opinions; enhancing the role of debate and discussion scoping each band of literature.
Part 1 – Punk as a precursor to Post-Punk
(‘If punk says “Life Stinks”, post-punk says “Why does life stink?”’ (Greil Marcus)) ‘‘If music felt political in 1976, but doesn’t now then we need to look not at what’s happened to the music, but what’s happened to our feelings.’ (Frith, 1983, p. 21).’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p25SdQEnhHI - Sex pistols interview with Bill Grundy
The beginnings of post-punk saw a questioning of the music industry as a whole. When Gang of Four, the most successful band to emerge from the Leeds scene, made it to the front cover of NME (New Musical Express) Magazine, their guitarist Andy Gill recalls excitement in ‘musically contributing to the on going interesting debate’, wherein the oratory of journalists shared their views asking; ‘what is it all about?’’3. Drawing upon debates documented in fanzines, mainstream music magazines and independent music journalists’ articles; I intend to review the debate on the ‘then’ radically different music scene, offering ideas and thoughts as to why these politically aware and maturely articulate musicians surprised and shocked their listeners, using the punk scene as a springboard through which to analyse this change.
3 Gill, A. (2013) In Punk Britannia, Episode 3. BBC. Available online at: http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=HaA0BfADpYg
Figure 3: Gang of Four: The first unsigned band to ever appear on the front cover of NME. At the core of the discussion on the transition from punk to post-punk is the question of effect; as Simon Frith asks throughout his 1983 article, ‘What long term changes, if any, did that ‘explosion’ of 1976 make to the music business? And what is the significance, if any, of pop music now?’ (Frith, 1983; p. 18). By ‘pop’ music, Frith would have been referring to the post-punk sounds hitting the mainstream from bands such as Gang of Four, The Smiths, Joy Division and Scritti Politti. It is acknowledged amongst the majority that punk itself was a rather short-lived crusade, fully igniting in Britain in 1976 with the popularisation of the Sex Pistols, (after Johnny Rotten had entered Malcom McLaren’s SEX shop on the Kings Road wearing an ‘I hate Pink Floyd’ t-shirt 4) and arguably, ending with their split in 1979. Despite its working class roots; it was often noted that the left wingers ‘seized on punk opportunistically, clumsily adding punk signs and symbols to its existing rhetorical repertoire’ (Frith, 1983; p. 18). The political significance of punk lyrics and the DIY sound that accompanied it was questionable in its authenticity and over time was seemingly neutralised. The ability to shock and alarm eventually became predictable; and as conventionality expanded to include liberal and boundarypushing style the fire behind punk movement began to slow (Clarke, 2003; Frith; 1983; Nehring, 1997). So was it ‘just another spectacle’ (Frith, 1983, p. 20)? In Dylan Clarke’s article for The Post Subcultures Reader, the motives behind the movement are scrutinised and examined as he states; ‘Within six months, the movement had been bought out. The capitalist counter-revolutionaries had killed with cash. Punk degenerated from being a force for change to becoming just another element in the grand media circus.’ (Clarke, 2003, p. 226).
4 Cooper, R. (2013) The Sex Pistols, Creators of the Punk Rock Image. Available online at: http://punkmusic.about.com/od/artistssz/p/sexpistols.htm
Indeed, punk heightened awareness through brashly and aggressively attention grabbing, it showcased the corruption embedded within capitalism and consumerism, challenging the mass music industry and politicising the ordinary (Bracewell, 1997; Dylan, 2003; Frith, 1983; Reynolds, 2005; Nehring; 2007). For Michael Bracewell, it was in fact this shock factor, pumping through the veins of punk and catalysing its furore across the music industry, which lead to the subculture’s inevitable death (Bracewell, 1997). A self-defeating vehicle fuelled by anti-government and politically charged reactions, driven by the fantasies piled onto it to drastically change the ideologies of the masses, died so soon after it had begun. Frith believes that punk failed to alter the mainstream music machine ‘because it was part of it’ (Frith, 1983, p. 20). So did it become ‘just another consumer preference’ (Clarke, 2003, p. 231), and die along with the ‘Pistols? Or does a punk legacy remain? For Hodkinson (2011, p. 281), punk percolated introspectively through its members; ‘subcultural identities can accompany, alter and adapt … into adulthood’, thus, he points out, the energy of the movement shifted gears for individuals and became less prevalent or popular, yet more personal. Likewise, Bennett (2006) argues that punk lives on into adulthood for many, highlighting that often those individuals remain involved in the scene from managerial or organisational positions. In an interview with an older punk, this maturing is aptly observed; “You can always tell. Maybe it’s just a jacket, or a patch or something… just something there that says “punk”, y’know.” (Bennett, 2006; p. 229). In a parallel fashion, Clarke (2003) argues that the movements following punk sheltered its existence and remain the locations of its remaining energy, shaping the tone of more tightly arranged and well edited music. ‘What crawled from the wreckage?’ (Clarke, 2003, p. 232) He asks. The answer is post-punk. Mature, stripped-back and intellectual, it asked the questions punk never quite could.
Part 2 – The Leeds Faction: 1979 - 1984 ‘The sound we produced was like part of the air we breathed’ (Kelvin Knight, Delta 5) (To Hell with Poverty: Gang of Four Live)
The post-punk epoch is spread over a definitively metamorphic political phase in British history, one which mirrored its American counterpart as the respective populations witnessed the drastic swing from centre-left governments to the conservative inaugurations of Reagan and Thatcher (Reynolds, 2005). As the Labour party’s demise shatters prospects for a liberally ruled country, the new changes introduced by the right-wing leaders are felt harshly by the working classes, in particular those working in the industrial sector (Milestone, 1996; Spracklen, 2013). Katie Milestone explores the relationship between political crunch-down and post-punk prevalence in Manchester and Sheffield, focusing on place-making and identity; ‘the bleak, solemn, decaying industrial landscape suited the mood and atmosphere of the music’ (Milestone, 2008; p. 1172). In a likewise fashion, Connell and Gibson (2003), observe the symbols of uniqueness and indicators of individuality in Durham and Bristol, noting that the shutting down of the industrial North fuelled a renewal of the local cultural industry, forcing councils to strategically capitalise on alternative programmes and methods of economic gain. Still, in all the literature discussing the Northern scene, only few capitalise on the thriving music activity of the Leeds faction, notably Greil Marcus, who cites Gang of Four, Leeds University’s post-punk pioneers, as ‘the most interesting band (I’d) seen since the sex pistols – and the most exciting’ (Marcus, 1993, p. 50). Thematically ranging from paradox to paradox, their songs explore self, sex, subjugation all through the framework of scrutinising ‘false consciousness within consumer culture’ (Marcus, 1993; p. 51).
Gang of Four Lyrics: Capital (It fails us now) “On the first day of my life I opened my eyes Guess where? It was in a superstore Surrounded by luxury goods I need a freezer, I need a hi-fi No credit, no goods - call my bank, I say
They say we’re bankrupt Capital it fails us now, comrades let us seize the time Capital it fails us now, scientist blame it on pollution People are not happy This is caused by alienation” Alongside Gang of Four were bands Delta 5, The Au Pairs, The Mekons, Scritti Politti and Girls at Our Best, a merging of University students and locals, all politically aware, musically radical and vigilant in attempts to voice responses to mass-culture (Bracewell, 1997). Displaying intellectual quirkiness and confrontational attitudes, these bands manifested at the crux of the Leeds music scene between 1979-1984, playing with anti-fashion and rebelling against the insincerity they felt was embedded within consumerism (Lester, 2008). Simply by including women in some of their line-ups, these bands were making political statements. Yet why did it sound so unique, so different, so forward-thinking? Paul Therberge (2001) argues that the DIY sound, inspired by punk, championed such authenticity, stating; the ‘aggressive, lo-fi approach to the recording medium rejected the dominant practices and aesthetics of the record industry and played a role in defining these genres, in ideological terms, as more ‘authentic’ than other forms of mainstream pop and rock’ (Therberge, 2001; p. 18). Marcus (1993; p. 53) similarly notes that Gill, Burnham, King and Allen of Gang Of Four are ‘all inheritors of Johnny Rotten – their music has the feeling of beginning just where he left off’. For Simon Frith, the question of pleasure is the driver behind the post-punk phenomenon, as he questions what desires pop music can define, what pleasure can it evoke – emphasizing that the Gang of Four, the Au Pairs and Scritti Politti, were concerned with answering such queries (Frith, 1983, p. 21). In essence, it is somewhat obvious to draw the perhaps blatant connections between sound and scene, punk and post-punk, etc. Regardless, I feel it is of interest to observe the range of various contributory factors to creating particular sounds and serves to help understand the ingredients for songs, scenes and sounds of future generations.
For the Leeds scene, a major influence lay within the art faculty of the University. Headed by a Situationist International member, Tim Clark, the department fuelled the ‘sarcastic, combative approach to their meta-rock’ (Lester, 2008; p. 18). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggBQC52SLis&feature=kp - Delta 5 ‘Mind your own business’
Part 3: ‘The North … backward, unsophisticated, artless…’ (Katie Milestone, 1996, p. 99) ‘An apathetic acceptance that that was just the way things were’ (Katie Milestone, 1996; p. 95) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mpZUPPTyjo - Shadowplay Joy Division Manchester stood as an industrial hub even more built up, industrial and bleak in the early 1980s than it’s Yorkshire counterpart, Leeds. Despite the majority of the towns of the North retaining their staunch Labour loyalty throughout the 1970s, there was a working class backlash against the uselessness of the Callaghan government after repeated blackouts, strikes and poor public services (Milestone, 1996; 2008). As ‘the smoking chimneys and factory sirens that had been present in Coronation street and Lowry paintings had begun to fall silent’ (Milestone, 1996; p. 95), the city had begun to feel desolate, disused and derelict. Katie Milestone thoroughly explores the city and it’s identity, picking apart the combinatory factors leading to the eventual thriving music scene. She writes; ‘In Manchester, it was the combination of a variety of seemingly disparate things such as of the impact of exposure to new forms of popular culture (the Sex Pistols concert at the city’s Free Trade Hall), policies (Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Enterprise Allowance Scheme’) and the availability of particular types of urban space (the Affleck’s Palace pop cultural market for example) that ‘allowed’ pop cultural industries to begin to flourish.’ (Milestone, 2008; p. 1173)
Similarly, Connell and Gibson (2003) magnify the importance of musical infrastructures in the process of movement development, alongside a loyal and available following; signifying the ‘fertile ground’ provided by University towns for such scenes to thrive. In light of this, the various mechanisms in place contributing to the creation of the ‘Leeds’ sound share similarities and contrasts with that of Manchester. For starters, the city of Leeds was less urban and less industrial, meaning less availability of space for recording music and performing gigs (Spracklen et al, 2013). Furthemore, the suburban band around the city was significantly smaller than that of Manchester – practical purposes prevented gig-goers from travelling, the trains wouldn’t run late and busses never ran overnight. However, the large population of students in both cities provided a perfect breeding ground for alternative scenes, despite their suffering under newly introduced neoliberal economic policies (Spracklen et al, 2013). What’s more, in both towns, a melting pot of different backgrounds led to the generation of politically driven, stripped back sounds; the art school crew, the working class Northerners, the university intellectuals and The Situationist5 inspired contingent (Milestone, 2008). The North created its own cultural infrastructures which destroyed conventional expectations and turned away from the London ‘scene’, using inspiration from the miserable and moody environments of a perpetually declining industrial homeland to shape an equivocal, enigmatic and dour sound (Bracewell, 1997; Nehring, 2007; Milestone, 1996; 2008) The story of Manchester’s post-punk evolution is certainly a case study whose formula is applicable to Leeds’ and other deindustrialised towns of the Thatcher period; yet why exactly did the scene across the Pennines not quite make it to the same level of global success? And why is it comparatively under-researched within the context of academia?
5 (The Situationist International was an organization/left wing movement of avant-garde intellectuals and social revolutionaries)
For Manchester, a larger catchment area of suburban, working class youth on the outskirts seeking interests opposing those of their parents and their backgrounds kick started a fan-base which catapulted bands bred on the outskirts of the city into pop success at its core. The Leeds scene was significantly smaller, surviving in a small square mile between the University and town; put simply, the logistical setup of the city put barriers in place, preventing an expansion of an insular scene into mass culture. To add, radical acitivity on In general, though cliché and perhaps cheesy, it is the music which brings people from different backgrounds, classes and environments together. Hesmondhalgh (2008; p. 15) underlines the opportunities within music for ‘people to make connections with each other, enriching their inner lives and enhancing a sense of community’. As such, the brief explosion of subculture in these settings indicates a solid format through which young people connect and identify. It creates a shared interest community, enabling genuine interaction and bridging social boundaries. This, in particular serves to counteract notions of alienation and diaspora prevalent in suburbia.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-G-Zb5fZiU - The Negatives: Bradford
Space, Place and sound relationships “The moment we feel music taking us out of ourselves, is a moment when the terms we usually use to construct and hold ourselves together suddenly seem to float free’ (Simon Frith, Sound Effects) IN GREIL MARCUS
Amongst debate on music, identity and place, there are numerous examples of sound and space relationships fundamentally exploring the processes involved in generating certain ‘scapes’ or ‘scenes’. There is a growing body of literature contributing to analysing this interrelationship, from musictechnology backgrounds to those of human geography. Nonetheless, it is a limited and constricted discussion; some twenty years ago declared ‘an intellectual and spiritual bankruptcy in studies of contemporary culture’ (Tagg, 1994; p. 203). Thus, arguments and opinions selected are from a range of disciplines, which essentially form to build a slightly disorganised yet varied mesh of information and theory, divided into place and identity, music psychology and popular culture. The multifaceted, complex web of flows and constructs that define ‘place’ are impacted upon continually, shaping and being shaped by the political, social, cultural and economic contexts that frame them. This means that movements or scenes in music and culture are often fleeting; their remnants surviving in the products of song and the nostalgias of imagination. Ray Hudson (2006) notes that ‘music – in both its production and consumption – can be an important influence in shaping the typically hybrid identities of people and places, of engendering a sense of place and deep attachment to place’ (p. 633). Similarly, Baker (2008; p. 4) discusses the role played by music making practices in creating a ‘local’ scene, reiterating that a sense of uniqueness is derived through musical articulation of a locality’s ‘physical and symbolic attributes’. Such notions are heavily analysed in Connell and Gibson’s ‘Sound Tracks’ (2003), in which the process behind genre creation are discussed; ‘These processes are complex, yet the credibility of some musical styles and genres arises from their origins, their sites of production, evident in a number of possible ways: smaller locations, places ‘off the beater track’, isolation and remoteness from hearths of industrial production or working class communities. This is particularly evident in music with unusual arrangements or vocal sounds.’ (Connell and Gibson, 2003; p. 93)
The landscapes and contexts in which music activities are situated can entirely morph the sounds produced into new and radical genres, inspired by a complex coalescence of musical forms, local attitudes and political influences. It is precisely this notion, which I endeavour to examine further in relation to the Leeds post-punk sound between 1979-1984.
In Sum Through researching the sound/space relationship from a range of different backgrounds and perspectives, I have formulated what is essentially my own body of literature to contribute to. Taking information from varied mediums of writing has enabled me to note where there are gaps in the literature and understand how I am going to contribute to it. I intend on using the information gathered at the Brudenell Social Club event to further evolve my argument, using first hand opinions and speculation from those involved in the scene at the time.
Back to the Brude There was no particular reason for this event to be held. On December 17th 2013, after the majority of students had left town for Christmas, The Brudenell Social Club in Hyde Park, Leeds held a panel event on the post-punk music scene in the city. Featuring some of the main players of the scene, the event provided the perfect opportunity for ethnographic observation alongside unstructured interviewing and discussion of why and how the â€˜Leeds soundâ€™ came to be. This was not the only theme discussed however, there was an emphasis on the cultural and political backdrop to the city in the early â€˜80s, as the panel members consistently reinforced the fact that the environment was hugely different to the present day.
Overall, the turnout was impressive. My two friends and I were the youngest in the audience by far, noticeably so. When question time came around and I put my hand up, the panel instantly switched roles and embarked upon quizzing me, utterly puzzled by my presence at the event. When I replied to inform the panel that I was in fact writing my dissertation about them, the music they produced and performed, they proceeded to fight over the microphone in an attempt to thank me and exclaim their joy and pride in hearing this. At the end of the night, Kelvin Knight, Delta 5’s drummer rushed over to repeat that he was ‘genuinely honoured’ that his band was being written about. It seemed completely natural to be gathering information in such a setting. Despite my physical presence, I observed as an outsider the banter thrown across the room, noted the appearances of everyone, their attitudes towards the panel members and the types of questions that were asked. Perhaps had I met the interviewees in the context of a coffee shop to discuss their involvement in the music scene, answers could have differed. It is undeniable that the setup of the event potentially provided more room for glorification of the past and exaggerated nostalgia, although I felt their answers were sincere and genuine. Any bragging or namedropping was forgivable, even endearing.
The Intro Chat The initial question posed to the six men on stage was; ‘What first got you interested in music and playing in bands?’.
John Keenan, one of Leeds’ most successful promoters was handed the microphone and the first thing he had to say was; ‘Nothing else was happening in Leeds. I wasn’t even a fan of punk.’ He had begun promoting in the summer of 1977, mainly organising performances at Leeds Polytechnic and eventually moving on to found The F Club (Keenan laughs as he remembers local fanzine ‘The Leveller’ claiming in an article that the F stood for Fasicst). These events began to attract an alternative crowd, fuelling the emergence of a so-called ‘scene’ in Leeds. Kelvin Knight is next to discuss his involvement, recalling the boredom of his teenage youth; ‘There was absolutely no music scene in York, where I was from. I wanted to start a band when I came to visit Leeds, I went to the F Club to see Madness and realised that this was the place to be.’ The panel unanimously agreed that the feeling was really good in Leeds at the time, calling it a ‘cosmopolitan heaven, a kind of paradise’, which led a huge populous of young people to visit the city frequently, some even moved to the student areas of Hyde Park and Woodhouse. The punk scene is discussed with enthusiasm. Steve Goulding, drummer of The Mekons, a band heavily influenced by punk and once referred to by a critic as ‘the only 1977 leftovers with an answer to Reagan-Thatcher’ (Bracewell, 1997, p. 13), discusses the North/South musical divide, reiterating to the audience that technology and communication in the late ‘70s kept scenes and music genres far from being accessible… ‘The only way you found out about music was through Top of the Pops, fanzines, or John Peel. That was pretty much it. When the Sex Pistols tour came to Leeds, I thought they were shit! Then suddenly by the end of summer in 1977, we were all listening to Patti Smith. Until then you had read about punk but it was a very London thing, it hadn’t really reached the Northern parts of the country.’
So what about the politics?
Although having no fixed political agenda, the punk scene in Leeds was surrounded by the presence of The National Front. Knight recalls being pinned up against the wall and called a ‘N***a lover’ after being followed by a group of radical, right-wing young men; ‘Being in a band was scary, even in the local Merrion Centre, a load of NF boys would hang out there all the time, they’d really kick your head in, it was worse if you dressed like a teddy boy.’ This level of paranoia between the left and right wing led to the scene being pushed out of Leeds’ core to more peripheral and multicultural locations such as the Leeds West Indian Centre in Chapeltown. Despite John Keenan exclaiming to the audience that ‘music should be about bloody engagement not politics!’, the panel are quick to talk about the extremist politics surrounding the scene at the time. Paul ‘Grape’ Gregory informs us of the antiThatcher attitudes upheld by most; ‘…She was destroying the country’s heartland, we hated her! Everyone hated her! Many people soon realised that the stage was the wrong place to be political on, nevertheless we all supported the miners’ strikes and there were a load of performances at their protests.’ A solid fifteen minutes of conversation is given to nostalgic storytelling of the city and its best hangouts as the panel reminiscence about pubbing, gigging, dancing. The Fenton pub, situated a thirty second walk from the University campus was the central location for the post-punk clan to reside in. Knight is quick to remind the audience that in 1980 and the years surrounding it, pub closing time was 10.30pm on weekdays and 11pm on weekends. Mark Wilson held the attention of the room as he talked of the National Front’s violent raid of The Fenton pub one night… ‘You didn’t want to be stranded in town after a night at the pub. It was a different place, not like it is now, it was desolate. The main National Front attack on The Fenton was very scary, doubly scary as it was one of the few places we could really escape to. After that, The Faversham became the new location, the new go-to safe place.’
Undoubtedly, the politically aware group attracted the wrong kinds of attention at times. The majority of bands involved in the post-punk scene were also often involved in promoting feminism and performing at Rock Against Racism gigs. Gradually, the lyrics and sounds produced by bands such as Gang of Four, Delta 5 and The Mekons began to mirror the political opinions being discussed by their contemporaries. The men on stage appear proud of their feminist values, proclaiming that although in some senses it became a popular set of morals to proudly parade, perhaps seeming faddish or simply new-age, the politics behind feminism and socialism inspired much of their music. In The Mekons’ song ‘Authority’, the notions of female empowerment, industrial decline and blind consumerism are portrayed in a mocking and cynical tone. Authority Her surrender is her guarantee she loves to know she can't be free every wish is like a debt how strange her debt is infinite Industry culture land where we live and obey commands it's very sad I'm afraid the goose that laid the golden egg is dead … I never cry nor ever smile faking orgasms all the while
Here, the term ‘her’ is used to abstractly refer to women in general, highlighting a distanced and subjugated set of circumstances. I argue, that it is this elaborate articulation of cultural and social dilemmas within lyrics which further expands the gap between the punk and post-punk genres. Punk pushed boundaries simply by shocking, in a knee-jerk kind of manner, whereas the post-punk formula forces it’s listeners and fans to listen, providing them with though-provoking, lyrically and politically scandalous against the mainstream pop world and ultimately calling for attention to be given to these themes. For all its unacceptable behaviour and drastic avoidance of ordinariness; the legacy of punk stands strong in comparison to that of its more subtle, philosophising antecedent. Question Time
After a half hour bingo game (winner received a large box of Quality Street which was then thrown around the room to audience members, kindly), we were asked to write down any questions we had for the panel and hand them over to the host. I must have written a good five or six rather geographically driven and heavily detailed questions regarding the impacts of industrial milieu and declining economy on the music sound produced (bla bla bla), mine were saved till last. Question 1 was given to a man named Terry, who asked ‘What about people who were from Leeds? How would your average working class lad get involved with the scene?’ This question was something I hadn’t previously considered yet felt was completely relevant – the Leeds scene was entirely different to Manchester’s post-punk movement as the University contingent were way more heavily ingrained and there was a smaller population of band members at its forefront who were born and bred in the declining industrial heartland. How did this affect the music? Kelvin was quick to answer, as a Yorkshire man at the vanguard of the scene; ‘Now this is very important! It wasn’t just uni students. Gang of Four, Delta 5 and The Mekons were a mixture of toffs and locals! We came from all walks of life! We welcomed people from all different backgrounds no matter what…People wanted to get involved because it was cool, it was an extremely explosive time in Leeds. Very narrow. But very explosive.’ This fusion of cultural and political difference combined to create a community over anything. The people and their backgrounds only played a small role in forming and shaping the kind of music created, as Steve Goulding elaborated, it was the town of Leeds itself, with a long standing history of radicalism which meant that (in his words) ‘the sound we produced was like part of the air we breathed.’. He underlined the importance of the DIY sound, which came directly from a lack of cultural industry or formal music business in the area; ‘We nurtured that DIY sound you know, it was like, if you’re gonna go and do it, go and bloody do it. There was nobody around to help you.’
Knight quickly reiterated that this particular sound became so intrinsic and embedded in their playing also because there was only one recording studio, shared by a multitude of budding musicians. Not only did they mature musically together, but rather than being rivals, were close contemporaries, inspiring and feeding off each other. They listened to the same music too, Dr Feelgood being celebrated amongst the panel as a main funky, underground inspiration. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVt5mTkO_VY – Dr Feelgood When I am eventually called out to ask my question to the panel, I begin what ends up being quite a room-silencer… ‘Would you say there is a ‘Leeds’ sound?’ I had fully expected the panel on stage to respond instantly and passionately with an ‘ofcourse!!!’ chiming in unison, potentially even offended by the cheek of my question. To my surprise their response was divided. ‘I wouldn’t say there is a ‘Leeds’ sound.’ Said Mark Wilson of Pink-pencil axe, the band I am still yet to find any evidence of being in existence. ‘I mean Goths, they had a ‘Leeds’ sound, they came from Leeds and did their Goth thing.’ ‘Woah there!’ responds John Keenan, ‘you can’t say that! The people involved in this scene were totally shaped by being in Leeds’ It seemed I had created something of an on stage debate! After they eventually come to the conclusion that, yes, there was a distinct Leeds post-punk sound, I go on to ask my second and even more controversial question. ‘So, why do you think it is, that the ‘Leeds’ music scene at the time didn’t quite take off in the same way as Manchester of Sheffield’s?’ They look quizzical. Quiet. I’m nervous I might be shouted at. A member of the audience breaks the silence. ‘It never ‘appened for Leeds in the same way ‘cause of the Yorkshire temperament!’ The panel nod.
‘We were very loyal to our Yorkshire crowd, we tended to play to them and that was cool with us. They were so faithful to us so we were faithful to them’ Reiterates Kelvin Knight. At this stage, I didn’t feel I had juiced the panel for what they were worth. I had hoped for synchronicity with the literature I had been reading about, some kind of ornately phrased academic recipe for the Yorkshire sound, space and place interaction. I had truly hoped that the band members themselves would be able to pull apart the equation for the production their post-punk sound. I wanted them to hand the answers for my dissertation over on a plate. I realise now that this was unrealistic and an oversimplification of the real situation. That same audience member who had interrupted my questioning already puts his hand up and shouts ‘Can I say summit’?’, in a thick Northern accent. We all turn around… ‘Yeh, well, in the answer to the girls question about the Leeds sound ‘n’ that, well I think it was a number of things… …Firstly, it was SUCH a minutely concentrated scene, with a melting pot of factors in like, 1 square mile. This whole scene literally ‘appened in one square mile, between university and town. It was a combination of Northern grit, plus a lack of resources making that DIY sound, and it was all in this tiny core hub where everything was exploding. It was the sheer determination of the scene! Plus, you had the influence of all the London students, who were down right intelligent… …It was angry and intense, which attracted the local crowd perfectly, ‘cause we were all angry and intense. It just fitted in with the community. And it was a huge huge community, in such a small space! It had a REAL FEEL to it.’ I couldn’t have been more pleased by his completely apt summary. I had quite literally scribbled down an equation (i.e. lack of resources + square mile + pissed off Northerners + clever Londoners + sheer determination + Northern grit + huge community + genuine feel + angry + intense = That Leeds Sound). The panel nod again.