9 incredible untold stories from the Leeds music scene
City Talking

A new documentary film series tackling some of the great untold stories of the Leeds music scene is upon us.

The City Talking: Music In Leeds, Vol 1, made in partnership with the BBC, applies the storytelling sensibilities of The City Talking newspaper to a thirty-five-year period when music made Leeds a city where you didn’t want to miss a note, a beat, a synth stab or a chord.

The first instalment, which focuses on the alternative ’80s scene, rise of rave culture and the city’s extraordinary club explosion, before discussing the guitar band resurgence of Kaiser Chiefs and co, is out online now.

Here are nine amazing facts and anecdotes we’ve garnered from watching it:

1. Futurama was the city’s first alternative festival

The City Talking Music in Leeds Top Trumps Keenan

Long before Leeds Festival there was Futurama, an event formed by John Keenan (pictured) in 1979 to showcase upcoming bands such as Soft Cell, Classics Nouveaux and more.

It would later attract such bands as U2 and Echo and The Bunnymen

2. Leeds was the capital of Goth in the early ’80s

As Mike McCann, author of ‘How Leeds Changed The World’ points out:

“Goth came out of Bowie fans in Leeds mixing with the punky side of things. In the early ’80s Leeds was taken the piss out of being the Goth capital. Leeds was Goth city.”

In fact, John Keenan recalls the genre’s name being coined when he described one year’s Futurama bill as “all a bit Gothic horror”.

3. Bridewell Taxis were Leeds’s answer to The Stone Roses

“The band that could have been.” The now largely forgotten indie-dance outfit soundtracked an upbeat cultural resurgence in the city in the late ’80s, with cheeky songs about growing up in the North that decade. They opened for Charlatans and Happy Mondays, but never quite made it big in their own right. Their end eventually came after frontman Mick Roberts was shockingly stabbed in the neck trying to diffuse a fight in a pub, and suffered severe hearing problems afterwards.

As Dave Beer, club icon and former roadie, tour manager, and companion of Sisters Of Mercy points out in the doc, if they’d been from Manchester, they’d have been massive.

4. Back To Basics had a very interesting door policy

The City Talking Music in Leeds Dave Beer

Founded by Dave Beer (pictured), the legendary Leeds club night – which transformed rave culture in the city and further afield – originally let you in for free if you were wearing Brothel Creepers, according to Vague’s Suzy Mason. Nice.

5. …and some incredible line-ups

One time Back To Basics had Goldie playing in the basement, Norman Jay on the middle floor, and Daft Punk on the top level. How’s that for a night out?

6. Vague pushed the boundaries

Another, more female-centric club night caused a stir with some of its risque antics – even landing the organisers in hot water due to their lack of a strip licence.

“Girls used to wrap themselves in cling-film,” recalls Suzy Mason. “We attracted lots of creative people.”

7. The disco granny fought the law – and the disco granny won

Lorna Cohen, dubbed “the disco granny” by Beer, was a pioneering pensioner who saw that legislation didn’t prevent clubs staying open as long as people wanted, provided no booze was served, and lobbied for all-night revelling throughout the city.

“Leeds University got far more applications because of it,” she told the BBC in 2010.

8. Utah Saints had a hit ‘puke record’

The early ’90s dance giants, who have now sold more than a million and a half singles, went DIY with their first release. For the initial run of 300 copies, Tim Garbutt went along to choose the colour for the vinyl – only he neglected to tell bandmate Jez Willis he was red-green colour blind.

“The vinyl accidentally came out vomit coloured.”

It stood out from the crowd as a result. And the rest, as they say, is history.

9. Dance To The Radio compilations put Leeds bands on the map

From Pigeon Detectives to Sky Larkin and of course Whiskas’ own band Forward Russia, the burgeoning indie label’s compilations in the mid noughties ended up widely circulating around the music press and the industry’s A&R chiefs, putting a whole load of talented new guitar acts on the national agenda.

For a time, the city became the focus for a whole new indie explosion as a result.


The documentary is now available to watch online.