Dave Best: The Cockpit was sticky, smelly and dark – but it was ours

The Cockpit.
The Cockpit.
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So, a few days ago I got back from a week in Andalucía to discover that my favourite venue in Leeds, The Cockpit, had been closed indefinitely. Talk about your post-holiday comedowns…

As a young kid from Leeds obsessed with guitar music, The Cockpit was the place to be to watch the world’s best bands just as they were on the cusp of greatness.

Bands such as The Strokes, The White Stripes, Kaiser Chiefs and The Zutons all played The Cockpit at the beginning of their careers, when to sell out a 500 capacity was a huge thing for them. This meant the bands were full of adrenalin and excitement, and the kids in the crowd nearly always reciprocated. These were the gigs you’d remember years later. Gigs that made you feel like you were in the eye of a storm, like you were witnessing something special.

Watching awesome bands on The Cockpit stage served as a huge chunk of The Pigeons live-music education, but actually gracing the stage ourselves was an even bigger learning curve.

It was by far our favourite venue to play in Leeds. It just felt authentic – sweaty, loud, dark, sticky, smelly – everything we had dreamed a rock gig would be.

When you played The Cockpit it was the closest thing in Leeds to feeling like The Ramones playing CBGB’s in the 70s.

Sure, it was a rare occurrence when you got through a gig without at least three electric shocks and five ear-piercing feedback squeals, but in a way that’s what made it special. The arched roof, overhead train noises and complete lack of windows, or natural light gave it a unique ‘bunkered in’ feel and the atmosphere was always the best in Leeds.

The Friday ‘Session’ club night held at The ’Pit was also a mainstay in my early twenties for me and my friends, providing me with some of the most memorable nights out I have had in Leeds. It was even on the sticky dance floor in the main room that me and my girlfriend of ten years first kissed (romantic, I know).

The Cockpit’s closure is both a sad indictment of the decline in popularity of rock and roll, and the end of an era for me personally. It’s depressing to think that future generations of kids in Leeds will be deprived of the opportunity to create their own memories in such a bona fide, nuts-out rock and roll venue. I suppose I should just be glad that I was around to witness it in all its sweaty glory.

RIP The Cockpit – Leeds will sorely miss you.

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