Six of the best musical highlights in Leeds

The Who Live at Leeds: The late Keith Moon.
The Who Live at Leeds: The late Keith Moon.
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Sheffield may have been home to Pulp and Arctic Monkeys, Manchester may have had the Hacienda and Liverpool, well it did give birth to The Beatles, but, says Sarah Freeman, Leeds is not short of musical claims to fame.


Every city can boast famous musical sons and daughters, but can any but Leeds claim that one of the most seminal albums of all time was recorded in its university refectory. We think not. Step forward The Who. By the time they arrived in the city in February 1970, Roger Daltry, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon were being hailed as one of the best live rock acts in the world and they didn’t disappoint. The set began with Heaven and Hell, ended with Magic Bus and in between took in Pinball Wizard, I Can’t Explain and My Generation. Put simply, Live at Leeds was musical perfection.


These days you need an arena to hold concerts by music’s A-list. Thirty years ago, all you needed was a park. When Madonna, Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen played against the backdrop of Hill 60, Leeds had never seen anything quite like it. And there was more. Remember the Heineken Festival? When the country was on the brink of Britpop mania, the brewery staged free (yes, free) festivals at the park with Pulp, Shed Seven on the Pogues on the line-up. It only lasted a couple of years and much like the 60s if you remember it, you probably weren’t there.


London has Ronnie Scott’s. For a while Leeds had Studio 20. The cellar bar opened the doors on its smoky, twilight world in the 1950s and was the only club in the city dedicated solely to jazz. The sessions, featuring the likes of George Melly, Humphrey Lyttleton and Tubby Hayes, regularly went on til dawn and like every good club it was run more of a labour of love than a business by local tuba player Bob Barclay. By the end of the decade, music had moved on and Studio 20 closed leaving a small but perfectly formed imprint on the history of jazz.


The Brits has spawned some classic moments of musical history. Who can forget the car crash which was Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood and Jarvis Cocker successfully punctured Michael Jackson’s messiah-inspired ego trip with a simple wiggle, but in 1998 it was the turn of Leeds band Chumbawamba to enter the Brits Hall of Fame. Now throwing a glass of water over a Deputy Prime Minister might not exactly be the mark of an anarchist, but the drenching of John Prescott by Danbert Nobacon (real name Nigel) did enliven and otherwise predictable shindig.


They’re arguably the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time and 1963 was a pretty good year for fans of John, Paul, George and Ringo in Leeds. The Fab Four first appeared at the Odeon on June 5 and returned to the city later the same month when they performed at Leeds Queen’s Hall. They weren’t finished there, returning to the Odeon on November 3 - just a day before their famous Royal Command Performance in front of the Queen Mother. They must have liked the Odeon because they appeared one more time in October the following year.


Ok so this particular musical moment actually happened in Ilkley, but the Leeds postcode is good enough for a story which includes the best guitarist of all time, an over-efficacious policeman and fish and chips. It was March 12, 1967 when 900 fans squeezed into The Troutbeck Hotel to see America’s finest. It was like nothing Ilkley had seen before. And like nothing the town would see again after PC Tom Chapman decided the gig was getting a little too heated and pulled the plug on proceedings. Afterwards Hendrix was apparently spotted in the queue for Harry Ramsden’s. Music icon and man of impeccable taste.