Famed names, Yorkshire stalwarts and lesser-known gems…have you visited all these?
What’s the secret to a good venue? Is it the layout, the acoustics, the ease of access and view, the choice of drinks or the range of bands it manages to secure? Or is it something more ethereal – past legendary performances lingering in the air, being breathed in by eager concert-goers desperate to be a part of the next “I was there” moment?
Either way, Leeds has an incredible selection of venues, both new and old. We couldn’t possibly list them all here (and left off the O2 because it’s awful and all the university venues because there are too many). Instead, here’s a roundup of our favourites; from massive arenas to tiny pub back rooms…
BRUDENELL SOCIAL CLUB
There is no modern-day discussion about music in Leeds that could miss out a mention of the Brudenell. The number of gigs they put on in a year is simply staggering - often more than one a night thanks to having multiple spaces - and, despite only being able to cram a few hundred sweaty beer lovers in to the largest of the rooms, the back catalogue is certainly impressive.
There are so many small venues giving new bands opportunities to get stage time, but The Fenton is one of the best; putting on festivals as much as individual gigs to really encourage gig-goers to make a day of it. If you like your metal loud and raw and your venues unventilated, then this is the place for you. The Fenton always offers an energetic and dedicated crowd and the pub below ain’t bad either.
DUCK & DRAKE
There is no denying that the Duck & Drake is proper Yorkshire. Its commitment to local bands is second to none, and it has a real flair for the old school both in terms of its surroundings and the style of music. From blues to folk and the odd tribute band here and there, it’s a cracking excuse for an ale and a singalong.
BELGRAVE MUSIC HALL
It’s been open a mere six years, but The Belgrave has already got the knack when it comes to putting on truly memorable gigs; Dinosaur Jr., Elvana, Loyle Carner, The Fall and a Mexican Morrisey tribute band all spring to mind. Plus, you get to enjoy the superb selection of food and beer that the venue has to offer - not an overpriced Tuborg in sight.
THE KEY CLUB
A lot of the history of The Key Club is wrapped up in the sad failures of other iconic venues over the years. This was The Basement and later Subculture, neighbour of the brilliant Bar Phono and now running club nights and gigs inherited from the legendary Cockpit. It’s a young crowd and no mistake but, regardless of your age, if you can’t appreciate the sheer energy and Nirvana-like chaos of a band like The Bronx swinging from the ceiling fittings, then you and I will probably never get on.
Domino Club is a change of pace from many of the other venues in Leeds, but it’s already secured a faithful following thanks to its line-up of exceptional jazz, soul, funk and blues musicians. It’s like being transported back in time and there’s something about the atmosphere and the lighting that makes you want to dance - then drink another excellent cocktail.
Benefiting from being right next to the Leeds College of Music in terms of line-ups and regular crowds of genuine music lovers, The Wardrobe is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year with several gigs worth going to, including the unmissable Craig Charles Funk & Soul Club and The Amy Winehouse experience - a nod to the 2006 performance at the venue from the late Winehouse herself.
The 150-year history of this magnificent venue has certainly done something for the sheer sense of occasion you get every time you walk into the building. And the artists obviously feel its significance too, as the performances here are always exceptional. Despite being all seated, there’s room for almost 500 people and the nature of the venue attracts everything from music to stand-up and theatrical performances. A must-visit even if you haven’t heard of the event that’s on at the time.
Sorry, not sorry. Yes, it’s expensive, its full name is horrid, and the beer and food are an absolute crime, but I refuse to overlook one of the most important musical developments the city has ever seen. In a mere six years, Leeds has hosted Prince (which was one of the best nights of my life, by the way), Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Joe Bonamassa, The Prodigy, Slipknot, The Manic Street Preachers, Slash, Eric Clapton, Black Sabbath, Duran Duran, Foals and many, many more. Take my money. Take it all. I’m so grateful.