Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Ghost of Wakefield Past / The Question of Wakefield Future.

Believe it or not, bands like The Beatles and The Sex Pistols used to play in Wakefield - bands that shaped twentieth century society as much as Presidents and Prime Ministers. Of course this was in an era before multi-national promotion agencies monopolised the gig circuit with generic, over-priced, square rooms, but still, if The Beatles announced that they were playing the ABC Cinema, which would obviously require multiple and variable resurrections, I'd chop off my own arm if it meant I would be guaranteed ticket.

When I decided to go to university I picked Manchester, not for any particular academic reasons, moreover because I had grown up as a fan of Oasis and then matured through The Stone Roses, before arriving at The Smiths. Manchester however, in the early noughties, turned into a parody of itself. Most bands were fully equipped with a simian-looking vocalist, a complete set of Parkas and a nasal twang, yet lacked any discernable talent. One example were The Young Offenders Institute, who both looked and sounded like the cast of Shameless aping Oasis. Meanwhile on the other side of the Pennines everything seemed alive.

In 2004 Leeds was vibrant for the first time in years and Wakefield actually had a few bands that were receiving national acclaim – namely The Cribs and The Blueskins. Despite this there were very few venues in Wakefield for our own band to play, or clubs that represented our music tastes; there was nowhere that did both. Basic DIY; if no-one else is going to do it then do it yourself, which we did on July 23rd 2004 at the now defunct Escobar.

The bar was hired out by Chris Morse, who played bass in the same band as me, as it was his birthday and we needed a gig. In truth our gig, if memory serves me right, was pretty shoddy (although in our defence it was our very first gig), but the owners were suitably impressed with our intrepid organisational skills and asked us, along with a couple of others, to promote a night at the bar on a weekly basis. We called it Louder Than Bombs for no other reason than it sounded like a good name.

Usually we supplied the entertainment by playing records (Chris had already run a clubnight in Plymouth while at university and he supplied the majority of the vinyl) but in order to get more punters through the door we began putting bands on. Usually it was free in, or occasionally we would charge a couple of quid in, but money was never an aspiration - we just wanted to put together a night that we’d be happy to go to ourselves. We had someone designing flyers, someone else taking pictures and at any time you could find one of half-a-dozen different people working on the door. It was ramshackle, laissez-faire and fun.

Some time during the Christmas of 2005 Dan Barber, who took photos for Louder Than Bombs, played us a band from Sheffield that a friend had recommended to him. I'd seen them pop up on a few internet forums and disregarded them due to their terrible name (Arctic Monkeys), but it was blatantly obvious that they were going to be huge from the first moment we listened to them. With bands like The Libertines on the wane there was a gap for a new group to garner teenager fervour and adolescent adoration. We were desperate to book them, especially when we realised they lived just 27 miles down the M1 motorway in Sheffield. This was a while before anyone had built up any contacts in the music industry so getting hold of a contact number required a fair bit of detective work, and then a fair bit of persuasion was required to book a band that were beginning to gain a fanatic following.

In the end their manager, Geoff Barradale, gave in to my persistence and a few weeks before the band began receiving national acclaim we booked them to play the tiny Escobar venue. Some of my main recollections from the evening of April 4th 2005 included meeting the young couple who had travelled all the way from Aberdeen for the gig and the footprints marked on the ceiling due to the excessive crowd surfing (the image of footprints on the ceiling is regularly recalled by attendees and even by the Arctic Monkeys themselves in interviews and biographies).            

In the following couple of years we promoted gigs in Leeds and London as well as gruelling weekend long festivals at Escobar with promoters Rich Short and Chris Phelan (who also joined us on a “full time” basis). I could probably write an entire book on all the stories and scrapes that followed us around in those days. When myself, Morse and Phelan moved to Leeds our house was dubbed “Louder Than Bombs Towers” and our housewarming party ended up in the Evening Post.

Before we began promoting it seemed to me that the Wakefield music scene was fragmented. A few years earlier there had been McDermott’s on Cheapside that had created a similar camaraderie amongst the bands in the city, but many people, including myself, had missed out on this. Now we had somewhere to go that seemed like Cheers, where everyone knew your name! Looking at old photographs of the crowd at many gigs it is incredible to see how many people were all part of the same group of friends. Bands like Last Gang, The Pigeon Detectives, The Labels, The Old House, The Research, Middleman, The Spills and many more all became regulars both on and off the stage.

A couple of years later a handful of releases came out on Louder Than Bombs Records, with Rob Dee working as part of this (Rob Dee would later rename his vinyl output Philophobia Records). It was also in the following years that Rob Dee and Benjamin Trout started the Rhubarb Bomb fanzine.

A lot of the current crop from the Wakefield music scene spent time at Escobar and Louder Than Bombs. It always had to come to an end at some point but it’s just a shame that a new venue hasn’t come along a captured the crowd in the same way. The scene is still healthy, but it misses a focal point.

Stephen Vigors

This article originally appeared in Issue 3.1 of Rhubarb Bomb and also our book The City Consumes Us. Stephen also writes short stories:

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