Leeds in the 1980s was a famous hub of post-punk and goth rock heavyweights. In much the same way that The Smiths were fiercely Mancunian and The Human League considered themselves the sound of Sheffield,The Sisters Of Mercy made much of their adopted home town – which helped solidify its reputation as goth city.
Many years later, I ended up a student at the university there – a decision made directly because of my teenage desire to experience for myself this hallowed church of all things utterly bastard groovy. It’s a wonderful city with a rich cultural identity that stretches way back to the industrial revolution and beyond and, like so many northern powerhouses in the early days of Thatcherism, it became a hotbed of cultural and artistic dissent. A legacy that lives on to this day.
In this piece I talk about some of my favourite bands from the city to paint a picture of what I consider to be the “Leeds sound” that I love so much and discuss some cult classics that deserve to be constantly recognised for the genius that they are.
The March Violets
The March Violets are one of the strangest, most idiosyncratic post-punk bands of all time. Although lumped firmly into the goth rock genre because of their close early association with The Sisters Of Mercy, by comparison they’re an out and out avant-garde post-punk outfit. Their early singles are dissonant and wild, dreadfully sparse and abrasive and bristling with black humour.
The March Violets were simultaneously beautiful and ugly, like a musical interpretation of a Salvadore Dali or Heironymous Bosch painting. Although their most memorable moment for many ended up being the dance floor smasher ‘Snake Dance’ it’s a crying shame that their weird and wonderful early recordings are occasionally eclipsed by this success. The March Violets deserve to be rediscovered by a new generation of strangeheads looking for something that sounds as out of its mind as they are.
By 1985 not one, but two, West Yorkshire pop combos had collapsed. Gary Marx, fresh from the high profile clusterfuck that had been the end of The Sisters Of Mercy’s first album tour, was immediately in the studio with Anne-Marie Hurst, formerly of Skeletal Family.
The newly formed Ghost Dance released a string of wonderful 12″ singles over the next few years. They’re lo-fi, fuzzy, overloaded with reverb and have none of the glossy new wave production that typifies releases of this era. For all that, the songs themselves are wonderfully crafted slices of pop perfection. You can collect all these early records individually, or find them compiled on the ‘Gathering Dust’ album.
Although they got steadily more polished, and went on to record an extremely radio friendly second album (which never got them the mainstream recognition they were obviously craving by that point), for me its the clunky, drum machiney early recordings which really stand the test of time.
Red Lorry Yellow Lorry
The Lorries. Man. If existential despair, primal rage and and an unhealthy relationship with powerful stimulants sounds like your idea of a good time, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry are for you. Lots of bands sound mean and lots of bands sound miserable, but The Lorries sound like they’d still be mean, miserable and looking for fights well into the middle of the week, long after you’d had a shit, shower and shave and gone back to work.
There’s a mood I’m sure we all get sometimes, when you’ve had a bad day and you’re hoping a big night is gonna sort you out. The kind of mood were you keep clenching and unclenching your jaw and rubbing your thumb against your knuckles.
I listen to all their records, all the time, although I’d recommend their first and third albums for the best view of their scope. Talk About The Weather is packed with aggression, whereas Blow has more resigned cynicism about it. Get both. Then get the rest.
Another band known for close association with The Sisters (singer Danny Mass was one of their roadies) and another band for whom that association doesn’t do them justice. Although their early efforts were dirgey drum machine ballads of the type typically associated with the Leeds scene, it’s the big chorus anthemic power pop act they developed into that’s really worth talking about. The record I come back to again and again is the ‘All And More’ 12″ single.
The Batfish Boys
Although it wanders in distinctly more bluesy and psychedelic directions , the first Batfish record is essentially a March Violets album with more drugs. Reportedly written and recorded in a single sleepless week by singer Simon Denbigh, guitarist Tom Aston and their trusty Linn Drum shortly before the disintegration of the March Violets proper. It’s less antagonistic than the early Violets records, but way more delirious.
Over time, with a new and expanded line up, The Batfish Boys came into their own as a post-Hawkwind psychedelic gothic biker rock extravaganza. The drum machine gets pushed aside for a live kit, the riffs get more rocking and the vocal style comes out the dark hole it was hiding in and becomes a coast to coast wrecking machine. With overtones of rockabilly and big slabs of classic rock muscle in their musical armoury, The Batfish Boys’ second album, Head, is the most serious chunk of rock n roll on this list.