Tuesday, October 13, 2009

All roads lead to Leeds

Owen is right in his extended b/side of his West Yakshire BD Urban trawl. Southerners always seemed to feel more comfortable in Leeds than any other place in the north outside Manchester. While I was there, there was a huge contingent of London and home counties wealthy perhaps not up to the challenge of a Russell Group university but ready and willing for hedonism in a city that was clearly on the up. It was gritty, a goths’ lair and in need of a makeover, but it was a big city where stuff happened (important stuff like Back to Basics or Orbit or Vague winning club of the year). It was cool to be there and cool to tell your friends in provincial academic outposts that you were there. One could shock with ‘my friend lives on Britain’s most burgled street’ (that one off Brudenell Road). What separated Leeds from Sheffield at the time may have just been more clothes shops. With civic pride renewed after Leeds bagged the championship it was mostly about scrubbing up old buildings themselves – Queens Hotel, Town Hall, Civic Hall on Calverley Road, the arcades – or reuse as in the stalls at Granary Wharf and riverside buildings off the Calls.

The new Henry Moore Institute stood out as one of the few ambitious projects of the time, while it always annoyed me that they were trying to humanise the square near the university’s science buildings and Roger Stevens lecture theatre with potted plants and the like – stark and stripped back (or maybe purpled up as in Warp 10) was always this futuristic oasis’ best look.

The group I lived with (all from the south) were always more keen to explore the centre’s back-streets and alleys than the rest, whose universe comprised LS6 (Headingley and the rundown ‘student slum’ between Otley and Burley Roads up to Hyde Park), LS2 (the universities themselves) and if they were in town the main shopping areas by day and the main clubs. This is 92-95, before bars really took over. We liked to go to Whitelocks pub in Turks Head Yard for a pint of Youngers No 3, down Call Lane and The Calls before there was hardly any reason to go beyond the Corn Exchange and to places around the ‘legal district’ to the west of the main square. We felt we got to know the city, but the pace of change was accelerating and return visits became an exercise in tracking the new developments.
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