The Cockpit, Leeds – An End of an Era

By Harry Bedford, Music Editor

Underneath the arches of the viaduct adjacent to Leeds Railway Station stands the remains of a legendary music venue, Leeds’ own Cavern Club. It may only have been there 20 years and may not have been that well known outside the city, but this dark and dingy building was the epicentre of the Leeds music scene.

I remember my first night there, I had just turned 18 and my brother and I went to see a little known band called the Tiny Dancers. They had one song on the then Virgin Radio playlist and their soft indie tones and sixties style attracted us to join the audience. Half way through the gig they called out for volunteers to join them on stage to play percussion, my hand shot up, I climbed onto the stage, I was king of the world and my love affair with The Cockpit began.

The Cockpit, despite its small capacity, had a prime location in the heart of city on Swinegate, a stone’s throw from the train station. Since opening its doors in 1994 The Cockpit hosted such earthmoving acts as Amy Winehouse, The Libertines and The Killers. Almost every indie band in the world worth their salt would have played The Cockpit in its 20-year tenure. The venue was also home to many successful bands from West Yorkshire including The Kaiser Chiefs, The Cribs and The Pigeon Detectives.

The Pigeon Detectives were the locals lads done good. Hailing from the same small town in south Leeds as myself, Rothwell, they epitomised everything that was great about the Leeds Music Scene. Raw guitars, pounding drums, thumping bass, lyrics about working-class adolescence and a singer who gave more than most soldiers in battle. By the time I got to see them at The Cockpit they were already headlining a major open-air gig at Leeds’ Millennium Square, but a week before they came back to the Cockpit for charity gig.

I got there early, stood against the metal railings at the front and drank beer from a plastic cup while the place filled up with excited gig-goers. The atmosphere was electric, this was Leeds at its best. And when they took to stage and strummed the opening chords of their recent hit This Is An Emergency, I felt like I was watching The Beatles at the Cavern. We jumped, we sang, we rocked, we rolled. We all felt the very emotion come from Matt Bowman’s soul and we were all united.

Sadly, six years on from that night, The Cockpit has fallen victim to building regulations and the owners, Futuresound, was forced to close the place down. The lights went out for the last time at The Cockpit and it almost feels like the lights have gone out for the last time on my youth. When I am old, I will remember those days underneath the arches in Leeds City Centre and remember how Leeds once rocked the world.



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