Something stirring up North

A Town Like New Orleans?
by Dennis Hackett
The Times, 15 Aug 1981

This was the last of an occasional series under the generic title City, “occasional” being a word often applied to something someone is not quite sure about. The town we were invited to compare with New Orleans was Leeds, as unlikely a parallel as one could imagine except that we were concerned with a particular aspect of it: music.

“Leeds is going to expand musically”, a voice told us. “It is going to be like New Orleans.” If that perhaps is not quite the way it is, there is evidence – with more than 200 live groups in the town – that something stirs in what might be thought of infertile ground.

The music referred to was mainly jazz or rock. There are in this part of the country, of course, choral, orchestral and brass band traditions that do not vie with New Orleans and are no worse for that, but participants in these activities have a link with the folksier type of performers in that they do it mostly for expression rather than money-making.

The first group we saw was a jazz group, the Jack Bennett All-Stars, busy at rehearsal discussing who was going to star and for how long and doing not at all badly, “Autumn Leaves”, with the vocalist enjoying doing her thing in English and French.

Another colour came next, a New Wave rock group with what I think of as Dalek-type lyrics which are stabbed at the audience. This was led by a young man who appeared to be doing this on his way to an arts degree at Leeds Polytechnic.

We heard him in action and saw him in earnest discussion with his tutor swapping phrases about “cultural intervention” and intellectual terrorism”. He seemed to be worried about what kind of degree he would get and what the criteria were. His tutor was unable to reassure him, although he did say that “ideological intervention” by rock ‘n’ roll bands could become part of the academic scenery, if that can be taken as any kind of reassurance.

We also heard from a young mechanic with a long line of musical forebears who not only played a mean saxophone for money in the streets as well as indoors with a group, but had an exhaustive experience of the lack of musical appreciation of the police in various Yorkshire towns.

He was undeterred by 39 court appearances. The law did not trouble him while the cameras were on him, which he put down to that fact and the fine weather which, understandably, inclines them to desist from unnecessary activity.

I thought he made a valid point about the ungrammatical nature of some of the charges levelled at him and their archaic origins and he was amusing on the foibles of Yorkshire authorities. Sheffield, for instance, made their displeasure known on “pretty pink sheets”, in Huddersfield the magistrates had been sympathetic, dismissed the charges and given him “two and a half quid” to get home.

His impressive devotion was differently matched by an obviously successful young man first seen stepping from a red Mercedes 300SL. He turned out to be a company director and his hobby was to make music entirely for himself at home. He sang and played all the instrumental parts which often kept him busy taping into the watches of the night.

Lastly there was Irish music, which eddies out to other ethnic centres from a broth of a pub called The Roscoe.

All in all, very good television, may be occasional but delightful, beautifully photographed and edited and with no obtrusive interviewer. It was produced by Ian McNulty who doubtless knew, as I did, that Leeds is nothing like New Orleans but has its own stubborn brand of individualism and is worth keeping an eye on for just that reason.

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