Venue Heritage

The Cockpit, Leeds

Capacity: 500

Notable Acts: Libertines, Coldplay, Amy Winehouse, White Stripes, Queens of the Stone Age, Muse, Korn, Arctic Monkeys.

Live at Leeds, Cockpit (BBC)

Despite closing in 2014, The Cockpit remains a focal point of any discussion surrounding the rich musical heritage of Leeds and its diverse culture.

Opening in 1994, The Leeds Cockpit was formerly known as the Cock of the North pub. Located on Swinegate, the venue was just a stones throw away from the Leeds City centre train station.

Tucked away beneath the 19th century Dark Arches, the setting of Leeds Cockpit was often a major part of its appeal. The striking architectural space it occupied was complimented by a domineering metal doorway adorned with the bald, iconic Cockpit signage – an appearance which created what could be considered a quintessential industrial aesthetic.

One of the last shows at Leeds Cockpit (Facebook)

Waiting in line at the Cockpit was almost a sensory experience. Gig-goers excitement was met by the consistent noise of traffic which echoed throughout the arches. Rumbles of trains would pass overhead, and pigeons circled and sheltered on the narrow ledges above. As the waiting line brought attendees closer to the doors, graffiti scrawled across the adjacent brickwork – band logos, signatures, memories of experiences of the past and today “RIP Cockpit”.

Queue to The Cockpit

Entering the venue, the walls were adorned with posters, ticket stubs, stickers, flyers and other various other ephemera. Indeed, before the advent of the internet, such flyers and posters as well as the attendees memories were the only link to trace back the history of what had happened there. The nostalgia around the closure of Leeds Cockpit extends its reach into the memories of this place and the intangible. However, the littered walls functioned as a sign post to the venues’ long and illustrious history. Both established and fledgling artists would note the rich and varied artists who had passed through the venues doors before. For some within the Leeds and local scene, it was right of passage.

The venue’s main room held a modest 500 people, although, it would often feel like significantly more, especially by the time a prominent artist reached their encore, and the audience was dripping with sweat. Upon entering the venue a set of stairs would lead to a smaller venue in the loft and a balcony which accommodated the sound desk and engineer above the main room. Two ground floor rooms provided a bar and stage. The venue would often use a second entrance for gigs in the second ground floor room, on occasion this would also provide access to the well frequented smoking area.

The venues adaptability was a big part of its success. Such an ability to shape-shift with the requirements of an audience, promoter or artist could also be attributed to the unique space this post-industrial maize could offer. Indeed, at the time of closing, 3 established rooms of varying size would be used frequently. Artists from the Menzingers to the Wonder Years graced the cozy loft above, long before the international success they enjoy today. Although the Cockpit became renowned as a central pillar within the Punk scene, the venue would successfully cater to all styles and scenes, from Indie to Grime and everything in between. The Cockpit hosted The Garage and a number of prominent club nights, showcasing the cities interest in all variants of punk from pop to ska as well as established rock and metal.

Deez Nuts, Leeds Cockpit

Following its closure, the Leeds scene has continued to thrive. Despite new venues such as Leeds Arena, the juggernaught of the O2 Academy and the growing fondness and continued success of the Brudenell, not to forget the valuable additions of the Temple of Boom and Key Club; the Cockpit has left a lasting impression. Of course, a number of Leeds Festival headliners can trace their first appearances within the city to the Cockpit stage.

The neighboring Slam dunk festival has also come a long way. The festival has grown and popularity. In 2020 the festival will once again take over Temple Newsam park and as Ben Ray (Slam Dunk director) himself simply notes, “it [Slam-Dunk] was just a club night and a series of concerts in Leeds, mainly at The Cockpit” (Ben Ray, Yorkshire Evening Post 2017). Slam Dunk is now renowned as one of the flagship punk festivals, boasting a number of awards. However, its humble beginnings hark back to the importance of the provision of alternative spaces that facilitate and allow music scenes to organically grow. Such spaces also plant the seeds of ideas, and offer an endorsement and gravity built around heritage which empowers and validates subculture, art and place.

As Joseph Sheerin (2014) noted, following the announcement of the Cockpit’s closure;

“We all have our memories of The Cockpit. It smelt particularly bad, you had to peel your feet from the floor, the toilets were straight out of Trainspotting and to get any phone signal in the arches, you had to stand on your head”.

More posts will follow on Leeds Cockpit and the surrounding Leeds City scene.

William Smith

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