Established: 1985 (date not confirmed); Closed: 26 March 2000
Notable acts: Nirvana (25 October 1989), Pixies, Pulp, Oasis, Coldplay, Radiohead, Manic Street Preachers, Blur
Sticky carpets. Awful lager. (Hann 2014)
Situated at 71 Vicar Lane, passers-by would now be completely unaware of the building’s vibrant musical past. Currently a Hugo Boss shop, the venue closed on 26 March 2000 and was subsequently replaced by the current retail premises.
Described as the “hallowed pop shrine” (Simpson 2000) of the North, the venue was much loved for its patronage of emerging bands with Oasis infamously playing there in 1994 to no audience whatsoever (Simpson 2009). The venue still holds a strong communal resonance, with a dedicated Facebook page, “I Miss The Duchess of York Leeds” with over 1200 members.
Upon entering the building, the bar was on the right, in front of the kitchen and stairs. On the immediate left was a small open section facilitating conversation, with another small snug on the opposite right-hand side. Opposite the bar were the toilets and the main stage at the far end of the building, obstructed by internal structural walls. The venue was, “hot and sweaty, but with great energy” (Miranda McMullen, Band Manager), a factor of the internal layout, where the band was only visible from a section of the room. The building was not designed for live music, being an adaptation of an existing pub layout. Upstairs, the interior was open plan with walls adorned with archival tour posters and graffiti.
Known as the “Robin Hood Pub” from the Second World War, the venue was allegedly blacklisted by the US military because of prostitution and drug trafficking. Toward the end of 1985, the name changed to the “Marquee.” However after the threat of a lawsuit from the Marquee in London the venue became known as “The Pub With No Name” for the majority of 1986. Renamed as The Duchess of York, the venue started hosting music from the mid to late 1980s and was at its height between 1988 and the late 1990s when dance/rave culture was at the height of popularity. The venue held strictly to its pub opening hours, with bands performing at 7:30pm and headliners from 10pm. Bands played almost every night. The Duchess of York offered variety, regularity and quality of performers, as well as being a place where bands learned their trade.
Nirvana’s performance at the venue has gained legendary status when singer Kurt Cobain crashed out in the upstairs dressing room after the gig and spent the night on the sofa. The setlist somehow survives. The tatty sofa gained a prolonged life as it became customary for bands to sign it when playing the venue. Originally purchased for £6 the sofa was included in Sheffield’s National Centre for Popular Music. Although the venue’s capacity is reported to be 250, memories of the venue state as many as 500 being present on occasion. However, toward its closure, the venue was mainly hosting tribute acts and Battle of the Bands competitions. The final gig at the Duchess of York was Chumbawumba, a band who had played the venue multiple times.
I’m really saddened that the Duchess is closing, because we couldn’t get gigs anywhere else when we started out.We actually got signed by playing at the Duchess because it was one of the few venues where record companies would be prepared to come and see you. (Embrace singer Danny McNamara — Simpson 2000)
The Green Day gig was so full kids were trying to climb through the skylights at the front to get in….I even think one got stuck. (Miranda McMullen, Band Manager)
The venue itself was like a creaking old ship, sometimes it would be like the Marie Celeste, other times we would be throwing people over the side. (John Keenan, Owner of Duchess of York)
I saw nights when we actually ran out of beer! It was lunacy. 7 rows deep at the bar…we were ROCK-N-ROLL. (Commenter — SecretLeeds.Com 2007)
Discover some iconic tracks performed at the Duchess of York on our Spotify playlist.