So long, Leeds

unnamed (26)I’m leaving Leeds today and my emotions are far more mixed on the subject than I ever would have thought possible when I moved here eight years ago.

I came across the Pennines from Manchester where I’d lived, studied and partied hard for five years. I felt at home there and for good reason – it had been the big city in my life since even before my student days, when I spent my teenage Saturdays in Affleck’s Palace buying purple hair dye and baggy jeans that soaked the rain up to my knees.

It was the first city I sneaked, underage, into a disco night at the Ritz, back when bouncers looked the other way at the date of birth on your provisional driving licence. When I filled in my UCAS form, it was the University of Manchester at the top of my list and when I got offered a place, I couldn’t have been happier.

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When I finally arrived a deferred two years later (that’s a story for another day), I knew I could handle the hurdle of permanently leaving my parents’ home a few miles down the A34 in Cheshire. And for those few years, I loved Manchester – the way the sun hit the Victorian red bricks; the sticky dives sadly no more (RIP Roadhouse); my attic flat with the Velux windows that had views over the Northern Quarter’s roofs; the bars, the history, the swagger, the accent, the music, even the rain.

So I approached moving to Leeds in 2010 kicking and screaming. My friend Amy patiently kept me company during those bleak weeks when we went back and forth on the rattling Pacers to look at depressing basement flats in Headingley. When the time came to leave for the new job I packed a van, sobbed across the M62 and moved into a (much nicer) flat on North Street with a girl I’d met on Gumtree.

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The following year was a difficult one as I struggled cluelessly through my trainee reporter paces, and though I wasn’t altogether happy, I had started to try and make the best of things. I was lucky enough to have a gracious and relaxed roomie (thanks Carmen). I was introduced by a mutual bud to the positive life force that is Gemma. I reconnected with my best pal from university, Emily, who had moved to Leeds and whose support and friendship I am lucky enough to enjoy to this day. I started writing for a local blog and going to gigs, finding refuge in Nation of Shopkeepers and North Bar and spending weekends covering festivals like Live at Leeds and Constellations.

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But I still hadn’t entirely warmed to the place. I spent most weekends either going back to Manchester or escaping to my best mate’s house in London. It was only when my new flatmate moved in and tweeted about our housewarming party that things took a turn for the better, because who should turn up but the man who would bowl me over by throwing a record on to the NCP from my balcony.

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Ewan was (and still is) a big-time advocate for Leeds and its surroundings, and was a more than willing tour guide. We drove out to Ilkley, to Golden Acre Park and to Yorkshire Sculpture Park. We went to Otley car boot on Saturdays and took in the view from the Chevin.

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We picnicked in the grounds of Kirkstall Abbey, built snowmen in Horsforth, petted animals at Temple Newsom and visited the meerkats at Tropical World. We walked down the canal, saw the viaduct at Knaresborough, played on the beaches in Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay and Staines.

We ate at the Man Behind the Curtain before it got its Michelin star, got really drunk at Cosmic Slop, went to Belgrave’s opening party, consumed delicious roasts at the Adelphi and the Reliance. We drank beer in Friends of Ham when it was the size of a cupboard, saw bands in a field near Skipton, and made a home for ourselves in Burley, where we were lucky enough to live a stone’s throw from literally all our friends.

It’s only as we are leaving for Birmingham I realise how much I will miss the latter and the ease of drunkenly stumbling a few hundred yards between our houses. I’ll miss the fact that in the summer we would sit in the park together on a random Wednesday evening, or on the stoops at one of our houses, and drink cans until it got cold. And that every Christmas we would set aside a date to celebrate our own December 25 by each bringing a dish to the table.

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In addition to the pals on my doorstep, I was also welcomed into the Armley fold – a warm and wonderful bunch of musicians and creatives who lived a few miles away. It meant I was doubly lucky because I had two crews to hang out with, all of them patient and funny people who taught me everything from yoga, to how to change a baby’s nappy, to how to party just that bit harder.

Our house was a gorgeous end terrace on the steep streets, with stripped floors, amazing afternoon light and views from the top room that allowed us to watch the fireworks at several different parks. Leaving the first home we made together makes me too sad to type.

Yesterday, as I walked around Leeds on my final day as a resident, I realise how much it has changed into this wonderful, creative city. Its independent scene has blossomed, to the point where it may even surpass Manchester’s.

I already know I’ll long for the food at Bundobust, the meat at Ox Club, the brunch at Layne’s and films at Hyde Park Picture House. Where I once missed the red bricks of Manchester, I will miss the bleached sandstone of Yorkshire. Also, &Other Stories. I will definitely miss that.

But the sadness I feel about leaving Leeds is different to how I felt about leaving Manchester eight years ago. The desire to start again in a new city is similarly lacking, but whereas back then I couldn’t envisage anything living up to what I had left, I know now that Birmingham will be what we make it.  For Indian street food, we’ll go to Zindya; for films, The Electric. For excellent brunch, there’s a whole host of amazing looking places to try, and the Jewellery Quarter beckons. When we crave the countryside, we’ll drive to Warwickshire, or the Cotswolds.

And if it doesn’t work out, Leeds isn’t going anywhere.

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Interview: Breton // Live at Leeds // April 2011

 TYPE ‘Breton’ into Google and you’ll be hard pushed to find much more than a reference to 60s surrealist poet, Andre.

And believe it or not, that’s about as close as you’ll get to pinning down the South East London musicians of the same name.

Search engine elusiveness aside, Breton is less pretentious than the sum of its parts, and given they hail from rough and ready New Cross, it’s safe to say the genre-bending four piece are at least aware of the connotations.

Like all good surrealists, they work against the popular grain and run in the opposite direction of “generic”.

In cherry-picking their hip-hop influences and weaving them into their own curious style of dub-step laced beats, the band have earned themselves a recent signing to Fat Cat Records and an upcoming stint in Sigur Ros’ Icelandic studios to record their long-awaited album.

Lead singer, Roman Rappak, tries to explain the very complicated process of how Breton came to be.

“Our music is a combination of all these disparate elements that when they’re put  together, your brain will pick up on it,” he says. “Like when you get a bass line and put it into a new context… it’s like the basis of all art.

“It really excites me when you take something and jumble it all up until it looks like something else.”

He pauses for a second.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I promise not to get any more pretentious than that. These are the ramblings of someone who’s been in a van for six hours drinking Lucozade.”

That, and a self-confessed childhood case of attention deficit disorder, seem to be at the root of Breton’s eclectic musical background. 

Roman – a former film and sound design student – insists they’re not your run of the mill indie kids toting a Casio under each arm – this is brooding electronica borne of misspent youth at New Cross’ finest illegal raves.

 “When I was 14, 15, it was really difficult to go see bands,” says Roman, 27. “We couldn’t get in anywhere, so there were a lot of raves and parties around South London that were illegal, where no one gave a shit how old you were, and that’s where the hip hop influence came from.

“When Breton got together, Adam [Ainger, 26] and I had been playing for a couple of years together in New Cross. We were coming from a very poor part of London where we didn’t have that opportunity to be the indie kids.

“It’s a luxury to say “I’m in this scene or that scene”, but in South London it’s really scrambled. There’s awful punk and dub-step bands and always someone else verging on the same level of shitness, so you can get away with murder there.

“That’s the wonder of New Cross, there’s no structure.”

The band formed a couple of years ago, recruiting Ian Patterson, 26, who according to Roman, bought in a much-needed ‘boot camp’ work ethic, and Daniel Mcilvenny, 21, who Roman describes as both a “ray of sunshine” and a “genius”.

They found themselves providing music to a well known, but unmentionable, sports brand, putting out some remixes and recording costly EP, Counter Balance, in the most obtuse way a band could ever find to put their name on plastic.

“We put that out as a joke,” reflects Roman. “It was like, how do you put a record out? I was a complete novice at it. I only started really getting into the music when I could download everything – you can download someone’s whole back catalogue, 25 years of someone’s history, in a second.

“But there’s a massive romance to vinyl so Ian found this guy in a shack in New Zealand who makes vinyl by hand – you have to send him a CD, and this guy will listen to it and he etches it into the vinyl.

“It was a really swift turn around…of four months. Just as we were giving up, 20 limited run copies of this vinyl turned up. We put them in Rough Trade and it sold out thankfully… it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Breton seem to like making things exquisitely difficult for themselves so it feels like a good moment to bring up their astonishing lack of online presence –  a strange marketing strategy for any fledgling band.

“There’s two schools of thought on that,” says Roman. “It’s the end of the MySpace generation, now it’s about Tweeting which sandwiches you like and what you’re doing in the studio.

“I find it really dull, it suggests that people can’t Google that shit themselves.  If people are into what we’re doing, they’ll find out.

“But on the other hand, our record label is like, “where the fuck is your Facebook page”, so there are arguments about it. What you find out on the internet, some of it’s true and some of it’s just made up. People should just work it out.”

In retrospect, turning into social media whores would be a strange move for the DIY band, whose raison d’être is to be as different to their contemporaries as possible.

Their schedule is hectic, with their diary filling up with yet more obscure antics such as going to the Czech Republic for the sole purpose of recording some violins.

“I’m going to do the strings for the album, then I’m going to beat box the orchestra so I’ve got loads of samples that never sound good when I try to play them,” Roman tells me on the sly.

“Then we’re going to play a massive set to launch the album which will probably bankrupt us because we going to get this production company to do projection mapping and get a live orchestra.”

Big plans for Breton – that’s if you can keep tabs on their whereabouts – but after seeing them live, it’s worth tracking them down.

Onstage, they resemble hooligans about to rob the nearest Maccie D’s –  a hoods-up affair compounded by playing in complete darkness.

But they’re far more accessible than one imagines, bringing together visuals and vibrant sounds in an innovatively kinaesthetic manner.

Unexpectedly, the guitar licks bear more than a passing resemblance to the staccato work of The Foals, but it’s a passing flirtation with a popular sound as their material descends into a dark fusion of ambient noise.

Stand out tracks come in the form of Governing Correctly and December, though those with more appreciation for 90s hip-hop production will probably prefer the edgier sounds of The Well.

Catch them live while you can.

Insider tip: Googling BretonLABS will get you further than any other search term.

Interview: Cloud Control // Live at Leeds // April 2011

TURNING up at the most rock and roll of all interview venues – the Leeds Travel Lodge – I find a subdued bunch of Aussies quietly munching through a pre-show breakfast.

For Cloud Control, who have only recently relocated to our fair capital, it’s just another city on a tour that has seen them play to rave reviews, including a particularly well attended show at hipster hangout, XOYO.

Singer and guitarist, Alister Wright – that’s Al, to you and I – bemoans the hole forming in his shoe as I ask about their recent move.

“We’ve been homeless for about a month but we’ve finally found somewhere.” He pauses before randomly venturing: “I’ve started drinking Black Skull too, it’s pretty cheap.”

I ask whether that’s the equivalent of a trampy bottle of White Lightning, but the joke is perhaps too inherently British. Give him a few months and he’ll be at the Offie chugging it down like all good 23-year-olds.

I change the subject and Al gives me a history lesson on the band-  a collaboration between himself, bassist Jeremy Kelshaw, and brother-sister duo, Ulrich (drums) and Heidi (keys and vox) Lenffer.

He says they’ve followed a “pretty standard band trajectory”, forming from the seeds of nothing at a Battle of the Bands competition in 2005, when Heidi gave them two weeks to “get their shit together” and write and play some songs.

To cut a long story short, two years later and they’d released an EP.

“We squeezed everything we could out of that,” says Jeremy, 25. “We’re slow to release stuff but there was never a time when there wasn’t a gig on the horizon. It took ages to find our feet stylistically.”

The comment seems rather bashful, given that after releasing their album, Bliss Release, this time last year, they won the Australian equivalent of the Mercury prize.

But until now, only their homeland press has been privy to the delights of Cloud Control.  With a UK release coming out next month and the wonders of the internet, the mutterings on this side of the hemisphere from those well versed in underground trends can already be heard singing the band’s praises.

That being said, the boy-girl vocal harmonies and psychedelic thread to the band’s makeup has already lent itself to some pretty lazy comparisons to ethereal rock and twee male/female pairings – a point that sparks a touch of debate.

“Those kind of references are funny- getting compared to Belle and Sebastian because of the vocals,” says Al. “It’s a different attitude to the music, different type of melodies.

“Then some journalists will come interview us and say ‘oh you’re definitely influenced by the Mamas and Papas’. I haven’t ever listened to the Mamas and Papas,” he shrugs.

“We’ve never thought to emulate any one band,” agrees Jeremy. “I think that’s the trap you fall into – we almost did that at the beginning, sounding like Interpol and the Arcade Fire.

“None of us are these prolific singer-song writers, none of us had written songs before but then you have to find some balls and play your own music.

“You’ve got to take those comparisons with a pinch of salt,” he adds with conviction.

Al would have us file away Cloud Control in a somewhat haphazard manner, between Led Zeppelin and Aphex Twin of all things, but this is down to defiance rather than stylistic comparison.

The sold-out crowd at Trinity Church just two hours later was certainly in favour of the band’s blend of (dare I say it) psychedelic synths and pitch-perfect duetting, but that’s not lazy , it’s simply the truth.

Consciously or not, the band’s overarching sound skates close to sun-drenched Californian nostalgia.

There’s an undertow of melancholy to the recordings, but onstage there’s a bouncy energy that defies the self-professed age of the more subdued numbers such as Meditation Song #2 (Why oh Why).

Al casually drawls his way through a clutch of star tracks, nailing the harmonised yelps of Gold Canary, before letting loose for Ghost Story: the vocal equivalent of a hard slap in the face.

Fleshed out with tambourines and proggy keyboard interludes, the quartet finish a tight and captivating set with a frenzied version of sure-fire single material, There’s Nothing in the Water We Can’t Fight.

The only thing missing from the set is visuals – a point Al makes prior to the show.

“I love having heaps of smoke and being shrouded in it, it’s like a visual version of reverb” he said. “There was one gig in Australia where I couldn’t see my feet, it was a white out.

“It’s nice to place music uninhibited like that.”  He pauses for a second. “Maybe we should just start playing naked?”

Bliss Release is out in the UK on May 23.

Visit the band’s Myspace here