Michael Jackson’s live appearance in Halifax, the most famous sofa in Rock ‘n’ Roll, and the pub where it all began for the Arctic Monkeys, Yorkshire has more than played its part in the musical history of Britain.
While Liverpool may have dominated the 1960s, and the 1990s were all Manchester’s own, the contribution of God’s Own County has finally been recognised in a new book charting the ebb and flow of the country’s music scene.
The Rock Atlas is the brainchild of author David Roberts, who discovered an untapped gold mine of stories while working as editor of the Guinness Book of Singles.
“I gathered so much information on venues and interesting music and thought it would make a great book,” says Roberts. “I wasn’t sure whether anyone else would be interested, so I went on local radio to talk about it, and ever since then I’ve had people ringing me saying, ‘Do you know about this plaque in my city?’ The book could have gone on for ever, but the publisher turned round and basically said that we needed to get it out.”
His publisher’s patience may very well have been pushed to the limit when, just as the book was about to go to print, news filtered through that indie rock band The Cribs had received a Wakefield Star plaque. The event was swiftly squeezed in alongside a host of other Yorkshire entries.
“I think after Manchester, Liverpool, and London, Sheffield is a real hotspot of music,” says Roberts, adding aside from producing the likes of Jarvis Cocker, Richard Hawley and Arctic Monkeys, the city was also home to the King Mojo club, the first business venture of Peter Stringfellow, which hosted acts such as Jimi Hendrix, The Who and the Kinks.
In 1978 local synthpop legends The Human League announced themselves to the world at the Wham Bar at Sheffield Hallam University, and Sheffield clubs such as The Black Swan (now The Boardwalk) and The Leadmill have gained legendary status. Leeds also gets a nod, both for The Who’s Live at Leeds recording which is now widely regarded as the greatest live album of all time, and for the sofa at the The Duchess of York pub, which was a crash out for many a famous face, including Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. However, Roberts’ favourite entry comes from the small village of Ovenden, the adopted home of New Orleans blues legend “Champion” Jack Dupree.
Dupree moved to the village permanently in 1959, after marrying local lass Shirley Harrison. He quickly became a much beloved member of the local community and attracted many famous visitors from Eric Clapton to John Lee Hooker and BB King.
“He moved there from the United States in 1959, partly because of segregation, and partly because black musicians were not held in particularly high regard at the time,” says Roberts. “There’s a fantastic picture of him playing in front of members of the Women’s Institute in Halifax. It’s such an great story.”
Dupree died in 1992 and, as the book explains, the village of Ovenden installed a plaque in his honour that still stands at the Dean Clough complex.
As well as chronicling the music venues and grotty pubs that have given birth to some of Britain’s finest bands, Roberts also touches on the phenomenon of the British music festival.
“It’s difficult now to bridge the gap between a band’s first gig in a pub, to say somewhere like Wembley Stadium,” he says. “There’s a lot of stuff at the bottom and at the top, but not too much in the middle. I think that’s made festivals even more important. I’m sure that Britain has proportionally more festivals than anywhere else in the world right now, and that’s something to be proud of.
“There’s a great feeling of negativity in Britain, and I don’t think we really talk about the great things that this country has to offer.
“We are very good at laughing at ourselves, and talking ourselves down, but we don’t celebrate the good things here quite as much as we should. If you were from say America and you were a Joe Cocker fan, one of the first things you would go and see as you travelled to Britain and further north, would be his plaque in Sheffield.”
With, a second volume already in the pipeline and the public determined to get their favourite venue or landmark a mention, Britain’s musical heritage appears to be alive and well.
The Rock Atlas, by David Roberts, is published by Clarksdale priced £19.99.