For a long time, Leeds didn’t have much of a musical heritage.
While across the Pennines a steady stream of bands had come out of Manchester from Joy to Division, to the Smiths, the Stone Roses and the biggest of them all, Oasis, Leeds struggled.
There had been the Wedding Present and the Sisters of Mercy, but back in the 1980s and 1990s when anyone started to list the city’s famous musicians it wasn’t long before the silence was broken by someone saying, “Didn’t Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits go to university in Leeds?” He did, he studied English there in the early 1970s, but even when you added in the link to The Who and their Live at Leeds gig, it wasn’t exactly a crowded hall of fame.
To Andrew White, who was growing up in East Leeds, it didn’t matter that his home city had a distinct lack of musical heroes or that his school, Garforth Community College had yet to produce a Roger Daltry or Morrissey. Whitey, as he’s always been known, wanted to be in a band.
“Being in a pop band or a rock group wasn’t something that kids from Garforth did, it just wasn’t on the agenda,” says Whitey, who a few years after leaving school would find himself playing lead guitar in a band called Kaiser Chiefs. “My dad was and still is a caretaker and like a lot of people my family had fixed ideas about what counts as a proper job. I know they’re proud of what we’ve all achieved, but I don’t think my dad still thinks of playing a guitar is a sensible job and you know what he’s probably right, I mean it’s not like going down the pits is it?
“I don’t think I’ve ever forgotten that this wasn’t the way it was supposed to have turned out.”
After completing his A-levels, Whitey stayed close to home securing a place at Leeds Metropolitan University, but admits he viewed his studies more as a necessary evil and he soon became friends with Nick Hodgson, who also had dreams of being on stage. Neither, however, fancied being the frontman, but Hodgson already had someone in mind. “Nick knew I wanted to be in a band and one night he took me to Brighton Beach [the Cockpit’s then weekly indie club night] to meet the guy he thought should be the lead singer. I’ve spent a lot of nights in Brighton Beach, but I think that will have to go down as the most memorable.
“I walked in, it was still pretty early and there was this guy dancing on his own wearing a cricket jumper. Nick turned to me and said, ‘That’s Ricky Wilson, that’s our lead singer’.”
For the next few years, the pubs and clubs of Leeds became a second home for Whitey, Hodgson and Wilson as they launched their first band Runston Parva. Named after a tiny East Yorkshire hamlet and sounding more like a location preferred by the League of Gentleman, it was soon shortened to Parva. The three original members were joined by Hodgson’s old school friends Nick ‘Peanut’ Baines and Simon Rix and suddenly Leeds wasn’t just the place they called home, but the place their music first won recognition.
In between gigs, Whitey, like the rest of the band took temping jobs and even when Parva secured a record deal with Mantra, in the back of his mind, he always suspected that at some point he may well find himself back in an office job. “We were just happy to be booked for any gig, honestly at the start our only ambition was to have our faces known on the local scene. That was it, we never expected anything more. Leeds was enough. The mid to late 1990s might have been the hangover of the Britpop years, but it felt like a really exciting time to be in Leeds. The city itself was changing a lot. When I was growing up, there was something faintly depressing about the city centre, but then all of a sudden it seemed that Leeds was part of a northern revival.
“There were new shops, new bars, new clubs and for those of us who lived here it felt that our city was finally getting the recognition it deserved. Of course, I think all of us wondered what if... and had dreams of being in the charts, but we also knew that most bands fail.”
After four years and three singles, when Mantra Records went bust, Parva found themselves in limbo. The wilderness years didn’t last long, a change of name to Kaiser Chiefs in 2004 saw them signed to B-Unique Records and having secured a slot on the following year’s NME Awards Tour, songs like I Predict A Riot and Everyday I Love You Less and Less saw the band catapulted on to the front covers of the music press where they were joined a few years later by fellow Leeds band The Pigeon Detectives and Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys.
“When we got a record deal with Parva it was fantastic, but then when we were dropped it all felt a bit tainted, even the name. With Kaiser Chiefs it was different. With Parva we’d drive ourselves to all the venues on the toilet tour, suddenly we were asked to headline. I’m not sure you ever think of yourself as being part of a movement or a new sound when you’re in the middle of it, but there was something great about having all these new guitar bands coming out of the North. Yorkshire’s always had a lot to say for itself and it just found a way to say it through music.”
Kaiser Chiefs became favourites on the summer festival circuit and world tours beckoned, but their Leeds roots remained very much in tact, in part thanks to the Old Chapel recording studio in Holbeck. Apart from Whitey, the rest of the band have moved away from Leeds - Wilson now lives with his girlfriend in Cornwell - but when it came to recording their fourth album, The Future is Medieval last year, the South Leeds rehearsal rooms, where The Wedding Present and Sisters of Mercy had also recorded, are where they all returned.
“Everyone’s still got a place here, even if they don’t live here full time and the Old Chapel will always be special to us. It’s the same place we’ve been going for 15 years and whenever we go back it just feels like a second home . It’s run by Mark Hubbard who is one of life’s good guys. He doesn’t make much money out of it, he never has, but he gives bands like us a really nice environment to play in and we’ll never forget the support we had in the early days.”
The other place, Whitey feels at home is Elland Road where he first watched Leeds United lose to Shrewsbury as a child.
“They were awful, but I guess it was good preparation for the years to come,” says Whitey, who remains a season ticket holder, despite hanging banners from the stage of their recent UK tour calling for the removal of club chairman Ken Bates. “They should be a top five premiership club, but over the last couple of years it hasn’t been a happy place to be. We are sticking in there and I’m ever the optimist that there will be away out, but you can’t just stick around when the times are good.”
Whitey, who will turn 38 this summer, lives in Headingley with his partner and three-year-old daughter and has no plans to leave Leeds any time soon.
“I’m not going down south, it’s full of southerners and besides I’ve got my friends and family here. Being in a band is quite addictive and after a few weeks sitting around in track suit bottoms there is always an urge to get back on stage.
“But whenever I’m away, the one place I always want to come back to sleep is Leeds. It’s my home.”