Leeds: known for its tight-knit music scene, built on friendship, support and a realistic, but positive attitude. With the aftermath of the floods over Christmas threatening some of the most beloved studios in the city, it was a test to the community.
Suburban Home Studios and Blueberry Hill Studios (pictured) are among the many independent businesses in Leeds under threat due to the damage caused. Suburban Home, owned by MJ (producer and main-man in Hookworms) has worked with some of our favourite artists over the past few years, creating incredible music with the likes of Pulled Apart By Horses, TRAAMS, Menace Beach, Honeyblood, Drenge, and Frankie and the Heartstrings, to name but a few. Blueberry Hill on the other hand, nurtures the underground acts in Leeds through providing a music studio, venue space, and events space and a little tuck shop for everyone’s food and alcohol needs.
Blueberry Hill alone lost roughly £45,000 worth of equipment, desks and gear for a great number of bands: Narcs, a noisy alternative rock band, being one of them. “We heard about the floods from MJ pretty much,” starts frontman Wilko. “He tweeted someone and said can anyone get in touch with Blueberry Hill and I responded, but he was already on his way with Tom. I ended up going down with him on Boxing Day, just to try and help out. By the time I got down there, the water was sort of knee height, when I left it was about waist height, and there was already a lot of gear in the water.”
Speaking about their initial reaction, guitarist Joe reveals; “We were all weirdly on the same wavelength… we don’t want it to sound forced or ‘look how good we are’, but all of us more or less said that if we lost the gear, then we can still be a band and play with cheap gear, but we were all like, ‘what the fuck, Quinney?!’. We watched him build Blueberry Hill more or less by hand with his Dad and his mates. He built it into this amazing thing over a couple of years. It sounds like we’re saying this for whatever reason, but we were genuinely more worried for Quinney than our future as a band… it’s our mate, it’s his whole income, it’s his whole life and that’s under threat.”
It’s a sentiment shared by Brawlers, who lost £4000 worth of equipment, mid-way through recording their second album. Singer Harry George Johns says “it didn’t seem real to be honest, exacerbated by the fact that we found out on Boxing Day, you know? We were worried for our stuff obviously, but also just worried for Tom and the dudes there because it really is the best, most welcoming rehearsal space in Leeds.”
Leeds’ legends, Pulled Apart By Horses were also shocked to hear about the damage the floods caused after previously working closely with both studios. Guitarist James Brown says that he was “heartbroken” when he first heard the news. “It was such a shame. They’re both relatively new ventures and I can’t even begin to imagine how much of a total fuck up it was for them both. These guys aren’t floating on a wave of cash, they’re both doing something for the love it.”
In less than 12 hours, a fundraiser at the Brudenell was organised, and a Just Giving page set up. “[Leeds producer] Ed Heaton used to work at the place before MJ owned it as a studio, and he’d had minor floods before, but because he’s had that minor flooding experience before, he kind of put the group together,” claims Joe (Narcs). “It was quite small at first… Wilko was trying to sort the bill, Scott Lewis [Clue Records] set up the Just Giving page, Ed was talking to Nath at the Brudenell and Tom Cummings did a lot of artwork. And then there was this guy from a merchandise company that we’d never met before, but through Tom Cummings being involved, he added him and then he said he’d do a range of merchandise for us which was insanely cool of him – all at his own cost, and he gave all the money to Blueberry Hill.” “Everyone just wanted to be involved to be honest,” adds Wilko.
“We immediately called up and asked if we could do anything and to just sign us up,” Harry (Brawlers) continues. “Next day he sent us a poster for the fundraiser so that’s what we were doing.” In true Brawlers punk-rock fashion, Harry left work and went back after the gig to finish his shift. “I had to come offstage and walk straight to work at the brewery I work at! I threw up on the way home.”
With the venue full to the brim, the excitement and pride on show was undeniable. “I think even Quinney was surprised by how many people donated prizes and came to see the bands,” chips in Narcs’ bassist John. “I think at the time we were dead surprised, but when we had time to think it through, it’s not surprising,” adds Joe. “Not a lot of bands are going to make a living off their music, so then you’ve got to think about how many bands there are in Leeds, then say there’s an average of four members a band, and then all those people are going to have day jobs, and then those day jobs tend to suit musicians – things like bar work, or steady 9–5’s where you know you’re gonna get your evenings off. So when we put out this call for raffle prizes, and all this stuff came in, we thought a lot of these people ARE or WERE involved with the music scene in Leeds.
“I think that being in a band is basically based around empathy, so it shouldn’t be surprising when something shit happens to a band, that the main people who exercise empathy and can empathise best with you are other people in bands. At the time we were blown away by it, but since thinking about it… Leeds is very strong on music, musicians are very strong on empathy and musicians don’t make a lot of money so they’re in all branches of the community, so it makes total sense.”
James (PAPB) wasn’t surprised by the response either: “The sense of community, friends and the passion up here for music is very strong. We’ve all got each other’s backs and nobody wants to see anyone suffer at the hands of such a thing as flooding. This is one of the main reasons I’m still based/living in Leeds! One big awesome family up here.”
In regards to Leeds and its effect on bands in general, Joe (Narcs) admits that “Leeds is a very close-knit city. The DIY scene is very close… I don’t even know if we could class ourselves as a DIY band anymore in the Leeds sense of the word because there are bands like Cowtown who have genuinely written everything themselves, produced it themselves and recorded it themselves. When I moved to Leeds, I had the dream of world stardom or whatever, that was what our first thought was when myself and Wilko first formed a band. But people challenge you when you say you wanna make it, they’re like ‘what do you mean?’ and you start to think that it is a shit idea, there’s no such thing as making it. And for that, Leeds has been great for us.
“In other cities, maybe we’d have prolonged under the illusion longer, especially in things like London where you think you’ve hit the big city. I think in that respect, Leeds has a very Northern, realistic view on music and I think the thing I’ve gained most from this city is that if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing then why the fuck are you doing it, because there’s a 99.99% chance you won’t make any money from it. And if you’re not making money from it, and you’re not enjoying it, what a waste of time. In that respect, Leeds has a very special, realistic music community.” And this attitude is what makes the city so distinct, it has an unbelievable determination to support and protect bands.
“Fuck, I dunno,” replies Harry when asked whether Brawlers ever thought about giving up due to the cost for repairs. “Everything’s just so fucked right now. Brawlers have always been this kind of underdog band that’s hard to pin down. I think we like it like that deep down. But what the fuck else are we going to do?”
“If I had lost every bit of equipment in the floods, like absolutely everything, I honestly would have found it so hard to bounce back from it,” admits Wilko (Narcs). “I’d kind of question whether it was worth spending another £2-2500 on equipment, just for myself, and knowing that everyone else had to do the same. But the overwhelming sense of community, the love of music and determination to continue is keeping these bands alive.
The same cannot be said for the studios though. Although their passion will keep them going; this is a very real situation that both of these incredible places face. Donations can still be made to help support Suburban Homes at GoFundMe while MJ works on Cowtown’s upcoming record. Plus, even though donations for Blueberry Hill have now stopped, help is constantly being offered on their Facebook page, proving once again that James’ (PABH) view of the Leeds music scene as “united, helpful, warm, welcoming and open to all” to be nothing but true.