Music Music Features Muse

The Sound of West Yorkshire

Ella Brownbill looks at the gentrification of music-hotspot Manchester and West Yorkshire's growing music scene

Article Thumbnail

Image Credit: Paul Hudson

For years Manchester ruled over the UK music scene, whether it be punk in the 70s, indie rock in the 80s, or Britpop in the 90s, Manchester was where the sound was coming from. Even into the 2000s, Manchester reigned supreme, its only real competition coming from London. Yet in recent years, Manchester’s knack for producing great bands, and by great bands I mean the likes of The Smiths and Joy Division, has been waning. The most notable band to come out of Manchester recently is perhaps The 1975, and even Matt Healy (lead singer) will tell you, he would rather be from London (in reference to very much one-sided online beef with London band Sports Team). Is the state of the music scene now so dire that Mancunian bands wish they were from a different city altogether? Or has a new musical hotspot actually emerged?

Just across the Pennines, West Yorkshire’s music scene has been growing rapidly. What was once considered dismal and depressing has seen a great revival, and what some may even call rebirth. Out with the Kaiser Chiefs, and in with Yard Act. Many of these up-and-coming bands hail from towns outside of Leeds and further into the depths of the Moors. The once industrial town of Todmorden has particularly seen a spike in the number of bands it produces, with the likes of Working Men’s Club, The Goa Express, and The Lounge Society all coming from the town and surrounding areas such as Hebden Bridge. But why has this trend occurred?

I believe gentrification plays a great part in this story. As Morrissey has before explained, the inspiration behind many of The Smiths’ songs came from the dreary and depressing nature of 1980s Manchester. You only have to watch the music video for ‘Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before’ to understand why this might be, as Morrissey and young lookalikes cycle through back alleys and desolate Salford streets, it seems poverty is rife and many people have been left behind. Morrissey begins his 2013 autobiography by describing the Manchester he grew up in – ‘we live in forgotten Victorian knife-plunging Manchester, where everything lies where it was left over one hundred years ago’ is only one line of description. This was the backdrop for much of Manchester up until very recently. But gentrification of the city has altered this narrative. Many areas, including Salford, have witnessed an influx of gentrification and modernisation. But the same can’t be said of smaller market towns.

Though Todmorden is far from poor, it does feel as though time has almost stood still in the town. Its industrial past is very much obvious, and coupled with the Moors, this creates a dark atmosphere – The Lounge Society’s ‘Burn The Heather’ clearly takes direct inspiration from the heather that can be found on the Moors. It is no wonder why so many before have been inspired by this landscape, including, but not limited to, the Brontë sisters. While the same might have once been said about the dark and depressing streets of Manchester, it seems it has lost its creative soul in a flurry of gentrification. But as gentrification is yet to touch Todmorden and other Yorkshire towns, this has enabled them to rediscover their soul.

This creative revival is not limited to bands coming from the area. Gig venues and places of culture have also seen a jump in number. The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge is now one of the most sought-after gig venues in the country, on par with the likes of Brudenell Social Club in Leeds and Hare & Hounds in Birmingham. The up-and-coming indie-rock band The Snuts is performing there next month; the Japanese band Shonen Knife, a favourite of the late Kurt Cobain, is also playing the venue as a part of its 40th anniversary tour. Halifax’s Piece Hall, once a cloth hall, is also now one of West Yorkshire’s top cultural attractions, packed with trendy shops and bars; concerts are also performed there.

Though let us not forget the music. Todmorden bands Working Men’s Club, The Goa Express, and The Lounge Society have all enjoyed recent success. Working Men’s Club have particularly caught the attention of the music mob - their debut album (self-titled) received four stars from The Guardian and was said to be ‘outstanding’. The Lounge Society and The Goa Express have also been named ones to watch by the NME (2021). Even if you’re not one to follow what the critics have to say, just listening to the music yourself, you can almost grasp how refreshing and yet exciting it is. It seems Todmorden, with a population a little over 15,000, has emerged as a creative hub. Who would have thought?

As for Manchester, it’s clear that its heyday is over. It appears unlikely that it will ever find that same creative spark that it once had. But perhaps this simply signals that times are moving on. Manchester is not the same city that it once was, and so music is no longer its main creative output. But no matter where the sound is coming from, whether that be Todmorden or London, or how much more of Manchester falls into the hands of gentrification, the city will always be remembered as having birthed some of the greatest bands, and music, ever.

Latest in Music