Everything I grew up with is dead. Ceefax. John Peel. The public sector. Woolworths. And now The Cockpit. The venue has announced its permanent closure after twenty years as a staple of Leeds’ vibrant music scene during which time it hosted everyone from Dillinger Escape Plan to Mumford & Sons, Ozric Tentacles to Amy Winehouse, and infinite local noise-makers. To be perfectly honest, The Cockpit was not the most glamorous of buildings. It was like entering a clammy, corrugated-iron aircraft bunker, underneath a railway, where you could double-up for a quid. Yes, it sometimes smelled of wee. But cast your mind back to all of the greatest, most thrilling gigs you’ve ever seen in your life. Weren’t they all in places that smelled a little bit of wee? For this is where the best music lives, breathes and breeds, always has and always will. In close proximity to the wee. Not down the Royal Albert Hall with Rufus Wainwright and Stomp On Ice. My own fond Cockpit memories include two of the most exciting Trail of Dead gigs I’ve ever seen, Therapy? (2003?) rejuvenated after stripping back down to a three-piece, a crazy Icarus Line show shortly after the release of Penance Soiree (glimpsed them through a curtain backstage afterwards and they were all sat in a circle, on plastic chairs, arms folded, not talking to each other, looking extremely miserable), Mono, supported by Jesu, followed by obligatory drunken club-night dancing to The Walkmen’s ‘The Rat’, and Yo La Tengo acting out the entire transcription of the John Lydon episode of Judge Judy. But we shouldn’t get too sentimental, as DiS Reviews Editor Mr Lukowski points out as he heads our writers’ and musicians’ tributes to this legendary, slightly shabby venue... or should we? J.R. Moores
The Victorians thought nostalgia was a kind of mental illness, and I tend to agree insofar as I don’t think there’s any reason to pretend shit things from our past were good things. But there’s a lot to be said for shit things. One of the major problems with the modern world is that stuff’s needlessly good - expensive gadgets don’t make us any happier; premium beers have proliferated when we’d have been exactly as happy swilling Carling; pre-internet, people had exactly as much fun as we do now - PROBABLY MORE.
The Cockpit was shit in a lot of ways: its location, the acoustics... and I suppose fundamentally there wasn’t anything especially good about it. That accepted, I unquestionably had some of the best time of my late teens and early twenties there, including:
1) 2000-ish - my sister had just come out and was up to visit, and as she was gay and into indie, I was delighted to find out The Cockpit had a gay indie night, which felt staggeringly progressive. It was a bit shit, but I think she quite appreciated it.
2) And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead/The Mars Volta (winter 2000). In pre-‘New Rock Revolution’ Leeds, these two bands playing the same venue in barely a week was definitely the coolest thing that had ever happened. I was convinced ToD were the ones that would “go the distance”, which was sort of right, I suppose.
3) J Mascis and the Fog (April 2001). It was so loud and the acoustics were so terrible that I couldn’t actually hear the music. It felt like taking a really weird vibrational bath. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.
4) Sparklehorse (October 2001). Perversely memorable as the first gig earnest young me went to where I was too pissed to remember the gig.
5) The Hives (February 2002). I saw the first two acts on the NME tour at Leeds Met (The Coral and BRMC, I believe) then hightailed it over to The Cockpit to catch the Hives. I was supposed to be on the guest list, but wasn’t, but for some reason the bouncer let me into the sold-out gig for £5, which is easily the best bit of blagging I’ve ever achieved.
6) Mansun (May 2002). When I was at school I think I saw Mansun more than any other band. Then they disappeared for ages, but with this genuinely great gig where they played 50 per cent new material, I knew they’d soon be coming back with a vengeance.
7) Some indie night, (2008). I’m a bit hazy on the exact circumstances of the last time I came to The Cockpit. Five years after leaving Leeds, I was up to visit a girl I was seeing and I think her friend was maybe sleeping with somebody from a flash-in-the-pan US indie band who we’d come to see. We stayed on for the club night afterwards, and what I mostly remember is us all finding the venue strangely hard to find, and leaving early because we were too sober and it wasn’t very good. It’s exactly how I want to remember the place.
Goodbye, The Cockpit. I don’t exactly miss you, but the good times were very good, and you were a huge part of my life for a long time. Rust in peace.
Andrzej Lukowski, Drowned In Sound
Though I manned the DJ decks at The Cockpit for a couple of smudged and sticky years, my prevailing memories are of going there under-age, praying the £8 ticket I’d bought wouldn’t go to waste at the hands of a bouncer actually doing his job properly. Then there were the gigs themselves, wild messy affairs. The two main rooms suited a certain type of band that prevailed from 2001, during the ‘New Rock Revolution’, if you will. Like a dark oversized garage with corrugated iron roof, The Cockpit was a natural habitat for these bands. They even had a club night named aptly enough, The Garage. The (semi)memory that sticks out is of At The Drive In: Cedric Bixler ferociously swinging the mic, Roger Daltery-esque, and it connecting square with my forehead. Confined to a plastic chair at the back of the venue, it was worth the lump. As a performer, playing The Cockpit was a lottery. On any given week you could have the best or worst gig of your life. Playing there was a challenge and a rite of passage. New venues have become very cosy and luxurious in recent years...new bands are gonna have it too easy without The Cockpit.
Owen Richards, Department M (formerly Grammatics)
The Cockpit was in a railway arch under the train station in Leeds. A drip tray of sweat, a sticky underworld and the most important dive in the city. So many of my formative live music experiences happened there that I hardly know where to start. With few gig-going schoolmates as a teen, I often went to shows there on my own (Sleater Kinney). Later, I went with the friends I’d gained and caught them as they fainted in the venue’s pre-air conditioning fug (DFA1979). Then, when I had friends that played music too, I played its battle of the bands (Sky Larkin in a heat vs. Wild Beasts, though there was more banter than battle). One winter, as we passed through our hometown in the midst of a relentless tour schedule, I collapsed from exhaustion (not just code for “rehab”, it turns out), coming off stage into the snowy alley behind the venue (supporting Frightened Rabbit). The last time I played there was for a production day with Wild Beasts, excitedly scrambling through my endless rehearsal notes. It was somehow with me every step of the way, highs and lows, a permanent underbelly. It wasn’t conventionally attractive, but I just couldn’t shake it. Beyond my personal memories, I see the importance of what some would describe as “unlikeable” spaces for live music. There’s an illicit thrill to a show in the kind of environment you’d never consider consuming food in, inviting your parents to or, say, sitting down in. There are many venues that accommodate those needs very well, but every city needs its Petri dish. It was a scuzzy pit that coughed up some real gems. Thank you to all who sailed in her. RIP The Cockpit.
Katie Harkin, Sky Larkin
My first experience of The Cockpit was Church of Pop club night as a student and I always wondered what on earth was going on. Session became the stable Friday night diet for years. I used to really look forward to the Dance To The Radio bank holiday all-dayers too, back in its heyday. Meeting At The Drive-In out the back was a top moment. On a band note, we had a couple of really good shows. Ash (our visual artist/cornet player) managed to crowd surf at one and we had our first touts at another show. We used The Cockpit for pre-production too, testing out visuals and new set-ups and who could forget the parking fun-times of Live at Leeds (if we played The Cockpit)?
Simon Fogal, I Like Trains
The Cockpit was a second home for us at university. I dread to think how much weak lager and cheap whiskey we got through. The gig that sticks in my mind is The Rapture in the small room in front of about 150 people. The energy was incredible. I also have fond memories of chatting to members of Interpol and The Polyphonic Spree at the NME Awards Tour aftershow party in 2001 (I think). Loads of other great nights out which I don’t remember so clearly. We played a number of good shows there too. Oh, and I found love in the punk and metal room! I hadn’t been going so much in recent years, but I’m sad to see it go. It had its issues but it really felt like a proper rock venue.
Dave Martin, I Like Trains
The Cockpit really was a pretty mad place that will be remembered by bands to punters to graduates and so on. Everyone will have either good or bad memories of this “pit of cock” (which was the general smell wafting from the male toilets each night) and I for one have hundreds of memory shards lodged in my brain of this place. I have a lot of history with the venue from my university days. I used to go every weekend for The Garage and The Session club nights which I somehow seemed to acquire 10 guest-list spaces for each week due to one of the resident (and best) DJs of the venue I befriended (Dan Lomax). This is half my problem with the whole memory bank I have of this scuzzy place. I’d somehow end up getting kicked out pretty much every weekend for some horrible reason or other, but due to the fact I had this unlimited supply of guest-list spots they’d always let me back in each week only for me to be spotted by a bouncer and thrown out again. Each weekend became a kind of fucked-up Black-Ops stealth mission avoiding the security staff to try to survive the whole night indoors until kicking out-time. A few years later I started playing in PABH only to end up returning to the venue to play regular shows in our first year of playing, hoping and praying that I wouldn’t be spotted by security as “that guy”. It was a very chaotic place which I’m pretty fond off deep down and I met a hell of a lot of good people there. It’s a shame it’s gone but Leeds has got more to offer now as it’s still evolving as a musical city.
James Brown, Pulled Apart By Horses
Almost exactly ten years to the day since I first set foot through the giant steel entrance, The Cockpit announced its closure. It may have had sneering staff, crap sound and festival-experience toilets, but as a teenager leaving a small rural town and starting university I didn’t know anything else. Plus none of those mattered a jot when the long listings flyers handed me constant opportunities to finally see some of my favourite bands up close and even meet a few of them. The highlights list is lengthy but somewhere near the top reside The Cribs, Frightened Rabbit, Bloc Party and The Hold Steady. I’m sad that I’ll never set foot through those arches again, however I’ll always be taken back there in my mind whenever I hear the hallowed Session club night anthem of The Walkmen’s ‘The Rat’.
Daniel O’Dell, Drowned In Sound
To say The Cockpit was intrinsic to the Kaiser Chiefs’ career is pretty obvious. We played our second ever gig there. We got signed after a show there. It’s on our DVD Enjoyment. The list is endless, but my favourite memory of The Cockpit isn’t a gig of ours or even a gig at all. In fact I don’t think it was officially called The Cockpit at that point. It was 1994, we’d seen some flyers for a cool-looking night under the arches in the back of a pub called The Cock Of The North. Until then nights out in Leeds had been limited to gigs at The Duchess and some dodgy school trips to Mr Craig’s, a classic sticky carpet night out. So fake ID in hand, we headed down to Brighton Beach night. Indie in the main room, northern soul/mod/60s in the small room and at midnight every week a live band. The cream of the latest talent: Cast, The Bluetones, Mansun, Supergrass... It cost £4. We danced to songs we’d never heard before like Dave Pike’s ‘Mathar’. We formed bands and we met girls. Then we went back the next week. And the next...
Simon Rix, Kaiser Chiefs
The Cockpit had shitty beer and even shittier sound issues but you can’t argue that literally every good band to come out of this fair maiden of a city came up playing it. I’ve been thrown out twice, got laid about twelve times and met Roddy Woomble - all in that fucking shithole. RIP
Harry Johns, Brawlers