Has Wakefield Music Reached Extinction (Part 2/4: Bands)

What happened to Wakefield Music? From an emerging and varied Indie scene looked upon with envy by other “B-towns” and much larger cities alike and announced as the countries third best musical city (PRS) to now, just five years later and a city on the brink of absolute musical extinction.

In the second of four pieces, we look at one aspect in the ever narrowing circles of decline that have driven this deeply sad situation: Bands.

There’s one thing that has never been in question for me; Wakefield produces excellent music. Genuinely great and interesting stuff. I love it.

It produces some great bands too. Some are a bit lazy. Some fall apart before achieving anything near their potential. Some last forever. It’s all good.

In a city with a good set of venues and with an interested audience, there will always be bands (by which I am also meaning solo performers, musicians of all kinds). Different styles, different influences, different levels of ambition. But they will form and they will play. I believe there’s a strong argument that better bands are formed in harder places like Wakefield, where being in a band is sometimes a form of survival, rather than culturally rich places like Leeds or Manchester where it is easier to just be a consumer of culture.

The cultivation of new bands in Wakefield is of the upmost importance to our city. Without them, Wakefield Music is extinct. Music from outside may be imported but without our own there will cease to be Wakefield Music, just music in Wakefield.

Of course, a guitar or a drum or a flute is just the same as a paintbrush or a pen. It is a tool to create. Trends come and go as to what the most popular tool is. From what I gather, it is now the camera on your phone. Making films to upload to YouTube or taking photos to display on various social media accounts.

My personal concern is the lack of new bands in Wakefield. New bands drive new audiences, which benefits bands of all pedigrees. It also benefits venues, businesses, the economy and the quality of life in the city. It is very important.

The likes of me, now in my early thirties, have always assumed (though hoped is more accurate) that there was a treasure trove of creatives we’d just not come across yet. That we were out of touch and they did exist. But, it’s a small city and that’s just not true. To build on the extinction metaphor, we still have living examples of ‘bands’ but the breeding seems to have stopped (and no, don’t blame the incestuous nature of the Philophobia bands!). No new DNA is entering the pool. Why?

I disagree that this is part of a ‘cycle’. There is a definite trend away from bands forming anywhere but more specifically to Wakefield is the lack of venues as social spaces. I imagine it is harder to form a band via the medium of Instagram or Snapchat than it is to sit in a venue, having just watched an amazing band, and talk face to face about it. I’m as inspired by awful bands as by good ones when I’m there in the room with them.

As a society we leave the house less often. Stumbling blocks for the forming of bands is Netflix and Playstations and YouTube and parents with less disposable income and a generally fucked economy.

A city with a university has less of this problem as students are simply more inclined to go out and do things, and need to be creative enough with their income to live on less money. That’s why this situation is less obvious – or is at least occurring at a slower rate – in places like Leeds and Manchester.

Wakefield is not in the first phase of this as a problem, but probably about five years in. Myself and people like Rob Dee at Philophobia Music have spoken about this for a long time. His label was effectively made off that big group of ‘young people’ that emerged around 9 years ago.

It’s beautiful that he is still working with them. Not least because they are seriously good musicians now. 2016 was a vintage year for Philophobia in terms of the records. Mi Mye, Piskie Sits and Buen Chico all released their defining records. Sure, those bands may have a combined age of over thirty years (is that right? Fuck!) but that brings with it quality.

Don’t mix up my criticism here. It’s not of what exists. I’m proud of the bands from Wakefield. And I’m proud that those few younger artists that have emerged have (I believe) found a very welcoming and supportive scene to help them on their way.

Of all the problems I am discussing in these pieces, this is the one where we can’t get round a table and sort a plan for tomorrow. Our job is to create fertile ground for the artists to flourish. I guess I am very frustrated to have tried to do that for a long time, yet seemingly to no avail.

We can dream up funding schemes, build a perfect venue, give every kid a guitar for Christmas, but the thing we are looking at creating is inspiration. We need to inspire the next generation. As I say, if you prefer to inspire them to pick up a paintbrush, then that is just as good. We aren’t entitled to have bands in our city, we can’t expect kids to learn to play an instrument just because we think it’s the ‘right’ thing to do.

But we have to give them options. It’s my personal belief that music is one of the most fulfilling things to develop a passion for. All the great artists, poets, novelists, playwrights – I bet the absolute majority loved music from a young age. Not even that – I bet a bank manager or CEO who was in a band when they were younger, I bet it makes them better at their job. They aren’t better people per se, but passion, curiosity, joy and wild ideas stem from music, traits that create interesting and possibly more thoughtful people.

Music is entryism for the soul, for happiness. It has saved people’s lives.

We could hope to create that level of passion by importing all our culture; the larger scale bands that play our city. Maybe some parents will take along their children and a connection will be made. But then what?

The first band I ever saw were Def Leppard at Sheffield Arena, probably aged 7. It was really cool. But I think it meant more when I found a cassette by Chunky Berber in Hellraiser Records and I thought, wow, those guys go to my school and they’ve released an album! The closer you are, the more it means.

That’s an interesting conundrum in the digital era.

Still, would it make a difference, to have more of those larger acts coming through? Would Wakefield established on the touring circuit for 500+ cap shows create that inspiration we need?

I think its part of the jigsaw. Some are frustrated with the sporadic nature with which ‘large’ acts come to Wakefield. It takes time. You need to remember that the bands themselves have no involvement in the booking process. The booking agent’s job is to make as much money for the band and themselves as possible and these shows often go to a % split, meaning every ticket gets more money for the artist.

For shows of those sizes you are looking at least for a West Yorkshire exclusivity. As a booking agent, why would you put the show into a Wakefield venue when Leeds is a tried and tested market that will almost certainly sell more tickets? They don’t care about local details, about the venue, about what it is trying to achieve.

You succeed by, over a long period of time, offering a great service for the scraps from the plate you are offered. Great venue, great sound, great hospitality and market the fuck out of the show so it keeps up with the rest of the tour.

That’s hard work and an essential part of the live music jigsaw. It creates a city connected with successful artists and some of that will trickle down. It brings in new audiences but they are by their nature non-committal to the city, but possibly to the venue.

But it’d be a funny city that can attract 700+ to see bands twenty, thirty or forty years into their careers but can’t muster 50 people for an album launch or a farewell gig, never mind a ‘regular’ show.

The absolute crux of the situation is that without new bands there will not be new audiences. Without new audiences we find ourselves in the slow death we are currently suffering. We’ll talk audiences tomorrow, but for now we need to think long and hard about where new creative come from in Wakefield and then how we go about keeping them.


See Part 1: Venues here.

See Part 3: Audiences here.

See Part 4: Interest here.

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