‘A state of mind’: Travel Yorkshire through five albums

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“It’s grim up north” is a myth perpetuated by northerners in an attempt to keep tourism low. The reality is that the proud county of Yorkshire is home to the most beautiful, diverse and culturally rich areas in the entirety of the United Kingdom. The prevailing image of the county might be one of flat caps, pints of bitter and post-industrial economic decline, but the region is also home to picturesque beaches, cosmopolitan cities and rolling green hills as far as the eye can see. As if that wasn’t enough, Yorkshire has also produced some of the greatest records of all time. 

Over the years, Yorkshire has made countless notable contributions to the cultural landscape of the United Kingdom, including the invention of motion pictures in 1888 and the equally important invention of the Terry’s Chocolate Orange in 1932. In more recent years, however, the region has often been noted for its groundbreaking musical output. From the gritty blues of Joe Cocker to the synthpop scene of Cabaret Voltaire and The Human League, Yorkshire has always been at the forefront of musical innovation and pop genius – even David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars were from the East Riding. 

Yorkshire is, in many ways, the ideal holiday destination. There aren’t many other areas in which you can find scenic countryside, bustling city centres, historic townships and peaceful beaches in such a close vicinity. As any seasoned traveller will be all too aware, no trip is complete without a perfect soundtrack to accompany it. So, it is lucky that Yorkshire has an abundance of local musical produce to complement any journey through the wondrous land. 

So, join us as we take a whistle-stop tour through God’s Own Country, stopping periodically to bask in the brilliance of its artistic output and musicians, both old and new. Of course, five albums are not enough to truly encapsulate the music of England’s biggest – and, let’s be frank, best – county, but with these picks, we hope to give some indication of the diversity and enduring artistry of Yorkshire’s finest artists. 

Travel Yorkshire through five albums:

Gang of Four – Entertainment! (Leeds)

We are commencing our journey by going all the way back to the West Yorkshire of the late 1970s when Leeds was arguably home to the nation’s most exciting post-punk scene. Groups like The Delta 5, Girls At Our Best, and The Mekons were pushing the boundaries of pop and rock music, creating an entirely unique new sound in the process. The greatest product of Leeds’ local music scene during that time was undoubtedly Gang of Four, whose stunning debut Entertainment! remains one of the defining post-punk albums. 

Capturing the essence of the Leeds scene at the time, Entertainment! is as angular, discordant and beautiful as the city itself. Even today, the album remains a major influence on the local music scene of Leeds, which has witnessed a post-punk renaissance in recent years thanks largely to its unparalleled grassroots scene.

The Orielles – Disco Volador (Halifax)

A short journey from Leeds to the steep hills and soot-stained stone of the Calder Valley, and we arrive at our next stop: Halifax, the home of Quality Street, cat’s eyes, and spaced-out indie rockers The Orielles. The trio certainly have no shortage of material when it comes to capturing the sound of their local area, but the 2020 album Disco Volador remains perhaps their greatest work. 

While, initially, the inventive danceability of the record might seem at odds with the surroundings of Halifax, The Orielles manage to capture a sense of beauty that can only be felt while gazing over the breathtaking views of the Calder Valley. The area is home to an unexpectedly booming music scene, spurred on by independent venues like The Golden Lion in Todmorden and The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge, which continue to foster local talent like The Orielles.

Derek Bailey – The Music Improvisation Company (Sheffield)

As we head over to South Yorkshire, there are countless records from the region that could easily earn a place on our list. The electropop of Heaven 17, Britpop heroes Pulp, or the soft romanticism of Richard Hawley would all make excellent additions to any Yorkshire soundtrack, but none of them sound quite like Derek Bailey. The Sheffield-born guitarist was a true pioneer when it came to avant-garde music and the development of the free improvisation movement.

Nowadays, Sheffield is most often associated with guitar music of the indie variety, but the organic, improvisational work of Bailey – particularly on the 1970 album The Music Improvisation Company – certainly seems to fit the landscape of post-industrialism and a city trying to adapt to an uncertain future. His music might not be as catchy as ‘Common People’, but Bailey should be heralded as one of the greatest musicians to ever walk the steep streets of Sheffield. 

Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I Am Not (Sheffield)

Of course. It would be almost sacrilegious to mention Sheffield in this list without also including its favourite sons, Arctic Monkeys. From their origins in High Green – which, incidentally, is closer to Barnsley than Sheffield – the indie rock icons quickly became one of the most popular and successful British groups of the 21st century. They might reside in Los Angeles these days, but their early work is almost inseparable from their hometown roots.

With lyrics about riot vans and mardy bums, Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I Am Not will surely resonate with anybody who has ever experienced a boozy adolescent night out in Sheffield or any of the city centres around Yorkshire. Arctic Monkeys are, indisputably, the sound of modern-day Sheffield, as signified by the countless bands still arising from the region attempting to replicate their distinctive early sound. 

The Housemartins – London 0 Hull 4 (Kingston upon Hull)

For our final stop of this sonic journey through Yorkshire, we head to the land of tigers, ports and William Wilberforce. Hull has been the home of various musical icons of the years, including the production mastermind Mick Ronson and the revolutionary experimentation of Throbbing Gristle. Few have managed to capture the spirit of the East Yorkshire city quite like 1980s indie rockers The Housemartins and their debut record, appropriately entitled London 0 Hull 4

Celebrating their local roots in Hull and challenging the inequality and societal decline of Thatcherite society in Britain, the album is certainly among the finest releases of the 1980s. According to songwriter Paul Heaton, who is still going strong to this day, the album’s title refers to the idea that there were only four good bands in Hull at the time versus none in London. If self-depreciation coupled with an unwavering hatred for London does not sum up the attitudes of Yorkshire folk, then I don’t know what does. 

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