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Dancing to Leeds Architecture

Posted: 10/09/2013 00:00

I'm writing this from the dressing room in Manchester Academy, as I didn't get a chance to sit down at my laptop on the bus last night before I collapsed on my bunk in exhaustion. Longish day yesterday. Not complaining though, I'm at my happiest when busy.

The weather took a turn for the miserable yesterday in Leeds. Though I quite enjoy the changing seasons, I was hoping for fairer weather this September what with my planned city bike expeditions. I walked about quite a bit though, and found myself wondering why I kept seeing images, statues and reliefs of owls everywhere. I remembered noticing two golden owls on top of a city building on a previous visit, so I began asking people in town what they represented. My "Human Google" approach was met with nervous laughs, shrugs and general befuddlement. No one I asked knew.

Later after the show I met my friend Rachel Millar, who works at the wonderful Leeds Jazz imprint Leaf Label. As we watched a drunken couple ballroom dance to Sly & The Family Stone in The Sela Bar, she told me she's seen the owls everywhere too, but never wondered what they meant. I caved in and googled "Leeds owls". Rather dully I discover that they are a symbol of Leeds from the city's coat of arms, which bears three confused looking owls. These owls are in turn taken from the coat of arms of Sir John Saville, who was the first Alderman (member of assembly or council in English jurisdictions) of Leeds. I think I was hoping there may have been some Isle Of Man-like Masonic meaning behind them.

Walking back to the bus with Stephen Large I realise that I've done this before. I romanticise architecture, and a bit like Mulder's "I Want To Believe" poster, I will happily take an inch and project a mile of meaning onto buildings around me. I'm guilty of having been that guy in a Limehouse pub, prattling on about Hawksmoor and Wren conspiracies, and I wince a bit now to think of it.

Stephen offers an interesting observation as we negotiate the Friday night carnage though. He notes casually how these grand old buildings -banks, court houses and other institutions of Victorian progress- now house working class nightclubs like Yates's, Revolution, Tiger Tiger etc. With a laugh he says the Socialist in him rather enjoys this twist in history. I look up at the impressively thick walled edifices, surreally aglow with blue neon lights, house music and drunken revellers spilling from their doors. Its like some darkly comic take on the Eloi languishing in decaying libraries in HG Wells' Time Machine. The pathos of the spectacle is suddenly overwhelming. And there was me searching for hidden meanings in subtle owl symbology. Talk about forest for trees.

Sorry, this is supposed to be a blog about The Babyshambles tour right? Er, ok...So! The Leeds crowd last night were well up for it. They took Peter's "Hello Manchester!" gag in good jest, and I think it was probably the first time I've seen a full 'widen it out, then smash it back in' circle pit at an indie show. It made me wonder, do Babyshambles have a bit of punk/hardcore fanbase crossover? Songs like Eight Dead Boys and Pipedown certainly have a spirit as hard as a lot of that stuff. Having grown up going to hardcore shows it was fun for me to watch from the stage. I remember a particularly brutal circle pit at a Deftones gig at the Portsmouth Pyramids round 1999. But are we an 'Indie' band? Punk? Or does just 'Rock n Roll' cover it? You know what they say though: talking about music is like dancing to architecture.

Later I met a lot of really cool folk by the bus after the show, including a tall lad with a fresh French Dog tattoo on his chest. No matter how many times I see a Babyshambles tat it's always pretty shocking/surprising to me. Sorry Mams...

Right then. I'm off to take Bertie the Blue Brompton for a spin round Manchester. If I see any recurring animal statues I plan to completely blank them. See if I don't.

 

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