The Leeds Music Hub is launching Saturday 19th May - but Gale Searcher visited the then-building site to ask some questions.
On Good Friday - and what a good Friday it was - I sojourned in Headingley, on Wood Lane, just off the Otley Road, at the imminently arriving and infinitely exciting Leeds Music Hub building. Over cookies, I spoke with Kate Zezulka (also of this parish), founder of the Hub.
Firstly, and somewhat obviously and predictably, tell me about the Leeds Music Hub.
The thought behind it is just a space for local music. So, having a café and shop downstairs as a sort of hanging out/meeting place; teaching rooms for running lessons; upstairs will be the multifunctional space for workshops, seminars, meeting groups, &c. So, it's that kind of one-stop-shop thing that's the thought behind it; but it's been a long time coming. It was June 2009 that I first had the idea; and it took me about a year of preparing all the grant stuff, thinking through the whole thing, and basically keeping it to myself. Then after that first year, I got the first grant to set the whole thing up. From then onwards I started talking to people about it and everyone was very nice about it - I thought there would be genuine looks of concern! But everyone was really enthusiastic. So, from then, it's taken on a life of its own, which is what I'd always wanted.
As for the main aims behind it, I've been around music in Leeds for quite a while. Leeds has a really vibrant scene, but it is still, oddly, slightly underground. It's just finding a way that's non-threatening to get into it: standing at a gig by yourself, having just arrived on the music scene, is pretty scary! - So it was just trying to open the doors for all that sort of grass-roots stuff. I don't know if there's anything else to say on that front...
Oh well, you were thorough. You may have answered my second question, too.
Oh! Did I? You could ask it again, and see if I give a different answer!
It wasn't a very good question anyway: that's why I put brackets around it. I gesture at my pukka pad, upon which there lies a prodigality of parentheses. I was just going to ask, "For the elucidation of those who don't yet know about the project, how does it differ from your efforts with Leeds Music Scene?"
I don't think people put the two together, in fact. I've been writing for LMS for ages, and it's been probably two years since I started with the Features and Interviews editing. But because LMS is such an online thing anyway, and I'm not really "Facebook and profile pictures"-oriented, I don't think anyone would put the two together!
I suppose not. I guess that was my drawing universal conclusions from my own particular associations, which I shouldn't have done. Question three, what was the spark that lit the fire?
That's a good question! I think it has just been little observations. The way the Leeds music scene is definitely lends itself to this kind of thing. Or rather, it's in need of this sort of daytime presence. It is very underground, in a strange way. You would have thought that, post-Kaiser Chiefs and post-Pigeon Detectives, it would be very - above board isn't quite what I'm going for - visible?
Yes! But it still feels very inaccessible to lots of groups. So that's definitely a part of it: that idea of networking and having a space. Gigs aren't the ideal place to do it: they're loud and noisy and most people are a few pints the worse for it, really! So, having something that's that daytime presence I think is really important for networking and socialising.
What are your ambitions for the project (if you haven't covered them all already)?
Well, the space has been taking up most of my thoughts for a while; and we've got all this building stuff, which is nearly done. It's been the final straw actually: I thought we were all set up and I had the keys, and I was like, "Hooray!" and all this building work has kind of slowed it down again really, which is a pain.
We're opening up the space in the next month or so, hopefully. After that, we've got some plans for expanding what we're doing; but mostly it's just setting up.
In the end, what I really want is for it to be self-sustaining in some way. I'd like it to be able to stand on its own two feet. So, that's the main long-term aim, but beyond that, I don't know. I'd like it to be something that stays an important community space for a while.
We want to involve as many groups, subcultures, demographics - whatever you want to call them - as we can.
The thing that we've always said about the educational side is that we want to keep it really practical. It's very easy for music to be removed from the real life aspects of it. Which is what's good about the guys involved with this project: they put it into context and they have very different approaches to music that aren't necessarily about putting you in front of notation and making you play an A major scale over and over again! That's what we want to highlight: making music accessible in terms of the networking and social side of things, but also making it accessible educationally and making it approachable.
Tell me about the personnel.
It's been me for three years and then, when I started talking about it, loads of people have got on board. We now have an advisory board of six members, which includes Whiskas of Forward Russia/Honour Before Glory. Then there's Owen Brinley from Grammatics; Tommy Davidson from These Monsters; Lindsay Wilson, also from Grammatics (the cellist), who gets involved in far too many projects. Katie Harkin and Nestor Matthews from Sky Larkin, too... It's been exponential growth, really.
The idea is beautiful in its simplicity.
It is a very basic idea, in a way: a lot of people have said, "I don't know why this hasn't happened before, I don't know how people haven't thought of it." And it is very malleable. Particularly the space upstairs - in terms of what can be run up there events-wise. It gets very exciting when you think of the off-the-wall things we could do. I think the simplicity of the concept overall makes it quite easy to mess about with.
Will there be a mailing list or newsletter for events like these?
Yeah, we have all the promotional stuff underway now. When we have all of the building stuff out of the way, it's going to be back to it: we set it in motion about a month ago, doing all the press and that kind of thing, and had to call a quick halt to it with all this stuff.
That's a shame.
We'll get there eventually! It's fine!
OK. Do sign me up to the mailing list when it's running.
Oh, I will do!
It seems as though the Hub will exist in three ways: firstly, as a physical building, i.e., the one in which we are currently sat; secondly, as an online Hub; thirdly, as a place in the heart of every Leeds-based musician.
I think definitely that tangible thing is the most important thing to me. There are online places where Leeds musicians can congregate already (eg. Leeds Music Forum); but music-making needs to happen between people, too, and it's a shame that there's that technology block, in a lot of ways.
And I think the Hub online presence has been a by-product of this space: setting up the Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail accounts has been a way of promoting it. I actually want to steer away from the virtual side of it a bit. It's probably also an excuse because I have no idea what I'm doing with computers!
But the most important thing to me is having this space, which is why it took so long to sort it out: I had a lot of advice from grant funders, &c., saying, "You should just have a desk space and just run things from there occasionally: just run workshops from there." But it misses the point of what we're going for: somewhere that's very much open door. The idea that it is somewhere where you can drop in, look at CDs, have a coffee, &c., is the fundamental element to it.
Will you be continuing your Leeds Music Scene duties with consistent panache alongside these new ones?
I wouldn't want to imply that I've had some kind of panache in the past, which isn't the case! But yeah, I'm going to be carrying on with all the LMS side of things. It'll be quite nice having the two things running side by side for when people have had enough real life coffee and cake and can go to LMS and the forum, and vice versa.
You're not afraid of spreading yourself too thinly?
I do that all the time anyway! It's what everyone says to me about music generally: I'm a guitarist but I'll have a go at playing most things with strings on. People look at me concernedly and say, "Are you sure you want to play that, too?"
Most of what I do - LMS, the Hub and all the musical stuff - it all feeds into each other quite nicely.
OK, as long as you're used to it. And if you're not spreading yourself too thinly, and you have all this stuff going on, you will surely be Leeds's walking encyclopaedia of music?
I'm not sure I'm there yet! I'm from Leeds so I have that kind of inbuilt bias: that "Leeds! Leeds! Leeds!" mentality. I stop thinking about what's going on outside Leeds sometimes, which is a bit foolish - but there's enough interesting stuff going on inside Leeds for it not to matter. Sometimes I do realise, "Oh, hold on, I could think outside an LS postcode!" but it is quite an immersive thing.
Finally, I'd love to know some more about all the string instruments you play.
Well, I'm a classical guitarist, really: I've gone through all the learning to read notation, &c.; but I just got beady eyes, really. It was the typical thing: I started nagging about electric guitar and bass when I was still quite young. It's just gone a bit wild from then: harp, sitar; cello; lute; ukulele... my bank balance is clearly less important to me than any instrument that might be out there!
I can empathise.
The Leeds Music Hub has its preview weekend this Saturday and Sunday (19th and 20th). For more information, see the links below: