The Cockpit era has ended

I’ve left it a couple of weeks to talk about the closure of The Cockpit.

Why? Mainly because it gave me chance to think about my experiences there over the years and shake my head in disbelief that one of the most pivotal venues of the Leeds music scene has gone under without so much of a whimper. Simply with a statement explaining how the structural condition of the venue is no longer viable for purpose.

I could rattle on forever about the memories from that place. I liked the fact nobody ever tried to decorate or ‘clean’ the place up. That’s not what it was about. The Cockpit was being able to enjoy a range of music with friends, or even complete strangers, without any judgement.  You wanted to thrash about by yourself on the front row of a gig? Be our guest. Prefer to dance away with friends to 90’s Pop Punk on £1.50 bottles of Fosters and cheap mixers? Not a problem. There were no rules, no clichés; turn up, enjoy your music, have fun.

I couldn’t tell you the amount of times I went to The Cockpit. Gigs upon gigs; those that you’ve planned for months and counting down to, last minute reviewing slots for the local webzines, Live at Leeds Festival slots, or those days where you called your friends up to go out that night for a gig just ‘because for’.

I remember one of the gigs. Thursday 3rd May 2007. I was reviewing Saosin. The first support act appeared; the lighting was a little hazy that night and the sound quality not great. The band on the stage weren’t, in my opinion, setting the world alight anytime soon. You could see the potential but the vocals needed to be smoother, the melodies sharper.

Fast forward several years. The band that night? You Me At Six. Every band has to start at the smaller gigs though, right?

Then there were the club nights. Oh the club nights.

18th birthdays, 21st birthdays, Fresher’s weeks, Summer ‘downtime’ where you had the entire dancefloor to yourselves. There wasn’t one occasion that The Cockpit didn’t cater for. Running out of the exit at the end of a gig to join the queue ready for the club night (on the £1 drink specials until 3.00am). It was just what you did. You could guarantee that if opinions were divided about where to go that night, The Cockpit would end up becoming the unanimous decision.

Rumours began stirring several months ago that the venue was in trouble. The parent company was allegedly facing administration, the building was apparently now unsafe and therefore everybody started rushing to attend the last Garage of the era.

Then we were stopped in our tracks. It was only closing for a refurbishment, no fear. Reassuring most music fans, admittedly I was still dubious – hadn’t The Cockpit undergone an ‘extensive refurbishment’ the previous summer (and THOSE toilets remained the same!)? However, gigs were rescheduled, promotion for club nights resumed, job done.

Edging towards the reopening of The Cockpit, no real word had been published about it. Worryingly it would soon be the start f the new academic term – a popular time for music venues across the city.

Then came the dreaded announcement. The Cockpit wouldn’t be reopening. No more acts would make their breakthrough at a venue that has accommodated the likes of Muse, Coldplay and Biffy Clyro in their early days.

Perhaps it is time for a new era. Leeds has sadly seen venues shut over the years, however there is a real gut feeling that this is one that would be foolish to try and ‘replace’.

It has been one of those articles that I never expected to write. You always assumed that the ticket stubs would be shown to the next generations with stories to tell.

I still wish it had put up a fight at the end, but thank you The Cockpit for shaping a generation of music.

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