Music fans and artists alike were left bitterly disappointed after iconic Leeds music venue The Cockpit announced it is closing its doors after 20 years. The Pit was considered one of the greatest gig venue’s in city and an integral pillar in the Leeds music scene and its closure will leave a giant tunnel shaped hole that can’t be replaced.
Hidden away at the edge of the city centre underneath the Dark Arches, The Cockpit wasn’t exactly the most glamourous of venues. Walking in through the huge aluminium door into the pokey tunnel-like main room was like stepping into the Bat cave. Or a giant tin can. Inside it was dark and dingy and a strong scent of beer and sweat hung in the air. The creaky wooden floors were so sticky with spilled drinks it was like walking across Velcro and the grim toilet facilities left little to be desired. It was grubby and tatty, but it had character and the general lack of flashiness only served to add to its charm. It was perfectly suited to good old dirty rock n’ roll – there were no fancy pyrotechnics, swanky lighting or impressive stage sets; it was a rock show stripped down to its very basics. What you see it what you get. And in the face of a great show, the rather seedy interior was forgiven and forgotten.
But after 20 years as one of Leeds’ most iconic and much loved music venues,
The Cockpit is bidding farewell and closing its doors for good. Since it opened in 1994, the Pit has played host to hundreds of notable bands over its two decade history, including some of the biggest names in the music industry today. The likes of Muse, Coldplay, The Killers, The Offspring, Queens of the Stone Age, Amy Winehouse and Fall Out Boy have all taken to the stage here before going on to become sell-out arena bands and platinum selling artists. It was these humble beginnings that were the starting point for many bands as they made their climb to the top and it was here that many a fan base formed and grew.
Luke Saggu, 22, from Leeds
“The shows were always full with fans or people who just wanted to listen to good music as it had a reputation for great music and some big acts have played there over the years. I remember crowd surfing and doing the wall of death in the top room, where the crowd splits in two and then you into each other – I kicked someone in the nose by accident! The club nights were always a sure way of having a good night and it used be a tradition among a group my mates to go to Dry Dock and then to the Cockpit after. It was a social hub for a lot of people in Leeds and we all saw it as a meeting up point –it was like having a big family down there. The staff were always friendly and I think it was also notorious for its sticky floors. I saw loads of bands there but a few great shows that spring to mind are Glamour of the Kill, Escape the Fate, A Day to Remember, Bring Me the Horizon and Twin Atlantic.”
The shabby little venue had three live gig rooms – The Pit, The Venue and The Upstairs – ranging in size from a small 125 person show to a lively but cramped 500 person show. It was the cosiest and most atmospheric of venues; watching a band play here was like attending a gig inside an air raid shelter or a nuclear bunker. It was deafening. And the corrugated metal roof only served to amplify the sound, leaving gig-goers with a buzzing in their ears as a cheery token of the good time spent the night before. Shows were a mad frenzy. There was no polite, orderly standing and watching of bands, but rather a smush of bodies scrabbling about together in a sea of sweat as people fought their way closer to the front. Crowd surfing was a regular occurrence and artists and fans alike often took to diving off the stage into a swarm of waiting arms. Every gig was a memorable experience.
I’ve seen so many great bands here over the years that it’s hard to pick a
favourite, but the explosive performance put on by American punk-rockers Motion City Soundtrack, the very first band I ever saw in the Pit, always springs to mind, along with powerful, energetic sets from UK rock bands Deaf Havana and Young Guns. Since then these bands, along with many others who played here, have gone on to play much bigger venues having established a loyal following at these intimate shows. But sadly after a riotous 20 years, The Cockpit announced its permanent closure on 10 September, citing the venue’s poor condition as the reason for its farewell. An official statement on the website reads:
“It is with great regret that we have to announce the permanent closure of the Cockpit. After 20 great years as an integral pillar of the Leeds music scene we have decided that it is no longer viable to deliver you the level of service you deserve with the building in its current condition.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank every one of you who came to watch your favourite bands, danced, stage dived, crowd surfed, found your life partner and gave the Cockpit its reputation as one of the best live music venues in the UK.”
While Leeds is left with a collection of great music venues – including the O2 Academy, the FD Arena and the Brudenell Social Club – none can quite capture the atmosphere of the Pit. To say shows were lively would be a massive understatement. They were manic, wild and chaotic. It was complete mayhem and we loved it. It was quite unlike any other; a one-off. The loss of this grubby little venue will leave a gaping hole in the Leeds music scene and it shall be greatly missed.
Artists from around the globe shared their thoughts with me about the closure of the Pit and some of their best memories of playing there…
San Francisco Bay Area punks, Emily’s Army, said: “Leeds Cockpit was one of our favourite venues. We had an amazing warm welcome there. We will miss it.”
Sean Smith, lead singer in Welsh rock band The Blackout, said: “It’s where I met my ex. From then on it had a massive change on my life. I have very fond memories of the place.”
Fellow UK rock artist, Fraser Taylor, guitarist in Young Guns, added: “We’ve headlined every room in there, starting with the smallest. It’s played a huge part in developing our fan base in Leeds. My best memories are usually of the nights out after though. Particularly our first ever time there with Deaf Havana.”
Joe Hottinger, lead guitarist in Pennsylvania rock band Halestorm, 2014 Grammy award winners, said: “It’s a real bummer it’s closing! We had a great time there. It was our first headline tour overseas. There was a crazy energy from the sold out crowd.”
Chris Gomerson, lead guitarist in Leeds band Glamour of the Kill, said: “Every time we played The Cockpit we walked on stage to a room full of people chanting “Yorkshire.” As a band from God’s country, this will be a sad loss for Yorkshire, as well as live music for our great county.”
Jordan Schofield, 20, from Wakefield
“I’ve been to The Cockpit loads of times and I even played there once with my band The Headstart when we opened for Tonight Alive. Playing there was amazing. The last band I saw there was 21 Pilots and they were incredible – the blokes were stood on top of crowd playing the drums! The venue was really cool. I think the whole tunnel scene was the best thing, it was just really different to anywhere else.”
Michael Jones, 49, from Leeds
“The Cockpit was great because it was about real music – artists who could really sing and play. It was where real people came to get involved in an event and not just sit there with a glass of champagne in one hand and a prawn sandwich in the other. I loved it.”