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Music | Opinion

Why is Yorkshire such a fertile environment for music?

Yorkshire, also affectionately known by its inhabitants as ‘God’s Own County’ is a place of such idiosyncrasies and beauty that it’s no real surprise that parts of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Shire were inspired by the land of the white rose. 

The United Kingdom’s largest county by some distance it’s a place of both profound natural magnificence and imposing obelisks of the industrial revolution, all of which can be found within the same mile. That means that there are two sides to Yorkshire, one that is inextricably connected to the pastoral past, and the chugging, mechanised future. In this way, it has its finger on the country’s pulse, with a panoramic view of our existence – past, present and future. 

As with Cornwall, it is a place of its own historical way of life that those who are from outside of its borders find peculiar, and in some instances, for the Surrey-dwelling floating voter, a place of backward troglodytes who speak in a medieval and unsettling dialect, and whose grasp of the English language is questionable, to say the least. 

However, this kind of Norman Tebbit-esque sneer at Yorkshire, and the North as a whole, is, at the very best, ill-informed and the very worst, totally ignorant. Yorkshire isn’t only a fertile land agriculturally but also culturally, and if you are to visit any of the region’s cities, you’d find that they’ve produced an endless flow of culturally vital currency. Whilst these are multifarious exports, one area in which it has excelled is music.

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It is perhaps the most abundant place for music outside of the capital, even giving London a run for its money in terms of volume and quality. Leeds, Sheffield, York, Hull, Bradford, Wakefield, and Doncaster have all produced numerous acts that have added something positive to the proliferation of music and popular culture. 

Quickly looking at this handful of places, the point becomes clear. Leeds has produced countless acts, but off the top of the head, you’ve got the likes of Gang of Four, The Mekons, The Wedding Present, The Sisters of Mercy, Pale Saints, Eagulls, Scritti Politti, and Nightmares on Wax. Heading south to Sheffield, you have the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Pulp, The Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, Joe Cocker, Def Leppard, Bring Me The Horizon, and The Longpigs.

As for the other major conurbations, Mick Ronson, Throbbing Gristle, Red Guitars, and Sade have origins in Hull, whilst Bradford claims the likes of The Mission, New Model Army, and The Cult, and the likes of Doncaster can claim chart-toppers such as Yungblud. That’s not to mention the city of Wakefield, whose most eminent product comes in the form of indie legends The Cribs.

It is not a coincidence that Yorkshire has produced such a myriad of notable musicians. Regardless of what individual opinion on some of those listed, it is quite staggering how many famous acts have come from the county, particularly when you note the spectre that London places on everywhere else in the UK, as the core of culture and economics, with everything else, the periphery, pouring many of its most productive people into it, as they seek financial, artistic or some other form of success.

It seems to be a mixture of factors that account for Yorkshire being such a fertile environment for music. The first is the demand for it, Yorkshire folk love creating and listening to music, meaning that those starting bands or acts are almost countless. Add this to the fact that Yorkshire is a genuinely massive county with many different places that all share the same loose identity, meaning that it brings people together under the same banner, and you have a nutrient-rich bed.

Then there’s the socio-economic factor and the innovation this inspires. For many, there was nothing else to do apart from starting a band. We’ve also seen this with our perennial frenemies from over the Pennines, the Mancunians, that making music was a necessity as much as a luxury. For many, in the ’70s and ’80s, such as Pulp or Gang of Four, it was the only viable way out of the post-industrial hellscape. These days, whilst it is mostly a reaction to the boredom of the inertia that the contemporary style of living brings, it’s also a result of the healthy scenes that the likes of Pulp and Gang of Four either helped to create.

There’s a legacy here that started against a dire socio-economic environment in the ’70s and ’80s, which is still alive and well today even if, for the most part, the immediate surroundings that inspired it, such as bombed-out factories from the war, are now office blocks. The people in the aforementioned bands showed that anyone could do what they did, meaning that for many, it’s still viewed as a viable career choice, even if the government and the ever-changing music industry indicate that it’s not. Add on to this the comparatively cheap rents of the modern day, and you provide hope for the county’s artistic future too.  

Augmenting this is the authentic essence of the Yorkshire and Northern spirit. There’s an energy and a community when it comes to the musical environment of ‘God’s Own County’ that far supersedes the ones you get in London or Brighton. Of course, all of this is tied together by a troglodytic sense of superiority and the notion that the proof is very much in the pop culture pudding. 

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