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From The Human League to Arctic Monkeys: Yorkshire’s 10 best bands of all time

As it’s Yorkshire Day we thought we’d celebrate England’s self-regarded greatest county by revisiting its contribution to music. It’s fair to say that the area has a big claim to be the most fruitful musical landscape in the nation.

Bands and artists have always popped out from the cities and towns that surround the Yorkshire dales with a dry wit, a caustic attitude and, usually, a fresh take or a brand new sound. Below we’ve pulled together ten of the best bands from Yorkshire.

One proviso we must state right away is that we aren’t including individual artists who were born in the county but joined another band and found great success. One shining example would be Hull’s Mick Ronson, whose work with Bowie as a guitarist is unparalleled. Otherwise, the list below is a free-for-all of creative energy and bloody great bands, by gum.

See the list, below.

The 10 greatest bands from Yorkshire:

10. Def Leppard

Formed in 1977 in Sheffield, Def Leppard quickly grew out of the scene to front a new wave of British heavy metal. During the early eighties and nineties the band saw massive success and their song ‘Bringin’ On The Heartbreak’ became one of the first heavy metal records on rotation with MTV.

While tragedy would strike the band it wouldn’t tamper their creative energy and musical ability. Their greatest achievement musically may well be their album Hysteria from 1987, they may be regarded as one of the best selling artists of al time. But the real reason they’ve made it on our list is that they embody the integrity of the county. Never giving up.

9. Richard Hawley

If there was one man who typified the Yorkshire spirit it would be Richard Hawley. Having been involved with bands since he formed the Longpigs in the ’90s, Hawley has established himself as Sheffield’s rock ‘n’ roll poet.

Hawley has picked up two Mercury Prize nominations in his time and has frequently worked as a strong collaborator. During his career, he’s worked with Shakespeare Sister, Arctic Monkeys, Elbow Manic Street Preachers and Paul Weller to name a few.

If you’re not a huge Hawley fan then we suggest you stick on his seminal record Coles Corner and instantly become one. There’s nobody with a bigger heart than Richard Hawley.

8. The Cribs

All together now: “Wakefield! Wakefield! Wakefield!”

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of arriving at a gig put on by The Cribs, this is the chorus that will undoubtedly have greeted you. The band’s garage rock set them apart from the other indie band of the moment and The Cribs quickly became the thinking man’s punk rock.

Their shows were as raucous as a prison riot. Beer would crash against the ceilings of the largest venues and you were always guaranteed a swirling mess of a crowd. It meant that the three Jarman brothers from Wakey were always welcomed back to every city they set foot in. If The Cribs arrived you were sure of a good time.

The band’s evolution from punkified garage rockers to mature and cultured indie-rock is one of the era’s finest ascensions. For our money, The New Fellas is one of the defining records of the decade and should always be the first port of call for an education in Cribology.

7. The Human League

Formed in Sheffield in 1977, The Human League are synthpop band with a cutting edge. As the new decade dawned and the brattish machismo of punk seemed irrelevant the band were quickly snapped up by Virgin Records in 1979.

By the time their third album Dare arrived in 1981, The Human League were a fully formed outfit ready to completely change the face of British music. That album produced four hit singles for the group including a number one in the UK and the US, ‘Don’t You Want Me.’

The band thrived in a new decade dedicated to adornment and decoration. Their whip-smart lyrics and arthouse conceptions meant they were the idols of art schools everywhere and are a mark of pride for Yorkshire.

6. Joe Cocker

The Sheffield born singer was an Oscar winner, a Golden Globe winner and one the famous faces to adorn Woodstock but he was known, most notably, for his incredible rendition of The Beatles classic ‘A Little Help From My Friends’.

With a gravel-toned voice that was capable of both achieving avalanches and finessing fine marble, Joe Cocker, who was born on this day in 1944, soon became a legend in the blues scene that continued to swirl around London in the late sixties. Though the singer never really composed his own work, he embodied the mind and spirit of each song he covered.

In fact, we’re betting that you’ve never seen anybody perform the way Joe Cocker did. Cocker was able to empathise with almost every song he performed and during said performance would always give himself to the music in totality.

5. Soft Cell

Another Leeds alumni, Soft Cell are perhaps one of the most widely-known bands from the county. While everyone will point to their incredible cover of ‘Tainted Love’ as synthpop gold, the group had a wide range of tracks outside of this mega-hit.

The single came about after a failed EP ensured the band were on a rocky road. Their label Phonogram Records let them have the chance at a second release, assured of the fact it would flop. ‘Tainted Love’ soared in the charts and when Marc Almond appeared on Top of the Pops to perform it, ensured their iconography.

The band have had 12 top 40 hits in the UK and their style and panache set the tone for a decade full of the duality of life. If you’re new to Soft Cell head first to the multi-platinum selling Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret for a double dose of pop glimmer.

4. Gang of Four

Leeds was clearly a melting pot of creative energy during the punk scene. Formed in 1976 by original members were singer Jon King, guitarist Andy Gill, bass guitarist Dave Allen and drummer Hugo Burnham—the group forged a career out of a brand new genre, post-punk.

Gang of Four, unlike any other band on this list, have always had a very clear point of view. Their incendiary lyrics have always been deliberately barbed and sharpened with political intent. It’s an intent matched in the music too as their angular guitars and dub-laden bass laid the foundations for post-punk across the nation.

This year Andy Gill, the band’s last remaining original member, suddenly passed away and has left us in deep appreciation for the music he left behind. While their debut Entertainment! is always a great place to start we hold a special affection for 1982’s Songs of the Free.

3. Paul Heaton (The Housemartins & The Beautiful South)

There are few things we feel as passionately about as defending the great Paul Heaton. While his inclusion in the Best of Yorkshire list is up for debate thanks to being born in Cheshire (try and tell people from Hull that fact), his place near the top of the pile is not in contention.

The singer-songwriter has created some of the British music scene’s finest pop records of all time. With his band The Housemartins, alongside Fatboy Slim, Heaton delivered a classic track ‘Caravans of Love’ and with his subsequent band The Beautiful South he delivered about 20 more.

Thanks to his sardonic wit, his pop sensibilities and his mouse for a melody, Heaton has created a back catalogue of seriously impressive tunes. Unusually for us, if we had to direct you to one record to catch up with Heaton’s work it would be Carry On Up The Charts. We hide in shame at the idea of selecting a greatest hits album but there’s no better way to be stunned by his talent.

2. Pulp

Led by Jarvis Cocker, Sheffield’s own Pulp always provided much-needed relief from the boisterous machismo that was emanating out of Britpop’s bro-tastic bands like Blur, Supergrass and Oasis. Pulp’s breakthrough in the mid-1990s saw the band quickly evolve from cult Sheffield heroes, a group that had been on the grind for over a decade, into a headline set on Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage.

The Jarvis Cocker led group shared their debut album It all the way back in 1983 to very little fanfare. With 1987 effort Freaks and 1992’s Separations also failing to chart anywhere in the world, it would require more than a decade of grafting for things began to finally change. The release of ‘O.U.’ through legendary Sheffield label Warp Records, which was made Melody Maker song of the week, resulted in the band gaining their much-deserved break when Island Records came calling.

Next came 1994’s His ‘N’ Her’s which not only spawned the band’s first top 10 album but also featured the mercurial singles ‘Babies’ and ‘Do You Remember The First Time?’, tracks which helped the band achieve a nomination for the much revered Mercury Music Prize.

After waiting so long for commercial success, the band weren’t going to rest on their laurels when it was finally achieved. Returning in 1995 with the seminal record Different Class, Pulp had released an album which went on to sell over 1.3 million copies to date, reached number one and bettered His ‘n’ Her’s by claiming victory at the Mercury Music Prize.

Though the group would continue on to create some masterful records it was here that they peaked and confirmed their place in British hearts and minds forevermore.

1. Arctic Monkeys

The boys from Sheffield have come a very long way. From the skinny boned, fluffy-haired, polo shirt wearing skivvies of the early-noughties to the silk jacket-wearing swashbucklers we all love today. In truth, we’ve loved Alex Turner and the boys since the very start.

The band have been on an incredible journey to get where they are now. One of the biggest UK acts ever, one of the best musical acts in the world right now and easily one of our favourite bands this century.

At one point, the band embodied the working-class culture they were born from, keen to take us out on a Friday night in Sheffield, and now they want to take us to outer space. We’re happy with either destination as long as they’re playing some tunes.

From Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not to Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino and every album in between, the group have never sat still and always impressed with not only their musicianship but their passion. There really is no debate, Arctic Monkeys are the best band that Yorkshire has ever produced.

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