We all know Yorkshire bands and solo artists have been bothering the music charts since the 1960s.
But the goodness doesn’t stop at the bottom of the top 20. In fact, you could argue it gets better.
Scratch a little deeper and you’ll see that God Own’s Country has produced plenty more when it comes to quality music.
Nor have we included The Human League, Pulp or Alt-J because you’ve already heard of them.
Here are some you might not have heard… unless you read Pitchfork or subscribed to the NME in the late 80s and early 90s, in which case you will probably know every single one.
But not everyone does or did so let’s give other folks a chance to discover some of Yorkshire’s other sensational sounds.
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These Sheffield forefathers of dance and electronic music were experimenting with synths, samples and noise in the days when Status Quo still seemed relevant.
Cabaret Voltaire are not an easy listen; if you find The Prodigy a bit scary you’re going to struggle with them. Their influence, however, on dance music, one of the most popular forms of modern-day music, cannot be overstated.
Essential listening: Red Mecca (1981)
We might be stretching the boundaries of Yorkshire here a bit but goths-turned-hard rockers The Cult began in Bradford as The Southern Death Cult.
Their early post-punk sound of the early 1980s gave way to duller classic rock by the end of the decade. However, during the transition between these two markedly different styles they produced Love, a part goth, part psychedelic tour de force with atmospheric, driving hits such as ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ and ‘Rain’.
Essential listening: Love (1985)
Gang of Four
It’s hard to imagine a guitar band with more influence on indie and alternative music than this Leeds post-punk quartet.
Formed in 1976, Gang of Four took punk in directions no-one had previously thought possible incorporating elements of funk and dub as well as sharp, politically conscious lyrics.
Andy Gill’s jarring guitar work took six-string playing to new abrasive heights and essentially created the blueprint for arty guitar bands.
Essential listening: Entertainment! (1979)
New Model Army
Punk rock was more often than not, political but few punk bands (excluding the ones that didn’t sell any records) were as overtly political as Bradford’s New Model Army.
Their commitment to working-class values and exposing social injustice as well as an evolving sound earned them a loyal following.
Essential listening: No Rest for the Wicked (1985)
Nightmares on Wax
Nightmares on Wax is George Evelyn who grew up in Leeds listening to soul and early hip hop.
He released his debut A Word of Science, a hazy fusion of soul, hip hop and techno, on intelligent dance music (IDM) label Warp Records in 1991.
Four years later he released the sultry classic Smokers Delight which cemented his status, alongside that of Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky, as a luminary of trip hop, a slower, stoned British cousin of hip hop.
Essential listening: Smokers Delight (1995)
O’Hooley and Tidow
The British folk revival of the early 2010s produced everything from the sublime (The Unthanks) to the substandard (Mumford and Sons).
Thankfully, Colne Valley‘s O’Hooley and Tidow are firmly in the first camp. In fact, Belinda O’Hooley played piano and sang with The Unthanks when they were known as Rachel Unthank and the Winterset.
You may already know O’Hooley and Tidow without knowing their name if you’ve seen Gentleman Jack on BBC1. The theme tune, about the Halifax diarist and first modern lesbian, was written seven years before the series aired. Screenwriter Sally Wainwright liked the song so much she used it as the title theme and changed the name of the series from ‘Shibden Hall’ to ‘Gentleman Jack’.
O’Hooley and Tidow are far from a one-song act with a 10-year catalogue of smartly arranged, modern folk songs with Irish and Yorkshire twists.
Essential listening: Shadows (2016)
Doom metal isn’t everyone’s bag but Paradise Lost soon understood that an actual tune mattered.
The Halifax five-piece ditched their death metal roots to produce the melodic, but still supremely heavy, Draconian Times in 1995.
Essential listening: Draconian Times (1995)
While Def Leppard sold hundreds of millions of records they were at best, AOR and at worst, hair metal.
Saxon, however, were the real thing when it came to unabashed denim and leather heavy metal.
The Barnsley quintet were at the forefront of the ‘new wave of British heavy metal’, which included Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, in the early 1980s.
Essential listening: Denim and Leather (1981)
The Sisters of Mercy
Alongside The Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus, the Sisters are one of the foundation stones of goth rock. Formed in 1980, The Sisters played a particularly gloomy (although slightly ironic) form of post-punk with baritone vocals and soggy guitars.
The Sisters incorporated other styles including metal and dance during their later career but it’s their mid-80s goth canon that made the greatest impact.
Essential listening: First And Last And Always (1985)
Possibly one of Leeds’ most underrated bands, Sky Larkin played an intricate form of indie rock with syncopated rhythms, chiming, complex guitars and Katie Harkin’s sweet, yearning vocals.
Despite a deal with a decent label (Wichita), critical backing and a deceptively accessible sound, Sky Larkin remained largely underground during their lifetime between 2005 and 2013.
Harkin went on to play with established American indie-rock outfit Sleater-Kinney, appearing on The Late Show With David Letterman in 2015.
Essential listening: Kaleide (2010)
I did wonder whether to include Bradford’s Terrorvision as they’ve always been a bit cheesy.
That said, it’s hard to knock the cheeky, high-energy and darn catchy tunes that pack their 1990s mid-career albums.
Essential listening: How To Make Friends and Influence People (1994)
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The Wedding Present
Another Leeds band that set the British indie rock template, The Wedding Present formed in 1985 taking classic British jangle-pop to aggressive new levels.
David Gedge’s confessional, lovelorn lyrics struck a chord with bedroom indie kids allowing The Wedding Present a run of moderately successful, yet influential, albums from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s.
The band reformed in 2004 and continues to release critically lauded records.
Essential listening: Seamonsters (1991)
Also worth a spin
- And None of Them Knew They Were Robots – real deal, emo/hardcore from Leeds
- Evile – trad thrash metal from Meltham
- Flawes – clever, alt-pop from Huddersfield (sort of)
- My Dying Bride – doom metal from Bradford
- Orielles – disco-influenced indie pop from Halifax