The Duchess

October 6, 2010

Shoppers passing Hugo Boss’ store today might find it hard to believe that Nirvana, Radiohead, ColdplayPulp, Manic Street Preachers, Blur, to name but a few, all at one time played in the tiny back room of the Duchess of York pub, an iconic venue that offered live music every day from the late 1980’s until it closed its doors for the last time on March 26 2000 and was subsequently replaced by the current retail premises.

I was there the night that played, Wednesday, October 25 1989, touring to promote their first album, ‘Bleach’, along with another band from the Sub-Pop label, Tad, who headlined that evening, fronted by singer/guitarist Tad Doyle.

1989 was the year George Bush(Senior) succeeded Reagan to the U.S Presidency, the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan, revolution was beginning all over Eastern Europe, students were protesting in Tiananmen Square, Thatcher introduced the Poll-tax in Scotland, but I was spending much of my free time in this dingy venue, with a capacity that could hardly push 250, usually positioned as close as I could to the battered old mixing desk at the back, having learned by experience that this was the best place to be to ensure that you heard the band as the sound engineer intended.

I’d been following the birth of ‘Grunge’, via imported U.S. magazines like Reflex and MaximumRocknRoll, buying the vinyl on import in advance of any subsequent U.K. release, and so was already familiar with both bands music.

Now, I have little recollection of the night, apart from being pleased that Nirvana played ‘Negative Creep’, my favourite from their first album. Being aged 32, at the time, with 15 or more years of gigs already under my belt, I was perhaps less interested in Kurt Cobain, as waif or the ‘tortured artist’ of later mythology. But I was awed by Tad, who closed the evening, playing mostly tracks from their debut album, ‘Gods Balls’, Their front man, Tad Doyle, 300lbs of muscle, fat, sweat and hair, with big, lumberjack’s hands strangling a battered Fender Jaguar and bellowing out songs like ‘Behemoth’ and ‘Satan’s Chainsaw’ that were even heavier than the recorded versions.

Of course you don’t have to imagine what Nirvana might have sounded like that night, since someone had the foresight to bootleg their set, and nowadays it’s easy enough to track it down using your search-engine of choice.

Nirvana played Leeds again the following year, this time headlining at what was then Leeds Poly. I was at that gig too – but that’s a different story.

What do you remember about the Duchess?

Who did you see there?

What does it look like now?

3 Comments

  • adam littlefair says:

    hi there i remember playing there myself as a young energetic little bastard in my band called grassland was around 1996/2000 think i played one of the last nights what a privaledge ace venue

  • Gary Renton says:

    I was there. Did the Band of Susan’s also play that night? It is my claim to fame that I ‘spoke’ to Kurt Cobain. He wore a gingham dress and eye shadow and booted his guitar round stage for the opening. I tapped his shoulder afterwards at the bar and said, ” You were brilliant”.. He looked confused and then
    said, ” Yeah.. Berlin man…Berlin”.

  • Mark H says:

    I was there that night too. From my hazy memory I recall a scottish band called The Cateran were first on the bill and they were also really good. Band Of Susans weren’t playing that night.
    I was also at the Polytechnic gig, which was interrupted near the end when some idiot hurt himself stage diving.
    I was that idiot.

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