Bradford: Our influential next door neighbour
Leeds is built on a wealth of creativity, vision and passion brought by the people who live, work and play in the city. However, Leeds would not be the place it is today without outside influences and a migration of ideas from further afield. One of the city’s which has arguably had a big impact on the Leeds we know and love today is close neighbour, Bradford.Matt Bradshaw explains how fellow Bradfordites have been helping to shape the Leeds cultural landscape.
Bradford dear Bradford, re-written out of it’ own hip history by the charms of Leeds and its own troubled narrative has started to regain its voice again and it’s about time you heard it too but before you do let me tell you a little story.
At the moment, Bradford with its new found confidence, has not only attracted many Leeds promoters and businesses but is now starting to export some of its muscle with Prashad and the Sparrow hooking up to provide lucky Leeds and Manchester gastronauts with Bundobust, a head-turning, taste-bud shaking triumph of Indian Food and beers and there’s more to come. It’s also no surprise that many of Leeds fantastic Asian restaurants originated in Bradford like Akbars, and even longstanding legendary Fuji Hiro started in Bradford.
Even the new kids on the block My Thai was born in Bradford. Right under your noses, Bradfordites are already cemented firmly into all aspects of the Leeds scene. An enterprising lot we are, modestly creating and tinkering you may not be aware that one half of both the fantastic creators of Grub N Grog happens to be from Bradford, same goes for the award winning Friends of Ham…Northern Monk? You guessed it, even Jumbo Records has two longstanding Bradford members of staff, I should know as I’m one of them.So I’m inviting you all to experience a fantastic cultural exchange, an offer of a night (or day) out, we even have two train stations to cope with any amount of food-freaks, beer-enthusiasts and music-heads. After all, 22 minutes is all it takes travel-wise on the train but before I start the stampede lets continue with the story.
In the 80s and early 90s, way before Leeds became it’s bustling, brilliant self, Bradford had achieved many of the things that Leeds has grown into so well. The city and its surrounds had masses of music venues, like the still thriving 1 in 12 Club and the long lamented Queens Hall which hosted practically every up and coming rock, hip hop or indie band straight from the front pages of Kerrang or the NME.
These were the Belgrave and Brudenell’s of their day. We had an incredible club culture that certainly shook things up way before Back To Basics brilliantly revived Leeds fortunes, as Bradford passionately provided for the switched on kids desperate for house and techno, jazz-funk and disco, indie and metal, reggae and jungle (and even Cajun and zydeco parties). Whether it was craft beer, cool comics, pre-loved clothes or bespoke fashion boutiques we had it all. Into cinema? We had two art house cinemas and four normal ones.
It was also a food-bloggers dream as a truly multicultural fare was laid out to us, introducing a world of smells and flavours, delis and restaurants that only now seem commonplace. It was a truly liberating and radical time to have fun in and as Bradford gave over its space, time and culture to the creative spirits. It also gave them an audience that went on to help sow the seeds of success in Leeds. Maybe it’s plain old Bradford modesty that doesn’t seek to brag about this forgotten aspect, or maybe the fact that perhaps to many it’s too much an incredulous story, a classic Yorkshire shaggy dog tale, but how best to prove my point isn’t just misplaced romanticism with a look at what’s happening at the moment.
Picture the scene, its 2011 and my interest is well and truly peaked by rumours of a new bar about to open in Bradford but the strange thing was that most of these rumours were coming from Leeds. Actually when I think about it I suppose it wasn’t all that unusual as I have to confess that for nearly 15 years now I’ve worked in Leeds but lived in Bradford. Over that time I felt seduced by the siren call of Leeds life, its bars and clubs, shopping and culture but at the same time I’d fostered an ache of regret, shamefully drifting away from the place that arguably shaped me. Yes I still loved going out for a ‘proper’ curry at the Kashmir or the International and of course I still frequented the National Media Museum to get my fix of art, culture and some damn great films but I’d written off everything else, since most of my old haunts had faded away by the end of the 90’s.
But these rumours, they seemed to be flowing from all the right places with The North Bar staff, Nath from the Brudenell and old friends telling me about Marko and Les’s wild vision of bringing exotic beer and food to the Bradford masses again, except that’s what had stumped me, masses? What masses? I think a lot of us at the time were scoffing at the idea. Surely it’d never work, it’s Bradford after all. So on that opening weekend, I dragged myself sluggishly towards the city centre to show a little support. This was, as I was to soon find out, a subtle but important shift in Bradford’s fortunes.
As I sat down, perfectly poured craft beer in hand I turned to my girlfriend, gesturing animatedly to the massively mixed selection of people and without a hint of irony I brought out a cinematic cliché and said, ‘It’s like the Field Of Dreams, If you build it they will come!’ referring to the Kevin Costner starred film of the same name. After pleasurable hours had passed in the company of many old and new friends, we noticed that the table next to us, had word for word the same conversation ‘It’s like the Field Of Dreams…….’ It was a perfectly pure zeitgeist moment, but right then all I could think was ‘At last!’
It often takes just one place to subtly change things, just take Back To Basic in Leeds. What Dave Beer’s visionary club brought to Leeds was a razzle dazzle of fun for sure but riding behind was an economy based upon the needs of those thousands of clubbers, and it mushroomed into the bars, cafes and clothes boutiques, many of which are still to be found in Leeds and led to the modern city we find now.
I’ve seen it happen with places like The Brudenell, or nights like Cosmic Slop who’ve given people the idea of what’s actually possible and now I believe that from the opening of The Sparrow, a genuine shift has happened in Bradford. On North Parade where the Sparrow laid down its roots it’s had the effect of nurturing not only the appearance of brand new bars on the street like the Record Café but it’s also given new life to long standing businesses like Mamma Mia, an incredible authentic family run Italian restaurant that’s been around since the mid-80s.
Just around the corner from The Sparrow, Mamma Mia hung on through Bradford’s hard times thanks to loyal regulars but thanks to a jointly organised Italian beer and food pairing event, idea’s then blossomed into a fully-fledged hook-up where you can order a selection of freshly made pizzas to be delivered to The Sparrow, while you enjoy your beer. North Street and its surroundings have blossomed into THE desired drinking spot around town as opening over the last few years are the Beer House, Al’s Dime Bar, Plonk Wine Bar, The City Gent Pub and rumours that another bar is opening soon too. All proof that regeneration is indeed in full swing.
Again, this is only part of the story, only part of the furtive, collaborative process. Behind the clubbing and music scene are an army of long standing schemers and dreamers like No Hands or Trainer Trouble who through the lean times put on events, shows and club nights in the cellar bars, social clubs and unused spaces of Bradford and turning them briefly into sparkling hubs of potential. The National Media Museum has always been a beacon of light in Bradford, it’s exhibition spaces, it’s film programmes and it’s inclusiveness have taken it through to the present day with panache so is already prepared for the exciting, ambitious new Bradford that’s springing up. There’s the Impressions gallery, the Fuse Art Space and lots of pop-up experimental spaces.
Bradford now has a new brewery, lots of new restaurants, a new shopping centre and most importantly, a section of forward thinking Councillors who are starting to understand how Bradford needs a dynamic selection of independent businesses for it to become a desirable destination again. And with Leeds only being a stone’s throw away, it’s certain that as Bradford’s scene grows it will continue to make positive impressions on its neighbour.