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Wakefield has a rich and varied musical heritage; Holyground Records, the world’s first independent record label was founded here. In the 60s huge acts – including The Beatles – passed through, whilst in the 70s the city was an important location in the Northern Soul and Punk movements. Towards the end of the century, the city’s punk and post-hardcore roots flourished with a generation of bands touring Europe and Japan whilst bringing musicians from those countries to legendary venues such as The Jockey and Players.
More recently, the city’s gifts to the world have sat at opposite ends of the spectrum; The Cribs (‘biggest cult band in the UK’) who proudly perform their Wakefield Punk Rock across the world and star of stage and TV, proud Wakefieldian Jane McDonald.
As for live music today, Wakefield is not home to vast arenas. Instead, it offers a range of unique and characterful venues to soak up all manner of live performance.
Wakefield Jazz is an award winning club and one of the most respected homes of Jazz in the country. The cosy and welcoming surroundings offer a chance to experience top level Jazz performances with an intimacy rare in live music shows. During its seasons it runs a show every Friday night.
Wakefield’s long tradition of promoters not being tied to one venue, but working across the city’s many hidden and lesser used spaces, is currently being expressed by Bodys and Wakefield’s record label Philophobia Music. Both programme accessible 2 band line-ups of the best emerging artists from Yorkshire (and beyond) at incredibly affordable prices; from the function rooms in local pubs to the grade 2 listed Chantry Chapel, it’s always a warm welcome. Their social accounts are the place to keep track of the latest shows.
The district hosts festivals too, with a distinctly family feel. The free-to-attend Clarence Park Festival (Wakefield) and Friarwood Festival (Pontefract) showcase the brilliance of live music in an outdoor setting and are social highlights of the summer calendar.
Wakefield City Centre is known for its great pubs, and many provide live music across the whole week and weekend. Harry’s Bar welcomes folk influenced duos to its perfectly cosy bar (wood-burning fire included). The Hop hosts cover bands on a weekend, with the stage opening out onto their suntrap courtyard. The Black Horse’s Sunday Session is a highly popular end-of-weekend social, though live music takes place across the week. Jock’s Cavern aims for a rambunctious vibe in its delightfully secretive basement bar. The Old Printworks attract a range of artists, including some on the brink of break-through. Now Serving is a great place to catch live DJ sets, or music from resident musician Matt Hodges.
Theatre Royal Wakefield is one of the city’s finest spaces for live performance and among the theatrical programme you will find some fine musicals and music based performances ranging from showcases from Wakefield College music students to the finest touring tribute acts working today.
And Wakefield Cathedral should not be overlooked as a space for live music too; its afternoon shows with live pianists are particularly impressive.
Live music in Wakefield is a deeply informal experience; it’s not uncommon to just come across a gig whilst out on an evening. So if you’re looking to experience live music, look at the listings and check the website but don’t be shy of asking the locals too. Whether in person or on social media, who knows what hidden gem you might find?