Live Music: the Beating Heart of Bradford Odeon

From the very beginning of our Bradford One journey it has been a shared and clear vision that at the heart of a refurbished Odeon there must be a large live music venue.

The Odeon began life as a music venue which hosted bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, before eventually becoming a dedicated cinema. In the time since the Odeon closed, people have consistently called for a refurbished Odeon to become a music venue. It was this unfaltering demand which led us to suggest the possibility of the John Peel North centre last year, in memory of a pioneer of new and world music, who loved Bradford and had a long history with it.

For selfish reasons the call for a venue has been great to hear. Having lived in Bradford all my life and been involved in music for many years as a writer, I’ve never understood why I had to go to Leeds for any gig over the capacity of a few hundred people. The Leeds music scene is a bright and brilliant one, with a community built around the various sized venues in the city from the tiny rooms above pubs, through 1,000 capacity venues like Leeds Met and Stylus, all the way up to venues of around 2000 capacity like the O2 Academy, and The Refectory. Soon, this will be added to with an Arena, offering space for a whole new level of entertainment.

Bradford is lacking in a large appropriate venue to book the kind of artists we otherwise go over to Leeds to see, and has always suffered from the lack of music tourism that goes with it. Audiences visiting a city for a gig also gives them the opportunity to see what the city looks like (and ours is becoming more beautiful all the time) as well as to drop into the bars and restaurants, stay in the hotels and meet the people. This is how we could finally overcome the negative image our city has unfairly acquired.

Bands from all over the world come to play at the independent, family-owned Brudenell Social Club in a fairly scruffy suburb of Leeds, and it is constantly and deservedly namechecked as a key part of the music community. When we formed Bradford One, this is exactly the kind of ethos we had in mind, but in a larger, more modern and adaptable space, supported by complimentary businesses like bars, restaurants and creative working spaces under the same roof. Something for the entire, diverse community within the city which makes Bradford special and different.

We proposed a 1,500-2,000 capacity venue to compete with large venues in neighbouring cities, and offer something unique and soulful – somewhere that bands in the region could realistically aspire to play in one day. The Odeon is an emotive building, and a venue that people feel an affinity to will always have a greater chance of survival through the rocky fortunes of the music industry than one which is purely functional, and where audiences feel like customers rather than friends. This is partly why we decided to pursue the asset transfer route, and are building a bid this way to present next year.

And now, against all previous odds, a private developer has come forward in textile business owner Lee Craven’s plan to turn the Odeon into a huge 3,500 capacity live music venue. This emerging ‘Bradford Live’ plan demonstrates a huge amount of confidence in the Odeon as a venue: it has a higher projected refurbishment cost than the £17million Hackney Empire, is considerably larger than any of Leeds’ large venues, and would put on up to 200 concerts per year (where the entire Academy network of venues promotes only around 1,000 gigs per year throughout the UK).

This level of optimism coming from the private sector only further promotes the Odeon’s future as a music venue at its core. There’s a long way to go, but with two proposed venues so far, and more bids still to be announced, it’s an incredible turnaround for the Odeon and for music lovers in Bradford.

Photo by Ben Sutherland

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Bradford One December 12, 2012 Blog, Featured, Latest News