League lead the way

Jarvis in action for the last time? Pulp at Leeds Festival - must credit Tracey Welch
Jarvis in action for the last time? Pulp at Leeds Festival - must credit Tracey Welch

AS far as Sheffield music goes, 2011 has been a year of reunions and reissues, along with the odd new album. The year kicked off with the Human League’s release of Credo – their first album in ten years. A modern take on the retro electro sound of Sheffield’s best-known cultural export, it was backed by a full European tour including a string of dates in the UK.

Produced by fellow Sheffield electro stars I Monster, the album reflects Human League’s love of solid sonic engineering, industrial soundscapes and disco, as embodied in the party tune, Night People.

For the Human League, it marked the electro group’s contemporary endorsements from the likes of NME luvvie La Roux to Black Eyed Peas. For Sheffield, it reinstated the city’s perseverance, as well as its permanent place on electro’s map.

Then, somewhat hotter off the press was the Arctic Monkeys’ fourth album – Suck it and See. The album followed the band’s 2009 release, Humbug, which saw the Sheffield four-piece depart from its teen-drenched indie and reach for a more muscular, mature sound. Produced by Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, Humbug was heavier, more abstract and musically adventurous. But it divided the Arctics’ following – some longed for the early pop of the band’s first two albums – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and Favourite Worst Nightmare. So when the time came to record Suck it and See, the band teemed up with producer James Ford, the fingers behind their first two albums. But Homme wasn’t left out of the record. The Kyuss star sings on Suck it and See with Turner.

And naturally, as with any global rock and roll band, there is always controversy. But where most rock and roll bands’ eyebrow-raising antics involve sex, drugs, or moderate vandalism, for the articulate Arctics theirs – of course – was centred around words. Suck it and See was censored in several US chain supermarkets because of the potential lewdness of its title. To us Brits, the phrase is, of course, a reference to giving something a go, seeing what happens or holding fire, but such cultural idiosyncrasies bypassed the Americans, making an otherwise inoffensive album worthy of a ‘censored’ sticker slapped right across its cover.

But the ‘censored’ stickers clearly haven’t done any harm – only this week the Arctics announced a full US tour next year with blues-rock duo the Black Keys.

And they weren’t the only band making bold announcements this year. 2011 was also the year in which Pulp decided to play a string of festival dates as a reunited band, drawing crowds of hundreds of thousands to catch rare performances of the much-loved witty indie popsters.

The band – which formed in Sheffield in 1978 – played at the Wireless and Primavera Sound festivals last summer. The shows involved all the band’s original members, including Jarvis Cocker, Candida Doyle, Steve Mackey, Russell Senior and Mark Webber and featured classics from that era.

And then, a world apart from Pulp’s anthemic pop or the Arctic’s kitchen sink indie, Mr ‘Twangy’ guitar Duane Eddy stunned audiences when he announced that he was recording an album made in – and inspired by – Sheffield with fellow Steel City crooner Richard Hawley and Sheffield producer Colin Elliot.

Eddy, whose sound inspired artists such as the Beatles, sat down with Hawley at Yellow Arch Studios to record his first album in 25 years. This unexpected fusion of talents was thanks to a meeting at a MOJO awards party, where the pair first discussed releasing an album.

Eddy said: “Richard said to me ‘I want you to do something you love or that you’ve always wanted to do and we’ll do it’. The problem is I’m trying to figure out what it is I’ve always wanted to do!”

He soon found out and early this year the Grammy Award-winning Eddy produced Road Trip, a nod as much to the landscape of the Peak District as the infinite vistas of Eddy’s home state of Arizona. And if that weren’t exciting enough, barely days before playing the mighty Pyramid stage at Glastonbury, Eddy played a special intimate show at the newly installed Greystones which, this year, has become one of the city’s most successful venues.

But the Greystones isn’t the only venue to emerge. The lazarus of the city’s music circuit is the Shakespeare, which reopened this year after a complete make-over and takeover. The new Shakespeare is continuing to support the city’s music scene with shows on the top floor. The re-emergence of the Shakespeare parallels a rise in the city’s local music scene too – The Crookes is now a fully-fledged European-touring band and Hey Sholay have just secured a record deal with Fierce Panda, with whom the band will be releasing its debut early next year.

So, all in all, 2011 has been a year of surprising collaborations, re-emerging venues, new releases and reunions. May 2012 be as exciting as its predecessor.

Happy New Year and thank you for all your support this year.