by John-Paul Craven
2013 will finally see the opening of The Leeds Arena. The building of the arena had been on and off more times than I care to remember. I did think it was going to be yet another mythical Leeds entity, like the Leeds Supertram or even the Blue Lady at Temple Newsam, but here were are, it’s here and it’s here to stay. It looks quite impressive as you drive past, and I can’t say I miss the Brunswick Building it replaced either.
The Merrion Centre nearby has undergone a lot of redevelopment in the last couple of years with the Arena in mind, after many years of neglect. The Merrion Centre Supermarket there is no more, currently being ripped out and developed, presumably into faceless identikit fast food units serving tasteless identikit foodstuffs to gig goers. This makes me sad in a way, as it was a bit of Leeds that was untouched and was how I remembered it from being a child in the 1980s.
The arena’s effect on the nearby transport infrastructure will no doubt be keeping the letters page of the Yorkshire Evening Post busy from the off. The times I have been to Sheffield Arena, which relatively speaking is located out of the city centre, it has been nothing short of a total nightmare to get to/from if you go by car. Now our Arena is located near one of the busiest areas for commuters in normal rush hour traffic, so heaven knows what it’s going to be like in the lead up to an event. Total Chaos it’s fair to say. I can’t see that the nearby car parks will be able to cope.
One of the main criticisms of arenas is the soulless atmosphere they create, in part due to the way the seats are set out, meaning that not everybody can see clearly. We are told that Leeds Arena’s seats have been constructed in a ‘super theatre fan shaped format’, so everyone should be able to see perfectly. Another common arena gripe is having to pay £4.20 for a pint of watered down Tuborg. It would be nice if some of Leeds’ independent food/drink providers were involved in what is sold inside the arena. As well as this, I hope that long-standing servants of musical excellence to the people of Leeds, Crash and Jumbo Records, are given decent ticket allocations for events and not just a token amount or for gigs that aren’t selling well. These shops are fundamental in stocking releases by artists early on, some of which will end up playing the arena.
But it’s the programming of the venue that will attract the most interest. The first act to be announced, JLS, saw a collective gasp of outrage all over the city. In fact, the day it was, my Facebook news feed lit up with statuses of outright contempt and ‘how dare they’ statuses, but what do you really expect? Who did you think they were going to book, Whitehouse or Throbbing Gristle?
A far more popular choice has been that of local lads done good Kaiser Chiefs, and I’m sure as time goes on the odd decent show will appear in between ‘Cbeebies characters in oversized costumes-on ice’ and Olly Murs. Elton John as the opening act was also better received, although I wish it was him appearing via time travel from 1973 after seeing his recent appearance at the Queen’s Jubilee Concert.
Anyway, surely the whole point of “The Leeds Arena” is for it to put things on to appeal to different kinds of people. (Well, I’m sure the main reason is for
SEG/event promoters to make money but you get my drift.) Different strokes for different folks as Sly & The Family Stone once sung. A glance over your Facebook/Twitter feed on a weekend when X-Factor is on will let you know that a hell of a lot of people you know like to be entertained by rubbish entertainment. Thus they probably would pay money go see such rubbish entertainment in a large venue. This isn’t a surprise to me, nor should it be to you really.
Lets face it; there aren’t many credible acts that will be able to fill a venue that size. But for the ones that can, a lot of the decent bars up there will do very handsomely out of it. I’d say an act like The Black Keys playing the arena would be the equivalent of the Mad Friday before Christmas trade-wise for bars in Leeds’ Northern Quarter such as Mojo, Sandinista and Wax. Plus with some of these shows happening during the week, a lot of those bars will get a much needed midweek boost, with the way things are at the moment it could be just the shot in the arm the independent bar scene needs. Even the nearby Hobby Horse pub might do well, if it’s still open that is.
But finally, let’s just hope they find a decent sponsor to name it. The Mike’s Carpets Arena anyone?