Vicar Lane in Leeds is one of the city’s main and busiest shopping streets. At number 71 stands a branch of international fashion giant Hugo Boss. Until its closure in 2000, 71 Vicar Lane was better known as the Duchess of York pub and was one of the epicentres of the Leeds music scene with a place in not just Yorkshire music history but worldwide. Can you believe the one and only Nirvana played at the Duke of York Leeds pub.
The iconic Northern venue that saw bands such as Oasis, Blur and Manic Street Preachers and Nirvana grace its stage on their way to stardom has been partially recreated in Leeds’ Kirkgate Market for the Compass Festival, an interactive arts project. You will be able to grab a pint at the recreated Duchess, with a mock-up of the sign, gig flyers, photos from gigs in a big hit of nostalgia.
Katie Etheridge, who designed the project with Simon Persighettie, hope that visitors will “come together, share memories of gigs they went to and discuss why pubs and pub venues are so important, and what we can do to stop them being lost”.
Some of the world’s biggest bands graced its stage in their early years: Radiohead, Coldplay and Green Day were just a few of the names who rocked the venue. Green Day even used footage from their gig in their official live video for ‘2000 Light Years Away’ which was released in 2017.
One gig, in particular, stands out above the others due to the band’s global legacy and impact. The date was 25th October 1989 when a little-known band from Aberdeen, Washington came to support Tad, another band from the Sub Pop stable. They went by the name of Nirvana and were in town to promote their recently released debut album ‘Bleach’.
The line-up consisted of Kurt Cobain on guitar, Krist Novoselic on bass and Chad Channing on drums (Dave Grohl didn’t join the band until 1990). The set-list featured songs such as ‘About a Girl’, ‘Love Buzz’, ‘Floyd the Barber’ and ‘Polly’, which would feature in their mega-selling album ‘Nevermind’. Fortunately, the show was recorded and gives listeners an insight into the raw, grungy, and chaotic sound of the band’s early work.
Cobain’s vocals are characteristically rasping and emotional; they would later be hailed as the voice of a generation. The venue’s capacity was around 250 and the audience can have had little idea of the musical juggernaut Nirvana would become.
When the gig was over, it is said, Kurt Cobain slept on the sofa in the room above the pub. Quite the claim to fame for a small Yorkshire music venue. Just under two years after appearing at the Duchess of York, Nirvana would release ‘Nevermind’ which to date has sold over 30 million copies worldwide.
While their later years were turbulent and in the end heartbreakingly sad, Nirvana are undoubtedly one of the most influential and loved bands of all time. Like all major bands, these early gigs are where they cut their teeth and began the lift-off to the dizzy heights of rock stardom.
The Duchess of York is a long-lost venue but it provided Leeds with what has become in retrospect an iconic show for one of the world’s most seminal bands.
The Duchess of York “homage” forms part of the Yorkshire Square, a fully operational pub installation in Kirkgate Market, 15-24 July. John Keenan is interviewed live at 5.30pm on 23 July, followed by live music.
‘Nirvana’ setlist for 25th October, 1989:
Floyd The Barber
About A Girl
Token Eastern Song
Listen to the full performance below: