Two old friends. Two legends of the Leeds music scene. Promoter John Keenan and the co-owner of Northern Guitars, Dave Baguley, invite us to reminisce with them in an intimate interview for our Come As You Are music series.

Meeting at Northern Guitars on Call Lane, a cool retro hangout for musicians and anyone seeking a real laid back vibe – a haven for the musically inclined with a rock cafe bar downstairs and the legendary guitar shop upstairs – Dave grabs himself a ginger beer and John a glass of red. As they settle, there is a comfortable, nostalgic atmosphere. New and used guitars hang nonchalant on walls plastered with original gig posters, an apt setting for such a pair of old school music men.

John started out in the late 60s booking bands in Southport whilst in college, but it wasn’t until 10 years later – unimpressed with the music scene in Leeds – that he tried his hand at promoting bands professionally.

Dave: I must’ve known you for nearly 40 years. Can’t be long after you first came to Leeds to put bands on?

John: Yeah, I started in Feb ‘77. The first one was Alan Price – I wanted Lou Reed! – with a band called Limelight and my mate Tymon Dogg. Tymon was one of the early punks, he taught Joe Strummer how to play, Sid Vicious and all them in the squats.

Dave: Where was that then?

John: Grand Theatre – I started big! I lost about three hundred quid. I learned a lesson there.
Having been previously taken advantage of in the early days, John has since insisted on giving the middle finger to corporate companies and done everything himself. This began by forming The F Club and Futurama Festival.

Dave: Was The F Club before Futurama?

John: Yeah – there was a common room at the Poly that was available to put gigs on over the summer. We started up a punk club – put bands on like The Slits, XTC, Slaughter and The Dogs. After summer, the Poly didn’t want us back! So it was ‘F the Poly’! I put that on the flyer. It was a good bunch – the young punks, all very arty, inventive and clever. I thought ‘we can’t lose all these people!’ So I formed a club. It was £1 to join then you got 25p off every gig. I moved it to the Ace of Clubs in Woodhouse. I put Siouxsie and The Banshees on there, some very early gigs for Gang of Four and The Mekons.

Dave: Then you moved down to Brannigans?

John: By that time, I’d changed it to The Fan Club. Basically some Left-Wing magazine, The Leveller, wrote an article saying ‘All the fascists go to the F Club – The F stands for Fascist!’ I thought ‘c’mon – no it doesn’t!’

Dave: They had nothing better to write.

John: Everyone went through Brannigans. Started off with bands like Human League and The Damned. Then U2, Killing Joke, Joy Division. They were all on £100 – no-one had ever heard of them.

Dave: I seem to remember you had The Specials and The Selector. Wasn’t John Peel there?

John: He came to a few gigs – he came to Futurama too. For The Specials, Elvis Costello rang me up. He said ‘Can I come down? I’ll shit, shower, shave!’ I think he wanted to sign them to Stiff Records. He came down in a Red Ted suit with black velvet lining and his specs and his hair brushed back and nobody spoke to him for an hour! Everyone thought he was some kid tryna look like Elvis Costello.

Dave: Then It was Futurama. ‘79? That’s when I first came to work with you. I can remember the very day when you opened the doors and we had to rope off and keep the crowd at one point, until something was set up.

John: It got to the Friday and there were no scaffolders. There was nothing there! They’d either forgotten to order them, or they didn’t want to do it coz it was a Punk fest. So I got a load of scaffolding, some F Club regulars, two professionals, and we got it built over night.

Dave: Who headlined that one?

John: Hawkwind. I always put a reference to the past. I thought ‘who were these people listening to ten years ago?’ A lot of doomy, alternative bands.

Dave: I remember going down to Bingley Hall and Stafford with you [for the second Futurama]. I slept in one of the bands tour buses.

John: I had to move it to the Bingley Hall because John Curd, a London promoter, had booked the September at Queen’s Hall for his rip-off festival called Days of Future Past. Even using some of the same acts! I just thought, ‘bloody hell, well I’m not going to give it up!’ So I found Bingley Hall in Stafford. The following year John Curd went bust.

Dave: To me, you were the first promoter that opened Leeds up. There was nobody else about.

John: That’s why I came over and started promoting. Other promoters, they hadn’t got the heart or the enthusiasm. I’ve never been in it for the money. I think the hotdog seller at Futurama made more money than me!