Ashley Kollakowski (Belgrave Music Hall, Headrow House, Whitelocks, Turks Head) moved to Leeds over two decades ago. Since then he has seen the city grow and places come and go. Here, he tells us that the one constant through it all is the attitude of the people that will likely keep him here for decades more…
1993 was a huge year for me, and probably my most significant in terms of music too. It was a year soundtracked by new releases from Wu Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, KRS One, Black Moon, Snoop Dogg, Digable Planets and Souls of Mischief. It was also the year I moved to Leeds, dropped out of university after my second day, and took a full time job in a record shop; I regret nothing.
The first person I met when I moved here was George Evelyn from Nightmares on Wax. I was a clean shaven 18 year old who only listened to rap music, had terrible taste in clothes and was working on a goatee, which I really do regret. I’d just got my first ‘proper’ job and it was at Way Ahead Records in the Victoria Quarter (Way Ahead shut down about 18 years ago, but at the time it was a very important shop in Leeds). It was my first week working in the shop and in came George. I recognised him instantly and we struck up a conversation about the new Tribe album Midnight Marauders. That’s all I can really remember, but it was a significant meeting for me and one that would mould my future interactions with music bods in Leeds.
A few weeks later I was walking past the Irish Centre on my way home from town and noticed George was stood outside the side door, so I walked over to say ‘hi’. He was at a gig there and the act playing was Roy Ayers – I’d only ever been to hip hop gigs so I wasn’t really too arsed, but he said I could sneak in with him and he’d introduce me to his friends.
After that night it seemed like I’d met everyone who was anyone in Leeds: Chico, Gip and Lubi from the DIG! collective, and all the guys from soul clubs Cooker and The Underground; Dan Greenpeace and Andrew Emery from Alwoodley based middle class rap duo Prehistoric Ages; Joe from Braintax; Paul Edmeade and Tommy from Breaking the Illusion; Lornette and Hunter from Jumbo Records… I honestly looked up to these people so much I felt privileged to be accepted into their group.
On the back of meeting those people I released my first record with rap group New Flesh For Old and managed to get it into the hands of Tim Westwood and Gilles Peterson, and even get it received at Hip Hop Connection and the NME. The Leeds people’s passion for music really spurred me on to believe I could do whatever I put my mind to, and with the support of the good DJs of the city and beyond, it proved to be a successful record. 4 weeks later I quit the group to be a DJ.
Since then the city has grown; some of those places have closed down and been replaced by new scenes, but the energy remains the same. Leeds has always had a really strong community spirit, and it’s the reason I never moved away. It’s not really about the bars, restaurants, coffee shops or record stores, it’s about the people you meet there. There may be more impressive cities, but I really think the people in Leeds are the friendliest and most welcoming of all the places I’ve been. It can be wet and depressing at times, and the parking is shit, plus we always seem to come second to Manchester when it comes to funding sports and transport… but you can always rely on the self-depreciating Yorkshire sense of humour, brashness, honesty… and a plethora of Greggs!
I’m happy to say after living here for 23 years that I’m still friends with pretty much everyone I met that first week. 20 years later I had the pleasure of putting on Nightmares On Wax when I opened Belgrave Music Hall; I DJ’d recently with Chico when we had The Sun Ra Arkestra playing in November; I met up with Andrew Emery for a beer yesterday; and I always see Lornette in Waitrose. I reckon I’ll still be in Leeds in another 20 years. Holla if ya hear me!