Advantages Attracts relatively big-name bands, convenient location
Disadvantages Terrible venue, no air-con, poor facilities, ill equipped.
|Price of food & drink|
|Quality of food & drink|
|Access by public transport|
|Availability/cleanliness of facilities|
INTRODUCTION - I've been a fan of live rock music for some years now but living in Leeds have nearly always been forced to travel to Manchester to see bigger name bands simply because of the lack of a venue big enough to attract them.Now Leeds has some brilliant venues, like the Cockpit, Joseph's Well and the Met but none of these reach a capacity of over 1000 which is essential for larger bands really.
Then all of a sudden, there was a new player on the scene. Part of the Leeds University campus, The Refectory offered capacity of over 1000 with big names to match. Had my prayers been answered?!
Coming soon are Ash and Maroon 5, and the place seems to have little trouble attracting other big names. Sure, you're not gonna get arena-style bands here but small-mid range reasonably well known rock bands are a formality.
Leeds has a large student population as well as a large teenage rock fanbase so gigs often sell out - I've known friends to pay up to £35 for a £12 ticket from touts on the night of a gig. Touts are a problem as at most venues, you're best advised to steer well clear. Very rarely there may be tickets still available on the door but like I said, book early to avoid disappointment!
The venue is basically just a hall inside the university student's union. The bands tour buses are usually parked right outside the front and if you're lucky you'll see them come out and have a root through the luggage from time to time. If you arrive at the 'doors open' time stated on your ticket you're most likely gonna be faced with a very long queue to get in - in my experience you do better to show up about half an hour later when its likely to have diminished somewhat.It gets very crowded around the area and especially so inside, I can't imagine it being particularly easy for disabled people to access. When you finally get inside, you may well be subject to a random search which I have no objection whatsoever to, then you're free to roam around as you wish. The main entrance hall is a good meeting place and stays reasonably cool. When you're ready, it's time to venture deeper in.
The main hall is reached by turning right after the entrance hall, turning left takes you down a staircase to the toilets, cash machines and cloakroom. Personally, I think the toilets could do with being a lot closer to the actual hall as if you have to go for a pee during the gig, it's at least a 5 minute trip (usually just long enough to miss your favourite song!). The bogs are predictably hideous, far too small too.
FACILITIES - On normal (non-gig) days the Refectory is simply a large hall. Makeshift bars are set up for gig nights, meaning the selection and quality of drinks and snacks available is highly limited (and also very expensive). It will cost you at least £1 for a small bottle of water, £2 for a 440ml can of Carling and £2.50 for a 275ml Smirnoff Ice. And thats about it in the way of the range...
This layout is where one of the major problems with this place lies. The very nature of a rock gig means that you want to be as close to the band as possible. The rectangular set-up acts like a bottleneck with everyone trying to cram as far forward as possible. If you don't fancy getting crushed or pushing through hundreds of angry people then you're gonna have to put up with a crappy view.
THE VENUE - The main hall where your gig will take place is like a long rectangle, with the stage at one of the thin ends, bars etc at the other ends. There are balconies down both sides but these are not accessible to the public.
The second major problem is the venue's complete lack of cooling, no air con, not even any ventilation that I can make out. This is nigh on deadly for a venue that holds gigs like this as everybody loves to jump about but it gets so incredibly hot in there that its almost impossible to stay comfortable. You'll find yourself desperate to rush down to the toilets and shove yourself under the cold tap, then when you get back it's like walking into an oven.There's been many a time when I've felt very close to passing out, and I'm not a small or indeed weighty person. I don't understand how some people cope in here. I think the only thing that keeps many people going is the sheer energy that seeing great bands like these puts into the room - and it's not just me - at my last gig, Less Than Jake (who are from boiling hot Gainesville, Florida) couldn't believe how hot it was.
Here lies another and in my opinion, seriously dangerous problem. Free water is NOT available. If you want a drink without paying £1 for a tiny bottle you must go down to the toilets and risk the tap water. Nearly every other venue I've been to (including the similar Academy in Manchester) give out free cold water by the bucketload at the end of an energetic gig. This needs sorting!!Sound quality of bands varies but has usually been decent and plenty loud enough while I've been there. Again, lighting rigs and SFX are varied, I get the feeling these are more up to the bands than the venue. Curfew is at around 11pm, though I have known gigs to go on for a little longer.
When you finally escape at the end of the gig (and believe me, you'll probably be glad to ) after wrestling your way outside you'll be in another bottleneck surrounded by merchants selling bootleg shirts, posters etc. This really gets in the way and although its the same at all venues they usually keep somewhere slightly out of the way. It makes it extremely difficult to find your way out and find/stay with friends.
Perhaps if a bit of the money Leeds Uni are making out of this were to be re-invested in good ventilation, better facilities and (heaven forbid) air conditioning then I might consider a better rating, but at the end of the day the venue is still deeply flawed thanks to its layout.My impossible quest for a good quality, large venue in Leeds continues!
Thanks for reading, Tom.
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