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The Long Blondes Thanks to The Leadmill, I’ll never forget the first time The Long Blondes drove me home

The Long Blondes’ history is connected to The Leadmill in the same way many of our formative and favourite moments are. Sahar writes about first discovering the band on a night out at the historic venue.

The Long Blondes were a five-piece art rock/indie band that combined a new wave of witty and glamorous postpunk with pure pop nuances. Unapologetic, stylish and full of depth, the group formed in Sheffield nearly 20 years ago. Dorian, Kate, Reenie, Emma, and Screech met each other through a series of chance encounters, including at libraries, on dance-floors and in charity shops, but the most iconic was a run-in at a Strokes gig in 2001 - at The Leadmill, of course.

Last December the band released a remastered version of their debut, Someone to Drive You Home. Celebrating 15 years since its release, the album still packs a punch with its intoxicating guitar melodies, unfolding kitchen sink dramas, hypnotic postpunk vocals and chic aesthetics.

The Long Blondes’ history is linked to The Leadmill in the same way many of our formative moments are. Maybe The Leadmill was your first night out or your first gig. Perhaps you saw your favourite band there or discovered your favourite song. Maybe you played your first gig there, met the love of your life or made some of your closest friends. So many rites of passage moments have happened within The Leadmill’s cherished walls. Since the news of their eviction notice broke, it’s never felt like more of a crucial time to take a trip down memory lane.

The first Long Blondes song I ever heard was at the Leadmill’s former Friday club night, Gaga, in summer 2017. When you’re 19 and insecure, hearing the lyrics, “You're only 19 for god's sake / You don't need a boyfriend,” at maximum volume over a bouncy indie pop beat – it sticks with you. The dramatic opening line of ‘Once And Never Again’ and Kate Jackson’s swooning vocals will forever transport me back to that partially empty dancefloor, where none of us knew what we were flailing around to.

Thanks to Shazam, I found out the name of the song and spent the next couple of months fixated on The Long Blondes. I listened to their songs on repeat, trawled YouTube for interviews and browsed Google for articles. I felt connected to the group in the same way I’d become obsessed with Amy Winehouse and Blur a few years before. I quickly realised that the Sheffield quintet were as much of a breath of fresh air on the mid-2000s guitar scene as they’d be today. There’s a uniqueness to the band that simply cannot be copied. Perhaps it’s the subliminal darkness that seeps into their songs and intellectualises their debut, balancing out the euphoric playfulness and waking you up from any idle daydreaming.

‘Weekend Without Makeup,’ ‘Giddy Stratospheres,’ and ‘Swallow Tattoo’ had the same exhilarating impact on me. Nothing will quite beat listening to lyrics like, “Give me a good film noir and a bottle of gin / I'll be happy just to stay inside… Goodbye, happiness, I hardly knew ya,” and “You fill me with inertia” repeated when you have no idea what ‘inertia’ means. For a brief period, The Long Blondes became my dictionary, and every time I wanted to seem cool (or have better words to use in my creative writing) I knew which album I could turn to. They described my emotions in a way I simply didn't have the vocabulary for.

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Sahar Ghadirian.

When Jackson sang to 19-year-old me on ‘Heaven Help The New Girl,’ I felt myself getting over a breakup I never had: “Just go / Because you'll be never 19 again / And I thought I told you before / You don’t need a boyfriend.” For the healing hearts, the comforting lyric, ‘‘He never has to go behind my back again / Because I don’t speak to him now” is a defining and empowering moment that speaks to many. I look back on Someone to Drive You Home to remind me of my first year at university, and all the highs and crushing lows that came with it.

Dorian and Kate’s dialogue on ‘You Could Have Both’ leaves a long-lasting impact, like all the questions and thoughts that circle around your head mid-crisis. As their worded breakdown softly repeats, “Yes, you'll always have someone, someone to drive you home,” the track shows the influence of Pulp, Siouxsie and The Banshees and elements of Soft Cell.

If it’s your first time listening to The Long Blondes in 2022, you’d probably draw comparisons to big 6 Music favourites currently making waves like Wet Leg, Dry Cleaning, Porridge Radio, Life, Working Men’s Club and English Teacher. These mesmerising, postpunk leaning bands (the majority of which are female-fronted) see women shaking up a heavily male-dominated scene.

Produced by Pulp’s Steve Mackey, Someone to Drive You Home received widespread critical praise at the time of its release, and yet it still seems a criminally underrated album. Dealing with relationships from a female perspective, sexual exploration, isolation, outsider status, heartbreak in all forms, and navigating youth, the remastered edition brings a new lease of life to this seminal set of songs. Glittering with pop culture references from the fifties and sixties, it holds a special place in Sheffield’s diverse musical history.

The Long Blondes are just one band out of thousands the people of Sheffield have discovered through The Leadmill. Whether you hear a song blaring at a club night or you happen upon a support act you nearly missed, there is a strong link between independently-run music venues and the rise of local artists. This is something big corporations simply cannot replicate, no matter how much money they have to “invest and upgrade” facilities.

In a recent Time Out article, Kate Jackson credited The Leadmill for providing opportunities that helped the band get their career off the ground. “When we came back to headline, it was our home. It’s a real venue, full of grime, sweat, and the smell of stale lager, and it sounds great in there. It’s the reason people like me moved to Sheffield in the first place and went on to form bands.” After support slots with Arcade Fire (2005) and the Arctic Monkeys (2007), it’s no surprise Dorian Cox once described playing their own headline gig at The Leadmill as “a proper schoolboy dream come true.”

The outpouring of love to save the venue from eviction is not just nostalgia. The Leadmill is not a museum standing for moments long-gone. This venue is a lifeline and beacon for so many people today: for club-goers, up-and-coming artists, gig-goers, DJs and the staff who give so much to ensure everything runs smoothly day in and day out. It’s a place that attracts people from all over the world to Sheffield, whether they choose to come to an event, study here for university or move to the city permanently. The Leadmill is a community – whether the building is currently owned by the community or not. From its creation back in 1980, the gigs, workshops, cafe, theatre, and art and comedy shows it has hosted have solidified it as a space for the people.

Remaining an independent, multi-room venue with an incredibly hardworking and kind team of music lovers behind it, The Leadmill have constantly shown their pragmatism. They’ve adapted to cater to modern audiences, more so than venues with managers who have a lot more money behind them. From the eclectic range of club nights they put on to the mix of old and new talent onstage, The Leadmill as it stands is a home for all. It’s perfect just the way it is.

by Sahar Ghadirian (she/her)

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