“The York music scene” is not a phrase that is often heard in casual conversation. There is a general consensus that you need to jump on a train and make your way to Leeds if you want to hear bands you’re interested in seeing live. Beneath that unpromising surface, however, and there emerges a small but dedicated assortment of people who have made it their mission to bring music they want to hear, and want you to hear, to York. One such person is Joe Coates, the man behind promoters Please Please You who put on shows at the Basement (in the City Screen cinema) and, until recently, the beloved Stereo. We met one evening in another great York institution, The Habit, to talk about upcoming shows and “the York music scene”.
Joe describes Please Please You as a set-up with himself at the helm, assisted by “occasional helpers”. “There are good friends that will help out when needed”, he explains. How did he start promoting shows in York? “I just wanted to do a show with a guy called Kelley Stoltz who wasn’t coming anywhere near York so I got him to come and play, and it came out of that”. So, from a desire to bring more music that he wanted to hear to the city, a common trope, Joe tells me he used to work in a Track records, a long-standing record store in York, “I listened to all manner of weird and wonderful stuff in there. It’s kinda handy it closed [in 2007] or I’d still be working there” he says, laughing.
We talk about the sad demise of Stereo (“we had a lot of fun there for a short amount of time”) and what it means for promoters such as PPY who have had to relocate to other venues. Their upcoming shows are now at the Basement. Despite being “awkward in every manner as a venue”, as Joe puts it, “the shows [at Basement] have been really good, some of the best attended gigs I’ve done recently”. There is a tendency to label small venues ‘intimate’ by default, but the Basement deserves that description. Some of PPY’s first shows were held there, so this is more of a homecoming for Joe, who says it felt natural to move back there.
Whilst Joe also organises gigs in Leeds, his heart belongs to York (“always lived here, that’s why I’m still here”). He jokes about the group of “hard-headed people who don’t want to leave York” creating the music scene in the city. When I bring up Freakin (purveyors of house nights in York for 15 years) he says, laughing, “no-one has offered as much high quality musical output and earned nothing from it… they’re very dedicated”. I’m interested to know about his process for choosing acts: “99% comes down to whether I want to watch the bands or not. Sometimes I’ll book a band as a favour for a friend, or because an agent has asked me to”. Does he find people online or does he prefer local bands or…? “I have a spreadsheet. It has about 200 lines on it. In terms of York acts, there’s plenty of them, and some really good ones too. There’s some exciting stuff about”. Local punk band Fawn Spots are “magical”, and he has only good words for York record label Bad Paintings, who are assisting with promotion for the (very exciting) Mazes show on February 20th.
Joe is particularly excited for Mazes to return, having played for PPY before over the last couple of years, he’s expecting it to be a “cracking” night, with excellent support acts as well. We end the interview talking about promotion in the city, and the difficulty of making sure that people know what’s going on. There is no denying that “the York music scene” is alive and kicking, but Joe doesn’t want to take too much responsibility for telling people what to do: “York’s only got 3 live music venues now, and if you’re interested in music and you live in York and you don’t know what’s happening at any of those, you don’t know if there’s something you would actually enjoy happening, then you’ve only got yourself to blame”. Blunt words, but they rang true.By Phoebe Rilot