I am on a roof in Holbeck. It’s flat, vast and exposed. Winter rain is nicking at my face and hands like a spray of sewing pins. The wind shivers the surface of silvery puddles. Scaffolding squeals. A door bangs randomly. And there are always pigeons about, strutting, squabbling, thinking they own the place.
I’ve arranged to meet a couple of people up here for a special #comewinewithme.
Because this isn’t any old roof. I’m on the top of Temple Works, one of the most dramatic, extraordinary and important buildings in Leeds (actually it has international significance, that was just a bit of Yorkshire understatement.)
On the outside it’s an exact copy of an Egyptian Temple – specifically, The Temple of Horus at Edfu. Which I still think is weird. What on earth is a replica Egyptian temple doing in the cold and cloudy industrial North?
But the Pharoanic facade isn’t really the reason it’s Grade 1 listed, spectacular though the frontage is. The engineering is the thing. The way the two acres of brick, cast iron and glass that I’m standing on manages to remain floating atop a couple of dozen hollow cast iron supports – I always liken it to balancing a house brick on a couple of paper straws – fixed by the four outer walls is nothing less than miraculous. Well, not really, it’s just very clever Victorian engineering that I still can’t quite believe or get my head around. However the Victorians did it, the place is still standing after almost 180 years. And I’m not nervous being up here. Much.
I first turned up on Temple Works’ doorstep about five years ago when it had just opened as an arts/culture/heritage project and the place quickly became my second home. It really is like nowhere else, a perfect mix of anarchy, experimentation, mind-numbing rules and regulations (don’t try working in a Grade 1 listed building site if you’re scared of risk assessments) and interesting people making incredible stuff. It’s still my favourite venue – though I would say that.
Possibly the best comment I ever heard at an arty event was at the Temple.Works.Leeds launch just after we’d experienced an almighty eardrum-shredding, eyeball-battering, internal-organ-melting sound-and-light show in the Main Space (just below where I’m stood now, once the world’s biggest room. In fact, if you think about it, the biggest room in the known universe, which is quite immense.)
We’d taken our guests into a bitingly cold makeshift bar – what used to be the old factory’s Joiners Workshop – and passed some very chilly, cheap red around in flimsy plastic cups, and I got talking to 82 year old Doris and her 57 year old Daughter, Margaret. They’d both worked at Temple Works when it was Kays Catalogue and were full of tales of company trips to Egypt to see the original temple. They handed around holiday snapshots. The Temple at Edfu looked unreal somehow and I was surprised how cheerily white and gleaming the original was compared to our homage in dour Yorkshire stone. I asked them what they thought of the show, trying not to look concerned in case they weren’t exactly complimentary (I have to admit, I didn’t quite know what to make of it, and my eardrums were still buzzing). “Eeh Luv” said Doris, pausing to indicate I should refill her glass, “it were better than’t telly!”
“Better than’t telly” became a motto for events at Temple Works. If it’s not “better than’t telly” why bother doing it?
We’ve been “on’t telly” quite a bit actually. Inside the office building the decor is essentially Iron Curtain, Detention and Interrogation Centre chic, so it’s always in demand for film location shoots and band videos. If you ever come round for a visit don’t ask when we’re going to do it up – the torture chamber aesthetic is a bit niche, I agree. but it works. Outside we seem to specialise in cop show car chases and post-apocalyptic zombie films. We are in fact the North’s premier location for all your undead location hire needs. If you have a script calling for a chase scene involving 500 rotting, infected, wailing corpses you need look no further. We’ve even got a council license for that sort of thing. (This isn’t true, obviously. The council licensing department are brilliant, but the undead are not part of their remit as far as I’m aware.)
And of course, there’s the roof.
The great Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, famously broadcast from up here (he was a fan) though that was well before my time. Temple Works is about 7 minutes in, but the whole thing is worth watching if you love the architecture of Leeds, it’s a beautiful piece of film …
More recently we had the Dr Who crew from Cardiff filming “Frankenstein’s Wedding” – the BBC’s biggest outside broadcast outside London ever – for almost a month. All the internal Frankenstein’s laboratory shots were filmed in the Main Space, but the best bit of the entire show was the dance on the roof with the monster and his bride. It was amazing to watch them do this – again and again and again. Colin, the Dr Who director is an absolute filmic fascist! I couldn’t believe how many takes he made those poor actors do. It was unimaginably cold and unnervingly windy up on the roof that day too. The dance is a minute in …
Some of the other random highlights have been almost frying the whole of @Fish& when I may accidentally have plugged the wrong lead into the wrong socket (sorry again chaps … the electricity has since been sorted, honest); feeling the entire building throb like a Tardis under attack by Daleks when Stir It Up cranked their sound system up to 11 and turned the old boardroom windows into potential guillotines (death by dub!) I’ve seen 17 naked Laura Palmers walking around the car park wrapped only in cling film and bubble wrap at a Twin Peaks event; been surrounded by 300 French speaking – and, more to the point, French singing – West Africans who draped our harsh, industrial Joiners Bar in so much white fabric I felt snow blind (I never knew there were so many Cameroonians in South Leeds – though they had to ship the star singer in from Paris); I’ve stood by helpless as a mountainous lead singer of a Belgian dark metal/punk band got naked and trashed the stage (he was sweetness itself and polite – and clothed – in the bar after) and had a personal pole dance moment with Minnie Mouse. Hard to explain that one, but I’m convinced it had artistic merit (and thank you Arts Council – You can put me down as “very involved” in that one!). I’ve been pushed around in video goggles strapped in a wheelchair by Il Pixel Rosso – who are doing a big event at the Yorkshire Festival, and I’d definitely recommend seeing them, they are genuinely amazing – and, probably best of all, I got to strip the bubble wrap off this …
possibly the most iconic graphic image of the late 20th century, and I got to hang it on the wall!
One of the interesting things about Jamie Reid – besides the fact that he’s one of the projects biggest supporters – is that he wouldn’t have anything to do with Liverpool’s bid for European Capital of Culture. But he came to Leeds. He loved the spirit of Temple Works …
And that’s why I find myself with a bottle of wine, in the wind and the rain, on a roof, waiting for people to join me. Temple Works is looking to be put into Trust soon – with private backing – and I’m meeting a couple of potential trustees who love and care about the spirit of the place as much as I do for a bit of a natter. They don’t know I’ve got wine. But that’s one of my personal criteria – we do get through an awful lot of the stuff here, I can’t imagine anyone who’d want to be a trustee of Temple Works not appreciating a celebratory Sauvignon Blanc.
This post was sponsored by Asda as part of #comewinewithme and all they asked me to do was enjoy the wine with invited guests – a Chilean Mayu Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – and let it spark a conversation about whatever was on their minds. So, I had a conversation with myself. About something I care about a lot. I think that’s within the rules?
And I did share the wine. I’m not an egomaniac.