A very Yorkshire disaffection: an introduction to the book Brutal Yorkshire

Brutal Yorkshire is a book by Martin Dust. It’s a photographic trek through his home county focusing on modernist edifices of every kind – gleaming gems, rusting hulks, Martin has a soft spot for them all. My foreword to the book touches on all that, naturally, but it’s also about a musical encounter deep in 1980s’ Doncaster – a night I’ve never managed to forget.

Band of '86 competition - Sheffield Star supplement

The first and only time I met Martin Dust, we were immersed in the beer-tinted dusk of a brutal Yorkshire night out.

The sun had set over Rotters Discotheque, Doncaster, and somewhere behind the venue’s featureless 1960s’ façade, our respective Sheffield-based bands were sizing each other up, preparing to play, and setting our facial features into expression-free façades of our own.

The occasion was an early heat in the Sheffield Star’s Band of ‘86 competition, and my band mates and I were new to the gigging game. We felt naive and sickeningly green, eager to conceal our inexperience behind masks of stony indifference. Martin’s group, on the other hand, were live music regulars, well acquainted with bass, drums and bellowing – the only sounds they used – and confident in the noise they could make.

“Fuckinell, you lot look nervous,” said Martin as he strode through the dressing room, toying with our egos before our gigging career had even begun.

It was ruthless honesty, I’m sure, rather than gamesmanship, although if he’d planned to indulge in Mourinho-esque mind games, he could hardly have come up with a more effective turn of phrase. We felt far from our home city’s steely embrace – Sheffield may only have been 15 miles or so thattaway, but we’d treated the journey to Donny like three Martin Sheens in search of a Yorkshire-accented Colonel Kurtz – and the fact that our anxieties were clearly so visible meant that our taciturn posturing had been effortlessly revealed as a sham.

My stomach churned like a bad pint of Whitbread. My heart raced like Sebastian Coe.

If this was what it was like to be untethered in Yorkshire, I thought, I wanted none of it. Get me back to Sheffield, and do it bloody sharpish – the Yorkshire city with Derbyshire in its sights.


'Brutal Yorkshire' book by Martin Dust

Thirty-five years on, Martin has ventured back into that other Yorkshire, the non-Sheffield bit, this time with a camera and photographic sensibility where his aggressively-wielded mic stand used to be.

There have been decades of stuttering regeneration nationwide since our Doncaster meeting, and you might imagine that the county’s inscrutable concrete edifices – the kith and kin of that faceless Rotters Discotheque, which even in 1986 seemed unloved and near-ready for the drop – might have already been pulled to the ground.

Many have indeed hit the deck, I’m sure of it – their intimidating bulk taken out like a collapsing prop forward (a sporting symbol, incidentally, of a game that Yorkshire is supposed to be mad about, but that Sheffield has never bothered to love). But like the Brutalist bounty hunter that he is, Martin has gone in search of Yorkshire’s post-war architectural paradise, and returned with evidence that its gaunt remains still exist.

This is not the Yorkshire of television’s Sunday teatimes – those heartbeats and summer wines of a mythical, cathode-ray county. Neither is it the Yorkshire of tourist board propaganda – those verdant backdrops that so appealed, unlikely as it somehow seemed, to the organisers of the 2014 Tour de France. Instead, this is Martin’s personal take on England’s biggest county – a Yorkshire of pasties and precincts, walkways and water towers, and one that, despite its heart being broken and its pockets having been picked, still repays its citizens’ devotion and deserves the full force of your loving gaze.

For the most part, these are no longer the buildings they were born to be – which is to say, the era when they seemed like visionary constructions or science-fiction structures has long since expired. Now many are care-worn and stress-marked, they’re mottled and sallow, like foreheads that have never learned not to scowl. And yet in Martin’s images, they also seem human and vulnerable – often Brutalist, but also brutalised. And while I feel happy for some of them – the university buildings in York, Leeds and Sheffield look particularly content and well-fed – I feel sorry for others, and some of them… I’d like to give them a hug.


'Brutal Yorkshire' book by Martin Dust

That night in 1986 was the abrupt start and stop of my live music career – an anxiety-drenched evening during which our optimistic musical ambitions slammed headlong into a partisan Doncaster crowd. Those people didn’t want reel-to-reel lives and drummerless electronics handcrafted in angsty bedrooms on Sheffield’s leafy west side. They wanted tumble-dried metal and cap-sleeved machismo, and their local heroes – a poodle-permed outfit with a whiff of Bon Jovi and a stench of Belle Vue – were all too ready to oblige.

Martin’s lot, for their part, were fearsome and hypnotic – a restless trio flecked with eyeliner and threat. Not that their powerful prowling rhythms and confident stage presence were much defence against Doncaster’s indifference. They fared better than we did, naturally, but on that night with that crowd, they were never going to come out on top.

Last place, of course, was never in doubt. It was ours for the taking, and yes, we plucked humiliation from the jaws of defeat. And as we packed up our gear and left Donny behind us, a blade of bitterness and resentment skewered my heart.

When I look at Martin’s photograph’s though, I sense my heart healing and I feel love spreading, and I see towns and cities – Doncaster included – where people just get on with being alive. So although I may once have closed my mind to Yorkshire’s gruff exceptionalism, my mental fortress has come crashing down against the odds.

Not that everything is suddenly forgiven.

“It was such a fix,” said Martin via email when I reminded him of our mutual Doncaster flop.

For my band though, it was also a grisly musical dismembering.

Like I said – a fucking brutal Yorkshire night out.

'Brutal Yorkshire' by Martin Dust

Text © Damon Fairclough 2021
Images © Damon Fairclough 2023 (all photographs in the Brutal Yorkshire book are © Martin Dust)

This piece originally appeared in the book Brutal Yorkshire by Martin Dust, published in 2021 by Revelations 23 Press.

It’s the second of three such pieces I’ve written for Martin Dust. The others are Unearthing the unfinished city and The time that land forgot.

You can buy Brutal Yorkshire here.

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