In May a unique chapter in Bradford’s history will be marked with an event that celebrates the city’s creative spirit. The chapter is the story of the Love Apple Café-Bar-Club, which flourished in the city’s West End as a hub of artistic and intellectual culture, including indie music and dance nights. The event aims at a one-off reincarnation of that legendary venue in the heart of the old town centre.
On 19 May the former Marks’n’Sparks on Darley Street will be home to a party for the 20th anniversary of the original Love Apple’s creation. The Apple opened in 1997, at the Randall Well end of Great Horton Road, partly because the city needed a new space for people to enjoy the food, the people, the music and the ideas that they loved.
Behind the venture were solicitor Parvez Iqbal and art student Victoria Brett, who met in the Java, a bohemian café that then stood opposite the Alhambra stage door. Both felt the multicultural city had undercurrents of creative energy that needed a home. Instead of waiting for it to happen, they made it their mission.
And so began the rollercoaster ride. Vic’s brother, chef Jim Brett, whose signature chicken burritos were the most popular dish on the menu, became part of the adventure.
“It was the right thing to do, and we made a difference”, says Jim. “We touched a lot of lives. We supported each other, but it was a bigger family than the three of us. For a lot of people, the Apple became a home.”
Pav and Vic changed careers after the Apple went bust, but both are proud of what it achieved. Even the University prospectus used to single out the Love Apple among the reasons why students should choose Bradford. The nearby campus was good for the lunchtime trade. Every graduation day was celebrated with champagne at the Apple, and Peace Studies always held their parties there.
“A lot of people could identify with what we were trying to do”, says Pav. “It was a safe place for people to enjoy good company, with fresh, wholesome food, an inclusive atmosphere, decent sound engineering, real ales…”
While most of the city’s other venues favoured only DJs and cover bands, the Apple specialised in the offbeat and original. Disoriental nights introduced Bradford to some exciting world music, The Demon Barbers brought cutting-edge contemporary folk song and dance, and many young West Yorkshire bands found an audience for live, original performance with promotions like Granadaland, Random Sherlock or Dog on Wheels. Local rock legends Rob Heaton and Denny Austin ran the Fresh Milk project, encouraging new bands, at the Apple and MacRory’s Bar.
Club nights were equally diverse. The late Steve Wood’s eclectic house night Aura would range from Irish traditional music to his own electronica, and other promoters built cult followings for regular sessions like Original Heroes/Trainer Trouble, Subculture, Worship, Kaos, Bops and Shrug.
The 2006 Big Gig, a free festival of live music over four days in July and mostly in the open air, was a highlight in the Apple’s story. For those who were there it may be hard to accept that is already 11 years ago, and there’s not even a blue plaque on Bradford College’s new building, sited on the very car park where thousands rocked to Wilful Missing, Analog Bombs and Sol Gravy – among some 40 acts, ranging from Angelo Palladino’s classic blues to Groovement’s reggae-jazz, via This Et Al’s indie dance-rock and witty ballads by Belinda O’Hooley.
That historic event reflected the Love Apple’s unique ability to draw together an eclectic array of talents, united by goodwill. It was a huge success – but it didn’t miraculously solve the financial difficulties that were beginning to engulf a small family enterprise.
The Apple was of course an art gallery as well as a music and dance venue with a restaurant. Creativity was its moving spirit from start to finish. Victoria curated the exhibitions, with many local painters and printmakers having their first selling shows around the walls of the Apple’s dining room. Its proximity to the Alhambra helped make it a favourite with visiting stars.
Pav and Vic were frankly struggling to make a living when the great crunch came. The smoking ban, which most people welcomed, wasn’t what killed the original Love Apple. The growth of corporate pub chains, whose economies of scale enabled them to undercut food and drink prices in the independent sector, was another factor. Banks became positively hostile to lending to small enterprises and as Pav and Vic had two daughters to raise, they had to pull the plug.
“The fact is, most new businesses fold after a couple of years – and a new restaurant is lucky to survive one year,” Pav reflects. “The Love Apple was very successful in that way. It was a triumph of hope over economics.”
Love Apple customers, staff, musicians, artists and friends will convene on Friday 19 May in the former M&S store in Darley Street, made available by Brick Box and Wild Wood, to recapture some of the Love Apple magic. The party will raise funds for Bradford NightStop, a charity offering emergency accommodation for homeless young people.
The music will naturally be an exciting mix – jazz-rock from Bingley’s finest Flukes, Caribbean-flavoured pop from Riders In The Ska and Vic’s soul band, Rum Gargle, with a pop-up café-bar-club and some surprises promised.
Not so much a commemoration then, as a celebration of what Bradford can do when it puts its big heart into it.