Rock & roll Refectory

Since the 1960s our Refectory has played host to some of the most famous musicians in the world including Elton John, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix and the Who.

Elton John pictured at the Refectory. Credit: Dave Siviour / Yorkshire Post Newspapers

The Refectory is the University of Leeds’ main canteen and during term time the building is usually packed with students grabbing something to eat between lectures. But the building also has an illustrious past as a live venue for some of the most famous musicians from the past 50 years, and it continues to host some of the biggest names in music today.

The Clash (left), Kid Creole (middle) and Ian Dury (right) pictured at the Refectory. Credit: Dave Siviour / Yorkshire Post Newspapers
Paul McCartney (left) and Bryan Ferry (right) pictured at the Refectory. Credit: Steve Riding / Yorkshire Post Newspapers. If you’re a University of Leeds graduate you can register to see more pictures like these on our alumni page.

The Refectory has been at the heart of Leeds’s live music scene since the late 1960s when larger live music venues were needed to deal with the popularity of a new wave of rock bands. Over the coming decades the venue became an essential stop for touring bands as the Leeds University Union booked some of the most iconic musicians of the last century.

Perhaps the most famous live recording ever made, The Who Live at Leeds, was recorded in the Refectory on Valentine’s Day 1970. On the night, the 2,100 capacity venue was sold out and over 1,000 fans packed onto the venue’s roof to try to hear the band.

In 1971 alone the venue hosted the Kinks, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Rod Stewart and the Faces, Status Quo, Deep Purple and the Rolling Stones. Interviewed by the Yorkshire Evening Post after the Rolling Stones gig, Mick Jagger is quoted saying that “everybody wants to play here”.

The Ramones (left) and the Boomtown Rats (right) pictured at the Refectory. Dave Siviour / Yorkshire Post Newspapers.
ACDC (left) Siouxsie and the Banshees (middle) and John Cooper Clarke (right) pictured at the Refectory. Dave Siviour / Yorkshire Post Newspapers. If you’re a University of Leeds graduate you can register to see more pictures like these on our alumni page.

The same paper’s review of the show, headlined “Jagger Leers Struts and howls for 2,000 fans”, describes the rather liberal views of the Union at the time: “Apart from a few broken windows, which a union spokesman said was nothing unusual for a Saturday night hop, no damage at all was done.”

In more recent times the Refectory has continued to be a key venue for live music in Leeds, hosting big names like Ed Sheeran, Dizzee Rascal, Tinie Tempah, Rita Ora and Ellie Goulding. The venue also plays host to musicians as part of the Live at Leeds festival, which shares its name with the famous album by the Who.


Refectory playlist

Some of the most important musicians of the last century have played at the Refectory. Below you can hear just some of the great songs that have been played at this iconic venue.

See more pictures from the University’s past by registering for Leeds Alumni online.