Communications boxes. Or Comms boxes. There are hundreds, nay thousands of them on our streets. There’s probably even one at the end of your road.
Not that you’d notice them. Why would you? They’re grey, dark olive, non-distinct. Occasionally you’ll see a bloke open one up and fiddle with the wiring inside. Whatever.
But have a stroll around Elland Road and you’ll see something very different. These nondescript blocks of nothingness have been transformed into little works of art.
Wander into nearby Headingley, Burley and Kirstall and there are more dotted around the streets to brighten up the landscape.
The man behind them is local resident and Leeds fan Andy McVeigh, aka #BurleyBanksy.
A primary school teacher by day, Andy is also a drummer in his spare time with 60s outfit The Reeds. He’s played in lots of bands around Leeds and, fun fact, was in a Britpop band (Powersleep) with Premier League referee Jon Moss in the 90s. No, really.
It may not quite have the same cachet as claiming you were at the famous Sex Pistols gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976, but there are men and women in their 40s and 50s around Leeds who fondly recall seeing Powersleep in their pomp.
The 90s eh. What a time it was to be alive in this part of West Yorkshire, the Whites winning the league title and visiting the exotic cities of Europe.
Hard times have followed, but things are turning. There’s a new feelgood factor and McVeigh is on that journey.
But what is the motivation for his artwork? Inspiring the team on? Boredom? Giving something back? Our Dave Tindall met up with #BurleyBanksy himself.
Planet football: How long have you been a Leeds fan?
Andy McVeigh: First game was 1980, aged 10. Lost 4-1 to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. I was in the Boys’ Pen, it all kicked off, the atmosphere was horrendous.
It cost 50p to get in and Peter Shilton made about £28 from all the coins that were chucked at him from the Kop!
PF: The artwork. Why did you start doing it?
AM: I started doing it to cover up all the horrible graffiti and tagging that has plagued our area – Burley, Headingley and Kirkstall. I started doing it with my friend Helen, we just started painting over all the tagging with nice pictures of trees and things.
People said they really loved them and then I thought why don’t I do some Leeds United ones? I love the imagery of Leeds United, the smiley badge, our colours work brilliantly well together so I started doing some Leeds United ones down near the stadium so fans, as they walked to Elland Road, could see them.
I’m a primary school teacher and I wanted kids to see them. I thought kids would like them. They’d say, ‘Look at that, dad,’ kind of thing.
PF: So when you’re sat there, painting them, do people stop and talk?
AM: Yes, sometimes. I get loads of lads beeping their horns, giving the Leeds salute and chanting ‘Leeds Leeds Leeds’, ‘keep it up Andy’, and all this kind of stuff. I didn’t realise quite how far the reach of Twitter is. People are going, ‘Nice one Andy,’ and I’m thinking, ‘How do they know my name?’ and then I realise, that’s Twitter isn’t it. You kind of forget that it goes a long way.
Sometimes you’ll get little old ladies coming up and giving a fiver for paint for the non-Leeds, flowery ones. And a lovely bloke called George bought me some paint last week. He’s a Leeds fan and he took me down to a builder’s merchants and he bought me some blue, white and yellow gloss. So that was really kind of him.
PF: And I guess that’s a big help as you’re doing this for free. You’re not making any money out of it.
AM: Yes, I must be nuts. It costs me money and I’m not particularly well off! But I guess it’s just a nice thing to do. People seem to like it and the world’s not a very nice place at the moment. Sometimes you can get down and it cheers me up to be honest. As cheesy as it sounds, it makes me feel a bit positive when there’s a lot of negative stuff going on. It’s my little effort, if you like, to make things nice.
I don’t think people do enough for their communities. Where I live, people leave rubbish everywhere, mattresses on the streets, and I think why don’t you take a bit of pride in where you live? It’s never going to be Beverley Hills, but you can make it the best it can be. Beeston’s not the nicest place in the world but if I can make that area a little bit nicer…
PF: You’ve also done some as tributes.
AM: Yes, when my baby niece Grace died… she was born just off Kirkstall Road and my sister said that everyone will forget she ever existed because she was only 10, 11 months old.
I saw a little box just near the bottom of her street where she was born and I thought I’d do one there for her. One Christmas morning I did it. I don’t get to see my son on Christmas morning so I went out about seven in the morning and it was really peaceful. And I think it helped.
PF: Is the positive feedback a big help?
AM: Yes, you tweet one and hundreds of people like it and say, they love it and keep going. Some say it makes me proud to be a Leeds fan which is nice, isn’t it?
PF: And that obviously means more to you than making a few quid out of it?
AM: Yeah, although I don’t know how I’d make money out of it anyway! It’s just nice. Some lad sent me a picture of his little boy stood next to one of the boxes I’d done. He was only about eight, and I thought that’s amazing. It really cheered me up.
PF: What about doing some t-shirts with them on?
AM: Would anybody really want to buy a t-shirt with one on?! I’ve got some ideas for some other types of t-shirts which I may eventually get round to doing. It’s just whether you can afford to lose the money if they don’t sell!
I can’t really afford to get in the ground. This is the irony of it! I haven’t been able to afford a season ticket for a long time. It’s about £900 for me and my boy, Dan, now. I’ve been really lucky when I’ve had mates who’ve given me their season tickets when they’re not going – Duncan and Scott – and I’ll get tickets for the odd game but it’s been hard missing out on some great games.
I’ve only been able to get to a few matches away and that’s only because somebody knows somebody who supports the other team.
PF: When you do get to a game, does anyone ever recognise you?
AM: Yes, sometimes. A couple of blokes have come up, shook my hand and said you’re that Burley Banksy.
PF: Would you rather have full anonymity, like the actually Bansky?
AM: Haha. I’m a drummer for a reason. I’m quite happy being in the background. I can happily play a gig in front of two or three thousand people, which I have done in the past, but as long as I’m at the back.
PF: Teardrop Explodes singer Julian Cope used to telephone his answer machine from a phone box when he had an idea for a song. What’s your modus operandi?
AM: I sketch them first in this little pad here (reveals tatty notebook). Just have random ideas really and write them down.
PF: Your creations look great, but there’s a thought that has he gone rogue? Does he have permission to do this or will red tape and killjoys in council offices put a stop to it?
AM: We spoke to the councillors about it in a local community meeting and they rang the companies for us and got permission and they said it was fine as long as I didn’t do anything obscene or rude. So they’ve been absolutely fine, never had any complaints. I suppose I’m doing them a favour as sometimes people write obscenities on them and I actually cover them up so I’m sort of saving them a job really!
The only one that was slightly iffy was I did one saying ‘Vamos Leeds Carajo’ which has become a bit of a Leeds catchphrase. Carajo can be used as the F-word and a bloke who worked for Virgin Media said, ‘Look, I love them, I’m a big Leeds fan but if we do get a complaint, you’ll probably have to paint over that word and replace it with something else.’
But I know a Spanish girl and, apparently, it’s not always used as the F-word. It’s used as, ‘Come on, get lost, let’s be having you’… all sorts of different meanings. Anyway, no-one’s complained so it’s been fine!
PF: Right now, with Leeds top of the Championship [Ed: we know, we know, it was done a while back], is this one of the better times as a Leeds fan?
AM: It’s the most amazing football I think I’ve probably ever seen Leeds play, even when we won the league in ’92. But this Bielsa football is just from a different planet.
Three or four years ago we were watching absolute dross and now the passing, the movement, the speed, the thinking, the fitness… it’s just incredible. It is like watching Barcelona at times. It’s mental!
We played Derby last year and we beat them 4-1, second game of the season, and my son turned to me and said, ‘Dad, what is going on?’ And that will live with me forever. It didn’t matter we didn’t get promoted as his face when the fourth went in was just a beautiful moment.
PF: Last season, did you have a sense of ‘this is going to happen’ or did you kind of expect it go wrong?
AM: It’s Leeds United. I’m a Leeds fan. I know what’s going to happen. After Wigan, it was done for me. For the Derby game, I couldn’t watch. I went out and painted instead, to keep calm.
PF: Is that another reason why you paint?
AM: Yes, when I’m missing my boy. I’m a single dad and I don’t think people realise how hard it is for dads who only see their kids every other weekend, four days a month. When I’m missing him I think I can either feel down and miserable or make myself feel better by doing something positive.
It’s quite therapeutic and it takes your mind off stuff and just for that hour or two, I know it’s cliched, but you just drift off a bit. Some people drink, some people go for a walk.
PF: So, you were in a Britpop band!
AM: Yes, me and Mossy (Premier League ref Jon Moss) and a few lads were in a mid-90s indie band called Powersleep. Mossy wrote the songs, we did lots of gigs locally. We did a great gig on a train for his school fundraiser in 15 carriages on a train down to London. We were absolutely hammered. It was, literally, one of the best days of my life!
PF: And we’re sat here in Headingley, just a few doors down from Jon’s new record shop, Vinyl Whistle.
AM: Yes, Mossy’s never lost his love of music. He’s achieved every bloke’s dream. Just being able to hang out in your own record shop. It’s like High Fidelity. He loves it. Just pottering around in the shop, playing records. A middle-aged man’s fantasy.
PF: We’re doing this interview two days after the incredible Headingly Test and the ground is literally a two-minute walk away. I understand you have a possible tribute planned…
AM: I watched the highlights with my son and my dad and it was incredible. I immediately just thought I know there’s a box right outside the cricket side of the stadium and I thought I’m just going to write in big letters:
Perhaps just with the date on and leave it at that.
PF: And if I were to push you on Leeds United this season, what will be their fate?
AM: I daren’t predict it. It feels slightly different than it did from last season in that we are beating teams that we should beat. We are scoring goals when we should score them. It feels like they’re more totally in tune with Bielsa’s methods.
We should go up but, as I said to my son, with Leeds United there is no should. I just want to be back in the Premier League just so my son can sample that atmosphere of playing Man U, Liverpool and Tottenham and Chelsea
PF: And would you dare to mock up what you would write in tribute if Leeds got promoted?
AM: I’ve already had ideas! I would probably do one of the team I think. But I’d only do it on paper first. I love them but I don’t trust them. That’s Leeds United in a nutshell isn’t it!
By Dave Tindall