Lost & Found: Sheffield

Sheffield's lost past and newly found musical places

Thursday 19th July 2018

Yellow Arch Studios, Sheffield

Sheffield is a city responsible for contributions to music and youth culture that rival those of the capital and Manchester. Its geographical location, social demographic makeup, and other factors felt from the 1970s onwards created a scene that spawned all manner of greatness. From Jo Cocker to Jarvis Cocker, whether it's The Human League, Def Leppard or Arctic Monkeys, Sheffield's list of native bands and artists is diverse and long, all honing their craft in Sheffield's rich environment of independent venues. Sadly, if you were working in a local cocktail bar when you first saw these bands, whether it was Crazy Daisy or Sinatras, that cocktail bar has now probably been demolished. The Leadmill is still going strong though and the Sheffield spirit is as strong as ever. Creativity will always find a place to play, as young people create new spaces to experiment. We look at Sheffield's lost past and newly found musical places.


The Limit
The venue that famously hosted the early Pulp gig in which Jarvis Cocker sang from his wheelchair having fallen from a third-floor window pretending to be Spiderman - The Limit was a crucible of Sheffield talent and nightlife from 1978 to 1991. Sheffield natives Human League blessed the stage of The Limit (a moment brilliantly recreated in Pete McKee's 'League At The Limit') along with a long list of national bands and artists. If you wanted to see, The Specials, The Beat, The Cure, The Selecter, UK Subs, Steel Pulse or Generation X play in Sheffield, then The Limit was the place to be. The venue was also the site of the B52s first UK gig, described by Q Magazine at the time as the gig of the year. The limit was one of those local strongholds of counterculture. Like some island in a British musical Galapagos, it nurtured the beginnings of Sheffield's unique electro scene, eventually giving the world The Human League, Heaven 17, Cabaret Voltaire, Thompson Twins, ABC and everything that came with it.

"Missing venues... No.1 on any subculture list... got to be The Limit. Many a classic group played there. Once saw the Soup Dragons play to 26 people there... counted them!" - Jamie Revill, clubgoer and former Leadmill bar worker, Sheffield

Despite its closure in the years before Britpop, The Limit still has a devoted online community where the former goths, punks, grebos, New Romantics and other subcultures meet and exchange memories.

The Locarno
Built in 1914 countless Sheffield clubbers must have watched their money go at The Locarno, throughout its many guises. The pre-war cinema was originally named The Lansdowne Picture House with an extravagant white marble exterior. The cinema was bombed out in the blitz but reopened as a dance hall in 1952 under the name Locarno. The club was regarded as the place to be seen in post-war Sheffield throughout the '50s and early '60s, though sadly there are accounts of the venue not allowing black customers entry to the club in the Windrush era. Progress doesn't always take the form we expect, and in 1968 The Locarno reopened as Tiffany's with a South Pacific theme (complete with fake palm trees), then became Vicar's in 1982 (taking its name from the scrap metal dealer that had bought the building). Vicar's was gutted by fire in 1984, and the club went back to the name of Locarno in 1985 for the death rattle of disco until 1988. Other names came and went swiftly before the building became The Music Factory in 1995, just in time for the shiny shirted mid-nineties clubbing boom that ran in parallel to Britpop prominence. The club later reopened again, under the name Bed, before serving as a temporary location for Gatecrasher until 2002. 

The Locarno and all its incarnations weren't as explicitly subcultural as the like of The Limit, but its changing faces across nearly 100 years of nightlife offer an interesting insight into Sheffield's clubbing habits. The ornate frontage of the building, now well over a century old, remains well preserved, housing a Sainsbury's supermarket.

The Boardwalk
This venue remains closed at the time of writing, but in a positive note, there are efforts to see it reopen in the near future. The building that became the Boardwalk is perhaps best known for being the club where The Clash played their first gig on 4th July 1976, supporting the Sex Pistols. Formerly the Black Swan (or Mucky Duck) the two floored pub/club was a jazz venue from the 1930s and Joe Cocker's pub of choice in the early '70s. Alex Turner famously worked at The Boardwalk, and the Arctic Monkey's demo 'Beneath The Boardwalk' was recorded at the venue.

Casbah/Wapentake Bar
Now demolished and formerly the Wapentake Bar, which also enjoyed a musical history, The Casbah was a late bar which as its Clash-esque name suggested catered for the rock and punk side of the music scene. The Wapentake became a music hotspot when it came under the control of Sheffield music hero Olga Marshall - a landlady who had turned around the fortunes of struggling pubs by bringing in DJs. Adjusting the programming around the rocking clientele the pub attracted, Olga didn't retire until 1996 when in her mid-'70s the non-drinker, mother of four had recently overseen the recent Def Leppard Homecoming gig at the venue in her honour, earning her the unofficial descriptor as Sheffield's Matriarch of Metal.

The Grapes, Sheffield, Original photo:  David Hallam-Jones

The Grapes
It's questionable which section The Grapes should fit into - The well-loved Irish pub that hosted The Arctic Monkeys famous first gig still puts on live acoustic music and was recently part of Tramlines fringe programme, but alas no longer puts on amplified music. As such many still pine for the days that the new wave of indie bands that emerged in the first decade of the 21st century cut their teeth in The Grapes.


Café Totem
A Rock 'n' Roll Coffee shop run by musicians and music industry types, Cafe Totem is the right kind of small with high tech-spec innards and a solid sound system. Free club nights and local bands such as Liberty Ship sit next to visitors like False Heads and This Feeling showcase gigs. Harking back to the London's espresso bars of the 50s and 60s it's not all about bands and booze at Café Totem. By turning out nice coffee and pizza, the venue can stay busy all day.

Yellow Arch Studios
Opened in a disused nut and bolt factory in 1997, Yellow Arch Studios is one of those great places that operates as a studio, a rehearsal space, a venue and a nightspot. The studio has been used by The Arctic Monkeys, Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley, but perhaps more surprisingly Kylie Minogue. As for the venue, from Patawawa gigs to vegan beer festivals, and Chief Pukka's Dub Soundsystem this is a place for niche greatness.

"Not going to lie - it is a great place... Showcasing a wide array of genres, Yellow Arch Studios is considered the home of reggae and world music in Sheffield - whether it's a rave until 5am or a boundary pushing jazz gig you're looking for, this is the place to be" - Spencer, Yellow Arch Studios

Yellow Arch Studios, Sheffield, Photo: Estherby Photo

More than just a bar or venue, Foodhall is a public dining room located in the centre of the city that aims to intercept food waste an surplus which it serves up in exchange for donations. Its skill sharing cooperative ethos has recently expanded into the world of nightlife with supporting what they refer to as Sheffield's 'late culture' with gigs, DJs and more. Proceeds from the events are channelled back into the Foodhall. They even have a sort of printed zine - the 'Open Journal', which accepts submissions from anyone willing to contribute.

Tonearm Vinyl
There is, of course, more to a city's musical hangouts than just venues. Many a romance has blossomed, or band formed following a chance meeting across crates of obscure vinyl, but much like indie venues, the plight of indie record shops is a common subject of pessimist chat. It's not all doom and gloom though. Tonearm Vinyl is one of Sheffield's newest places to buy new and used vinyl - and comics! The slick modern shop in Walkley is the perfect place for relaxed browsing.

Tonearm Vinyl, Photo: Twitter @TonearmVinyl

Delicious Clam
Another multidisciplinary hot-space, Delicious Clam is a live venue, a recording studio and a not for profit independent record label. Emerging bands, leftfield film screenings and equally leftfield clubnights fill the calendar. Their recent Sabbath/ABBA party juxtaposed speed surf bands with back to back ABBA and Black Sabbath tracks.

Ben from Delicious Clam explains: "Delicious Clam is a labour of love: a DIY collective of musicians and engineers bringing together the mediums of performing music, practising music, recording music, showcasing music (and other mediums) and releasing music as a record label.

We moved into our new space on Exchange St in April 2017, having existed in one form or another since 2013, and have since hosted 100's of bands, 1000's of practice sessions and dozens of recording sessions. Delicious Clam has hosted bands from all over world, along with our own festival, Clamlines. A monthly variety night has enabled creatives in Sheffield and the surrounding area to put new ideas into the public realm, in front of a kind, receptive audience. The New Years eve extravaganza Clams In Their Eyes allows people to become their heroes for one night only. 

Taking inspiration from nearby spaces such as Tye Die Tapes, The Audacious Art Experiment (Sheffield), Chunk (Leeds) and JT Soar (Nottingham), we open ourselves up to people wanting to go out there and start something, be it a regular night, a new band or any other project that they want to give a go. 

Our recording studio was finally completed in July 2018, the graft having lasted 18 months. Delcious Clam Records (as a label) is due to release DC-017 shortly, from Thee Mightees, with further releases to follow soon from All Girls Arson Club and many more."

Naguals performing at Clamlines, at Delicious Clam, Photo: Laura Merrill Photography

Abbeydale Social
Continuing the theme of new independent venues which thrive by expanding on the idea of what a venue does, Picture House Social has Italian inspired street food, and a games room (think ping pong rather than snooker and darts though) to draw in the crowds when there isn't a band playing. With its cocktail menu and terrace its a very European kind of deal. Don't be fooled into thinking this is a venue that only caters for the cocktail crowd though; the upcoming line-up includes brilliantly challenging emerging bands such as Protomartyr, Our Girl and Menace Beach.

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