No Lectures From Western Works

UTNS looks back on the unique recording space of Western Works in Sheffield.


In any discussion about music made in Sheffield, it won’t be long before you mention, perhaps without realising it, music which was made on the top floor of Western Works, just off West Street. In the late Seventies and early Eighties this studio/rehearsal space on the corner of Portobello and Regent Street was all anyone could afford, at a time when such things were not generally available. The building itself is long gone, but tonight there’s a crowd gathered in the University lecture space that has replaced it, to hear ‘No Lectures From Western Works’.




The event was not just about a re-union of musicians involved all those years ago, it a celebration of what the building once was, and also what it is now. It’s all part of ‘In The City’, an event organised by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, which celebrates the history and uses of urban spaces. Contemporary musicians, singers and academics all explored how the echoes and themes associated with the building have carried on down the years. There were talks from Matt Cheeseman and John Holmes to give us a background to what the university currently uses this site for, punctuated by performances from Blood Sports, BHS and PTI to set the mood for the evening. The most unusual of these was from Juxtavoices. Their choral piece, inspired by the music of Cabaret Voltaire was a triumph. They use the human voice to produce sounds, often unexpected ones, to come together in a piece of music that defies categorisation. They describe themselves as an anti-choir, and less choral-sounding music you’d be hard pushed to imagine, yet it was spellbinding for the 20 minutes or so that they performed.




At the mid-point of the evening there was a fascinating panel discussion which included the Cabs’ Stephen Mallinder, and Paul Bower, founder of Sheffield’s first punk band 2.3 and publisher of Gunrubber, Sheffield original punk fanzine. They gave us a first-hand impression of the building as it was when they took it over. The sense of the building being continually reused and reflecting the industrial sounds of the decaying industry that surrounded it, was an interesting one. All around the North of England at that time, bands were working in abandoned industrial space, publishing fanzines, and being largely ignored by the mainstream music industry. They gave us the idea that to hear the music of Sheffield at that time, you really had to be in Sheffield, and being on the dole in those days meant generally being left alone. There were no ‘Job-Seeker Interviews’, and this allowed many a budding musician to get on with the much more important job of hanging around Western Works.


It’s tempting now to look back and see some sort of ‘movement’, but in truth, much of this was occurring in splendid isolation.



Just as an aside, there’s a documentary currently in production called Industrial Soundtrack for the Urban Decay ( in which Mal and others have been interviewed about the emergence of what became known as ‘Industrial Music’.  When we get more details, I’ll bring them to you.


Tonight’s heady mixture of music and choirs, DJ sets and panel discussions (and some free beer!) was a perfect aperitif for the highlight of the night; a performance by Charlie Collins, Simon Elliot-Kemp, Nigel Humberstone, Michael Somerset-Ward and former Cabaret Voltaire singer Stephen Mallinder. They all came together tonight under the name of Ibberson. This was the name of one of the businesses that worked out of Western Work, and their sign is featured on several old photos of the building’s entrance. Although, as Mal told me in our recent interview ‘we’ve no idea what they did’


Tonight they gave a master-class in musicianship as they performed their own take on a selection of tracks recorded by various bands and singers who worked here. They played Dream Web of Maya by Eric Random and the Bedlamites, Kneel to the Boss by Cabaret Voltaire, Cage by Clock DVA, What Did You Do by Lydia Lunch, The Gospel Comes to New Guinnea by 23 Skidoo and finished the night with On Every Other Street by Cabaret Voltaire.



I can’t remember enjoying a night of music more than this. This music was important when it was made, but you could be forgiven for thinking that few people back then seemed to be listening. Thankfully the place of Western Works in the history of music seems to be becoming more established, and even though the building is long gone, the music and the memories will live on through performances like this one.





Photo credits: Peter Hill, Alison Somerset-Ward, Mark Perkins



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