City Views: Steve Edwards – “There’s a definable character about this place”
My relationship with Sheffield goes back to my childhood in the late-70s. I was born in Worksop, but I’ve been coming here since I was a nipper (you see, Sheffield is a bit like a capital city to Worksopians). There’s a definable character about this place, one which I personally identify with.
Having family in Sheffield, I visited often. I’d sleep at my Aunt Hilda’s in Sharrow before heading to Spital Hill to get an afro haircut, or would generally just run amok in Crookes with my cousins. I remember playing in the brutalist concrete jungle of the long-gone Kelvin Flats on Infirmary Rd (sometimes dodging TVs getting thrown from upper balconies) and being taken to the bookies in Walkley with my Uncle Cliffy.
I would get on the 85 bus from Worksop with my mum and get off at the Wicker. We’d walk to Castle Market, an adventure for a kid from the provinces. I was amazed by the sights, sounds and aromas of this bustling world. We’d get our Caribbean foodstuffs, exotic yet normal for a second-generation immigrant like me, then be off to catch a bus out to Walkley.
My dad was a minister in the Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, a mainly black church in Darnall. Every Sunday we’d be taken there, where we saw much singing, clapping, hollering and preaching. It was daunting for a wide-eyed boy in an atmosphere of chairs and tables being chucked about by people ‘possessed by the Lord’. This, however, was negated by the rice, peas and chicken served to the Sunday school kids afterwards. I really felt part of a wider black community and, looking back, I realise how important that has proved to be after growing up in a mostly white, working-class environment.
My teenage years were all about football, pubs and clubs. I was on the red side and enjoyed going to Bramall Lane with my mates. My interest in clothes grew, buying loafers from Rebina on the High St, Harrington jackets from the market and Lacoste shirts from Suggs – the latter being the most impressive sports shop I’d ever seen. By this time, I was getting my haircut on City Road by the late, legendary Trevor Darien aka ‘Mr T’. All the rudeboys went there.
80s nightlife was great. Often starting at the Mulberry Tavern, we’d embark on glorious pub crawls to legendary pubs like The Stonehouse or Henry’s. The pressure would be on, however, when trying to get into nightclubs like Romeo & Juliet’s, where brutish bouncers gave you the third degree before refusing entry: “Sorry, mate, not with them on…”
Sheffield was one of the first cities to embrace Acid House, which was typical of its independent spirit – a quality I subscribed to. With the cheap suits swapped for baggy jeans and tie-dye, I frequented underground haunts with colourful names like Donkeymans, CJ’s and Pinkies. This new cultural revolution of illegal raves and electronic music had a natural home in Sheffield.
The city’s music scene was vibrant, independent, experimental and exciting. Going to clubs like Jive Turkey at the City Hall Ballroom, or through attending The Limit, I got to meet Sheffield’s up-and-coming DJs like Parrot and Winston, plus there were some great record shops like Warp or FOPP to visit. I was gigging in bands at venues like the Hallamshire or the Slug & Fiddle. If you were half decent, you might even get a slot at the Nelson Mandela or Leadmill.
With the cheap suits swapped for baggy jeans and tie-dye, I frequented underground haunts with colourful names like Donkeymans, CJ’s and Pinkies. This new cultural revolution of illegal raves and electronic music had a natural home in Sheffield.
Around this time, I worked in recording studios like FON and Axis in the Red Tape [Central] building. There was a real community of producers, musicians, photographers and filmmakers working in tandem, with some going on to become household names. It has always been a city of innovation, especially in the arts, and I have been fortunate to have worked with people who have always been generous with their time and creativity – another Sheffield quality.
During a period of transition for the city, Meadowhall opened in the 90s, the Supertram was born and, unbelievably, the ‘Hole in the Road’ was being filled in! I used to love walking through there – a unique roofless subway helping you bypass the heavy traffic above. I always liked to stop at the big aquarium to watch the weird fish before moving on. By now, I’d moved to Sheffield with my partner who got a job at Wilson Peck, a decades-old city centre music shop. It was a firm part of Sheffield’s heritage, but it would ultimately go the way of most institutions and disappear.
When our first child was born at the end of the 90s, Sheffield had dramatically changed from the city I once knew. A lot of traditional industries were disappearing and new ones emerging. The ‘little mesters’ era of skilled machinists, cutlery makers, etc., were all being consigned to history. To me, the little mesters represent what Sheffield is: a network of small villages tied together by friendship and fiercely independent by nature. Thankfully, we realised that one of the city’s greatest commodities is its industrial history, so I think it’s great to see the effort that has gone into places like Kelham Island, Millennium Gallery and the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet – places which help to preserve and celebrate a long and proud heritage. We loved taking our kids to these spots.
I love the diversity of Sheffield, with cultures and communities from all around the world, whether British, Afro Caribbean, African, Eastern European, Asian or Chinese amongst many others. These cultures combined have served to make Sheffield a vibrant, exciting city with so much potential. Due to this, the cuisine has also improved dramatically, which can only be a good thing…
Being on the doorstep of the Peak District is manna from heaven. I live about 15 minutes from the countryside and when my wife and I drive out there, it’s like a wonder of the world. We love it and we’re lucky to live in the greenest of cities. It’s just one more reason why I love living here; why I’m glad our children were born here; and, throughout a well-travelled life, why I’ve always been proud to tell people where I’m from.
Steve Edwards is a Sheffield-based songwriter and vocalist. @uksteveedwards