Chat: Stephen Mallinder of Cabaret Voltaire
I recently had a chat with Cabaret Voltaire’s Steven Mallinder about his return to the city in a few weeks.
They are now firmly established legends of the Sheffield music scene, but back in 1978 Cabaret Voltaire were as ground-breaking as they were unknown when they, and punk band 2.3 rented rooms in the empty top floor of Western Works at the corner of Portobello and Regent Street. The recording and rehearsal space they created became a creative fulcrum for like-minded musicians, and attracted artists such as Clock DVA, Lydia Lunch and New Order.
The John Pemberton Lecture Theatres are as close as it is possible to get to site of the former Western Works, where Cabaret Voltaire and countless other pioneering Sheffield industrial and post-punk bands made their mark on the music scene. The Western Works was demolished in 1993 and the space now has a very different life as part of the School of Health and Related Research and the University’s Department of Computer Science, but they’re back, as Steven explained.
As a complete and utter one-off we’re performing again, in the space as close as possible to where the studio once was. Originally someone else was going to cover some Cabs numbers, and we were just going to do our own versions of other people’s music that we’d recorded there. We’re doing tracks by Lydia Lunch, 23 Skidoo, Clock DVA, but in light of the recent death of Hayden Boyes-Weston, the drummer with 2.3, we were keen to pay our respects to him, and so we’re also celebrating the music we all created together.
We were in the building for ten years, and even Def Leopard and Human League used the space. The band we’re putting together is called Ibberson, named after a company that worked in another part of the building, and I’ll be fronting a band of local musician; Charlie Collins, Simon Elliot-Kemp and Michael Somerset Ward in celebration of what we achieved there.
It’s part of the ‘In The City’ event, organised by the University’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities which celebrates the history of urban spaces. There will be other live music from Blood Sport, Juxtavoices and BHS, all contemporary musicians who will draw on the material recorded at the studio, and some writers and academics will be discussing some of the ideas associated with the site both then and now.
I don’t think we ever considered the notion of heritage at the time. Western Works was simply our home, workplace, hangout and often a convenient location to meet when the pubs closed. But I think we were aware of how much of the music from friends, like-minded outsiders plus ourselves we’d managed to capture. We always appreciated how hard it was for people to get some recording done in the early days unless you had a record dea, and Sheffield didn’t really have commercial studios back then. We also didn’t have many rules, so if we weren’t busy, bands came round and we recorded them. We didn’t have any facilities. There was free use of the kettle but you had to get a sandwich from the shop on West Street. It was a very ‘Sheffield’ studio; a repurposed industrial hulk, few frills but a good vibe. It will be really good to reconvene with some old friends for the night. I will just have to close my eyes and remember the two rooms of the studio that used to be there.