Sheffield music through the decades
A brief guide to just some of the many fine artists, bands and significant moments from the city’s rich music history.
Sheffield’s musical heritage stretches all the way back to the swinging sixties, which saw Woodhouse-born singer Dave Berry find the UK charts and consequent 60s pop stardom after releasing ‘Memphis, Tennessee’ in 1963. It was in this decade that the legendary Joe Cocker – formerly a gas fitter – signed his first record contract in the Frog & Parrot pub on Division Street. In 1968 he became the first Sheffielder to get a number one hit with his cover of Beatles track ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, and the following year he would play to 400,000 people at Woodstock Festival.
The early seventies saw the formation of Cabaret Voltaire, who set about experimenting with music that would eventually lay the foundations for the UK’s electronic music scene. On 4 July, 1976 popular music venue The Black Swan (which would later become The Boardwalk) played host to the first ever gig from The Clash, on a line-up which also included the Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks. The next year saw the formation of world famous rock group Def Leppard, led by Broomhill-born frontman Joe Elliott, who would go on to sell 100-million records worldwide (the highest-selling Sheffield band to date). One of the city’s most popular bands, synthpop innovators The Human League, played their first ever gig at the long-gone Wham Bar on Sheffield Hallam Campus in 1978 (a commemorative plaque can be found there today). A mere three years later they have a UK and US number one with ‘Don’t You Want Me?’
As well as The Human League, a number of other ‘new wave’ groups from the city begin hitting the charts. In 1982 ABC make their mark with the release of ‘Poison Arrow’, which later features on their successful debut album The Lexicon of Love; while a year later Heaven 17 keep the scene going strong with their single ‘Temptation’ hitting number two in the UK charts. It was during this era that iconic West Street music venue The Limit thrived, becoming the home of the city’s electro-revolution and hosting gigs from the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees to U2. In the late-eighties Steve Beckett and Rob Mitchell set up pioneering dance label Warp Records, which is still going strong with artists like Aphex Twin and Flying Lotus on their roster.
Sheffield saw this Britpop-loving era largely dominated by one band: Pulp. In 1995 they released their seminal album Different Class, containing hits such as ‘Common People’, ‘Sorted for E’s & Whizz’ and ‘Disco 2000’. The record shoots to number one in the UK album charts and goes platinum four times. The rest, as they say, is history. Other significant releases throughout the decade included local act Babyird releasing famous track ‘You’re Gorgeous’ in 1996 and fellow Britpoppers Longpigs find success with a certain Richard Hawley on guitar.
At the start of the new millennium, dance eccentrics Moloko gain acclaim with third album, Things to Make and Do. Between 2002-2007 a number of Sheffield bands begin to find nationwide prominence after cutting their teeth on the local circuit – The Arctic Monkeys, Reverend and The Makers, Little Man Tate, The Long Blondes, and Milburn are some of the main players. In 2003, The Republic nightclub is bought by the up-and-coming Gatecrasher brand to be their first out of ten venues. It is a huge success with punters travelling from all over the UK to see the likes of Paul Van Dyk, Tiesto and Armin Van Buuren behind the decks. The city sees homemade genre niche alongside the bassline revolution grow to huge popularity, until police raids on prominent venues sees the scene drift away from the city. Richard Hawley’s thriving solo career is recognised with a Mercury Music Prize nomination in 2006, eventually won by the Arctic Monkeys for their debut album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. The dance scene eventually hots up again when DJ/producer Toddla T releases his first album, Skanky Skanky.
Once the furore surrounding the New Yorkshire wave died down, a huge number of notable bands, some sadly no longer with us, have kept the the city well-represented on a national level. These include post-hardcore band Bring Me The Horizon, Castleton grunge rock duo Drenge and anthemic indie pop duo Slow Club. The northern grime scene has been well-represented by MC Coco, who has been a regular feature on 1Xtra and worth checking out for anyone into the UK urban scene.
The local scene continues to be in very good nick today. Sheffield-based indie pop innovators Sophie And The Giants have been turning heads nationwide, dreamy pop peddlers Oh Papa are well worth seeking out for some chilled listening, the stirring harmonies of Before Breakfast never fail to bring out the goosepimples, and afro-fusion eight-piece KOG & The Zongo Brigade have been throwing parties across Europe recently.
However, that’s such a small glance at the talent on offer. Check out venues like The Washington, Cafe Totem, Picture House Social and Yellow Arch to discover what’s on offer.