It’s the city whose musical eclecticism is legendary. Synth-pop, indie-rock, classic soul – you name it, Sheffield’s promoters were probably the first to put it on. Allan Glen talks to the industry figures who are aiming to take their city to the next level.
Few cities in the UK can claim to have an impact on as many musical genres as Sheffield.
It’s not even because a renowned national promoter has its HQ in the city.
From electro-synth pioneers The Human League, Heaven 17 and Cabaret Voltaire to indie heroes Pulp, Arctic Monkeys and Richard Hawley – not forgetting rock titans Bring Me The Horizon, Def Leppard and blues legend Joe Cocker – this is a city that put the muse into music.
A reluctance to be defined by any one genre is equally reflected across the current infrastructure, which ranges from the avant-garde programming at multi-venue film and music event Sensoria to the mainstream rock of three-day festival Tramlines, which draws around 30,000 people.
While promoters at all levels are reporting healthy ticket sales, there is, of course, a flip side to all this activity.
“One thing we have really noticed is a rise in artiste fees, which is having an effect on ticket prices, though that’s probably nationwide and not specific to Sheffield,” says Mark Hobson, MD of Trafalgar Warehouse (1,000, 250) and The Corporation (900, 300, 180), more of which later.
At the top end in Sheffield is FlyDSA Arena (13,600), whose general manager Joe Waldron also points to indicators of a healthy market, with four sell-out Arctic Monkeys shows promoted by SJM Concerts, with tickets starting from £39.50.
“That’s 53,000 customers over four nights,” he says. “We have Def Leppard in December also sold out, and we have some massive artistes on sale soon, starting with The 1975.” Promoting Def Leppard is Live Nation Entertainment, with ticket prices from £37.50, while The 1975’s promoter SJM has tickets from £27.50.
Other shows at the arena include George Ezra (£27.50), Sam Smith (£27.50), Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott (£28.50) – all SJM; Katy Perry (£35, AEG Live), The Human League (£38, DHP Family), and Queen and Adam Lambert (£69, Phil McIntyre Entertainments). The venue is under the management of Sheffield International Venues, known as SIV Live.
“We are now a truly independent venue, with all the advantages that brings for us, the artiste, the promoter and customers,” adds Waldron. It was Live Nation Entertainment (LNE) owned until a couple of years ago.
Other changes to the arena include the introduction of Wi-Fi and an app to allow customers to purchase food and drink in advance and avoiding lengthy queues.
As Waldron points out, there are several reasons why artistes return to the venue, not least the seamless arrangements in the lead-up to the show, and during the performance.
“We are a massive venue, but we have a small dedicated team,” he adds. “From inception, through booking, contracts and show set-up, artistes are dealing with the same people, and our experience and depth of knowledge mean that we can accommodate every event organiser, from the biggest through to those just starting out.”
Also owned and operated by SIV Live is Sheffield City Hall, which has three spaces: the 2,271-capacity Oval Hall, The Ballroom (850) and the Memorial Hall (450).
“The City Hall is a key player in the area when it comes to live music, offering a wide ranging choice of entertainment to an area of Yorkshire with few venues our size,” says Richard Hunter, general manager. “It also provides the stepping-stone between club level and arena.”
Artistes playing the Oval Hall include Bastille, Ray Lamontagne, Caro Emerald (all SJM), Gregory Porter (Kennedy Street Enterprises), Cliff Richard (LNE), Robert Cray (CMP Live) and The Proclaimers (Nigel McIntyre), with Lady Maisery (Manifesto Events) and Saint Etienne in The Ballroom, and The Young ‘Uns (Boardwalk Live) in the Memorial Hall.
As Hunter explains, there is occasional crossover with the O2 Academy (2,150, 500), though it is minimal.
“We have our own markets and complement each other, providing a different experience at the 2,200 level, thus enriching the general music mix in Sheffield,” he adds.
“Also there is still no real competition with Leeds at the 2,200 seated level and with Bradford St George’s [1,500] still currently shut until January, our catchment spreads further north, even if we have competition ‘down’ south in Leicester and Nottingham, Manchester to the west and Hull to a certain extent to the east.”
According to Justin Smith, manager of the O2 Academy, the music scene in the city is in a good place.
“It’s healthy at the moment, which is good to see,” he says, adding that classic indie bands and grime sell well. “More and more high-profile artists are including Sheffield on their tour dates.”
With approximately 120 shows a year, acts playing the venue include Tokio Myers, The Courteeners, Frank Turner, Tom Grennan, UB40, Blossoms (all SJM), Public Service Broadcasting (AEG Presents/Goldenvoice), Don Broco (Kilimanjaro Live) and Enter Shikari (DHP).
Perhaps one of the most legendary venues in Sheffield – if not South Yorkshire – is The Leadmill (900, 250). Acts playing the main room include Ratboy, Miles Kane (both SJM), Marmozets, The Pigeon Detectives and Brian Jonestown Massacre, Shame (all Leadmill Presents), with Pale Waves in the smaller room.
“The Leadmill is, in most people’s minds, the home of live music in Sheffield,” says Rebecca Walker, senior promoter and assistant general manager. “For nearly four decades, we’ve brought the very best of new and established music to the Steel City.
“It’s also a place where generations of memories have been made, a place where people meet, marry and bring their children. A night out watching a sweaty guitar band in this old mill is a rite of passage for any music fan in South Yorkshire.”
The venue also promotes outdoor shows, recently hosting a three-night event at the Don Valley Bowl (7,500), headlined by George Ezra, Ocean Colour Scene and Hacienda Classical.
Staying on track
Also helping to raise the profile of Sheffield is Tramlines, which began in 2009 in Devonshire Green (6,000) and now takes place at Hillsborough Park.
Headliners this year included Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Craig David’s TS5 and Stereophonics, while other acts were Shed Seven, Jake Bugg, Rat Boy, Tom Grennan, Tokio Myers, Reverend & The Makers, De La Soul and The Milburns.
Attendance this year, says Timm Cleasby, co-founder of the event, was high, with the event playing to capacity.
“Our move out to Hillsborough this year took us out of the city centre, but we still work with Sheffield City Council on The Fringe,” he adds.
Taking place across several venues in the city centre at the same time as the main event, one club used during The Fringe is Plug (1,100, 400), operated by The MJR Group. Media speculation through the summer was that the venue was under iminent threat of closure, new general manger Nicole Jewitt confirms it’s safely “plugged back in to the music scene”.
“We don’t own the building and thought it was going to be sold at one point,” she explains. “The diary was cleared, but now it’s filling up again, and we will be looking at putting on 40 to 50 shows a year.
“It’s such an exciting time to join as general manager and to be a part of its rebirth,” she adds. “We are really looking forward to bringing some new concepts to the city. Customers can expect a real diverse programme of events this autumn.”
With a folding wall in place, the 900 and 200 capacity rooms can be combined. Acts playing the main room include Kano, Kate Tempest, Bad Manners (all in-house), JAWS, The Reytons (Tramlines) and Black Grape (SJM) with East 17 (in-house) in Plug 2.
Also working at a similar level is The Foundry, the students’ union venue at Sheffield University. Following a deal struck with venue management company and promoter VMS Live, it is also putting on more shows.
“It was the partnership with VMS last year that really kicked things off, and we’re probably now averaging around 40 gigs a year,” says Alex O’Brien, head of entertainments, events and venues.
Acts playing the main room include Pale Waves, Gaz Coombes (both SJM), Reef (MJR), 808 State and The Magpie Salute (both VMS/Foundry) with Warwick Johnson, Natty, King 810 (all VMS) and Rhythm of the ‘90s (MJR) in Room 2.
Also broadening its programming is The Corporation (1,000), which so far this year has hosted 130 shows.
Acts playing the main room include Skid Row, The Quireboys and Halestorm, with Kris Barras in The Local Authority, and Psychostick, Marco Mendoza and Lordi in Room 3.
“We’ve got an in-house show with Obie Brice coming up,” says Hobson. “That’s a different angle for us, so it’ll be interesting to see how that one does.”
The venue hosts the annual one-day event Winter Rocks, a co-promotion with Stuart Turner, who started the event to give local acts the opportunity to play the same stages as those who inspired them.
“The event runs over two stages, with touring artistes on the main stage and emerging and local acts on the second stage,” says Turner, who is also the head booker at The Corporation, and points to local acts Drenge, Hot Soles, Deadset Dream and Steal The City as ones to watch.
Acts who have played Winter Rocks include The Answer, Black Spiders and Tax The Heat, while this year’s headliners are Skindred, with Stone Broken and Wayward Sons also performing. Tickets cost £30.
Over the courtyard from The Corporation is Trafalgar Warehouse, a dry-hire venue, which is also one of the locations for the 3 Ring Circus, part of Sensoria.
One event that always creates a buzz in Sheffield, 3 Ring Circus involves, as the name suggests, three artistes performing in three separate venues – the main room at Trafalgar Warehouse, Upper Chapel (310) and The Abbeydale Picture House (350) – on the same night.
During the event, all three get to play as opener, middle act and headliner. Last year featured Richard Hawley, James Dean Bradfield and Lou Doillon, with all shows selling-out.
The line-up for this year’s event, which took place at the end of September was again headlined by Richard Hawley.
“The 3 Ring Circus is put together by Richard’s management so he is always the focal point for the event,” explains Nigel Humberstone, music programme director at Sensoria. Other live shows during Sensoria this year included Beak and Ex-Easter Island Head at The Foundry and Jlin at Trafalgar Warehouse.
One of the most popular venues at club level is The Greystones (150), which works with a variety of local promoters, among them Chris Wilson, who used to run legendary venue The Boardwalk (500).
He now promotes up to 140 shows a year across the city under the banner Boardwalk Live, currently putting on Jesse Dayton, Judie Tzuke, Blind Boy Paxton, Miles Hunt, Dale Watson and Lisa O’Neill at The Greystones.
As befits a city with such a diverse heritage of musical styles, Wilson, while reporting a healthy market, believes having a strong programme is still the best way to ensure good ticket sales.
“Promoting in Sheffield is still completely unpredictable,” he says. “In a city this size there’s always so much going on and most promoters don’t talk to one another, so it’s easy to get a clash of interests.”