Figures from the Sheffield music scene have spoken to NME about the local reaction to the proposed eviction of the current operators of The Leadmill.
Last week, the iconic Sheffield venue and club told music fans of the “devastating news that in one year’s time, our Landlord is trying to evict us, forcing us to close” – leading to an outpouring of upset and support from the music world.
The current bosses of The Leadmill then responded to the owners, denying their intentions to close the venue. Leaders of Electric Group, the company who bought the freehold for the site in March 2017, argued that they’d be removing the current management but keeping the building as a music venue after renovations.
Electric Group CEO Dominic Madden – whose company also own London’s Electric Brixton, the SWX nightclub in Bristol, and NX Newcastle – told his Twitter followers that “the management may change but the song stays the same”. Along with Madden, Electric Group is a joint venture with Jake Lewis of the Lewis Family, who run retailer River Island along with hotels, property development and asset management businesses.
The current management then hit back, arguing that they were being “exterminated by the landlord”. It also emerged that Electric Group had registered for the trademark ‘Electric Sheffield’ back in February.
Arctic Monkeys, Richard Hawley, Jarvis Cocker and Bring Me The Horizon’s Oli Sykes are among the Sheffield artists to have spoken out in support of the venue. Now, a number of additional figures from the Sheffield music scene have told NME about widespread opposition to the current operators being removed.
Timm Cleasby has been working in the Sheffield music scene for over 30 years. He’s worked as a sound engineer, has run a PA company for local venues and clubs, worked as chief technician at The Leadmill for a period in the ’90s, and was also Arctic Monkeys‘ tour manager from 2005 to 2010. It was also at The Leadmill where he met his wife Sam 24 years ago.
“The importance for us is that there’s so much history there that belongs to The Leadmill,” Cleasby told NME. “If The Leadmill’s not part of Sheffield, then it’s a bit of a travesty for all those people who have a lasting memory of the place.”
Looking back on his time working with Arctic Monkeys, he recalled: “We did gigs at The Leadmill. Before we’d go on tour, we’d go and try things out there. There’s a huge connection between the lads and The Leadmill. If you’re a band in Sheffield, then The Leadmill is huge for you.”
He continued: “Sheffield without The Leadmill is just more of our culture and heritage disappearing. We understand that companies invest in things and what have you, but this team just know the city so well. It’s not just Sheffield it will hurt, it’s wider South Yorkshire and the whole country. It has a national legacy.”
Cleasby described the idea of The Leadmill no longer being part of the city as “heartbreaking”, not least for the many memories that it holds for locals. He and his wife Sam even own a piece of the dancefloor from when it was replaced during renovations, complete with a quote and the date to mark when they met.
“I’m born and bred here, and I grew up in [the] area surrounding The Leadmill,” said Sam. “When you’re underage, you’d see those red lights on the sign. It was like you were waiting until you were old enough to get in. It’s so ingrained into Sheffield. That red sign has always been a Sheffield landmark, and what it represents is a massive part of the city.
“People are upset at the thought of losing something that is so special. It’s a running joke in Sheffield that most couples met in The Leadmill. We met there. We’ve got photos of me massively pregnant with my son there, and then 18 years later he played on stage there. It’s not just a flash-in-the-pan thing. It’s not about people just moving on. It’s generational. My older sisters went to gigs there and still do. We go there, our kids now go there.”
Beyond its reputation as a music venue, Sam said that The Leadmill means so much more to the people of Sheffield.
“The club nights are so special and the comedy is brilliant too,” she said. “They’re LGBTQ+-friendly and do great drag nights too. It’s not just about the music. All of the things they do matter because it feels like they really know the community that they’re serving.
“It’s not about, ‘Oh, here comes someone from Big London’ – it’s about having a team in place who are from the community and know the community and what they need.”
Sam Gregory is the Music Editor at Sheffield’s Now Then Magazine, who have also been working to share information on the ongoing dispute for local music fans. Gregory has been living in Sheffield since 2009, and described the general mood towards the eviction as “a pretty unanimous feeling of anger”.
“I haven’t come across any positive response from anyone in Sheffield,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s what the landlord expected, but now they’re public enemy number one. I went to a pub near the venue when it was announced and everyone was talking about it. It’s not just a Twitter thing, or [exclusive to] people who remember going there 10 or 20 years ago. It’s people on the ground who live here now and are angry about it. It’s the cultural heart of the city and we don’t want that to be ripped out.”
Gregory explained how widespread the anger was at “the fact that it’s an independent venue that’s been putting on shows for 42 years”.
“For a lot of that time, it’s been the only major venue for left-field and alternative music – then someone wants to come in chuck all of that away!” he said. “There’s a huge feeling of injustice about that. People who live in Sheffield have independently spent decades building up The Leadmill into what it is today, and then someone from London just wants to steam in and chuck out all of the people who have done that. They want to rip out everything in the venue and turn into something completely different.”
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Gregory’s mother also frequented The Leadmill when she attended university in Sheffield in the ’80s, and described a strong sense of public affection towards the club and gig space.
“There are a lot more venues than there used to be, but they wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for The Leadmill,” Gregory said. “For a long time in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, if you wanted to see something interesting then that was the only place that you could.
“There are all sorts of bands from Sheffield who … played some of their first gigs there, like Pulp and Arctic Monkeys. A lot of other bands from further afield played their formative gigs there. People talk about seeing The Flaming Lips, The White Stripes and Arcade Fire all cut their teeth there.”
Responding to the Electric Group’s proposed plans for refurbishment, Gregory argued that “there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the venue as it is”.
“No one complains and says that The Leadmill is run down,” he argued. “It’s a state-of-the-art venue and bands love playing there. All of this talk about making substantial improvements, to anyone who actually goes there, that’s a bit of a mystery. It’s perfectly fine as it is.
“The people who run it currently have invested loads in the venue. They ripped out the whole dancefloor a few years ago, replaced the lighting and the sound. It’s not like it’s a rundown venue. That’s the impression you get if you listen to the landlord, but that’s just not true at all.”
Ultimately, Gregory said that he doesn’t believe Sheffield music fans or artists will accept the venue if the eviction goes ahead. “There are so many people who are saying they’ll never go there again – and I’m sure there are plenty of bands who’ll never play there again,” he added. “I don’t think the landlord is going to win this, it feels like they’ve misjudged it.”
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John Duffy is general manager of local pub and venue The Greystones, and told NME that many local gig spaces agreed that was happening was “a travesty”.
“I’m Sheffield born and bred. My first ever live gig was at The Leadmill, it was my first ever night out in a club, and it’s been an institution of the city for 42 years,” he said. “I’m not alone in that my formative years were spent there. It has helped to launch the career of however many bands.
“We’re a music city, so to have that part of our heritage stolen is heartbreaking. It’ll just become another soulless place like everywhere else.”
From behind the bar, Duffy said that The Leadmill’s current plight has been “all anyone could talk about”.
“It’s a shock to everyone,” he said. “I have not encountered a single person who thinks it’s a good idea. As a venue we work quite closely with The Leadmill. We host events for one another. They’re a much bigger entity than us, but they’re involved in so many of the smaller venues in the city. The better one of us does, the better we all do. It’s not a competition, it’s the city as a whole striving to be better.”
He went on: “Sure, a lick of paint and spending a bit of money on it would be nice – but it doesn’t need it! Yeah it’s a bit broken and dirty, but it’s ours! It’s part of the fabric and it’s just not going to be the same. For the people who have been running it for all these years to have it stolen from them is just awful.”
Duffy added: “We’ll all lose something – especially for the Sheffield natives. It’s a part of our history. We’ll just keep losing these venues until we end up with nothing. If we don’t have these venues, where does your grassroots music come from?”
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Louise Haigh is MP for Sheffield Heeley, and has been vocal in her support of the current team at the venue, describing The Leadmill as “an absolutely fundamental part of Sheffield’s cultural and musical heritage. She said that news of the eviction has been greeted with “absolute horror across the city”.
“It has brought music fans of all tribes out in support of The Leadmill,” she said. “The management team have done such amazing work, and not just in surviving through COVID, in building this amazing national icon over many decades. It’s just quite horrifying to think that a landlord from outside of the city can come in, and in one fell swoop, strip all of the social and cultural capital that’s been built up over so many years.
“It’s not just a brilliant music venue, but it’s helped to bring up so many amazing acts that just wouldn’t have grown without the support and presence of a place like The Leadmill. It is treasured and has united people across the generations.”
Haigh also noted that “there’s no local appetite at all for The Leadmill to be anything different”, and argued that the Electric Group might be better suited to open a venue elsewhere in the city.
“If a company wants to come in from London, build a new music venue and turn another derelict warehouse into a brilliant music venue, then they’re very welcome – but what they’re not welcome to do is come in, take over and essentially asset-strip a really well-loved and treasured venue like The Leadmill,” the MP argued.
“I’ve spoken in Parliament before about the need for live music venues with this kind of capacity and around the 400-1,000 person mark. We’ve lost so many over the years. We’ve lost The Boardwalk, we’ve lost The Harley. People feel so passionately about it because those sized venues are essential to bring on local and burgeoning talent.”
She went on: “Without that, if you’re leaping to venues like The O2 Academy – which are also really important – then it just misses out [on] that part of the pipeline of talent. It leaves the industry completely in the preserve of those [who] can rely on nepotism or wealth that’s come from outside of the industry already.”
Promising to support the venue until the matter is resolved, Haigh spoke up for the fighting spirit of Sheffield and its music fans.
“I understand that The Leadmill will be fighting on all fronts and I’ll be supporting them in every possible way in any of those battles – whether that be politically, legally or socially across Sheffield,” she said. “I’m confident. Sheffield is such a strong city and when we put our minds to something collectively, it’s very difficult to stop us.
She added: “I’m hopeful that this new landlord will see the strength of support, goodwill and genuine love for The Leadmill, and recognise that that’s not just for The Leadmill or for the building – that’s for the enormous amount of capital investment and love that’s gone into it over the years.
“It cannot be replaced. I will not stop fighting until The Leadmill is preserved. The Leadmill will not be preserved if it’s just there in the same place – it has to have the same ethos and Sheffield people running it in the interests of Sheffield.”
Electric Group were unavailable for further comment.
Tonight sees Eddie Izzard play the first of two gigs across the weekend in support of the #WeCantLoseLeadmill campaign.