Fifteen years on from the demise of the National Centre for Popular Music, Daniel Dylan Wray meets a couple determined to put the Sheffield music scene on the map.
The words national, centre and music generally get short shrift in Sheffield. It’s understandable given what happened a little over 15 years ago. It was back in 1999 that the National Centre for Popular Music opened with a significant amount of fanfare. The £15m project was supposed to provide Sheffield with a major tourist attraction which those behind it said would bring 400,000 people to the city each year. It didn’t and having failed to get off the ground, a year later the centre had closed.
The building, comprising four large silver steel drums, is now occupied by Sheffield Hallam University and home to the students’ union. However, not all that far away, a less ambitious, but hopefully more successful musical project is getting off the ground. Sheffield: Bouquet of Steel was opened in November by Jamie Headcharge and his partner Zowie Lumsdale, their aim to create a centre and shop dedicated entirely to the music of Sheffield. It stocks records, CDs, books, T-shirts and memorabilia, alongside displays of rarer collectables and artefacts that are not for sale.
The name Bouquet of Steel is significant to Sheffield’s musical history. In 1980 a compilation LP was released by Marcus Featherby on his label Aardvark. It was a collection of alternative Sheffield bands, featuring the likes of Artery, Comsat Angels and I’m So Hollow, groups often referred to as some of the most influential and innovative in the steel city’s more leftfield back catalogue. Jamie also used to work for Marcus, so when he was thinking about his latest venture he asked about taking on the name.
“He said,‘Yes, brilliant and if you want the rights to re-release Bouquet of Steel you can do’. I wasn’t expecting that and then he got in touch again and invited me to London, where he had these boxes and boxes of original vinyl from the labels. He’d held it back and a lot of it was signed. As well as that, there was another box which contained all the masters released by the label plus a lot of live stuff that had never been heard.”
One particular master stuck out beyond all others though, something of the “crown jewels” when it comes to Sheffield and music – a live recording of Pulp performing in February of 1982 at The Marples pub, the earliest known live recording of the now legendary Sheffield band.
“It was recorded, put in a box, taped up and never played again. So, I got in touch with Jarvis Cocker and told him about the shop and the tape. He said he’d completely forgotten the recording existed and would be interested to listen to it.” Jamie is still waiting on confirmation, but Jarvis is due to visit the centre soon to listen to the recently unearthed gem. The recording lays at the heart of future plans for Bouquet of Steel as it looks to become a record label too.
“What I want to do once the shop is a bit more established is set the label up and then once a year do a box set of vinyl and CD, of past and present Sheffield artists and if we get permission the past can be this live Pulp recording,” says Jamie, who also plans to take Marcus Featherby up on his offer and re-release the original Bouquet of Steel record.
Jamie was born in Sheffield and has lived in the city all his life, and it was growing up as a teenager that cemented his love for Sheffield and the eclectic music it has spawned over the years.
“I was lucky because I was brought up in Pitsmoor. My next-door neighbour was Richard H Kirk [Cabaret Voltaire] – this was when he was still living with his mum. I remember him having his 21st birthday party in the back garden, I was about 15 and I could hear all this racket at about two or three in the morning. I look out my window and there’s the Cabs all in the back garden with this big white piano, playing drunk.
“Then down the road were the Stunt Kites and as a kid I used to sit on this grass bank that looked into their practice room. So, I had the earliest form of Sheffield electronica, probably Sheffield’s best punk band and then across the road from me was Emperor Sound System, which was one of Sheffield’s first ever reggae sound systems. I also went to school with Richard Hawley, so I was just surrounded by all this different music. That was my biggest influence, growing up in Pitsmoor and having all those people around me.”
Growing up with so many Sheffield musical luminaries has led to Jamie having direct access to a good number of the artists stocked and featured in Bouquet of Steel.
“The nice thing is that because I know a lot of the bands personally we can get a lot of things signed,” he says. “But as well as established artists, a lot of new Sheffield bands and musicians are also getting in touch, asking if we can stock their music. That’s great. It’s not about my personal taste, if it’s from Sheffield we want it.”
The centre, based in the ever-burgeoning Abbeydale Road area, is located in the upstairs of Strip the Willow, which focuses on recycling and upcycling, selling recycled furniture and homeware, as well as a range of arts and crafts. Bouquet of Steel shares the upstairs with Strip the Willow’s cosy cafe.
“One of the good things about this place is the cafe. People don’t have to just come in and then leave, they can sit down and relax,” says Jamie.
The Bouquet of Steel/Strip the Willow crossover space has already proved useful for both organisations and has allowed live events to be hosted there, as Jamie points out: “We had some live musicians performing for the opening and we’re looking at having little events about once every two months. We can’t really have a full band on, so we’re looking at solo artists.”
In fact, Bouquet of Steel is also going to begin stocking tickets for gigs and performances in Sheffield as well as promoting its own shows under the Bouquet of Steel name in different venues in the city.
A centre dedicated entirely to the music of one city alone is, to Jamie’s surprise, a real one of a kind. “A friend of mine said: ‘Do you realise this is the first shop of its kind that focuses on music from one city?’ So, I thought I’d check that out before repeating it,” he says, adding that he then enlisted the help of Graham Jones, author of Last Shop Standing: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of the Independent Record Shop to assist with the research. “Graham came back to us and said ‘I’ve done my research and yeah, it’s the first in the world’,” says Jamie.
Now that’s the kind of musical claim to fame that Sheffield can rightly be proud of.
• Bouquet of Steel is located at 222b South View Road and is open Wednesday to Sunday.