‘King of Clubs’ plans European expansion

Peter Stringfellow plans to make his mark in Europe. He spoke to Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright.

Peter Stringfellow

ONE day in November 1962, a budding concert promoter named Peter Stringfellow strolled to a phone box in Sheffield and called the manager of a promising band from Liverpool.

Would the Beatles fancy playing a gig in Sheffield, Stringfellow asked, for £85? Stringfellow must have thought the Beatles were a bit special. The most he’d been willing to pay a band before that was £50; for Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages. The phone box negotiations went well. The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein said he was happy with the deal.

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Within weeks, Beatlemania had erupted, and Epstein’s phone must have been ringing off the hook, but he still kept his promise. He allowed The Beatles to perform in the modest setting of the Azena Ballroom in Sheffield in 1963, at a time when plenty of plusher venues were screaming out for the chance to welcome them.

It was a stunning coup for Stringfellow, who had decided to become a promoter after a varied career, which had included stints as a cinema projectionist and steel worker.

“Brian (Epstein) gave me his word and he stuck to it,” Stringfellow recalled. “I picked the Beatles up in a Ford Anglia.”

Stringfellow has fond memories of a young John Lennon handing over the contract for their appearance at the Azena. Around 2,000 tickets were sold for a concert that caused hysteria.

“It was just pandemonium when the Beatles came on stage,’’ Stringfellow recalled. “It was the most exciting night of my life. Please Please Me is the record of my life.”

Fast forward 52 years, and Stringfellow still has the air of a star-struck teenager when he talks about the day he booked Jimi Hendrix for just £60, or the time when John Travolta walked into one of his clubs in the US.

Today, his business empire is on the march again. He’s just opened a Stringfellows in Paris, and he plans to open a Stringfellows in the capitals of all the major EU states in the next two years. Many people loathe gentlemen’s clubs, but Stringfellow has never shied away from scrutiny. He once gave a talk at Sheffield University which examined whether gentlemen’s clubs were turning women into commodities, or should be seen as a sign that women were truly liberated. Undergraduates who opposed lap dancing clubs gave him a real grilling, but you sense that Stringfellow welcomes debate. His charm, allied with razor-sharp PR and deal-making skills, has taken him a long way.

During the 1960s, Stringfellow’s day job involved meeting the likes of Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder and The Small Faces when he worked as a promoter and owner of Sheffield’s Black Cat and King Mojo clubs. He went on to open a disco club in Leeds, and from there he expanded into London, where he gave his name to one of the world’s best known clubs.

He established his own record label and opened clubs in New York, Miami and LA, although this rapid expansion led to financial troubles. He bounced back by buying back the lease of the original Stringfellows in London from receivers, and built up Stringfellows and Angels, which have become some of the longest running clubs in London.

Stars who have visited his club over the years have included Stevie Wonder, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Tom Jones, and Christian Slater, who, apparently, was thrown out for refusing to remove a Richard Nixon mask. Of all the stars he’s met, few could compete with the charisma of Hendrix, who walked off stage and handed him his guitar, which was still reverberating.

“He was totally different, we were on the edge of flower power,’’ said Stringfellow. “His music was cosmic. He was a very special man.”

At 74, Stringfellow has reached an age when most people are reminiscing about the heady days of free love as they potter around the garden.

But Stringfellow, who became a father again at the age of 72 after his wife Bella, 30, gave birth to a girl, believes now is the ideal time to grow the Stringfellows brand. The Parisian version of Stringfellows opened in late November. He’s expanding the brand and licensing the name because he believes Europe is ripe for the taking.

But he will take a very keen interest in how each of these new clubs is run because “if they’re going to use my name, they’ve got to do what I say”.

“The tableside dancing concept is completely new to Paris,’’ he said. “Over these last few years I’ve realised how big the brand name Stringfellows has become. I entered a time in my late sixties, when I leaned back a bit. Now I’ve got a new lease of family life. Stringfellows is one of the most famous names in the entertainment world. It’s like a tourist attraction. A lot of my customers come from all around the major cities. It’s time for me to start again.”

His career may have started in Yorkshire, but there are no plans for a Stringfellows to appear in our region.

“We won’t be taking it beyond the capital cities. I know Leeds and Sheffield are fantastic cities, but it’s not where I want to go,’’ he said.

He’s not forgotten his roots, however. Last year, he made a £3,000 donation that saved the Sheffield-based Helping Hands Dog rescue from the threat of closure.

He added: “I’m not rich enough to be a philanthropist, but where I can help I do.”

He believes that anyone who wants to follow in his footsteps must learn to seize the day.

“You’ve got to do it while you’ve got the energy to do it,’’ he said. “The quicker you get involved in the entrepreneurial side the better. I was just 22 when I booked the Beatles. All I had was enthusiasm and a fantastic ego.”