Stringfellow on the club that made Sheffield swing in the '60s

Peter Stringfellow is the self-styled playboy who grew up in Sheffield. He talks to Chris Bond about the music club that helped to make him famous.

FOR a minute I have to remind myself what decade we're in. Peter Stringfellow is holding court in a plush Sheffield wine bar wearing the kind of gear rarely seen since Agadoo was riding high in the charts.

The silver mullet may be a little more tame these days, but decked out in a long black and green velvet jacket and a silk shirt opened to reveal a carpet of chest hair complete with gold medallion, he looks every inch the '80s throwback.

You've got to have a certain amount of courage to carry off this kind of look – or be rich enough not to care what other people think. It fits to a tee the playboy image he's played up to in the past.

Stringfellow is back in his home city to promote a new book called the Pop Art of Sheffield's King Mojo and Beyond. He opened the King Mojo, or Mojo club, in the Pitsmoor area of Sheffield back in 1964. Although it lasted less than four years, it has become part of the city's folklore, having played host to such legends as Howlin' Wolf, Wilson Pickett and Jimi Hendrix.

Stringfellow co-authored the book, along with local writer Dave Manvell and artist Paul Norton, who painted some of the original murals that adorned the club's walls back in the '60s. The proceeds will be donated towards a new 75,000 brittle bone scanner for Sheffield Children's Hospital.

Not only has the Mojo club become part of Sheffield's musical history, it launched Stringfellow down the path towards fame and fortune as a nightclub impresario. But this son of a steelworker brought up on the streets of post-war Sheffield, says he hasn't always enjoyed the life of Riley.

"I have no difficulty in remembering who I am and where I came from, and I take none of it for granted because my memories of growing up in Sheffield are deep-rooted. My dad was often out of work and we were always looking for money so I don't have a misty-eyed view of those days. Sheffield has always been a hard city, and you lived in houses where you feared running out of coal. That's what it was like," he says.

Having failed to shine at school, Stringfellow got a job organising gigs at the Black Cat Club at St Aidan's Church hall, where he booked local stars like Johnny Tempest and the Cadillacs and Dave Berry and the Cruisers. Then he stumbled across a young band that caught his eye.

"Out of the blue I booked a group called The Beatles. I played their record Love Me Do and booked them for 85 which was 35 more than I paid anybody else. The most I'd paid before that was 50 for a London band called Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages."

The Fab Four gig happened just as Beatlemania was taking off and proved a turning point for him. "Booking The Beatles was a phenomenal success for me and made my name somewhat with the Sheffield press. After that it left me with a desire to be famous big time. I'd been on stage with The Beatles and seen the magical reaction they got and it really inspired me."

He also started arranging concerts at the Blue Moon Club, housed in another church hall in the city, where he got The Kinks to play. "When they played at the Blue Moon Club, they were number one and then I got The Searchers, The Hollies and the Rolling Stones, who I booked before they had their first big hit, so I was on a bit of a roll."

He was then asked by a local businessman if he wanted to buy his own club. The club in question was Dey's Ballroom, in Pitsmoor, but Stringfellow had to stump up 5,000. "It was like asking for 5m in my eyes, and he couldn't believe I didn't have that kind of money ... so in the end he rented it to me for a phenomenal 30 a week."

He painted the walls black and put exotic murals on the walls and the legend of the Mojo club was born. As well as holding gigs, the club also became a popular nightspot. "We were playing music which no one else had and then we were booking acts to fit the music," says Stringfellow.

"So it started off as a blues club, then became a rhythm and blues club, then a soul club, a pop art club and a psychedelic flower power club, because that was the way my mind worked. I mixed all this music together, so in one month in 1965 you would have Wilson Pickett, The Who, the Small Faces and Geno Washington playing."

The list of those who played the King Mojo reads like a Who's Who of '60s music legends, and Stringfellow has no shortage of anecdotes. "I remember Jimi Hendrix walking off stage and giving me his guitar which was still reverberating in my hands," he says, laughing.

However, many of the American artists were shocked to play a venue where there was no alcohol. "Sonny Boy Williamson came over and I remember going to his dressing room and he said, 'Where's the booze?' And I said we didn't have any and he said, 'I don't go on stage without no booze.' He wanted a bottle of whisky so we went to the off-licence across the road brought it back and gave it to him. And he said, 'Is this it?' And I said, 'What, you want two?' So he glugged half the bottle down in front of us and said, 'That's better,' and went on stage and drank the rest of the bottle during his show."

Stringfellow enjoyed being in the limelight and basking in the club's success. "It was the only thing that I realised I was good at, not singing or playing music, but organising and bringing things together. Why it worked I don't know exactly, but you felt like you were part of something special and I'm sure the mothers and fathers of the Arctic Monkeys would have gone to the old Mojo club."

So why, given all this success, did it close in 1967 at the height of its popularity? "Up until then we just opened the door and let people in, but then we had to get a licence, which was turned down by the magistrates because we were in a residential area. So we were closed by

the authorities, but I think it would have closed anyway because, yes it was great, but eventually other places would have caught up."

Despite its short life, he claims the club is still remembered by those who played there.

"Elton John played there with a group called Bluesology, and he has a great deal of affection for the place. He remembers carrying his piano on to the stage with one of my doormen. Eric Clapton remembers it and so does Rod Stewart."

Stringfellow went on to own nightclubs in the United States and London. He made his fortune, lost it, and then made it again. He became a celebrity, although his public image hasn't always been flattering.

"I have no choice now. It's there, so I just play with it and have a laugh. I'm described as this 'ageing lothario' and I like that one," he says, although you sense he's become tired, almost embarrassed by the tag.

"I have had a life that is enviable in my eyes and I'm a rich guy now, but I've lost millions as well," he points out.

For a twice-divorced man nudging 70 he looks in pretty good shape, and having his stunning 26 year-old fiance, Bella, on his arm probably doesn't do any harm.

Cynics might ask, to borrow Mrs Merton's phrase, "So, what first attracted you to the millionaire Peter Stringfellow?"

But there will be plenty of blokes half his age who would give their right arm to be in his position, which makes you wonder who's having the last laugh.

Peter Stringfellow might sometimes look a bit of a buffoon, but appearances can be deceptive.

Pop Art of Sheffield's King Mojo and Beyond is published by youbooks.co.uk, priced 9.99. To order a copy from the Yorkshire Post Bookshop call 0800 0153232 or visit www.yorkshirepostbookshop.co.uk. Postage and packing cost 2.75