Roll over, Liverpool - Sheffield’s our new rock capital

Arctic Monkeys playing the Sheffield Arena
Arctic Monkeys playing the Sheffield Arena
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JOHN LENNON and Paul McCartney may have written With A Little Help From My Friends, but it was Sheffield’s Joe Cocker who turned it into a stadium anthem.

And now, nearly 50 years later, the rest of the city is taking his cue. Sheffield is finally giving Liverpool a run for its money as the UK’s music capital.

For the first time, academics have conducted an “audit” of the thriving music sector that has also given the world Pulp, Arctic Monkeys and Heaven 17.

By their reckoning, Sheffield now boasts 788 music organisations, 465 active bands, 65 recording studios and 69 venues - including Yorkshire’s first arena.

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The city’s musical footprint spans the genres, from electronic, folk, “free noise” and, most successfully, rock. Yet unusually for a city its size, it does not have a resident professional classical orchestra.

Pulp performing at Sheffield Arena

Pulp performing at Sheffield Arena

The University of Sheffield, which commissioned the report, says the statistics put the one-time steel city within a tremolo arm’s length of the world’s leaders.

The findings confound the city’s popular image of the 1990s, when The Full Monty was filmed there and Jarvis Cocker and Pulp immortalised it in song as “Sheffield Sex City”.

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, the university’s director of city and cultural engagement, said the report was aimed at encouraging emerging talent and paving the way for the next generation of musicians.

The report lists no fewer than 24 record labels in the city, as well as 20 live sound engineers, 11 producers, 32 promoters and 17 music festivals. More than 3,500 people are fully or partly employed in the sector, and the figure rises to 5,500 if individual musicians are included.

Joe Cocker in 1969

Joe Cocker in 1969

But they’re not always playing the right tune. Sound engineer Paul Tuffs warns in the report: “Sheffield audiences can be perceived as hard to crack.”

And despite the 69 venues, some bands prefer to take the first stage out of town. Mr Tuffs said: “There is a ‘triangle of doom’ - Nottingham, Leeds, Manchester - with touring bands often bypassing Sheffield due to the lack of a good mid-sized venue.”

The popularity of bands among Sheffield’s student population is hardly new - in the 1960s, copies of a locally-produced Joe Cocker EP were given out during rag week.

In the 1970s and 80s, electronic outfits like Heaven 17 helped to cement the city’s position on the music map - but its biggest current export has topped them all. Arctic Monkeys, formed 13 years ago in the suburb of High Green, has gone on to collect seven Brit Awards, three Grammy nominations and the Mercury Music Prize.

Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware of Heaven 17

Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware of Heaven 17

Other famous sons date from the earlier musical era of working men’s clubs. Singer Tony Christie hails from just up the M18 in Conisbrough, but served his showbusiness apprenticeship in Sheffield and went on to top the charts with Is This the Way to Amarillo? in the 1970s and again ten years ago.

Video: The complete and utter history of pop music in Sheffield