You may have seen a similar post about Barnsley last month, which may give you reason to suspect that I’m kissing arse for every single show that I do. But the fact is that the Steel City has been a part of my journey before I’d even written my first poem, and in pretty much every way possible, my connection with Sheffield has forged my entire career to date.
It was 13 December 2006 when I performed spoken word on stage for the first time. My sister and I were really into the Sheffield indie music scene, and she’d been at a Bromheads Jacket gig at The Leadmill that night. I went to meet her at the after party, which was in a secret underground venue in the Red Light district known as “Club60” (as you do). There was an impromptu open mic/jam session taking place, and with a bit of encouragement, I ended up getting up to perform a trio of poems.
At this stage I’d been writing poems for a couple of months, and had started uploading rough recordings to a MySpace Music page under the pseudonym ‘Skint & Demoralised’, which was my username on the Reverend & The Makers forum (it’s taken from the lyrics to their track ‘Bandits’).
Through the R&TM forum, my sister and I had a group of friends who were a couple of years older than us (I was 17 so she must have been 15 or so, but this didn’t stop us going to clubnights at The Plug and DQ every couple of weeks). Obviously at such a formative age, they had a very big impression on us, and through secret Arctic Monkeys gigs to following R&TM on tour, mad house parties in Hunter’s Bar and everything in between…it suddenly felt like Sheffield was our cultural and spiritual home.
A few months after that first gig in Neepsend, I was approached on MySpace by a songwriter/producer using the pseudonym MiNI dOG, who was himself based in Sheffield. Nobody could’ve predicted how much my life would change at that point. After an initial meeting, he began layering my roughly recorded poems over some instrumentals which had recently earned him ‘Demo of the Week’ in NME, and from there we developed a songwriting partnership.
He contacted me in May 2007, and by the July we’d written two tracks which were to change everything; a pop ditty called ‘Red Lipstick‘ with a Northern Soul inspired groove, plus a jangly upbeat almost Motown-meets-The Smiths number in ‘The Thrill of Thirty Seconds‘. I sent a CD-R containing those two tracks to Steve Lamacq at the start of the November, and within a week he played ‘Red Lipstick’ on his Monday night Radio 1 show.
The rest of the journey could probably fill a book to be honest (there’s more on my biog page here), but long story short, we became a small internet sensation and signed to Universal Records in March 2008. A few months later we flew to New York to record with legendary soul session band The Dap-Kings, who’d recently played on Amy Winehouse’s ‘Black To Black’ and Mark Ronson’s ‘Version’.
It was a roller-coaster journey, with ‘Red Lipstick’ enjoying the most success, but in the end we were dropped by Universal without even releasing an album, and ended-up signing to indie label Heist Or Hit Records, with whom we released three albums before disbanding in spring 2013.
We were always known as a Sheffield band, despite my Wakefield heritage. Early gigs at The Frog & Parrot on Division Street and The Plug cemented our fan base. In fairness, Lamacq’s Radio 1 play was preceded by Shamir Masri at BBC Radio Sheffield. I was the first person to feature on the cover of Sandman Magazine after it’d gone online-only (gutted mate).
More importantly, David Gledhill (formerly known as MiNI dOG and more recently releasing as SOULS) is to this day my closest friend. I was honoured to be his best man in 2016, and he’ll always be the first person I reach out to.
I lived in Sheffield for just over a year, including a spell with David in Loxley and then another spell in Kelham Island (just down the road from ‘Club60’). This brief period was highly inspirational for me, and a huge chunk of the poems on my début spoken word album ‘Skint & Demoralised‘ were written in and about Sheffield.
The city is like no other on earth, and has given me some of my most vivid memories and my most valuable friendships. I was beaten up by Sheffield Wednesday fans back in 2005. The opening night of S&D’s first headline UK tour was at the Fuzz Club in February 2008. I supported Howard Marks at The Hop in 2012. I managed a vintage shop in Kelham Island from 2013-2014. These are all memories that I’m cherry picking from the top of my head, but I can’t emphasise enough how much Sheffield means to me…
So, back to 2018. I’ve been lucky enough to form a strong working friendship with Joe Kriss from Wordlife over the last couple of years, and I’m honoured to be opening Festival Of Debate this Friday. Sheffield is known as “The People’s Republic of South Yorkshire”, so it’s a natural home for my ideology, but there’s no ignoring the fact that the city voted 61.56% in favour of Brexit.
The fact that it’s known as the ‘Steel City’ indicates how industry sits at its core. It was at the heart of the Revolution, and in many ways it was a global powerhouse in it’s time. Many of the factories and mills are either riddled with asbestos and waiting to be demolished, or being converted into expensive apartments – just as the iconic Park Hill flats are.
Sheffield has suffered acutely with the decline of industry, but it still remains as one of the thriving cities in the north. Culturally and socially it is as vibrant, welcoming and independent as they come. I’m fiercely proud to be so deeply intertwined with the place, and hopefully on Friday, I’ll carve another keystone.