Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Book/Event - The King of nightclubs (Sheffield)

AS nightclubs go, it seemed a civilised enough establishment - alcohol was forbidden, the Lord Mayor of Sheffield was said to be an occasional patron and pictures of the Royal Family lined the walls.

But, under the respectable sheen, drug-pushers made a small mint, coupled-up customers would creep into neighbouring gardens for al-fresco fumbling and riotous dancing eventually caused an entire floor to collapse.

This was King Mojo, the legendary Pitsmoor venue set up by a young entrepreneur called Peter Stringfellow in 1964.

Here, the boys wore skinny ties and skinnier trousers, the girls donned short hair and shorter skirts, and the crowds danced to gigs by Stevie Wonder, Jimi Hendrix, Tina Turner and The Who.

Now, 44 years after the venue was closed down by the council - apparently those pictures of Elizabeth II fooled no-one - Peter Stringfellow himself is to reopen King Mojo for one night. Only this time without the illegal substances and heavy outdoor petting.

The venue, which ran from 1964-67, will be recreated in another legendary city club, The Leadmill on November 23.

“I’m looking forward to it,” says the legendary thong-wearer. “While the club only lasted four years, it was the most incredible time - not only of my life but of the music scene in Sheffield. Every Saturday we had an all-nighter, and the acts like Jimi Hendrix and The Who would play on a Friday. It was fabulous.”

The party, on November 23, is being thrown to celebrate the upcoming publication of a book about the city’s 1960s nightlife.

And organisers promise to show 21st century revellers why the period was known as swinging, with live music and DJs, Mod-style decorations and a question and answer session with Peter himself.

“Several generations of Sheffielders have grown up hearing about Club Mojo and this will give them the chance to get a flavour of what they missed,” says Neil Anderson, author of the Dirty Stop Out’s Guide To 1960s Sheffield. “The response to the idea has been phenomenal and to get Peter on board was a massive coup.”

The original King Mojo, in Burngreave Road, was the third club Pitsmoor lad Peter had opened in the city.

Those photos of the Royal Family lined the walls after local businessman Ruben Wallis agreed to rent him the former ballroom on one condition - the pictures remained hanging.

Within eight weeks of opening, the alcohol-free venue had 800 members - almost every one of them fashion-conscience young things lured by gigs by the likes of Pink Floyd, The Animals and Small Faces, and the leave-your-attitude-at-the-door policy.

Indeed, it got so popular, during one gig the coffee bar floor collapsed

“There was no such thing as capacity in those days,” explains Peter, aged 60, who now lives in London.

“We’d just cram them in. We knew we were really full when the Spencer Davies Group played and the floor collapsed.”

No-one was injured but, for the authorities, enough was enough.

Known drug dealers had already admitted selling pep pills there, while neighbours were increasingly complaining about their gardens being used as open-air sex dens.

One man noted the club was so loud he would regularly find his 20-month old daughter standing in her cot in the middle of a Saturday night dancing to the music.

The collapse was the final straw and the council shut the venue in December 1967.

For Peter, it was but a small blip on the road to becoming one of the world’s most successful nightclub owners. For Club Mojo, though the party was over, the legend would live on.

Tickets for the King Mojo night from www.leadmill.co.uk at £10. Dirty Stop Out’s Guide To 1960s Sheffield published by ACM Retro on October 21.

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