Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Book - Tough times, good times... (Sheffield)

IT was the best of times; it was the worst of times...

But this was no tale of two cities. Rather just one: Sheffield in the 1980s.

For while the decade was an era of great hardship in South Yorkshire – of steel industry redundancies, miners strikes and the decay of the Hole In The Road – it was also, as a new book recalls, a period of great culture too.

Here were bands like the Human League which would become world famous; nightclubs like Rebels which would go down in pop cult history; and fashion shops, like Rebina Shoes, which would...well, if not thrive, at least survive the recession.

“There’s a truism, that great art springs from hardship,” says Neil Anderson, author of the book, Dirty Stop Out’s Guide To 1980s Sheffield. “And I think that’s right for Sheffield at this point.

“You had thousands of people out of work, mass pickets and entire communities being destroyed – and yet there was a real determination that people would enjoy themselves. There was a saying ‘Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow the redundancy runs out’ – and I think that sums up the period.”

Certainly, for all the clouds, the book – the latest in a series of tomes detailing the nightlife and youth culture of the city in the late 20th century – shows there were silver-linings too.

For every UB40 holder, there were free gigs at Sheffield Polytechnic featuring the likes of The Damned. For every family who could not afford to run a car, there were super-cheap buses which ran through the night. And for Rick Allen, the Def Leppard drummer who lost his left arm after crashing his car on the A57, there was Hysteria, an album which sold more than 15 million.

And, for everyone else, against the backdrop of daytime dole queues, there were several night venues – like Roxy, in Arundel Gate, and Rebels, in Dixon Lane – doing a roaring trade.

“What struck me while researching the book is how much fun people had – whatever their tastes or aspirations,” says Neil, who owns ACM Retro, the publishing company which is releasing the book. “Josephine’s was an ultra-decadent champagne place yards from the NUM headquarters; while The Leadmill, on the other hand, was funded by the council to provide arts and culture from a more left-field perspective.

“And I think it was the search for those good times that meant the city ended up producing bands like The Human League and Def Leppard, as well as ABC, Pulp, Heaven 17 and Cabaret Voltaire.

“Ultimately, it shows the spirit of the city would not be broken.”

Dirty Stop Out’s Guide To 1980s Sheffield is available from The Star shop, £12.95.

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