Leadmill Road in Sheffield is unassuming. There’s student accommodation to the right, a DFS and gym straight ahead, and the legendary venue itself, the Leadmill, on your left. It’s hard to miss, thanks to the bright red neon sign that hangs off the side of it, but other than that, there is nothing in particular that would catch your eye.
But behind that wall is an abundance of musical history. Names big and small have graced the sticky stage and played to heaving crowds since it opened in 1980: Adele. Arctic Monkeys. Pulp. Nick Cave. The Libertines. The Strokes. The Stone Roses.
The Leadmill was purchased as a freehold in 2017 by the Electric Group, which runs other famous venues nationwide, such as Electric Brixton, SWX in Bristol and NX in Newcastle. Now, after six years, Electric Group want to clear out the current management and run the venue themselves. There is no guarantee on what it will become, but the name ‘Electric Sheffield’ has been registered.
Today, outside Sheffield City Hall, clusters a large group of protestors.
“Leadmill’s really important to the local community,” says Toby of independent record label Black Beacon Sound, “I’ve seen plenty of artists there before they’ve moved on to bigger things. Artists like BANKS, Passion Pit, and Eagles of Death Metal.”
“This venue is everything,” chimes in Leadmill regular Lawrence, “It means the world to me. Its culture and individualism are so hard to find nowadays.”
In May this year, an eviction notice was filed to the Leadmill. Punters, musicians and people connected to the venue came out in full force to show their support and further reaffirm how much of a loss it would be if it were to close.
Electric Group have tried to reassure those protesting and others who have raised concerns that they intend to keep the Leadmill running as it is currently. They confirmed in a statement released after the news of possible eviction that the venue was “always going to be the Leadmill.” In fact, the building owners have referred to the campaign launched by management entitled #WeCantLoseLeadmill as ironic, saying, “’Save The Leadmill’ – well, we actually did that in 2016, from being knocked down.” They added that the campaign is “unnecessarily worrying people.”
omg we stan Stanley ❤️ https://t.co/vNIYtOPYc7
— The Leadmill (@Leadmill) September 18, 2023
In agreement, local Sheffield promoter Alan Deadman, who has been involved with the venue for decades and helps promote Sheffield’s Tramlines Fringe Festival, said that he believes the campaign launched by Leadmill has been “misguided and deceptive.” He said in an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield, “there’s a very fierce loyalty among Sheffielders to the city and I think that fierce loyalty has been really cruelly exploited.”
Leadmill offering to pay people to protest didn’t help the situation either, as prospective attendees were promised £40 to stand outside of the meeting and post it on social media. Leadmill confirmed these payments were to “ensure the rally is professionally and safely managed.”
“The Look North reporter asked if I’d been paid to be here,” said Joanne, an avid gig-goer and one of the leading voices chanting this morning, “I haven’t, and what I’m seeing this morning are genuinely passionate people. There are people who work there, people who go to gigs there, people who go to discos and everything.”
Seemingly aware of the criticisms made about their conduct surrounding the campaign, Leadmill has confirmed the issue is with the strong brand they have worked hard to build over the past four decades. Bands all over the UK, but particularly up north, seem to view the space as a bucket list venue, somewhere that their idols have played before and, as such, where they also want to tick off. The neon red of Leadmill is an iconic sight that people get excited to put on social media, whether they are playing there or attending a gig, but would that still be the case following a change in name and management?
Lottie probably put it best. She and her mother, Harriet, Leadmill romantics from different decades, hold up signs and reminisce on their favourite gigs from the venue’s past. “Stiff Little Fingers,” says Harriet, “in 87, 88… I’m old.” Lottie takes slightly longer to think of her answer, “Probably Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes.”
She also tells me, “I worked here as a student. My mum used to come in the 80s and me in the 10s, and I think it’s gonna be such a shame having watched the local people serve it, love it, and get so passionate about it all the way through for somebody else to come in and dine off of that. As far as I know, it’s the tenants of the Leadmill that have funded all of the refurbishments and everything else from the beginning. So yeah, it’s ours!”
The love for the Leadmill is summed up well in the crowd outside City Hall. Despite bleak circumstances, the picket signs are funny, there’s laughter between chants, and there’s applause for those heading through the doors to speak in defence of the venue. It’s a culture forged over four decades of good times and dirty dancefloors which resonates throughout the city and slices through the Sheffield air. Even people walking by, unaware of the demonstration, find out what it’s for and pick up a sign whilst chants of “na na na na Leadmill” to the tune of Hey Jude ring out over a backing track of tambourines and jackhammers.
The attitude amongst protestors seems clear. Despite people knowing gigs would still be held at the venue, the Leadmill and the team behind it are Sheffield’s beating heart of music. Renaming it as ‘Electric’ might keep things moving, but it will kill the humanity of the place at the same time.
What will happen next continues to hang in the balance, but it doesn’t look like the Leadmill is going down without a fight.
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