Fans see red over Leadmill

Owner denies plans to force managers out

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The music world has rallied in a bid to save the management of one of Sheffield’s most beloved venues from being forced out.

In a fiercely-worded statement on 1 April, management of the Leadmill claimed that Brixton-based Electric Group, which bought the venue in 2017, was set to kick them out by 2023.

“Cheap, shabby, sly”

Electric Group’s co-founder Dominic Madden has denied the claims, insisting he wants to invest in the famous venue, which has played host to a wide range of acts including Culture Club, Oasis, Kate Nash and Jorja Smith. But the current managers say they have been told they are being evicted and believe that Madden wants to bring in a new team to run it.

In their statement the managers say: “It is the hard-working, dedicated and local family of staff that have put 42 years’ worth of their blood, sweat and tears into making it the cultural asset it is today.

“It is a cheap, shabby, sly and underhand way of doing business, by forcing companies to cease trading.”

They also stressed that they own the copyright for both the name and the branding, meaning neither could survive any management change. “Without us there is no Leadmill.”

The Leadmill opened in 1980, hosting the first ever Pulp gig in August that year. Frontman Jarvis Cocker joked to the NME that the band were so clueless back then that when they experienced feedback their bass player started “walking towards the front of the stage and fell off it” in confusion.

Despite its name, the building was a former flour mill. Before becoming the Sheffield landmark it now is – with its famous red neon lights and coloured history – the upper floor of the building hosted a club named Esquire where the likes of Jimmi Hendrix played.

For native Sheffield acts like Pulp or Arctic Monkeys, who debuted their second album at the venue, gigging at the Leadmill is often an early stepping stone to stardom.

Franz Ferdinand once told Canadian indie band Arcade Fire it was a “rite of passage” to play there. Such stories, and countless others, make up the heritage the current management says is set to be lost.

Electric Group owns and runs the Electric in Brixton, SWX in Bristol and the O2 Academy, Newcastle.

Madden insists that the cries of cultural vandalism are unfounded. Initial fears that he would close down the Leadmill were eased after he stated there was “never any question” of taking that  option. Instead he claims that he intends to invest up to £1 million in a refurbishment to bring the Leadmill up to an elite standard.

“We are music people, we spend our lives running independent music venues,” he said on Twitter. “The management may change but the song stays the same.”

His colleague Mike Weller told the BBC that the refurb would equip the venue to “accommodate the modern wants of live music and club nights”.

“We love it as it is”

An outpouring of public support for the Leadmill has included Eddie Izzard, Martyn Ware, formerly of Heaven 17, and the Kaiser Chiefs. Speaking to Big Issue North, drummer Jimmi Naylor of the Pigeon Detectives stressed the importance the venue has played in helping young acts establish themselves.

According to Naylor, his band have played the venue “at least ten times – maybe more”, the first time in support of Carl Barat’s Dirty Pretty Things. “Since then, every time we go on a tour, we always play Sheffield Leadmill,” Naylor said.

“There’s something about it money can’t buy – something magic happens for certain venues whereby every time you play the vibe in the room is electric. It could be a Tuesday and it’s still the same.”

Musician Steve McCarthy, 32, who has played as Steve and the Sea at the Leadmill, did not believe new management could recreate the current experience.

“I don’t like the idea of this London-based chain coming in and trying to create some faux Sheffield scene. None of us buy it,” he said.

“You can’t just restart that with someone new and expect them to make the same experience. We love the Leadmill and we love it as it is.”

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