Knock three times to join The North Culture Club

The Cuckoo Clocks by Lucy Harper

It’s a murky evening in Sheffield and I’m on the side of a bleak and unforgiving dual carriageway near West Bar. It’s not the kind of night, nor the kind of place you’d voluntarily hang out unless you really had to. The unassuming doorway I’m heading towards is noticeable only for a large printed X on the front. There’s a muffled clattering of feet and voices as I knock three times, not your average public entrance, but then again I already know this is no average joint.

The creaky door opens and I head underground. Music, laughter and an amber light bounce off brick as I enter a vaulted cellar. This is a Sheffield Speak Easy and I have an invitation to listen to some crazy music, meet new people and party like it’s 1926!

It’s also The North Culture Club’s first official event. Organiser, Ben Duong has kicked off this series of gatherings and creative exchanges as a reaction to our own age of austerity and Sheffield’s failed bid for City of Culture; it’s a call to action to do something about it at a street level. It’s clear when we meet that he’s not expecting to change the city in a day; the aim is to host a series of simple, grassroots activities in independent venues and which encourage people with whatever creative skill or interest to connect, collaborate and try something new, “We’ll use the one thing we’ve got more of, that’s our mind,” says Ben, quoting a song by Sheffield band, Pulp.

Sure enough when I look round the club’s curved walls, this is quite a melting pot of artists, graphic designers, set designers, writers, magazine journalists, musicians, bloggers, tweeters and more I hope to meet in time.

Club 60
Sound check at Club 60 by Ben Duong

The venue, Club 60 is an apt choice of location for our 21st century Speak Easy. Since the sixties, the historic jazz and blues venue has played host to musicians such as John Lee Hooker and Joe Cocker. Today it’s a studio specialising in analogue recording to create a distinct, retro sound and run by musicians and sound engineers, who are quite simply mad about music. It’s also where Reverend and the Makers are recording their next album.

With the strum of a guitar, a group of waist-coated musicians strike up a tune. They are the Cuckoo Clocks. It’s good to see a band where everyone has a microphone, and the rich backing vocals give the music an accessible, pop sheen. The lyrics are something else though – vignettes that would have Tipper Gore reaching for her Parental Advisory stickers. The flat-capped lead singer has a South Yorkshire version of a Lou Reed drawl, backed by subtle keyboards and grooving bass and guitar. I notice that Simon Stafford, a member of Jarvis Cocker’s band, has dropped in to lend an able pair of hands, as the group are ‘between drummers’. The band’s quirky sound soon captures the crowd.

When, at the end of the evening I head back into the night, I can’t help thinking this place typifies Sheffield’s independent spirit and the hidden talent that often lies behind closed doors. It’s not long after the event that I learn that Sheffield City Council have got behind The North Culture Club as part of their Creative Forum for the Sheffield Cultural Strategy. It’s a kicking start with some connectivity to boot. So if you missed out, I reckon it’s time to have a go and do something different.  Here’s a taster of The North Culture Club’s events coming up:

• February 26th: CADS Artisan Evening – An evening of art, music and conversation about all areas of creative and digital arts.
• March: Spoken Words Beats Generation Evening – reading excerpts from Jack Kerouac’s cult book, On The Road
• March: Gastro-Club – An evening of food sharing, party music and drinking
• Other: Sheffield 365 Project photo exhibition; The Old Sweet Shop exhibition; Einstein on the Beach (Deaks/Lord Bunn) exhibition and more…

Visit: @thenorth  #thenorthcultureclub