No Limit to memories

Kevin Johnson (left) with George Webster
Kevin Johnson (left) with George Webster
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LEGENDARY Irish rockers, and the self-proclaimed Biggest Band In The World, U2 played The Limit in November 1980. “They were fabulous but only 14 customers turned up,” recalled owner George Webster later. “They played as though they were performing at Shea Stadium.”

IT was the legendary Sheffield punk club where the floors were always sticky, the beer was always flat and the toilets were always flooding.

The Undertones playing The Limit

The Undertones playing The Limit

Human League were bottled on stage there by Def Leppard fans, U2 once played to an audience of just 14 people and a riot nearly broke out on the first night when Siouxsie and the Banshees performed.

This was the nationally-renowned Limit nightclub, and this summer – 20 years after it shut down – a new 90-minute documentary is to be released charting the venue’s incredible history and it’s poignant last night.

Footage shot on the closing evening in January 1991 will be interspersed with managers, staff, musicians and regulars discussing why the club – like the Hole In The Road or, say, Charles Peace – has gone down in city folklore, despite having so few obviously redeemable features.

“It was dark, dingy and dilapidated – there wasn’t a week the toilets didn’t flood,” says Garry Wilson who worked for 13 year eventually becoming manager.

Garry Wilson, former Limit manager

Garry Wilson, former Limit manager

“But it was just a great place for alternative kids. There was never any attitude or trouble, it was just great music and people having a great time.”

Among the bands who played there were luminaries like Joy Division, The Undertones, The Cramps and Squeeze.

Garry again: “It was so well loved. I remember the last night, we’d got about 500 through the door but when I looked on the dance floor there must have been about 700 people - they’d all been piling through an open fire exit. We just thought ‘fair play’.”

It was an evening, as the film will show, which ended with the West Street basement venue, which was opened in 1978 by former policeman Kevan Johnson and DJ George Webster, being looted by its own clientele.

“It had played such an important part in so many people’s lives – I met my wife there – they just wanted a piece of it,” says Garry, now 50-years-old, a musician of Hillsborough. “They took whatever wasn’t nailed down as a memento – glasses, beer towels, the furniture.”

And it is because of that emotional attachment, 20 years on this film has been made.

Garry, who commissioned the original footage to be shot, thinks for a second.

“I never imagined people would still be talking about The Limit two decades on,” he says.

“But it feels great to have been a part of it.

“I’ve had this footage in my drawer for 20 years and I just thought it should be shared. I’m sure it will be a success.

“Here’s the thing – if you were there on that last night, you’ll probably feature.”

The film – provisionally called The Last Night At The Limit – is to be released by ACM Retro this summer with several big screenings planned.

THE BANDS WHO PLAYED – AND WHAT WENT WRONG

LEGENDARY Irish rockers, and the self-proclaimed Biggest Band In The World, U2 played The Limit in November 1980. “They were fabulous but only 14 customers turned up,” recalled owner George Webster later. “They played as though they were performing at Shea Stadium.”

Manchester miserablists Joy Division made their mark on the venue. Epileptic lead singer Ian Curtis is said to have suffered a fit while on stage, falling into the crowd during the set. “Incredible,” was how one audience member described it.

Pulp front man Jarvis Cocker had fallen from a first floor window while trying to impress a girl just weeks before his band’s debut at the venue in 1986. Despite having a broken wrist, ankle and pelvis, he wasn’t to be deterred. He went on stage in a wheelchair.

In one of the most bizarre pairings at the venue, a new heavy metal band called Def Leppard were lined up to support rising electro outfit Human League. In predictable fashion the rock crowd tried to bottle Phil Oakey’s group offstage, but the band had come prepared. Expecting trouble, they’d set up a large perspex shield between themselves and the audience.

When punks The Undertones played the venue in the late 1970s, the management were surprised by an unusual ‘rider’ request – fish and chips. Staff were duly sent to the chippy next door.