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THE DIARY: Return of the king

Stringfellow at Abbeydale 9. Peter Stringfellow at the Abbeydale Cinema  with his fiancee Bella Wright

Stringfellow at Abbeydale 9. Peter Stringfellow at the Abbeydale Cinema with his fiancee Bella Wright

PETER Stringfellow is a man whose reputation precedes him.

He has opened 15 nightclubs, bedded 2,000 women, and, at 72, is currently planning a family with 30-year-old wife Bella.

“There’s no rush, though,” he says without a hint of irony. “We’re in no hurry.”

But, next week, this King of Clubs, this Pitsmoor Prodigy, this man who brought The Beatles to Gleadless, is to return to Sheffield where it all started.

For it was 50 years ago this month his incredible journey to fame, fortune and a peroxide blond mullet began when he hosted his very first club night, The Black Cat, at St Aidan’s Church Hall in City Road.

He will celebrate the golden jubilee with a special party in the city.

“Fifty years?” he says down the phone from his London club, Stringfellows. “Wow.”

That half a century has been a whirlwind of money, music, girls and travel. He has met every big name around including successive prime ministers, and currently lives between the capital and Majorca.

But many of his fondest memories are from when, as a 22-year-old, he brought the world’s biggest bands to his home town. The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Who all played his venues before he left in 1970.

“What do I remember...?” asks the grandfather-of-four. “All of it. Let me ramble and pick out what you want...”

It started, then, with a desire to make money.

Peter, a potted beef salesman, saw an advert wanting a driver with a van to ferry a pop group called Johnny Tempest and the Cadillacs about.

He applied but was rejected when it turned out Johnny was actually a steel worker called Jimmy Greaves.

“We’d worked together and hadn’t got on,” he says.

But when he later went to see the band at Chesterfield Town Hall, it set off some internal calculations.

“There were 800 people paying half a crown in,” he says. “That was £100 and I knew the band were getting £12. I remember thinking ‘Someone’s getting rich here’.”

He decided it should be him.

He approached St Aidan’s about hosting a club there and after rules were agreed - bands and DJs yes, booze no - The Black Cat opened in October 1962.

It wasn’t easy. The first two weeks Peter lost £20 (“all my wages”), and decided the third would be his last shot.

He phoned - who else? - Johnny Tempest. And the night made £65.

“From that day to this I’ve worked in nightclubs,” he says

Over the next eight years, he put Sheffield on the musical map - not least by bringing a band called The Beatles here in February 1963.

“Two girls asked me to play their record one night,” he remembers. “I did and everyone went crazy. I went to a phone booth and tried to book them the same evening.”

He was successful.

The Fab Four were supposed to play The Black Cat but, between November, when they agreed, and February, when they played, they went stratospheric.

“I sold about 2,000 tickets for a 600 capacity venue,” he says. “So we moved it to Gleadless Azena Ballroom. The crowds half destroyed it but I had such fun. That’s when I knew all I wanted to do was perform or run nightclubs. And I couldn’t perform so it was run nightclubs.”

He did just: moving from The Black Cat to The Blue Moon in The Wicker, King Mojo in Pitsmoor, Down Broadway in High Street and The Penthouse in Dixon Lane.

That last venue - an upmarket affair selling alcohol for the first time - had a 180 capacity but was regularly filled with 600 people.

“The police eventually realised we were doing it deliberately,” he says. “There were some licencing issues and I left the city.”

He opened a disco club in Leeds. And from there expanded to London, New York, Miami and Paris; then eventually into gentlemen’s clubs.

Now, he’s excited to be celebrating that golden jubilee back in Sheffield.

He’ll be bringing Bella along, too.

They married in 2009, and, if they get the chance, they’ll be working on starting that family while here.

“There’s a trend for naming your baby after where they’re conceived,” he says. “Maybe we’ll have a Sheffield Stringfellow.”

n The Golden Jubilee takes place at The Leadmill on Wednesday. Music from Geno Washington, Dave Berry and others. Tickets £20.

 

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