PETER Stringfellow’s charm, allied with razor-sharp public relations and deal-making skills, made him a global brand.
During the 1960s, Stringfellow’s day job involved meeting the likes of Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder and The Small Faces when he worked as a promoter and owner of Sheffield’s Black Cat and King Mojo clubs. He went on to open a disco club in Leeds, and from there he expanded into London, where he gave his name to one of the world’s best known clubs.
He was always proud to recall the day in 1962 when he strolled to a phone box in Sheffield and called the manager of a promising band from Liverpool.
Would the Beatles fancy playing a gig in Sheffield, Stringfellow asked, for £85? Stringfellow must have thought the Beatles were a bit special. The most he’d been willing to pay a band before that was £50; for Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages. The phone box negotiations went well. The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein said he was happy with the deal.
Within weeks, Beatlemania had erupted, and Epstein’s phone must have been ringing off the hook, but he still kept his promise. He allowed The Beatles to perform in the modest setting of the Azena Ballroom in Sheffield in 1963, at a time when plenty of plusher venues were screaming out for the chance to welcome them.
It was a stunning coup for Stringfellow, who had decided to become a promoter after a varied career, which had included stints as a cinema projectionist and steel worker.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post in 2014, Stringfellow recalled: “Brian (Epstein) gave me his word and he stuck to it. I picked the Beatles up in a Ford Anglia.”
Stringfellow had fond memories of a young John Lennon handing over the contract for their appearance at the Azena. Around 2,000 tickets were sold for a concert that caused hysteria.
“It was just pandemonium when the Beatles came on stage, ’’ Stringfellow recalled 51 years later. “It was the most exciting night of my life. Please Please Me is the record of my life.”
Many people loathe gentlemen’s clubs, but Stringfellow never shied away from scrutiny. He once gave a talk at Sheffield University which examined whether gentlemen’s clubs were turning women into commodities, or should be seen as a sign that women were truly liberated.
Undergraduates who opposed lap dancing clubs gave him a real grilling, but Stringfellow always welcomed debate.
He established his own record label and opened clubs in New York, Miami and LA, although this rapid expansion led to financial troubles. He bounced back by buying back the lease of the original Stringfellows in London from receivers, and built up Stringfellows and Angels, which became some of the longest running clubs in London.
Stars who visited his club over the years included Stevie Wonder, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Tom Jones, and Christian Slater, who, apparently, was thrown out for refusing to remove a Richard Nixon mask. Of all the stars he’s met, few could compete with the charisma of Jimi Hendrix, who walked off stage and handed him his guitar, which was still reverberating.
“He was totally different, we were on the edge of flower power, ’’ Stringfellow recalled in 2014. “His music was cosmic. He was a very special man.”
He never forgot his Yorkshire roots. Four years ago, he made a £3,000 donation that saved the Sheffield-based Helping Hands Dog rescue from the threat of closure.
He believed that anyone who wanted to follow in his footsteps had to learn to seize the day.
“You’ve got to do it while you’ve got the energy to do it, ’’ he told The Yorkshire Post. “The quicker you get involved in the entrepreneurial side the better. I was just 22 when I booked the Beatles. All I had was enthusiasm and a fantastic ego.”