Legendary Sheffield Limit club filled gap in 1970s punk music scene

Although West Street’s legendary Limit club didn’t open until punk was well into its second year, the venue truly hit the ground running.

Monday, 27th July 2020, 12:00 pm
The Selecter play the Limit, pictured by Pete Hill
The Selecter play the Limit, pictured by Pete Hill

DJ George Webster already had a big following from his time entertaining the crowds at The Buccaneer and Wapentake Bar.

Punk rock wasn’t being catered for at Wapentake Bar and there was a gap in the market for a venue catering for smaller bands following the closure of the renowned Black Swan.

But it takes a lot more than spinning a few discs to open, run and manage a successful venue – that’s where Kevan Johnson came in.

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Wilko Johnson performs at The Limit

As well as being an ex-policeman, he also knew the licensing trade because his dad had run pubs in Heeley and Woodseats for years.

The pair eventually found potential premises on West Street.

The venue – a 5,000 square foot area set in the basement of a former West Street shopping precinct - was going to cost £30,000 and boast disco, restaurant, wine bar, bars, a mobile stage and a capacity for around 350.

The idea was well received locally.

Pete Hill's picture of Siouxsie and the Banshees at The Limit

Keith Strong, Nightscene reporter in The Star at the time, said: “After a spell in the doldrums Sheffield’s music scene received a boost this week when work began on a rock club that brings echoes of the swinging sixties in the city.”

George Webster was suitably scathing of the dress codes commanded by the city’s mainstream venues and the need to offer an alternative.

He said: “All the clubs are stereotyped. You have got to look as though you are going to a wedding to get in. Kids don’t like that, they like to dress according to the trend.”

Luxury décor didn’t figure, dress code was set to be non-existent (unless you turned up in a suit and you’d probably be turned away) and it was all about the music doing the talking and cementing the image.

Sheffield Band The Push, in Mr Kite's wine bar, around 1979

The Limit passed its afternoon inspection by the fire brigade with flying colours on March 22, 1978.

Nerves must have been at breaking point before the doors open.

They might have got one of the best positions in the city centre for capturing passing trade, being a key part of the popular ‘West Street run’, but anyone that has ever run a nightclub knows there’s no dead certs with the after-dark industry.

Any air of trepidation for DJs Paul Unwin and Vernon Price would have soon been replaced by the adrenalin rush of first-night nerves as the minutes counted down to opening.

The Photos performing at the Limit, pictured by Pete Hill

The opening week was headlined by Siouxsie and Banshees who were one of the hottest punk acts at that time. Hugely popular local act Bitter Suite also performed, as well as Sheffield’s own punk band The Push.

Paul Unwin, who was also The Limit manager as well as its main DJ, said: “Opening night was a total disaster but the customers wouldn’t have known that.

"We’d come as DJs but we were now asked to be nightclub managers. We were trying to get the beer to switch on and the lights to switch off.

“We followed Bitter Suite with the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Adam & The Ants and The Cramps.

“Nobody had ever seen anything like Siouxsie and the Banshees in Sheffield and she’d just got a single in the charts that was Hong Kong Garden and she was at the height of the punk scene then.”

Vice Versa at The Limit – picture by Pete Hill

The Limit was into its stride within days and was soon building an enviable reputation for booking bands on their ascendancy.

Paul Unwin said: “When Adam & The Ants appeared they’d done the Jubilee concert in 1977 but he wasn’t famous then. He’d had a single out, Deutscher Girls, but it had never been picked up by the radio stations.

“BBC Radio One didn’t know what to do with punk – they didn’t know whether to accept it or wash their hands of it and look for something else.

“Because The Limit didn’t have strict dress codes it had far more freedom to try out new kinds of nights in the city centre catering for different crowds. That’s one of the reasons we were so successful.”

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The Cramps at The Limit – pic by Pete Hill