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Arctic Monkeys Sheffield Arena homecoming: the truth about band’s first gig – from those who were there

If everyone who says they were at the Arctic Monkeys’ first gig was actually there, John McClure is reportedly fond of telling people, they could have sold out Sheffield Arena.

The night an unassuming bunch of teenagers took to the stage upstairs at The Grapes pub in Sheffield city centre on June 13, 2003 has acquired almost mythological status, thanks to the phenomenal success that would follow.

The Arctic Monkeys in their early days

The Arctic Monkeys in their early days

But as the band do prepare to rock Sheffield Arena, the reality, according to those who witnessed the quartet's stage debut, was very different.

READ MORE: This is how you can still get Arctic Monkeys tickets for their Sheffield shows

Carl Maloney, whose band The Sound, headlined that gig, recalled: “I think people have convinced themselves they were there, but I can remember about 35-40 people actually being in the audience.

“We’d dragged down about 20 friends and family and I think they brought along maybe 25-30, so it might have been a little more but not much.

The Arctic Monkeys today

The Arctic Monkeys today

“Our drummer’s brother was in a band with a kid called Rob Nicholson, whose brother was Andy Nicholson, the Arctic Monkeys’ then bassist, which is how they ended up supporting us.

READ MORE: Why Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys could be celebrating on Thursday in the middle of their homecoming gigs

“I’ve built it up in my head as this magical moment but in reality it was just another gig at The Grapes on a weekday night.

“Looking back, you could tell they were well-rehearsed, especially for such a young band, and they were really tight – though they’d probably disagree.

The Grapes pub on Trippet Lane, where the upstairs room which hosted the Arctic Monkeys' first gig is now a private living room

The Grapes pub on Trippet Lane, where the upstairs room which hosted the Arctic Monkeys' first gig is now a private living room

“The one thing that struck me was how when they were doing their sound check they asked everyone else to leave the room so they could get their sound just right.

READ MORE: Arctic Monkeys in Sheffield - what the set list will be and what time will they be on stage

“That's something I'd never seen before or since, and it shows how professional they were even at their first gig.”

One thing Carl, who went on to found Reyt Good Magazine, is keen to set the record straight about is how much the support act earned that night.

The Arctic Monkeys were paid 20 for their first gig

The Arctic Monkeys were paid 20 for their first gig

That sum is widely quoted as £27, but Carl says he actually gave them £20 and kept the remaining £60 for his band’s beer fund.

READ MORE: Sheffield set for Arctic Monkeys exhibition

However, he remembers them ‘buzzing’ about making that much and says he doesn’t feel too bad since ‘they’ve done a bit better than what we did’.

You can judge for yourself the quality of that first gig - which combined an eclectic range of covers, from Fatboy Slim to the Undertones, along with a forgotten early composition called Ravey Ravey Ravey Club – thanks to a test recording by The Sound’s drummer.

Today, a TV and settee occupy the stage, in the corner of what is now a living room upstairs at The Grapes.

“Had I known how popular they’d be, I would have left it like it was and it could have been Sheffield’s answer to the Cavern,” joked landlady Ann Flynn.

Carl Maloney (top left), whose band The Sound headlined the first Arctic Monkeys gig at The Grapes

Carl Maloney (top left), whose band The Sound headlined the first Arctic Monkeys gig at The Grapes

Fans from around the world still turn up on a musical pilgrimage and occasionally Ann will give them a private tour of the living quarters, where everything has changed since that night 15 years ago except the toilets.

Alex Turner himself got the tour a few years back, she recalls, when he turned up with his girlfriend.

“He asked if he could take her upstairs to see the room where they started out, which I thought was really sweet,” she said.

It takes a lot of imagination to picture the Arctic Monkeys rocking what is now a quaint living room, but the downstairs lounge is today a shrine to the band, complete with a gold disc and framed magazine clippings, in the space not taken up by JFK memorabilia.

Paul ‘Tufty’ Tuffs, who worked at The Grapes back then and is now a music promoter and owner of Cafe Totem, was at that first gig.

“They played The Grapes a lot and I was there most of those times but that first gig I don’t remember particularly well,” he said.

“It was just some youngsters with a few covers and some originals like most bands do when they’re starting out. No one had any idea they would go to become what they’ve become.

“For a band’s first gig, watching it back now, they sounded pretty good, but they were a raw talent.

“Alex Turner always said it was quite an intimidating experience playing at The Grapes because you had to walk through the crowd to get to the stage and when you’d finished your set.

“I think they took the opportunity to learn about stagecraft and musicianship from the bands they played with who’d been doing it for years.”

Alex Turner himself recalled years later how the limit of his ambitions that day were ‘to get to the end of the night and pull the bird that I fancied that I got to come down’.

He remembers being so nervous he didn’t think he opened his eyes for the whole set but described the gig as a ‘major deal’ and one the band will never forget.

Chris Wilson, a promoter at The Boardwalk when Alex worked there, wasn't at that first gig but remembers vividly the moment he first realised the band were something special.

An act had cancelled at short notice so the venue decided to hold an impromptu party for staff and friends, who were encouraged to bring their instruments.

When Alex got up on the bar with his guitar and began playing acoustic versions of the band’s early tunes, Chris recalls how Sam Taylor from Dead Like Harry nudged him and said ‘listen to some of these songs’.

“That’s when we heard a lot of the songs which went on to become massive hits. It sent shivers down my spine and I thought jeez this really is different,” he said.

While Sheffield's music scene is still thriving, Chris believes there are fewer opportunities for young bands to break through these days than in the early noughties.

He blames a reduction in smaller music venues like The Boardwalk, along with the fact more agents are organising their own support acts for touring artists.

Paul agrees, claiming ‘archaic’ licensing regulations are limiting under-18 music nights and that, although older bands can play at pubs, too often they are rewarded only with free drinks and end up playing in the corner struggling to make themselves heard above the babble of conversation.

But Carl remains confident it is only a matter of time before the next Sheffield band explodes into the public consciousness, and has some advice for those trying.

“Don’t try to be the Arctic Monkeys. Find your own voice, whether it’s political, humorous or experimental, and one you’ve worked out what comes naturally, rehearse and write, write, write,” he said.

Paul Tuffs at Cafe Totem, which he owns, in Sheffield city centre

Paul Tuffs at Cafe Totem, which he owns, in Sheffield city centre

Chris Wilson at The Boardwalk

Chris Wilson at The Boardwalk

The Arctic Monkeys shrine at The Grapes pub in Sheffield, where they played their first gig

The Arctic Monkeys shrine at The Grapes pub in Sheffield, where they played their first gig

Arctic Monkeys fans still travel from around the world to see The Grapes pub in the Sheffield, where the band made their stage debut

Arctic Monkeys fans still travel from around the world to see The Grapes pub in the Sheffield, where the band made their stage debut