Steel City unplugged - is Sheffield missing out on top music names?

Bieber at the Arena tonight
Bieber at the Arena tonight
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Pop superstar Justin Bieber thrilled thousands of fans at a sold out Sheffield Arena tonight.

But there is a growing feeling among Sheffielders that the city misses out on some of the biggest names in music to both regional and national rivals.

Bieber at the Arena tonight

Bieber at the Arena tonight

A quick look at the upcoming schedule at the arena reveals plenty of encouragement.

From R’n’B icon Drake through to heavy metal legends Iron Maiden by way of pop favourites Little Mix, there is something for every taste.

Some of the UK’s top comedy names, such as Russell Howard and John Bishop, will grace the arena stage next year, and there are sporting and theatrical events to look forward to.

But of the bigger music names appearing over the next few months, only The Who are playing in Sheffield but not in Leeds or Nottingham – and even then, they are playing in Birmingham and Liverpool.

Bieber at the Arena tonight

Bieber at the Arena tonight

A look at the highest grossing tours completed since 2010 adds to the sense that Sheffield music fans are missing out.

Of the top six – U2, Roger Waters, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and One Direction – Bono, the Edge and co paid South Yorkshire a visit, to play at the old Don Valley Stadium while 1D played the Areana last year.

Extending that list to a top 20, only three acts came to Sheffield – Metallica in February 2009, Lady Gaga in June 2010, and Justin Timberlake in March 2014.

The biggest grossing touring act in the world this year, Beyoncé, also missed Sheffield, opting to play at stadiums in London, Manchester and Sunderland.

Sheffield Arena was operated by Live Nation – one of the UK’s biggest promoters – until last year, when it was taken over by Sheffield International Venues.

Arena marketing manager Simon Bailey declined to comment on the reasons why promoters chose particular cities or venues. =He said it was not up to the arena to choose its programme.

“What can often be happening is that different promoters are asking for dates for some artists because they are in the process of bidding to win their tour,” he said.

“If it’s already held for another show, there’s a process of challenging the date. If someone confirms a date, it’s theirs. We then get confirmation of the show, and an announcement of the on sale date – that’s it from there.”

Mr Bailey said the autumn had been fairly quiet, but recent announcements such as Drake, Little Mix and Take That were creating more interest.

He said the arena, which was opened by the Queen in 1991 and has welcomed more than 16 million people through its doors since then, was still home to a certain calibre of artists.

“Arena level acts in the main are in the public consciousness – something that is relatively high profile.

“You can’t afford to come here and be niche, because we are a big venue and it needs to be filled,” he said.

“We have got the flexibility for everything from 3,000 to 13,600. If an act requires a larger floor capacity in terms of standing, we have got one of the larger areas at 5,500.

Sometimes it’s about numbers and how much money you can make, other times it’s a balance between standing and seating.”

The Star contacted several promoters, including Live Nation, for comment, but all declined.

Some Star readers said Sheffield was missing out to Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and London.

Elaine Alexander said: “We used to have them all until Nottingham and Leeds built their arenas.

“It’s a shame because Sheffield is the most central of them all.”

Nicola Bradshaw said: “Sheffield Arena is behind the times – not enough toilets (always a mile long queue), drink and food should have separate kiosks. Manchester Arena is far better with those things.”

Andy Wilson said it was ‘admirable’ the arena was now independent, it had lost the ‘clout’ it needed to attract top acts.

And Waheeda Younis said: “Our kids miss out. Why do we Sheffielders have to travel out to see big star? If the cost is reasonable then I wish we could accommodate them.”

Some people said the problem did not just apply to the bigger venues.

Thomas Duffy said: “The calibre of gigs at the O2 Academy and Corporation are much worse than they used to be.

And I don’t even remember the last time anything on the gig listings caught my eye at The Leadmill or Plug.”

Bob Hamilton added: “Most cities have quite a few mid-sized venues and are fully used. Just look at Rock City in Nottingham and The Roxy in Manchester.

“What have we got? The O2 Academy, a mucky dump that charges a fortune for food and drink. There are loads of bands at the Plug and Corp but they are small venues – but very good.”

Stevie Gerech said Sheffield was also missing out on outdoor gigs. “The Stone Roses only ever do stadiums or places like Heaton or Finsbury Park, both of which I went to. Coldplay are the same.”

But Max Moore said the lineup at the arena looked ‘healthy enough’.

“Comedy is the new rock ‘n’ roll on the arena tours, and big names in music have dates arranged for Sheffield.

“Less and less artists are doing the big shows that have the capacity to fill an arena due to rising costs, health, age etcetera. Most people in the music industry aren’t big enough to even contemplate such venues.

“The names that come round at times in the UK can often be regulars and swap venues on different tours as and when anyway.

“What I think is organic and healthy about Sheffield Arena is the variety of events including successful sports teams that play there.

“Most of these may not be of interest to everyone, me included but they are to others.”

Max said anyone who didn’t think The Who or Iron Maiden weren’t big names should ‘have a word with themselves’.