Tramlines? Who remembers Sheffield's Club 60 and Mambo

I suddenly started to feel really old and ‘Tramlines’ was to blame, writes Monica Dyson. I have always been enthusiastic about the Sheffield music scene. Anything that puts our city on the map for the right reasons is good with me, but when I realised not only that I didn’t really know any of the artistes appearing, but that my son and his wife were taking our three grandchildren, that was when it hit home.

Monday, 22nd July 2019, 14:34 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th July 2019, 12:12 pm
Ricky and the Rebels playing Club 60, a jazz club held in the cellars of the Acorn Inn in Shalesmoor, circa 1960.

I may have been from the generation that discovered rock and roll, could sing all the words to ‘Let’s go to San Francisco’ and screamed with the best of them at Marty Wilde when he appeared at the Empire Theatre, but now it all counts for nothing, especially when you’ve a grandchild who can sing the words to Tom Walker’s ‘Leave a Light on’ and you find out that he’s nothing to do with the Walker Brothers.

It seemed like the beginning of the end when Joe Cocker died. We’re used to rock and roll stars dying but when it’s one of your own sons as it were, it seems more personal.

Another bit of sad nostalgia was the run down and dilapidated building on Shalesmoor where ‘Club 60’ had once been. Possibly of little importance to most people, it represented the start of clubbing to many of my generation. And it seems destined to sink into obscurity, as there is nothing to mark its importance as a music venue.

Going to Club 60 with my girlfriends seemed a sophisticated thing to do and a real step up from places like Marsden’s Teenage Tavern on Pinstone Street which our parents begrudgingly approved of. They really disapproved of everywhere except local church hall dances which made visiting Club 60 even more of an illicit thrill, not to mention the cardinal sin of going to El Mambo on Norfolk Street.

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In fact the Mambo wasn’t as bad as people made out. It took a lot of the clientele from Marsden’s as it served real espresso coffee which they served in the coffee bars in London, seeming so glamorous, and apparently had the first jukebox in the UK, imported from America. People tell of the night Jim Dale who was a big star in the 1950s, popping in and giving an impromptu concert. He was appearing at the Empire Theatre which was next door.

It was a friendly and hospitable place for many young male immigrants from Aden who had been recruited to work in Sheffield steel works in the 1960s, but in a time when Sheffield was not particularly multicultural or parents very enlightened, the thought of their daughters mixing with young men of colour could strike dread into the hearts of many of them.

Many young women who were given dire warnings about what would happen to girls who frequented the El Mambo are still waiting to find out.

Club 60 was dark, dingy and damp. It was best not to lean on the walls as you would get distemper on your clothes. It was described as Sheffield’s answer to the Cavern in Liverpool, and even though it was quite grotty, we loved it.

On entering the club you could leave your coat in the cloakroom without any attendant on duty. We were a trusting lot in those days.

There was a stage with columns towards the front from which Dave Berry who was resident on Saturday nights would appear. First an arm would appear, then a leg and then Dave was ready to go into song. It was sometimes known as his ‘Creeping Jesus’ routine. It was a bit strange as that had originated as a derogative religious expression and then become a way of unkindly describing people who liked to put on a big act or show, which Dave certainly did but in an entertaining way.

Club 60 was famous for its eclectic mix of jazz or rock music. In the early days we went to hear Johnnie Dankworth and Cleo Laine, Chris Barber and Ottilie Patterson, but as the 60s got under way every rock band in Sheffield seemed to appear to include Jimmy Crawford and The Ravens, Dave Berry and the Cruisers both drawing large crowds, as far as it went, as Club 60 only held around 300 people! And Johnny Tempest and the Mariners, later to be The Cadillacs. Sadly, Johnny died in a tragic accident in the early 1980s.

There was no alcohol served in Club 60. We sat at upturned beer barrels, complete with candles in bottles and drank tea, coffee or a soft drink.

My husband remembers that at about the age of 16, he and his friends would get a pass out of a rubber stamp on the back of their hand and then dash a block away to the Ship Inn which they would enter by a side door on Dun Lane, go into a back room and have a beer or two.

The walls of this room were partially covered with pictures of scantily clad, but not topless, young ladies from glamour magazines of the day like ‘Parade’. If the police raided the pub which they did quite frequently, the landlord would flash a light and the underage clientele would leave by a back door.

The Ship Inn, now part of the trendy Kelham Island scene, was also an interesting part of Sheffield history. It is reputed to be haunted by quite a few ghosts and to have underground tunnels leading to the River Don possibly used by smugglers.

We thought then that we were so sophisticated. What would we have thought of today’s ‘Tramlines’? But could anyone today possibly envisage a night out without alcohol or without a vast selection of takeaway food stalls offering delights from all corners of the globe? How primitive it would seem.

However, if you can’t beat em, join em, and we’ve bought advance tickets for next years Tramlines Festival.

Too old? Never!