The Leadmill’s longest-serving resident DJ owns 10,000 records – and he’s celebrating his 30th anniversary at the Sheffield venue

Everyone knows where to find Adam Morley on Saturday nights.

Monday, 2nd March 2020, 3:30 pm
Updated Friday, 6th March 2020, 11:50 am

The longest-serving resident DJ at The Leadmill, Sheffield's renowned club and concert venue which marks its 40th anniversary this year, has spun the songs that have kept the dancefloor buzzing for three decades – from the 'baggy' era of Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses to the Britpop craze, the garage rock revival of the Noughties and his current weekly indie slot called Sonic.

But he's not the type to dwell on the past.

"I always look forward, because there's always some new band or gig to go to," he says, warming up with a cup of tea in The Leadmill's bar on a chilly morning.

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Adam Morley, resident DJ at The Leadmill for 30 years. Picture: Scott Merrylees

"I think that's what drives me, really. The music - I've always been into it, and I'm always looking for that next thing. It's something I've never grown out of."

Seeing the main room with no-one inside brings home just how big the place is, but Adam's never been fazed by large audiences or demanding clubgoers.

His dress sense stands out - today he's wearing a baker boy cap, a leopard print shirt and black suede brothel creepers - and he exudes quiet confidence. Once, he recalls, he had to fend off Oasis' bass guitarist Guigsy while DJing at one of the attitude-heavy band's early gigs - the musician was apparently berating him for not playing 'proper rock'n'roll, like the Stones and The Who'.

"I came here as a punter, so I wanted to hear new stuff as well as old," Adam explains. "Sometimes it doesn't go down so well, I remember the first time I played Arctic Monkeys and nobody really knew what it was. Then they just took off."

Adam Morley, resident DJ at The Leadmill for 30 years. Picture: Scott Merrylees

Born in Handsworth in Sheffield, Adam attended the city's All Saints School. The two-tone sound of groups like Madness, The Selecter and The Specials was his first musical love, and his first gig was a respectable one - The Human League at the Lyceum Theatre in 1981.

At the time, he says, Sheffield offered much excitement musically but it was 'a bleak place to be'.

"There was unemployment, and everything going on with the steelworks. I think music was an outlet. Going to a gig or listening to music escapes that drudgery. The music was very industrial-sounding because that's what was going on around the city."

After leaving school he became an apprentice lathe operator, and 'hated every day of it'.

Adam Morley, resident DJ at The Leadmill for 30 years. Picture: Scott Merrylees

"I thought 'I can't do this'. It wasn't like it is now. I remember the careers teacher at All Saints laughed at me when I said I wanted to do something in music."

There was one advantage - the money was excellent, which allowed him to build his record collection. "I knew I'd get a pay packet at the end of the week, and I'd be straight into town buying records and gig tickets. It really was like living for the weekend."

Adam switched to working in record shops when Meadowhall opened, taking a large pay cut to do what he enjoyed. He's served customers at Our Price, Virgin Records and now manages the branch of HMV in Mansfield alongside his duties as a DJ.

He owns about 10,000 records in all genres, neatly filed in a room of his house.

Adam Morley, resident DJ at The Leadmill for 30 years. Picture: Scott Merrylees

"Obviously I play certain sorts of music at The Leadmill but I'm into all sorts of different stuff. I collect - I still buy all the new stuff on vinyl but then transfer it to CD. I still prefer to use CDs as a physical thing, because I find it difficult just staring at a computer. I get accused of being a Luddite, but it's just whatever you're happy with. You're standing up there for five or six hours every night, so I like keeping busy."

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Adam made his full-time Leadmill debut in September 1990, having started deputising the previous February. His friend DJ Morgan had become tired of the indie scene, so an opening became available on Saturdays.

"It just felt natural," he says. Aspiring DJs, he explains, 'don't need much gear to set up'. "Just get some of your mates down and make a good atmosphere and build it from that. You never know what it could lead to."

The Leadmill had been established for a decade when he arrived. Originally a community centre created in an old flour mill, eventually it became a more straightforwardly commercial gig venue, but its listings are increasingly varied now that guitar bands have waned - drag events, theatre, films and a strong comedy line-up are promised in the months to come.

"I remember Jazz for Lunch - it wasn't always my thing but it was just a nice atmosphere," Adam says. "To survive you have to diversify - initially it was a venue that had a lot of world music gigs. The demographic's changed a hell of a lot. It can't just be about indie. There's certain venues in cities you just know, like Rock City in Nottingham. The Leadmill is part of people's lives."

There have been other changes, too - Adam's hours were much shorter 30 years ago before licensing laws were altered.

"Every bar in town can have a DJ and stay open later," he says. "And people just come out a lot later now. They'll be at home, having a drink and something to eat, and then they'll come down at one o'clock in the morning."

He's always made a point of getting in early to watch promising acts at The Leadmill, a tactic that's reaped dividends. Over the years he's caught The Strokes, Coldplay, The Killers, The White Stripes and Muse during their rise to fame when they were either supporting or headlining.

"You never know what's going to happen," he says. "A night that really sticks out was when Pulp were playing, supported by Elastica and Echobelly. You could just tell there was something happening that night. Britpop was phenomenal."

Anything by Arctic Monkeys is guaranteed to be a surefire hit with the Leadmill crowd, while Stockport band Blossoms are extremely popular too. Constructing a set, Adam says, is a fine art that involves pacing and nous.

"It's easy to churn out the hits, and you get people coming every week who want to hear the same songs. Sometimes you might have to do that, but I always like to introduce something new every week."

Adam, 51, lives at Halfway and is married to teaching assistant Louise, his wife of 22 years. The couple met at The Leadmill and they have a daughter, Molly, 21, and a son, Alfie, 16.

"Molly's really into music," he says. "We go to a lot of gigs together and she buys vinyl. Alfie less so, he's about football at the moment. I took him to see Arctic Monkeys on the last tour and he loved that."

And it seems Adam will be staying at The Leadmill long into the future.

"As long as they still want me, and I'm still enjoying it and people are coming, I'll carry on. It's a privilege to play good music to like-minded people who want to hear it. I can think of worse things to do."