Its clientele includes Kylie Minogue, Richard Hawley, Tony Christie and Duane Eddy. But Sheffield’s top music studio is looking to the community for its next inspiration, as reporter Rachael Clegg found out.
PEER around the corner of one of Yellow Arch’s many rooms and you’ll see a world of musical mastery.
There’s a grand piano in one room, a huge mixing desk in another and even a spacious, church-like room with acoustics so crisp musicians travel from across the country, indeed the world, to record there.
The studio is nestled in the heart of the Wicker, next to butty shops and saw manufacturers.
Yet in spite of its humble surroundings, Yellow Arch has produced the work of some of the world’s best-known rock and pop musicians, from Richard Hawley to Duane Eddy.
But this year to mark its 15th anniversary – the studio is branching out and setting up a music, dance and art exhibition venue. The venue, which is yet to be named, will house around 250 people.
Andy Cook, co-director and musician at Yellow Arch, says: “We don’t know what we’re going to call it yet. We were thinking of calling it The Unseen Room because that’s what it is.”
It’s not hard to appreciate how this ample performance space has come to be ‘unseen’ – Yellow Arch is a myriad of rooms, corridors, church-like spaces and offices. Its modest entrance – a side door in an ex-industrial yard – belies its vastness.
“It’s like a playground – there are so many spaces to explore,” says Andy.
The new venue will fill a needed hole in Sheffield’s gigging circuit.
“There are a lot of bands who come here but they have a very limited choice of venue – at the moment it’s either a 100 capacity venue or a 900 capacity venue like The Leadmill.”
That, among other factors, inhibits bands from touring as much as they would like, Andy believes.
“It’s hard to make touring pay when you’re a band – many venues don’t support musicians.
“I’ve been touring for 20 years and it’s not glamorous. More often than not you’re shoved into a grotty broom cupboard with some Tesco sandwiches. I always wish we had something to make a cup of tea or coffee with.”
Based on this far from desirable life on the road, often in the back of vans, Andy, along with his colleagues at Yellow Arch, wants to provide a very different experience for visiting musicians.
“I want it so that when they arrive they’re greeted with a smiling face and made to feel comfortable. I want all the staff to be artists, musicians or at least that way inclined, so the bands and customers feel at home and at ease.”
And while many venues overlook the importance of decor, at Yellow Arch’s yet-to-be-named room, it’s an important factor.
Its walls are painted in ambient colours and the space will be filled with tables and chairs. It feels more like a space in its own right, rather than one that’s incidental to a stage.
“We will be having regular art exhibitions and launch nights for artists. We’ll be getting in touch with the universities so their final year students know about this and we are planning on having ‘themed’ decor which will change every so often.”
The space is quirky and homely. “We wanted somewhere you could come and chat to your mates before the band is on.
“Many venues crank up the background music so loud you can’t have a conversation, so people only go to the venue when the band’s on – they sit in the pub across the road for as long as possible.”
The venue will be fully-licensed. Its bar is already built – using wood from a sycamore tree washed up in the River Don during the floods of 2007.
But the new venue won’t just host performances, it also wants to support the city’s talent.
“We want this to be a one-stop shop, where we can develop bands in the studio and give them a performance space,” says Andy.
And it’s not just about music, either. “We really want this to be an arts centre,” he says.
The philosophy that underpins Yellow Arch’s move into live events is not dissimilar to that which led to the establishment of The Leadmill as an arts centre back in 1980.
“We want to make the space appeals to dance groups as well. The stage is reinforced so it can withstand a dance performance.”
Yellow Arch’s venue will open its doors in about two weeks.
“I am really excited about it,” says Andy. “I’m always excited about live entertainment.”