1984. Of course this was the year that Nostradamus predicted the world was going to end in some sort of cataclysmic apocalypse or that we were headed for the totalitarianism suggested by George Orwell’s book. Indeed for a young more alternatively minded bloke, living in a Pennine textile town during Thatcher’s 1980s Britain, it certainly felt that way inclined – it felt like we were all doomed!
At that point in my life, my UK geography certainly wasn’t a strong point! Hailing from Rochdale I knew whereabouts Manchester and London where in relation to the town – I also knew three facts pertinent to Sheffield: that it was somewhere in Yorkshire, that it made steel and lots of cutlery, also lots of my sixth form chums were starting to talk about it as a university option- apparently it had a lot going for it! Anyhow, my ignorance of Steel city aside, my first encounter with Sheffield was on a Sunday afternoon in 1984 when we had been booked to provide the PA system at a punk gig.
It was quite common for us to set off from Rochdale in the back of a transit on one of these forays – squashed in like sardines amongst speakers cabs and miles of cables, for 1, 2, or 3+ hours, then emerge at some God forsaken venue anywhere in the North of England in order to make the music happen (of our fashion of course – the majority of our punters were Punk/ Metal groups). This day didn’t seem to be any different from any of the others.
The journey was approx 1 and half hours and I do remember the bends on Snake Pass being pretty tight and hairpin like. The lucky guys who were in the front were naturally telling us quite excessively how beautiful the countryside was. Of course, stuck in the back, we couldn’t see anything let alone take in the dramatic scenery. We compensated for this lack of stimulation with the other unfortunates in the back by smoking loads of fags and inevitably the usual teasing and running down of each other that close friends do when they’re bored, restless and have little occupational outlet. When we arrived in Sheffield it was the usual scenario of getting rapidly lost in an alien traffic system, taking wrong exits, getting stuck in one way systems etc – the sort of thing that doesn’t particularly bother me now, but you’re when a lot younger rapidly dissipates your threshold for frustration. Of course, the solution for this is to ask directions from the locals! Although I never saw any faces from the depths of the Transit I do remember the accent being somewhat different and like nothing I’d ever heard before – ‘alreeet lad’ instead of ‘allraaht lad’ – as I was more accustomed to on the Western Side of the Pennines. Naturally as (ahem) younger men do whenever they hear a new accent for the first time, we all mimicked and grossly exaggerated the stereotype the minute we drove off.
Anyhow, we finally made it to the venue – it was the George 4th pub on Infirmary road. The band line up for the night was a masterclass in second generation DIY Anarcho punk: the Icons of Filth, Anti-System and System Annexe. I think it was about £2 entrance fee.
Extricating ourselves from the wreckage of the gear in the back of the van, and as we were beginning to stretch and massage our aching limbs, I was acutely aware that although it was mid-afternoon it felt dark, almost cold, as if something huge was looming over us eclipsing the sun’s rays. My mate Ross pointed over the road and said,
“F***ing hell, Sid! Check that out!”
Craning my stiff neck I looked across the road to see what Ross was going on about. I was instantly struck at the size of the sun blocking culprit…a block of flats – but this wasn’t any old block of flats…. no sir…..this block of flats was an unrelenting, half mile long, 14 storey, huge brutalist concrete citadel-like complex – endless lines of fenestration, angular cornered lift shafts, high-level illuminated walkways and external industrial like stairwells - I was staring straight at the now demolished Kelvin flats.
I’d never seen anything like it or as big as that before and I will never forget it – it was at that point that I think i fell in love with Sheffield.
Hello ….I’m Sid Fletcher some of you may know me already as that bloke behind TowerBlockMetal and all the post war housing influenced paraphernalia and apparel that I bang out from there. Some of you may know me already personally … for some of you this will be our first encounter – hopefully not the last! You’re going to be flying with me as guest curator for this week on ‘A Wondrous Place’. I’m going to be telling you about my favourite bits of living in the sunny capital of the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire – the great steel city itself – Sheffield.
I do hope you continue to follow my week on ‘A Wondrous Place’.
Sid Fletcher is a Sheffield based artist whose work specialises in the depiction of the modern urban environment. Brutalist architecture and high density social housing form the main focus of his creations – their repeating, monotonous facades and threatening scale have always inspired Sid. Although he has more recently started to incorporate different materials such as Perspex, Metal and MDF into his digitally manipulated art, Sid would tend to describe the process of organising and creating equally as important as the end result. Like the radical town planners that mapped out the urban landscape of post war Britain - Sid’s work is somewhat like Marmite - You either like it or you don’t! Sid describes himself of redbrick extraction (although he does also describe himself as somewhat of a bit of a “kitchen sink” drama queen).