Firmly in the spotlight

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Organist Aubrey Robinson

As a boy aged maybe nine or ten, I can remember walking past the City Hall and seeing people queuing up to go dancing and to listen to the organist, Ken Outram. I had been learning to play the organ for two or three years myself, and it became an ambition of mine to play at the City Hall.

Now, almost 30 years later as a professional musician and owner of Harmony Music School, I have had the pleasure of being the resident organist at the City Hall for the past seven years, taking over from Ken when he decided to retire. I still get the same enjoyment and pride playing for the dances every Thursday as the first time I played there. I have been lucky enough to perform at some of the most famous venues in the country during my career, including the London Palladium and Blackpool Tower Ballroom, but, for me, the Sheffield City Hall is right at the top of the list.

Former council arts director David Patmore

I shall never forget the first symphony concert that I heard at Sheffield City Hall. It took place during the spring of 1981: Arvid Jansons, the father of Mariss, was conducting the Hallé Orchestra. As he and the orchestra launched into the powerful opening of Brahms’s Third Symphony, the sound hit me as if it was stone – it was the starkest that I have ever heard: but what an impact! Since then I’ve heard many outstanding concerts there, too numerous to mention individually. Other memories that are particularly fresh include when some over-enthusiastic DJs and front of house staff during the late 1980s managed to cram over a thousand dancers onto the highly sprung ballroom floor, all po-going up and down like mad, with the not surprising result that the floor-boards started to come up in protest – that cost a bit to repair! And more recently the extraordinary experience of learning how to dance the Viennese waltz to an accompanying string quartet in the ballroom – not as easy as it looked!

Musician John Firminger

My memories go back to 1958 when I watched my mother participating in some kind of Beauty Pageant for ladies in their forties. My Dad and I watched her with great pride as she walked onto the City Hall stage, I recall Mom came second.

Being a rock’n’roll fan, most of my other memories go back to seeing some legendary figures there like in ’62 Jerry Lee Lewis’ triumphant and flamboyant comeback along with a somewhat sad looking Gene Vincent, ’63 a sensational yet OTT performances by Little Richard and a very classy one from Sam Cooke, ’64 and Carl Perkins overwhelmed by his Sheffield reception whilst Chuck Berry remained cool and aloof. Also The Everly Brothers have given some subliminal performances that seemed to get better with age.

In 1988, I proudly watched my son Chris play on that stage with his school orchestra and did so again last Christmas with the John Reilly Band. In 1999 I eventually got to play on that prestigious stage myself and have done a couple of other times since. As I sat there on the stage, looking around the auditorium, I felt quite insignificant as I thought about all my heroes that I’d seen there, and of course, my Mom.

Rock DJs Bailey Brothers

We were invited by Mr Big to introduce them on to the stage and have the banter with the Sheffield audience. We had a cool time backstage, too. Having slept out all night for tickets for Status Quo in their heyday, to be invited backstage to meet them a few years later was amazing.

There was the excitement of the bell ringing down in the bar and the signal to leg it to the stalls and roar on bands like Judas Priest, Saxon and Scorpions.

Dez says: “Sheffield City Hall has always been a part of our family life from mum taking us to pantomimes and wrestling to all those awesome concerts. I watched my son Rick Bailey take the stage to receive his graduation that was also a proud moment.”

Mick says: “Meeting Ozzy Osbourne and Ted Nugent, hanging with the Scorpions, there are just so many great memories.”

Although we have travelled far and wide, without a doubt Sheffield City Hall is home and a special place, and the Bailey Brothers are proud to have graced the seats and the stage at some point.

City Hall biographer Neil Anderson

I owe my life to the City Hall! My parents met in the ballroom, like thousands of others, at a dance in the 1950s. The first gig I attended as a paying punter was the Stranglers in the mid-eighties - I was thrown out for crowd-surfing. I always remember how polite the stewards were as I was ejected. I landed a work placement in the publicity office in the early 1990s when I was studying my degree. I thought all my birthdays had come at once - it really sorted my career out. I subsidised my grant by stewarding and saw hundreds of gigs in the process. I had my graduation there and even played my guitar there a couple of times in my old band.

Researching its history for a book to commemorate the City Hall’s 80th birthday has been fascinating. One mystery I failed to solve is where the other designs are for the venue. The winning design was one of scores that were submitted by architects up and down the country. They originally went on public display in the Mappin Gallery. Does anyone know their whereabouts?

Box office assistant and former chief steward Linda Williamson

I can honestly say that no one loves the City Hall more than me. From the moment I walked into the building in September 1984 I felt I belonged.

I have had some wonderful moments, including dressing ballet dancers, pressing stage clothes for the stars, and other not so wonderful cleaning up after people who have over-indulged. I have seen the City Hall come through some very hard times but it is now on the right track to succeed for many more years to come. Our customers are warm, wonderful people and I have learned that a smile and a kind word goes a long way. Thank you City Hall for letting me be part of your 80 years of life and I wish you a ‘Happy Birthday’ and lots of love.

Musician and film maker Deborah Egan

My father, Haydon Cook, and I both worked the City Hall as musicians. Haydon was the drummer/vocalist in the Bernard Taylor Broadcasting Band in the 60s and I ran Café International in 90s.

In the 60s, The Jazz Lamp - my parents’ home - provided a late night clubhouse for musicians. It was known as The Jazz Lamp because late one night Count Basie, finding a full bathroom, relieved himself on the street lamp! Another visitor was Ella Fitzgerald. Her gig at the City Hall in 1960 was sold out, but one of the regulations - Sheffield being a Methodist City - was that Oval Hall main stage acts had to finish at 10pm.

During the encore, just after 10pm, the technicians, to the excruciating embarrassment of the audience, pulled the plug and hustled her off stage. Fortunately The Jazz Lamp saved our reputation - Haydon invited everyone back where they played music, smoked and drank until the early hours !

Café International was the festival club for the 1991 World Student Games and BBC. Best nights included Kinky Galinky imported from Heaven in London - a cross dressing extravaganza featuring a gay blind date session compered by the acerbic Lily Savage (Paul O’Grady). Kraftwerk’s Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider-Esleben dropped in for drinks. We got into a long conversation about architecture, racing bikes and how the City Hall was built as a labour initiative in the 30s.

Classical music writer Bernard Lee

The first abiding memory stems originally from schooldays, of the Oval Hall stage in its original form.

Not so much a stage, as a quite narrow platform stretched across its present width and, in the centre, its Grecian temple entrance/ exit with two large, reclining Assyrian stone lions on top. It made a splendid ‘prop’ for the tenor Pier Miranda Ferraro to memorably appear through and sing his exultant entry in the title role of Otello (Othello) when Sir John Barbirolli conducted a concert performance of Verdi’s opera.

Not sure Barbirolli was conducting when one of the timpanist’s drumstick heads detached itself and flew rapidly into the nether regions of hall’s ceiling at the big fortissimo in Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture.

He certainly was when he ‘red-carded’ a Hallé woodwind player who did something that upset him on another occasion. He didn’t stop the performance - merely shot out an imperious straight right arm indicating get off!