COMPARED with working men’s clubs, a night out at the Fiesta was more like a trip to Las Vegas and it was a place which captured the hopes and aspirations of Sheffield at the dawn of the Seventies.
That was when what claimed to be the biggest nightclub in Europe opened in August, 1970.
A new book from profilic Sheffield author Neil Anderson, No Siesta ‘Til Club Fiesta, tells the story of the rise and fall of a venue whose name still resonates more than 20 years since it closed on the site occupied by the Odeon multiplex cinema today.
According to Anderson: “The Fiesta was truly a one-off. It was an icon. Nowhere was more representative of the buoyant and confident mood of the city ast the time it opened. Sheffield had full employment, a thriving industrial base and was one of the best retail centres in the country.
The £500,000 purpose-built entertainment complex delivered on its promise of bringing to Sheffield the biggest stars in the world. The city had enjoyed visits from big names stars down the years from Laurel and Hardy to , but they performed in theatres and variety halls.
Now punters could see them in the 1,300-seat amphitheatre, but also enjoy the other delights of the complex - a disco, several bars and a swish restaurant which introduced the wonderful new culinary concept of chicken in a basket.
Acts would pay for a full week and The Shadows were booked for the venue’s opening week followed by Matt Monro, Clodagh Rodgers, Sandie Shaw and Kenny Rogers and the First Edition. Before long it was attracting American stars such as Johnny Ray, the Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder, Jackson Five, The Four Tops, The Drifters and the Four Seasons, whose front man, Jersey boy Frankie Valli provided them with a priceless endoresement, “The finest club I have ever worked in.”
The book recounts a story that the Fiesta was on the brink of bringing over Elvis Presley for his only appearance (apart from his famous stopover at Prestwick Airport) but was scuppered by Colonel Frank Parker.
A who’s who of Seventies showbiz were rostered in for a week’s residency at the Arundel Gate venue that boasted over 150 staff, house band and the Fiesta Fawns (the Fiesta’s answer to the Bunny Girls).
“Anyone who was anyone performed at the Fiesta and it also helped nurture local talent like Tony Christie, who was massively popular at the venue, and Marti Caine, who had the venue to thank for much of her success.
“Former staff still wax lyrical about their time there and will take their mementoes to the grave – for the majority it was the best job of their lives.”
Not all of them, however, and there was a 17-day strike in 1976. Alan Cotterill is quoted in the book: “We went on strike over conditions. Some people weren’t happy with things. There was no union so we all joined the Transport and General Workers Union. The club refused to accept the union so we went out on strike. We were out for about three weeks. We stopped all the beer coming in. It got to the stage where the management were going to off licences to buy all the beer because the Whitbread drivers wouldn’t cross the picket lines.”
Teesside brothers Keith and Jim Lipthorpe were the men behind the operation, having opened their first Fiesta five years earlier in Stockton on Tees – two years ahead of the more famous Batley Variety Club which is usually credited with the revolutionary concept of bringing over American superstars to the North of England.
The Sheffield Fiesta was their crowning glory but it also proved to be the undoing for the former semi-professional musicians turned cabaret kings.
A combination of the onset of the recession, industrial disputes, changing entertainment tastes and rising fees demanded by big name stars brought their dream crashing down in spectacular style when the club shut in 1976 following high-profile strikes by staff and Tony Christie famously having to cross the picket line to perform.
Anderson said: “Though the Fiesta had had its problems it still came as a massive shock when it shut. In many respects it was changing times that sealed its fate. The early Seventies were the boom years in the city but by the end of the decade its steel industry lay in ruins with thousands on the dole.
“Though the Fiesta reopened under new management and lasted another four years before finally closing in 1980, it never seemed quite the same without the Lipthorpes at the helm.”
The Fiesta helped scores of stars up the ladder towards becoming household names such as Les Dawson, Cannon and Ball and Freddie Starr.
Bobby Ball (of Cannon and Ball fame) ended up marrying a Fiesta Fawn; Tony Christie recorded his only live album from Sheffield Fiesta and Opportunity Knocks was recorded from the venue – the only time the popular TV show ever left London
A popular act of the time, hypnotist Martin St James, remembers his time there with fondness and has written the foreword for No Siesta ‘Til Club Fiesta which is published by ACM Retro and is on sale from Friday, October 12. It retails for £12.95 and is on sale from The Star Shop, York Street, and all good bookshops.