Nightclub impresario Peter Stringfellow is probably best known these days as the man that pioneered lapdancing clubs in the UK.
But ask anyone of a certain age in Steel City about their memories of him and there’ll probably summarise it in two words… King Mojo.
The venue, which recently celebrated 50 years since its opening, set him on the road to fame and became renowned as the venue that introduced packed houses of teenagers to musicians that would go on to become some of the biggest stars in the world.
The club ran in the former Dey’s Ballroom which then sat on the junction of Burngreave Road and Barnsley Road in Pitsmoor, Sheffield.
Stringfellow rented it for £30 a week from local businessman Ruben Wallis who gave them his blessing with one stipulation – they kept the pictures of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh hanging on the wall.
The venue made waves immediately and they’d got over 800 members within eight weeks of opening who couldn’t wait to sample King Mojo’s alcohol-free environment (they served tea/coffee and cold drinks).
The list of artists that graced the King Mojo stage in Pitsmoor is formidable by anyone’s standards. They also included: The Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, Isley Brothers, The Who, John Lee Hooker, The Hollies, Wilson Pickett, The Drifters, Jimi Hendrix, Ike and Tina Turner, Edwin Starr, Geno Washington, The Troggs, The Animals, The Spencer Davis Group, the Small Faces, Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd and scores more.
Fashion, as far as King Mojo was concerned, was as important as the music.
King Mojo biographer Dave Manvell: “With the advent of mod groups like The Who and the Small Faces, hair styles changed yet again becoming slightly shorter and lots of back combing going on. I think this was when the Mojo’s own fashion styles started to take off and went that bit further than the mod styles of the time.
“One of the fashions at the time was pin stripe suits, brown brogues and the need to carry a blue nylon mac – a derivative of the black pac-a-mac.
Though Peter Stringfellow was always on hand to give a snippet to the press, it was salacious media allegations of illicit drug taking and sex in the gardens of nearby residents that helped bring about the eventual downfall of King Mojo.
Things got so bad early in 1967 that the club stopped all nighters in an attempt to keep drug pushers away and have any chance of surviving the radical shake-up of the licensing laws set for the same year.
The club had plenty of support – local social workers spoke up for it and it even counted Sheffield’s Lord Mayor as a visitor.
Many cite the club’s application for an alcohol licence as the beginning of the end. It was rejected, the hearing not helped by the motley crew of regulars that showed up to give their support. King Mojo’s council argued it would be beneficial to keep such “oddballs” in one place. The strategy failed spectacularly.
But worse was to come with the arrival of the new 1967 Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act – the Government’s strategy to regulate clubs that, up until that point, had slipped under the radar because of not serving alcohol.
A visit to the club by the Spencer Davis Group the year before definitely seem to make a valid case for it…
Peter Stringfellow: “There was no such thing as capacity in those days. We’d just cram them in. Never saw a policeman in the Mojo. We knew we were really full when the Spencer Davies Group played and the coffee bar floor collapsed.”
Though the club was said to be well run it was dogged by on going noise issues and deemed to be lacking sufficient sound proofing.
Local residents had already petitioned against Sunday afternoon sessions at King Mojo.
One neighbour said he regularly found his 20 month old daughter stood up in her cot dancing to the sounds of the club.
Things were already looking beyond bleak for King Mojo. When a local drug dealer stated he’d sold pep pills at the club’s all nighters its reputation was in tatters and it was curtains.
King Mojo closed its doors in December 1967 and with it went Peter Stringfellow’s Midas touch – for a couple of years at least…