Did you know about life before the Leadmill in the shape of the Esquire?
The Leadmill is one of Sheffield’s oldest and most established venues but did you know the building has an additional piece of after dark history? Neil Anderson explains:
The upper floors of the building were once home to the Esquire - a venue that dominated the mid-1960s nightscene.
It was born out of Club 60 – the venue that operated out of a Shalesmoor cellar and was arguably as close as we got to our own version of the Cavern.
Opened by entrepreneur Terry Thornton in 1960 – his first venture provided a launch pad for some of Sheffield’s earliest chart stars. Jimmy Crawford, Dave Berry and others all played some of their earliest gigs down there.
The Esquire was pure luxury at the side of the underground Shalesmoor operation.
Terry Thornton had realised others were beginning to jump on his rock’n’roll bandwagon and decided he needed to up his game if he was going to stay one step ahead.
The Johnny Dankworth Quintet opened the Esquire nearly two years to the day after the opening of Club 60 on Sunday, October 7, 1962.
The venue hit the ground running from day one.
The music was blues orientated with the likes of the Yardbirds, John Mayall, Graham Bond, Zoot Money and many others from the London scene performing.
Local artists such as Joe Cocker, Dave Berry, Frank White, Dave Hawley, Ray Stuart (fronting Frankenstein and the Monsters) were regular performers.
American R & B giants like John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson played landmark shows.
The Walker Brothers were dragged from the stage by hysterical screaming girls in 1965 – the gig ended four minutes after it had begun.
All this and it was devoid of alcohol (for the audience at least – the artists were another matter by all accounts)!
Terry Thornton famously turned down an offer of The Beatles in 1963. Rival club owner Peter Stringfellow didn’t – he never looked back after promoting the band’s Sheffield debut at the Azena Ballroom the same year.
Rivalry between the audiences of the Esquire and King Mojo, Peter Stringfellow’s club that opened the following year, became well documented.
But despite regular rumours and warnings of trouble there was little tangible evidence of anything much actually kicking off.
In fact the pen was definitely mightier than the sword in one particular incident that saw Peter Stringfellow nick Terry Thornton’s Esquire crown logo and made it part of his King Mojo brand.
Peter Stringfellow: “I put out an advert saying ‘I now reclaim the crown’. He didn’t like it.”
The only incident of note between rival club followers seems to be the collapse of a line of scooters outside the Mojo but even that was never proven as to have been caused by the Esquire gang.
Dave Manvell: “They used to send gangs of youths up from the Esquire to do raids on the Mojo. Brian the doorman would say, ‘right I want everyone inside, I’ve had word that they’re coming up from the Esquire’. Whether any of these gangs appeared or not I don’t know because we were all inside.”
But there was always a distinct divide between the two clubs in terms of groups, fashions and outlook.
Dave Manvell: “The Esquire people were older than our group and the bands that played didn’t appeal to the Mojo crowd. At one bit the Mojo audience used to dress in blue pinstripe suits and carry blue nylon macs, this being one of the fashions when gangster murals adorned the walls. From there it progressed to hippie and flower power. Stringfellow painted the club to suit. It was very fashion orientated.”
One of the Esquire’s most famous nights was a visit by BBC TV in November 1963 to film part of a documentary film.
The place was absolutely packed for a ground-breaking performance by Dave Berry and the Cruisers.
Top Stars Special described the audience that night as: “A mixed bag of Mods, Beatles, ravers and long-haired girls who rocked and twitched to their hearts content”.
Terry Thornton called time on the Esquire in 1967. His seven years in the business had left an indelible mark on the city and its night scene.
- Taken from the ‘Dirty Stop Out’s Guide to 1960s Sheffield’