'Johnny Hotdogs' lifts the lid on the Esquire and Joe Cocker's questionable time keeping
It was sixty years ago this year that a venue opened that truly caused a seismic shift in terms of what was on offer for the youth of Sheffield.
But Club 60 – which opened on Shalesmoor in 1960 and provided a launchpad for future stars like Dave Berry, Jimmy Crawford and Frank White – was a mere test run for what was to follow in the shape of the Esquire and its resident band, Vance Arnold and the Avengers (Vance Arnold will go on to find worldwide fame as Joe Cocker).
We talk to John C Haywood (better known as ‘Johnny Hotdogs’ way back then) who worked behind the bar every Saturday night after his day job finished; waited patiently whilst Joe Cocker finished his tea and once ferried a bloodied Screaming Lord Sutch to the Hallamshire Hospital.
Inside the Esquire
He said: “The Esquire Club in itself was quite unique, There was three levels, nothing much downstairs, then a very steep set of stairs with a flat section halfway. As you came around at the second level there was a pay desk and the girls’ toilet, then upward to the dance floor and stage, which was at the far end. The stage had a round roof support right in the centre, and it was this round support that Dave Berry crept around with his gloved hand. Around the dance floor was subdued lighting along with fluorescent lighting that showed up anything white. On the top floor, you could sit on a stool around a full-size beer barrel. People that went to the Esquire Club, consisted of rock and rollers/mods/rhythm and blues, and country. There was music for everybody. The club was a success right from the start, we had to turn people away a lot of nights. I don't think looking back there was that much rivalry between the Esquire and the Mojo. The latter tended to go for more expensive entertainers. The Esquire had a lot of rhythm and blues acts straight from America.
“The relationship between the Esquire/Twisted Wheel and the Cavern was great, everybody was looked after at all three clubs.
“To work at the Esquire was great. I was known as 'Johnny Hotdogs' as I cooked the burgers in front of everybody and sold Coke. No beer, you had to go to the 'Rodney' just down the road for that.
“Joe Cocker was the resident band and he was still a gas fitter for the then Gas Board at that time. Sometimes he was late, and I had to go and pick him up. He would rush around to get changed as his mother shouted "Joe your tea is on the table" - he would wolf it down, and I would drive like billy oh to get back to the club.
Esquire owner Terry Thornton got up on the stage one night and asked if anybody would take part in The Star Walk - volunteers got a free T-shirt for the pleasure. John C Haywood, girlfriend and Fordson van full of drinks followed the walkers all the way to Ecclesfield and then back to the Esquire
“The Black Swan used to have talent nights, and the winner was paid cash. Joe seemed to win every time. Joe was always on early so that we could all rush back to the club. I did not think that he would go any further than the club and talent nights and I don't think we wanted him to.
Vance Arnold and the Avengers - later to find global fame as Joe Cocker
“One night when Screaming Lord Sutch was on stage, he jumped up hitting his head on the ceiling, biting his lip and tongue, there was blood everywhere. I drove him up to the Hallamshire Hospital."
Arthur Brown of 'Fire' fame also had his own altercation with the ceiling.
"He was another jumper who jumped up while on fire and nearly set fire to the roof of the stage It was quickly put out, and he sang on as if nothing had happened.
"Another time when Georgie Fame was on, and they had struggled up the stairs with his organ, and the amplifier unit, it would not work, so I had a quick look and the cable between the two had three broken wires that required soldering. I drove home 12 miles there and back grabbed my tools, shot back at speed soldered the cable, and the show went on."
Despite tales of rivalry between the two clubs, King Mojo's Peter Stringfellow was regularly there.
"The first time he came to the club he came around the corner to the pay desk and walked past it, thinking he could walk in for nothing. He was told he had to pay. He said "I'm only here for a quick look at the group and I might book em" The answer was," you still have to pay" He came in nearly every weekend after that, and he paid. The only time I did not see him pay, was when Terry was at the desk."
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* You can read more about the Esquire in our ‘Dirty Stop Out’s Guide to 1960s Sheffield’ book.