When Sheffield metal went underground Shirley's committee saved it (and her camera captured it!)
Rock music was having a pretty tortuous existence in the latter half of the 1970s in Sheffield.
It was all sweetness and light in the early part of the decade with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath rising to prominence.
But by 1976 a decidedly unwelcome guest had gate-crashed the party in the shape of punk rock.
Arduous guitar solos, long hair and songs about wizards suddenly became as unfashionable as flared trousers.
Heavy rock had no choice but to go underground and it was down to a close-knit group to fight for its place in the upper echelons of Sheffield nightlife.
The battle was led by one Shirley Freeman whose tenacity you’ve got to more than admire. She was chairperson of the Penthouse Action Committee that fought tooth and nail for the scene they so loved.
She also went armed with something nearly as valuable as tenacity in the mid-1970s – a camera.
Castle Market’s Penthouse was one of the first nightclubs in the city to start playing rock music.
Heavy metal started to get a foothold in the years following the departure of Peter and Geoff Stringfellow – the brothers that opened the venue originally in 1969.
But when soul nights started to encroach on nights normally given over to rock music a group of regulars decided – in true 1970s style – to make a stand.
Seven of them formed the Penthouse Action Committee (PAC) to lobby the management. They were so successful they soon got their rock nights re-instated.
They went on to campaign for a better sound system and staged one of the earliest shows by Def Leppard together with other gigs by the likes of Rokka and Virginia Wolf.
Shirley Freeman said at the time: “We want to see the sound system improved and more records available than the limited collection there is now.”
PAC – consisting of Shirley Freeman, Mick Cassidy, Jenny Jones, Della Freeston, Jackie Ball, Larry Massey and DJ Bob Maltby – also went on to raise money for charity and staged regular rock nights at Stars on Queens Road after the Penthouse changed direction and turned into Dollars speakeasy.
Their work helped prove the demand for a dedicated rock nightclub and Rebels eventually opened in the former Penthouse.
The venue was the brainchild of former Limit bouncer Steve Baxendale.
Former PAC member Bob Maltby spun the discs in the early days.
The opening of Rebels was perfectly timed as the rock scene exploded in the mid-1980s with the rise of spandex-charged hair metal following in the wake of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal genre.
The PAC story is set to be included in the forthcoming 10th anniversary edition of ‘Signing On For The Devil’ which tells the story of the rise of heavy metal in the region.
In the meantime, following requests, we’ve added a Penthouse T-shirt to our rock collection. Hope you like it.