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.
Though people talk about the golden years of the cabaret and Working Men’s Club circuit of the 1970s and early 1980s, it definitely was anything but plain sailing for venues and their resident musicians – especially when things like the three day week and the Miners’ Strike left punters with little money to go out. Though venues were operating at a capacity virtually unheard of when compared to the present day, the period was littered with industrial strife, political turmoil and recession. Drummer Mike Hayes worked through the whole period at venues spanning Chesterfield’s Aquarius to the Fiesta – then...
Some said it was her finest hour – but many of us had already lost count of the amount of milestones she’d notched up in her years as matriarch of Sheffield’s rock scene.
Olga Marshall – who sadly passed away in 2019 - was an unlikely figurehead for the Newcastle Brown drinking, heavy metal listening bunch of motorbike riding aficionados that frequented the venue she’s arguably most famous for fronting, the city’s legendary Wapentake Bar.
But her reign spanned far more than the sprawling cellar pub that sat under the Grosvenor Hotel. She actually rose to prominence in the late 1960s in a publican-style career that stretched over 40 years.
Olga Marshall’s CV was hardly made for the upper echelons of the rock’n’roll scene. Always impeccably dressed without a hint of denim or leather - she was already a mother of four by 1972, she didn’t smoke and she rarely drank alcohol.
But that didn’t stop her being splashed across the pages of Kerrang! magazine in 1995 when Sheffield’s own Def Leppard came to perform for her.
Now the name of Olga Marshall is set to live on through a new range of merchandise that celebrates the venues she nurtured and the scene that might never have taken on the shape it did without her in the background.
Her after dark career actually started at the Buccaneer. Many called this place Sheffield’s first rock pub. It was certainly one of the largest and is still very much missed.
The Buccaneer stood on Leopold Street under the Grand Hotel. Olga Marshall started there way back in 1964 and ended up managing it. She enlisted the help of George Webster and Ian Roberts as DJs. The place was packed.
It shut in 1973 – the customers were heart-broken. Olga wasn’t out of the limelight for long though. She was given the job of managing the nearby Wapentake which, at that time, was more geared to providing lunches for shoppers.
It didn’t stay that way for long. George Webster was soon spinning the discs at the Wapentake with the likes of Paul Unwin (they eventually moved to the Limit which George opened with Kevan Johnson) and the rock crowd turned up in their droves.
Def Leppard played one of their very first outings at the venue. Tens of thousands of revelers made the pilgrimage from the Wapentake to Rebels rock club (opened by former Limit bouncer Steve Baxendale) which thrived in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The venue was housed in the former Penthouse club high above Castle Market.
Hundreds of stairs needed to be climbed to get there.
The popularity of rock soared in the mid-1980s and turned Def Leppard into global icons.
Even the sprawling Roxy nightclub got in on the act and launched a Monday night event.
Their rock night attracted hundreds every month from as far away as Hull, Leeds and London. The Wapentake was regularly the first port of call for the evening even then.
When rock music fell out of favour in the late 1990s it was the former Wapentake – now renamed the Casbah – that picked up the pieces.
They created a whole new scene and became one of the most popular nightclubs in the city for a number of years. Everyone from the Hives to Bernard Manning performed. The building’s rock heritage was always at the forefront. The building made the national headlines when a Japanese rock fan traveled thousands of miles just to visit it.
UFO bass player Pete Way did the official unveiling following the building’s re-opening.
The building was demolished to make way for the new retail quarter but you only have to look at message boards and Facebook groups to realise the interest that remains for the scene.
Rockers, punks, bikers, goths – everyone found a home at the Wapentake and then the Casbah.
Olga Marshall’s proudest achievement was probably a return visit by Def Leppard, who performed for her one more time at Wapentake Bar on October 5, 1995, in front of most of the world’s music press.
It was a massive moment – even if the initial response from the Wapentake barmaid to the band’s offer of the gig was “sorry love, we don’t put live bands on anymore”. The problem was quickly rectified by Olga!