Wapentake: The rock bar that became a worldwide phenomenon under Olga Marshall - Dirty Stop Outs

Wapentake: The rock bar that became a worldwide phenomenon under Olga Marshall

Olga Marshall at the Buccaneer in the late 1960s

It’s arguable that there couldn’t have been a more unlikely candidate for a future legend of the heavy metal world than Olga Marshall.

But that didn’t stop the largely teetotal mother of four, who preferred tweed patterns over the genre’s trademark exterior of denim and leather, from going on to have a pivotal role in the success of Def Leppard and creating one of the UK’s most successful and longest-running rock bar establishments.

Sheffield’s Wapentake, under Olga Marshall’s tenure, became famous worldwide.

It was the venue for one of Def Leppard’s most iconic shows in 1995 — the eventual release of the gig on video became a worldwide hit.

The band, far more accustomed to playing stadiums by then, performed for Olga Marshall to thank her for early championing of the band nearly two decades earlier.

They played some of their earliest shows at the Wapentake in the late 1970s.

Maybe it was a direct rebuff of her time working at the Fiesta cabaret club — then the biggest nightclub in all of Europe — that led her down the heavy metal path.

The palatial venue, a big hit with the likes of the Jacksons, the Beach Boys, Tom Jones, and scores of others, didn’t work for everyone. Marc Bolan famously turned up, took one look at the place, and refused to play — despite it being a sell-out.

He said it wasn’t his kind of venue. Maybe it wasn’t Olga's either; she wasn’t there for very long.

She first cut her teeth on the alternative side of life at the Buccaneer — way back in the mid-1960s before ‘heavy metal’ was even a genre.

The Buccaneer became renowned as the place for the emerging rock sound of the late 1960s as bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath first came to the fore — Olga Marshall was by now managing the place.

But the Buccaneer shut down, much to the shock of the punters, early on.

It was Olga Marshall's sheer force of will that turned the Wapentake into a northern stronghold for bikers, rockers, punks, and anyone else who liked to give the mainstream world a wide berth.

It couldn’t have been less like that when Olga arrived. It was owned by the hotel group Trust House Forte (they had a hotel upstairs, but few people actually realised the two businesses were joined at the hip), and their target audience at that time was lunchtime shoppers — they did a nice line in flowery tablecloths and cod and chips.

It didn’t stay that way for long, and the arrival of rock DJ George Webster (within a few years he’d be ploughing his own, decidedly lucrative furrow in the shape of the nearby Limit nightclub) lit the blue touchpaper and brought the rockers down in droves — he’d previously worked for Olga Marshall at the Buccaneer.

Olga Marshall was soon presiding over a Newcastle Brown-swilling, rock’n’roll goldmine, and when a local fledgling rock band by the name of Def Leppard was looking for their first gigs, it was the Wapentake they turned to for help — she gladly obliged, and her audiences lapped it up.

Their ascendancy was meteoric by anyone’s standards, and the Wapentake was the bar that the Guardian newspaper turned to for comment when they were writing about the band’s heavy metal roots a couple of years later. By this time, many rockers were having a crisis of confidence with the band.

They’d taken the States by storm, and there was a Def Leppard backlash as they were being accused of “selling out” and dropping their English fans.

A Wapentake regular quoted in the piece in the late 1970s said, “They’re a Sheffield band, but they’ve just grown too big. They’ve sold out. Well, they’ve gone to America, haven’t they?” He signs off by saying the band would never play the Wapentake again.

It was 17 years later when he was finally proved wrong.

It was probably Olga Marshall’s proudest moment when the band performed an acoustic set on October 5, 1995.

It was the culmination of ‘Def Leppard Day’ — a whirlwind of plaque unveilings, tea with civic dignitaries, and receiving demos from up-and-coming bands eager for a touch of Def Leppard magic.

Inside the Wapentake

Tickets for the event were like gold dust. You could hardly move for cameras.

Def Leppard fans even came across from America for the event. The media were lapping it up — Olga and the Wapentake were splashed across the pages of music mags across the globe.

The band did a full acoustic set to rapturous applause. Olga Marshall and the Wapentake’s unique place in the Def Leppard story was confirmed that night.

She probably scored a first for British housewives also that night — she became the only one ever to grace the pages of the rock bible Kerrang!, complete with trademark tweed attire.

Def Leppard at the Wapentake in 1995

Olga Marshall finally served her last bottle of Newcastle Brown in the late 1990s after nearly 30 years of service to the music world.

The hotel and the Wapentake were bulldozed a few years ago to make way for Sheffield city centre’s ‘re-development’.

* You can read more about Olga Marshall and the bar in our ‘Dirty Stop Out’s Guide to Sheffield - Wapentake Edition’. 

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