In London, I lived for a while in a flat just off Baker Street. Every time I walked to or from the tube I found myself singing the Gerry Rafferty song “Baker Street,” complete with that famous saxophone hook. When I was walking with other people we’d sing it in unison, every time. It got really annoying but we couldn’t stop doing it, at least not till I moved out of the flat.
Then I lived in Maida Vale, and my local tube was Warwick Avenue. In fact I’d lived there for years before Duffy had a hit with a song “Warwick Avenue,” and I never really liked the song all that much but I know there were many who did, and I was well aware there were people in the world who knew Warwick Avenue much better as a song title than as a geographical location or as a place to live.
Here in L.A. there’s a street called Lexington, an ordinary enough street that I walk down once in a while, and every time I do I start singing those lines, “Up to Lexington 125, Sick and dirty more dead than alive” from the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man.” I know, of course, that the song refers to Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, not in L.A., but that doesn’t deter me from singing it to myself. For that matter there’s also a Lexington Street in London.
Thanks to Richard Hawley several Sheffield locations have now been celebrated in song: Coles Corner, Truelove’s Gutter, Lady’s Bridge. For years I used to walk by Lady’s Bridge, to catch my bus in what had once been Truelove’s Gutter, but was then known as Castlegate. On my recent trip to Sheffield I spotted this wonderful tiled building, right beside Lady’s Bridge.
Looking at it now, it seems to me that it’s one of the most wonderful buildings in Sheffield, but I scarcely noticed it in all the years when I caught my bus there. As my pal Steve said, if a building with tiles like that was in Barcelona it would be regarded as an architectural treasure.
But essentially when I think of Sheffield landscapes and Sheffield music, I tend to obsess about “Sensoria” by Cabaret Voltaire. I love that industrial funk, and the lyrics, and especially that line “In hard times, hard thrills.” The video was directed by Peter Care, and I assume dates from 1984 when the single was released, though I suppose it could have been slightly later. It looks like this:
I’m not sure I ever saw the video in the 80s when it was actually made, but thanks to youtube it’s now easy access, and although I don’t know exactly where every scene was shot, it seems to be various places in the east end of Sheffield. Those cooling towers are now long gone, and much missed by some, but for me it’s that strange, ancient little chapel that’s so fascinating. It’s the Hill Top Chapel on Attercliffe Common. And since I was in Sheffield for the weekend I decided to seek it out.
The chapel dates from 1629 and it’s had a chequered history, opening and closing as the population of Attercliffe grew or shrank, changing its size and shape, superceded for a while by a much larger church but then that new one was destroyed in the Second World War. The chapel was declared redundant in 1985 – just after the Cabaret Voltaire video was shot - but then it was later put back into service and is apparently now used for “prayer … day retreats … and RE and local history studies by local schools.”
The place was easy enough to find, but it wasn’t especially welcoming. There were two locked gates denying access to the church yard, but the surrounding wall was low, there weren’t even any keep out signs, and in any case I understand that trespass is a civil offence in Britain, not a criminal one, and so I popped over the wall for a look.
The first thing that strikes you is that in the video the chapel seems to be absolutely in the middle of nowhere, on a completely desolate, blighted landscape, but now it seems to be surrounded by mature trees. I suppose they could have grown up since the video was made, but I do wonder if it was clever camera angles that made the place look so isolated and bleak.
In any case it’s not so isolated now. A great deal of stuff has sprung up around the chapel: the Don Valley Stadium, the Sheffield Arena, an ice rink, the Meadowhall Retail Park, and right behind the chapel is a light industrial estate.
And just to prove that I really went there, above is a picture of me (pal Steve took the picture) outside the chapel, and although I may look as though I’m dancing, a la Cabs, in fact I’m trying to keep my balance having tripped over the edge of a gravestone, although looking at it another way, I suppose that might be considered a form of dance.
Stephen Mallinder, of Cabaret Voltaire, (that's him above, during and after) has now become a very hip academic. In 2007 he wrote an essay titled “Sheffield is Not Sexy” – and I’m really not sure how many layers of irony there are in that title, if any. In the essay he reveals that before he was a pioneer of industrial music he was a lover of reggae and soul, and he writes that on his way to school every day he passed the Mojo Club - the legendary and slightly disreputable Sheffield venue, where it seems EVERYBODY played – Howlin’ Wolf, Hendrix, the Stones, the Beatles. I passed it on my way to school every day too.
Mallinder writes, specifically of soul music, though it surely has a much wider context, “Soul music, through its global dissemination, had created a community that reached from California to South Yorkshire through the shared experiences of consumption and dancing.” Hey, Stephen, I’m trying to keep up my part of the bargain, living in LA. dancing in the graveyard in Attercliffe, even when I’m only trying to walk.