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The Tills Are Alive With The Sound of Music... Boroman’s Top 20 Sheffield Music Pubs

Let’s face it Sheffield is a musical City and this is reflected in the number of pubs and bars hosting live music. From City Wine Bars with all the ambience of an Airport Lounge to Local Pubs as welcoming as a fart in a spacesuit we’ve got the lot. In fact most of the pubs in the City Centre have music of some sort, apart from drunken locals auditioning for the X-Factor. Even the tattoo parlours have music rehearsal rooms to hire – see pic below. Those below are distinct in that they are primarily drinking dens that host music rather than dedicated music venues like the City Hall, Memorial Hall, O2 Academy, Leadmill and the Plug. My mate Colin goes to every gig in Sheffield so we don’t have to go to these places to get the low down. Many of those mentioned also boast a fine selection of beers, lagers, alchopops, and spirits, unlike the aforementioned music “venues” who usually charge a Kings ransom for flat tasteless “cooking” lager you can get at the local supermarket for a 5th of the price. This also isn’t an exhaustive list by any means as there are new ones opening up I haven’t visited yet such as Maggie Mays but these are some of my favourites, in no particular order.

The Dove and Rainbow – Arguably Sheffield’s sleaziest rock bar, some would call it “atmospheric” some would call it a shit hole. Even the arms of the chairs have got tattoo’s on them etc etc. It’s a one room bar with pool table at one end and a stage at the other, with pinball tables and a fag machine. Has a small selection of Real Ales, along with generic lagers and alchopops. Good range of live music though obviously leaning towards the heavier end of the rock spectrum. There is nowt like a bit of Death Metal with your “Devil’s Butthole” (5% ABV) and pork scratchings. Also has an excellent juke box. Was in there one lunchtime and a couple of ladies well into their seventies were grooving to Led Zeppelin. “Stairway to Heaven” suddenly had much more resonance. Avoid the toilets if at all possible though as they are what you would expect to see on a French Farm.

The Greystones – This has taken up the mantle of the much missed “Boardwalk” as one of Sheffield’s premier music venues but it’s out of town location and relatively small stage/music room is a slight drawback. There is live entertainment every night, covering every type of music, including regular visits from the best of British and internationally established “turns”. They also have stand-up comedy and poetry recitals too. I believe Shabba & Thomo are carrying on their double act there next week. In the car park. It’s a Thornbridge pub, so has an excellent selection of real ales. A quality venue, Flip Chorale & Los Macabros and Tora,Tora,Tora, would be at home here. Chuck Prophet is playing here in April. Get in there.

Bath Hotel - Small but perfectly formed, two-room corner pub in the City Centre. The black & white tiled floor is reminiscent of a Victorian parlour and the place may still be frequented by the odd chimney sweep, cut-purse & bootblack. Time moves slowly in Yorkshire. The back room is often home to literary and poetry groups discussing the latest cultural and philosophical events so none of the Stags have actually been in there. The equally small “main” room has a dart board resulting in many a patron sporting an arrow through the noggin’ before closing time. They do occasional gigs, mainly Jazz, Blues and Folk. Not much room for anything more than a duo so be prepared for the odd violin bow in the kisser. Has an excellent range of real ales with an ever changing menu for the connoisseur or visiting piss artist. I can just see Martin “The Goal Machine” smoking one of his trademark Fidel’s whilst quaffing a pint of “Goal Hanger” (3% ABV.)

University Arms -. Upper class establishment as the name suggests. You have to wear a tuxedo to get in the lounge. Usually full, that is full of student types paying for a bag of crisps at the bar with a credit card. Don’t attempt the pub quiz, it’s harder than Mastermind I can tell you. It boasts a fine selection of Acorn Brewery and guest ales. They do occasionally have live music of an eclectic variety, jazz, folk, world music as you would expect. All rather sedate mind you, nothing too loud and snotty. Don’t expect to see The Bollock Brothers there anytime soon.

Frog and Parrot - A famous City Centre pub, one of the earliest real ale haunts and home to the legendary “Roger and Out” a beer so strong they only serve it in halves and Thomo gets squiffy after five pints. Was in here one night in the early nineties with some mates from Boro, and during some sort of confrontation about “protection” some local toughs smashed all the bottles and optics behind the bar, then nonchalantly walked out. Bit of a fuss to make about the condom machines I thought. Canny boozer me mates said without a hint of irony. This is a well-established music venue with regular live bands and solo performances. Ten Beers After’ Bass Ace, Funky Paul is a regular performer here. Also hosts an annual Frogstock Festival with performers on all day over a weekend. Bring a guitar and you can serenade the attendant throng with your reggae version of “If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me” whilst supping a pint of “British Bulldogs Bollocks” (5% ABV).

Fagin’s - A small local just down from West Street. Like a typical Dublin Bar (without the fighting) with live “sessions” most nights apart from Thursday when they have a quiz. (Don’t attempt this. It makes the University Arms Quiz look like a shopping list. One of the questions went “Here’s an atom, now split it”) Musicianship is of the highest standard but it’s very welcoming for the beginner too. As befits a proper pub session, there are lots of fiddles, acoustic guitars, accordions and mandolin (thanks Trev). “Dead Flowers” very own Duncan also hosts sessions on a Saturday so you are guaranteed superb Tom Petty covers amongst the musical excellence. One night after a few Guinness’ I actually had the bottle to get up and sing “Long Black Veil” by Johnny Cash. The subsequent restraining order means I can’t go back in there until 2015. Choice of ales is limited but excellently kept and the home-made food is second to none. It’s a regular haunt of genuine music legend and gentleman Richard Hawley, who often holds court in the tiny “snug” next to the bar.

The Forum – Trendy bar and eatery. The décor outside hints at Antonio Gaudi but this isn’t the Ramblas, unless the Ramblas is an open piece of waste ground full of skateboarders and winos. Food is excellent though service can be slow as the staff enjoy posing, seeming to think they are working in Hollywood and will be picked up anytime soon. “Come on love, where’s me chips???” To cement its reputation as a trendy bar sometimes shows movies, mainly obscure World Cinema, usually in black and white with subtitles. You won’t see “Legally Blonde” here I’m afraid. They also host the occasional gig. Colin saw Vintage Trouble there recently and said they were awesome with their lead singer blasting it out whilst standing on the bar. Mind you if he’d have spilt Col’s pint he would have chinned him. Patrons are the trend setters of Sheffield so expect to see plenty of “Man Bags” and I don’t mean those you hold whilst taking a piss. Small selection of on tap real ales but mainly bottles. You can strike a shape clutching a bottle of “Laslo Piss” Polish Lager (20% ABV).

Walkabout Bar – Much like its slightly skuzzier chain “cousin” Weatherspoons, you know what you are getting in a Walkabout and this one is no exception. Converted from an old Church the building itself is impressive and very spacious it is too with an upper level containing church pews for seats and a massive organ (oooh eeer missus) overlooking the bar area. The whole thing is uncannily like the “House of Blues” in New Orleans but that’s another story. It has massive screens for sporting events and the usual range of beers, mainly of the generic lager variety. You know the “F” word, Bud and Red Stripe, all brewed in the same bucket methinks. Decent and cheap food to act as belly ballast whilst you spend a day watching the English crush the Aussies at cricket, whilst ribbing the Aussie bar staff. Don’t like it when we are on top do you “cobber”? Occasional “Battle of the Bands” events when,even if you are shit, if you have the most mates in the crowd, you win.

Sportsman – A spit and sawdust throwback of real character. It doesn’t have live music as such, but worth a mention as the owners of one of the best juke boxes in the Northern Hemisphere. They even have a “Rock DJ” on a Thursday. Yes he’s got a blonde mullet and yes he’s stuck in a 1970’s time loop but where else could you hear Atomic Rooster at bone crushing volume whilst supping a pint of “Cobblers Nuts” (8% ABV)? I was there last week with Funky Paul listening to a bit of Robin Trower and got so pissed I left my house keys in there. Cath said I was more concerned about the key ring they were on, a guitar pick holder I got from Manny’s Music Shop in New York, than the keys themselves. I’d rather be burgled than lose that pick holder to be honest. Anyway the bar staff found them under a chair (funny I didn’t notice them when I collapsed on the floor) and gave them back to me a couple of days later. Result.

Delaney’s - There have been many pubs on this site. Most recently the Dulo Bar, a monstrosity kitted out like a “club” complete with DJ Decks and mood lighting. Thankfully restored to a proper music bar owned by well known Sheffield Musician and mover and shaker Steve Delaney. As you would expect has quality bands on weekends with an open mike night on a Thursday – Viktor where are you?? We are hoping to get “Slow Moves” and “Forty Four Joules” to play there sometime soon once they have dried the beer out of their amps from the Yellow Arch gig. Recommended.

The Harley - Loud, disheveled “claggy mat” of a music bar with the atmosphere of a Roadhouse, though probably too rough for Patrick Swayze. I believe this is a Hotel too but who the hell would want to stay there I haven’t a clue. It has regular live music, usually from singer-song writing types or Arctic Monkey’s wannabes. Recent acts include Willy Mason and the mighty Josh T Pearson.

West Street Live - When it first opened it seemed a laudable attempt at an American Bar in Sheffield. Looking a bit road worn now but still worth a visit. Has Live bands most nights, mostly “tribute” acts but a good range of stuff on show. Busy on weekends but tends to be empty on a weekday. My mate Dave’s band played here and me and my pal Bry were the only one’s in the crowd. Dave said it’s not often you play and know the entire crowd personally. He even waited to start a number until I’d gone to the toilet. They then blasted out an accomplished and passionate set like they were playing the Royal Albert Hall. Now that’s Rock’n’Roll.

The Harlequin – Stags resident raconteur Ron Clayton’s old “office”. This is a traditional boozer, with regular live bands, covering a range of musical bases, though rock covers are predominant. Last time I was in, a band were playing 40’s swing stuff so convincingly I thought I’d get powdered egg in me sarnie. The blackout curtains were a bit over the top though. This is also a very highly regarded real ale pub with a liver busting selection. They host regular beer festivals too. I remember the Porcos lads in there when there was a quiz on. Me and the Stags were a little worse for wear having been on the “Old Scrotum” (5% ABV) so it was with no surprise, though a little embarrassment, that the Porcos got more questions right than we did. Still, we beat ‘em at darts.

The HOP – A new venue in the “Devonshire Quarter” of the City Centre. (Why they call it that I can’t fathom, this isn’t New Orleans and the “area” in question is about the size of a 5-a side pitch. A question of planners getting up their own arses methinks to ratchet up the prices of the flats round there. They must have been from Lancashire.) Anyway this is a big pub with an excellent and large selection of real ales looking to establish itself with a range of mainly Rock and Blues Tribute Bands. Early reports are promising. Will be checking out a Bruce Springsteen tribute band there soon. They also specialize in quality pies! Break out the Henderson’s and let’s boogie.

The Pheasant – Although situated on the outskirts of town this is still a legendary Sheffield Music pub. There can’t be many music fans who haven’t sat in the back room of the “Phez” on a Friday night listening to the Frank White Band. A large roadhouse style pub, it used to attract international acts in it’s heyday but seems to have gone into a decline much like the local football teams (sorry lads couldn’t resist). I remember seeing now sadly passed Blues Legend Luther Allison in there with his full band, horn section and everything. Still one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. Some would say it’s a bit rough but aren’t all the best pubs?? I remember the Bier Keller in Middlesbrough in the seventies, when punk started. Gangs of bikers/rockers used to wait outside for the punks and if you couldn’t recite the Rolling Stones entire back catalogue, including single releases, you got your head kicked in. It was like bloody Altamont I can tell you. Keef would have approved though.

Hillsborough Barracks Tavern - A real traditional pub with a trouser soiling selection of real ales, international lagers and soft drinks for the ladies (and Mackems). They have regular live music, with top class local performers to the fore. They also have a couple of smaller offshoot rooms including a dart board in the front side bar and a rather pleasant seated backyard area. The food is homemade and excellent so this one’s pretty much got the lot and is highly recommended. Many’s the evening I’ve been regaled by the most excellent “Johnny and the Prison Didn’t Help Boys” (possibly the only folk/rock/country/blues band to feature the erhu) over a pint of “Tinker’s Jockstrap” (12% ABV). It’s also where the Owls fans congregate before and after the match. It’s usually recommended to go for the gallon before the match then fill up after with another few more. That helps to scrub from the memory banks the 90 minutes of “action” you have witnessed. I remember Boro getting hammered there one time (thank you Benni Carboni) but by the time I left the pub I thought we’d won. Result.

The Washington – Apparently the “Wash” is owned by one of the blokes out of Pulp. Despite that it’s an excellent mix of real local and select music venue, albeit a very small one, punching well above its weight. On a weekend the walled back garden area is very popular, as is the nearby Devonshire Green. That is, a popular place to divest yourself of the 12 pints of “5 Knuckle Shuffle” (10% ABV) and hot chili kebab you’ve taken on board during the evening, before staggering into the darkness, desperately trying to hail a taxi home.

The Cremorne – One from the other (red and white) side of town. Though a small bar, they do host regular live music having opened a small performance room across the backyard. Excellent position on London Road to sample International cuisine to go with the 10 pints of “Shepherd’s Rectum” (10% ABV) you’ve just supped. If you are around there on a Saturday watch out for the occasional clearance from the Lane landing on your head. Total Football my arse. They still carry the ball off on a stretcher at half time.

The Shakespeare – A long established Sheffield pub which has risen, Phoenix like, from closure to become a real ale hot spot. They are also committed to live music, carrying on the tradition of it’s previous incarnation. Has already boasted some classic gigs inc Justin Townes Earle, Steve’s son, who amongst the doobie smoke (man it was just like Woodstock) produced a memorable set shot through with Hank Williams inspired country heartache. Yea, and indeed, Haw.

Fat Cat - Spiritual Home of the Anglo Galician Cup and Real Ale Mecca, though it doesn’t do bingo. Not really a music pub (although who can forget Alfredo’s rousing rendition of that old favourite “Anglo Galician Cup nah nah nah nah nah, Anglo Galician cup nah nah nah nah nah nah”– classic) but they do occasionally have bands in the back yard so any excuse to give them a mention. There is a plaque on the wall to commemorate the AG Cup next to the one marking where Argie got his first round in. It saw the introduction of our very own “Anglo Galician Ale” (5% ABV) though the barrel didn’t last long once the beer monsters of the Porcos Bravos got going. Legend has it that some of its patrons were witness to a particularly gruesome robbery and on a dark winters night if you listen closely on the breath of wind you can hear soft voices whispering “4-2 to the Stags – we was robbed”. Not to be confused with the Gato Gordo, Pontevedra, owned by AG Cup legend and Tora,Tora,Tora frontman Sergio. I knew he liked a drink but buying a whole pub was a bit extreme. Can you get barred from your own boozer???

Those we have lost
The current economic climate (cold, with a definite chance of heavy rain (or Cleggy as we say in Sheffield)) has seen the closure of a number of pubs in the city including some excellent music venues. Just about everyone who has ever played music cut their teeth in the upstairs room at the Grapes. The music room was closed down when the owner of the nearby Dog & Partridge moved across and took the entire contents of that particular Irish Bar with them. It’s now shows Horse Racing from the Curragh and the walls are covered with pictures of the Kennedys, in my opinion the biggest bunch of crooks and liars since the Borgia’s. Still they were “Oirish” I suppose. Most serious was the closing of the Boardwalk (previously known as the Black Swan or Mucky Duck) in mysterious circumstances which to this day have still not been fully explained.

Everyone from the Clash to Ryan Adams to Robert Plant played there at one time or another and it’s passing leaves a massive hole in Sheffield’s music scene. Honorable mention to The Halcyon Bar who, after a gig by The Tipsy Kings on Colin’s 50th birthday, closed the following day, got a total re-fit, changed its name and re-opened as a restaurant with no live music. For Those About To Rock, We Salute You.

Boroman aka Neil Old