RIP Peter Stringfellow – the original mojo man
We had the pleasure of working with Peter Stringfellow on a number of projects – not least the ‘Dirty Stop Out’s Guide to 1960s Sheffield’. In a few days time we will be announcing details of a forthcoming book celebrating his legendary King Mojo.
His appetite and love of the 1960s era was legendary. As part of our tribute to him please enjoy some extracts from the ‘Dirty Stop Out’s Guide to 1960s Sheffield’.
Peter and his brother Geoff Stringfellow were flamboyant, confident and born and bred in the working class heartland of Sheffield’s Pitsmoor – an incendiary combination the city (and later the world) would soon realise.
Their ventures shaped the nightlife era in Sheffield like nothing else and the city was soon struggling to contain their ambitions.
One of Peter’s first jobs was at Attercliffe’s Regal Cinema where he was projectionist.
Peter Stringfellow: “I had my 16th birthday at the Regal. I used to play records between the films and I got told off for doing that. I used to play ‘Green Door’ by Frankie Vaughan. We used to have parties on stage after everyone had left.”
Things could have turned out very differently for Peter: his next few years included work at English Steel Corporation, a stint in the Merchant Navy and a prison sentence.
Though he admitted to being a bit dyslexic there was nothing wrong with his mental arithmetic.
Whilst the majority were enjoying the new breed of shows and local talent like Dave Berry, he was busy working out the profit margins of promoters.
Peter Stringfellow was soon out scouring the city for a suitable venue with his brother.
Peter Stringfellow told Top Stars Special in the early 1960s: “There is not enough room in some pubs for a really swinging session, and a lot of young people do not like going into pubs anyway. And if we make any money my idea is to get a hall of our own which we can decorate as we like and have rock and twist sessions every day of the week.”
Sited on the border of two of Sheffield’s biggest council housing estates – Manor and Arbourthorne – they opened their Black Cat Club in St Aidan’s Church Hall, City Road, on Friday, August 17, 1962.
They paid two pounds and ten shillings a week to hire it for weekly twist sessions. Rotherham outfit Stewart Raven and the Pursuers played the first night.
It was also the first outing for their mum’s radiogram which was commandeered for the occasion with Peter Stringfellow on DJ duties.
Despite a queue outside, the inaugural night lost £25. The figures didn’t improve much in the second week.
Peter Stringfellow: “Against all the odds and with everybody screaming at me I persevered for one more week. I had Dave Berry next and I knew he was bound to pull a large crowd. I was convinced it would work, but just to be sure I took out a big £6 advert in the Sheffield Star.”
The Berry-effect and advertising worked – the brothers cleared £65. Similar happened the following week thanks to an appearance by Johnny Tempest.
A host of up and coming acts and hit parade artists from across the country followed in their wake including Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages, The Searchers, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, The Hollies, Freddie and the Dreamers and scores more.
Local ‘ghoul’ bands, inspired by the likes of Screaming Lord Sutch, became a big hit at the club. Count Linsey III and his Skeletons and Frankenstein and the Monsters were particular favourites.
Tony Baker: “Peter Stringfellow came onto the stage to introduce the backing group the Savages, who were to open up with their signature tune, ‘Lucille’. The Savages ran from the back of hall the clad in leopard skins and the audience erupted. After their opening number Lord Sutch appeared in top hat and tails singing ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ then going into ‘I’m A Hog For You Baby’, bringing out pigs trotters concealed in his shirt and throwing them into the screaming audience. For his rendition of ‘Jack the Ripper’ he emerged with a large dagger and candelabra, whipping the audience into a frenzy as he came amongst them.”
The event the Black Cat Club will always be remembered for will be a sell-out show by The Beatles that ended up being moved to a bigger venue in Gleadless due to unprecedented ticket demand (see Chapter Nine) and near riots.
Geoff and Peter Stringfellow’s next outing was their Blue Moon Club regular Sunday night sessions. They took place in an old church school turned warehouse on Johnson Street. It opened in May 1963.
The brothers were soon earning a reputation for their uncanny ability to book bands just as they hit the big time. They didn’t do it better than The Kinks who performed at the Blue Moon Club on September 20, 1964, just as they were riding high in the charts with ‘You Really Got Me’.
Dave Manvell: “The club will always be remembered for the famous collapsing floor incident when Peter couldn’t understand why all the small people were stood in the middle of the club!”
The brothers also promoted shows at Sheffield City Hall and were managing acts like The Sheffields.
The club they were undoubtedly most famous for was King Mojo which opened in the former Dey’s Ballroom which then sat on the junction of Burngreave Road and Barnsley Road in Pitsmoor.
The brothers rented it for £30 a week from local businessman Ruben Wallis who gave them his blessing with one stipulation – they kept the pictures of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh hanging on the wall.
The venue made waves immediately and they’d got over 800 members within eight weeks of opening who couldn’t wait to sample King Mojo’s (it originally opened as the Mojo) alcohol-free environment.
Though it was a massive hit it totally divided opinion – you were either into the Stringfellow scheme of things or you weren’t.
Fashion, as far as King Mojo was concerned, was as important as the music.
Peter Stringfellow said at the time: “Eventually, I’d like to open every night if there’s the demand. On Saturday night we can draw a crowd of 600 – and if we were allowed we could have more than 1,000 for Long John Baldry.
“We aim to bring all the top class R&B stars to Sheffield. I think the kids are willing to pay for them.”
By the end of April 1964 – two month into the life of King Mojo – the brothers were running all three clubs and Peter Stringfellow was also being tipped as a possible Radio Luxembourg DJ.
As the music scene diversified to include London’s thriving R&B movement and then soul in the latter part of the era, the Mojo truly found its calling and started landing gigs by bands that were set to spawn global stars that are still as big today.
They included six visits by John Mayall alongside the likes of Eric Clapton and Peter Green; Graham Bond Organisation (with Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Dick Heckstall-Smith and Diane Stewart) and probably the first ‘supergroup’ of the era Steam Packet (with Long John Baldry, Brian Auger, Vic Briggs, Richard Brown, Julie Driscoll, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green, Mickey Waller and Rod Stewart).
The list of artists that graced the King Mojo stage in Pitsmoor is formidable by anyone’s standards. They also included: The Yardbirds, Manfred Mann, Isley Brothers, The Who, John Lee Hooker, The Hollies, Wilson Pickett, The Drifters, Jimi Hendrix, Ike and Tina Turner, Edwin Starr, Geno Washington, The Troggs, The Animals, The Spencer Davis Group, the Small Faces, Stevie Wonder, Pink Floyd and scores more.
As styles changed so did the interior design of the club with management always looking at ways to lead the scene and keep one step ahead of the Esquire. The club regularly developed fashions all of its own.
Dave Manvell: “With the advent of mod groups like The Who and the Small Faces, hair styles changed yet again becoming slightly shorter and lots of back combing going on. I think this was when the Mojo’s own fashion styles started to take off and went that bit further than the mod styles of the time.
“One of the fashions at the time was pin stripe suits, brown brogues and the need to carry a blue nylon mac – a derivative of the black pac-a-mac.
“This then seemed to develop into the gangster period which coincided with the American TV series The Untouchables; a story of the prohibition. Things just went wild at the Mojo with fashions changing every week. The length of vents in your suit would be changing daily. Many of the coats were doubled breasted and even the number of buttons became important with hand stitched lapels and button holes. The trousers bottom sizes ranged from normal to Oxford bag sizes going form 19 inches upwards.”
Though Peter Stringfellow was always on hand to give a snippet to the press, it was salacious media allegations of illicit drug taking and sex in the gardens of nearby residents that helped bring about the eventual downfall of King Mojo.
Things got so bad early in 1967 that the club stopped all nighters in an attempt to keep drug pushers away and have any chance of surviving the radical shake-up of the licensing laws set for the same year.
Many cite the club’s application for an alcohol licence as the beginning of the end. It was rejected, the hearing not helped by the motley crew of regulars that showed up to give their support. King Mojo’s council argued it would be beneficial to keep such “oddballs” in one place. The strategy failed spectacularly.
But worse was to come with the arrival of the new 1967 Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act – the Government’s strategy to regulate clubs that, up until that point, had slipped under the radar because of not serving alcohol.
A visit to the club by the Spencer Davis Group the year before definitely seem to make a valid case for it…
Peter Stringfellow: “There was no such thing as capacity in those days. We’d just cram them in. Never saw a policeman in the Mojo. We knew we were really full when the Spencer Davies Group played and the coffee bar floor collapsed.”
Though the club was said to be well run it was dogged by on going noise issues and deemed to be lacking sufficient sound proofing.
Local residents had already petitioned against Sunday afternoon sessions at King Mojo.
One neighbour said he regularly found his 20 month old daughter stood up in her cot dancing to the sounds of the club.
Things were already looking beyond bleak for King Mojo. When a local drug dealer stated he’d sold pep pills at the club’s all nighters its reputation was in tatters and it was curtains.
King Mojo closed its doors in October 1967 and with it went Peter Stringfellow’s Midas touch – for a couple of years at least…