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Made in Sheffield: The 80s music scene
Heaven 17
Heaven 17
The story of Sheffield’s influential music scene of the late 70s and early 80s has remained largely untold. But Eve Wood’s documentary ‘Made In Sheffield’ looks to change all that...
The Sheffield music scene
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The Human League shot to No.1 in 1981 with "Don't you want me"

ABC's debut LP, "The Lexicon of Love", reached No.1 in 1982.

The remix of Heaven 17's "Temptation" reached No.1 in the UK dance charts in 1992.
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"Yeah, a river flows underneath this city, I’d like to go there with you now my pretty and follow it on for miles and miles below other people’s ordinary lives."
- Pulp, Wickerman

December 1981.

Phil Oakey
Phil Oakey

The Human League top the UK singles chart with ‘Don’t You Want Me’ and the sound of Sheffield finally reaches the attention of a nation.

Together with the Human League, ABC, Heaven 17 and Cabaret Voltaire the Sheffield music scene came to fruition in a spectacular manner during a brief period nearly two decades ago when their futuristic electronic signatures were indelibly inked across the music world.

Yet until now this story has remained, like Sheffield itself, outside the nations consciousness, there but largely ignored, outshone by its louder neighbour Manchester.

Martin Fry of ABC
Martin Fry of ABC

In her new documentary ‘Made in Sheffield’ director Eve Wood looks closely at the eclectic roots of this genre, how punk bypassed the city in favour of keyboards, and home made synthesisers were played in public toilets.

This is Wood’s first documentary and it’s largely a successful debut. Despite only six years in Sheffield since she moved from her native Holland she manages to collate a disparate music scene into fifty minutes of interviews and footage of early performances.

The pace is fast, deliberately eschewing a narrative in favour of ongoing captions that inform the viewer of onscreen events.

Jarvis and Saskia Cocker
Jarvis Cocker and sister Saskia

First shown at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival in 2001 it’s now available on video from outlets across the city and via the website dedicated to the film.

"I’ve worked in television for some time," says Wood "but I became inspired to look at the history of the Sheffield music scene when the National Centre of Popular Music was being built in Sheffield."

"There was a great deal of criticism of the location of such an attraction in Sheffield. Many people were saying that the city had no musical legacy as such, and I knew that wasn’t the case."

Indeed the Sheffield sound made it across the North Sea to a youthful Wood at home in the Netherlands.

Human League
The Human League

"I’d seen Pulp in Holland and I remember my sister playing Heaven 17, which was quite an underground sound for us."

Made in Sheffield is an unlikely and perhaps risky debut for a filmmaker born in Sheffield, let alone in another country, but Wood was confident she could do justice to this period.

"My husband is from Rotherham, so although I had no personal experience I had heard a lot from him and friends of the many bands that were around at the time. It was then a question of finding a definite point of time to start from and end at for the film."

The film shies away from covering later Sheffield success stories such as Pulp and Nether Edge’s Moloko.

"I wanted to cover this distinctive period of history, from the seventies until the early eighties, because it was undoubtedly the most exciting and influential period, rivalling both the Manchester and Liverpool scenes."

Sheffield: Source of 80s electronica?

"It stamped Sheffield firmly on the musical and cultural map both nationally and internationally."

Wood encountered problems during the making of the film, not least the cost of securing footage.

"It costs so much to get film from the likes of Top of the Pops, but we had to feature it. However, when we put an advert in a newspaper for footage, Peter Hill and Simon Holland came forward and supplied us with some amazing stuff. We also had help from Martin Lilleker and Stephen Singleton from ABC."

For a debut Wood manages to interview many key figures of the scene.

"I already knew Saskia (Cocker, sister of Jarvis and an ex-member of Pulp) and Joanne (Catherall, Human League) from the toddler group which my children attended! It spiralled from there really. I got in touch with John Peel through the BBC and he was happy to be interviewed."

John Peel
John Peel

Not all interviews went according to plan however. A meeting with former members of The Extras (the band that kick started Sheffield’s live music scene in 1977 and appeared most likely to succeed) took place in the Broadfield.

"It was difficult, technically. They were really funny guys, but they were drinking from hip flasks at 9am! Plus trying to get a good level of sound recording whilst in the background glasses are being collected is not ideal."

It is in this interview with The Extras that provides the film with its funniest moment when they were talking about the Human League; "they were Avante Garde and we were ‘avante a clue!"

Proof if any were needed of the kind of self-depreciation that colours many Sheffielders opinions.

"I think Sheffield is discovering its identity. I saw Pulp at Sherwood Forest a few weeks ago and Jarvis Cocker told the crowd that Robin Hood is from Loxley in Sheffield! Of course, that didn’t go down well. But then, Little John is buried at Hathersage so it could be true!"

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