Guest post by Sue Davenport
When it came to music, I’d been brought up listening to ABBA, ELO and Barry Manilow. The majority of my teens was spent reading Smash Hits and obsessing over Duran Duran, Go West and Madonna. When rock music started regularly climbing up the charts in 1986, I’d just started going out to pubs and clubs, but most of the music being played at that time was pure pop.
In 1987 I was persuaded to go to Rebels rock club in Sheffield. It was totally unlike anywhere I’d ever been before, and from the moment I walked through the door (after climbing up what seemed like endless stairs) I couldn’t stop looking around.
The walls were black, the floor was sticky, some of the men had longer hair than the women and there were people dressed in all manner of exotic clothing – as well as jeans, which was unheard of in most clubs back then. Everyone could just be themselves, without worrying about dress codes.
Best of all, the music blasting out was a curious but enthralling mix. One minute there would be a really heavy track, attracting hardcore headbangers, but the next one played might be a rocking party-style track where everyone bounced around. No-one seemed to be standing still, everyone was involved and loving it. After that, I went as often as I could, until sadly Rebels closed in 1992.
The years went by and my love of rock music remained. I went to as many live gigs as possible, seeing some major artists, as well as the odd ‘rock night’ wherever I could find it; but nothing ever came close to recreating the atmosphere and the feeling of belonging that I’d had in Rebels.
I moved to Chesterfield in 2002 but continued to travel to Sheffield for most gigs and social events. When Real Time Live opened its doors in 2013, I had been friends with the owners Stevo and Niki for about 6 years as our kids went to the same school. I offered to help them promote their gigs and my husband and I enjoyed going to this new, friendly venue with amazing acoustics as often as we could. It soon became our regular haunt and I used to chat regularly with Stevo and Niki about the fact it was so welcoming and almost had a Rebels-esque vibe to me.
One day in 2014, I asked Stevo whether he’d consider putting on a rock night based around the music of the era I always reminisced so fondly about – the 80s and 90s. As the most successful events they’d held so far had involved tribute bands, Stevo wasn’t sure whether a DJ-based night would attract enough of a crowd. I tended to agree; as the venue was purpose built for live music, it would be a shame not to include a band or two.
The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that there would be a group of people out there in the local area, just like me, who’d had kids and moved on with their lives but who hankered after being able to let their hair down (assuming they had some left!) and rock out to the stadium and hair metal bands we used to love. Eventually (and probably because he was sick of hearing me go on about it!) Stevo suggested I hire the venue myself and set the event up as the promoter – so after a bit of thought, I agreed. Retro Rocks was about to be born!
I tracked down DJ Lez from Rebels, who was still working Saturday nights at the Sportsman in Sheffield (he’s now at the Yorkshireman Rock Bar) but who recommended DJ Muzz. Muzz (Gary) also had Rebels experience, knew the scene well and would be perfect for Retro Rocks.
A Poison tribute band was recommended to me through other contacts, and I watched some of their live performance videos to get a feel for how good they were and also for the vibe they would bring, before agreeing a fee and booking them.
My vision was to recreate the informal, comfortable vibe of Rebels, combined with playing a wide range of songs that people hadn’t heard for years, and which would get them up dancing. Music has that knack of transporting you right back to the time you first heard a song, and I was sure others must have fond memories of those days, just like me.
I wanted visitors to dress up in the kind of outfits they used to wear back in the day… lots of leather, PVC, spandex, studs and lace. But mainly I just needed people to turn up, to prove to me (and Stevo) that this type of night was a viable option for Real Time Live.
The first Retro Rocks in 2014 was a totally unknown quantity. I was taking a huge risk, paying for the venue, the band and the DJ out of my savings, without any guarantee of how many people would come to the event.
I promoted the event heavily using social media, including posting details in a Facebook group created specifically for people who used to go to Rebels. Tickets seemed to be selling well, but even on the day itself I was still well down on the number I’d needed to sell to break even.
Luckily, a steady stream of people turned up from the moment the doors opened – many of them paying on the door and boosting the advance ticket sales. There was a real buzz in the air, which was made even better by around 16 people arriving on a minibus from Sheffield, having got together from the Rebels group on Facebook and organising a trip to Chesterfield!
I made lots of new friends that night; even though most of us didn’t remember each other from Rebels, our shared memories and love of certain songs brought us together. Ending the night dancing in a big group to ‘Just a Gigolo’ by Dave Lee Roth will stay with me forever!
I learnt a lot at that first Retro Rocks event, which came with a few minor stresses I hadn’t anticipated. The main one being the pyro setting off the fire alarms downstairs, causing a bit of excitement! But overall, it was a huge success – everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and the feedback afterwards was fantastic! I didn’t make any money; but it didn’t matter, I broke even and had one of the best nights out I’d had for ages (as my sore feet attested the next day).
The main thing I learnt was that there were indeed lots of people in their 40s and 50s who loved all types of rock music and were up for a party! I also learnt that you can’t please everyone – some absolutely loved the band and some were a little less complimentary – but there was enough original rock played by DJ Muzz that they all had a great time anyway.
So that’s how Retro Rocks got started. Since then, we’ve featured an 80s hair rock cover band, a classic rock cover band, a Whitesnake tribute, a Motley Crue tribute and an AC/DC tribute – all backed up by the lovely DJ Muzz with his 80s and 90s playlists and the fantastic Real Time crew on sound and lights. The theme is always the same, and I’m happy to take suggestions for future bands to look at, as long as their music falls within the 80s & 90s era.
The Sheffield ex-Rebels folk always try and get over to support Retro Rocks, so we look forward to our little reunions (and I attend as many of their get-togethers in Sheffield as I can) – I’ve even started putting a minibus on for them to make it easier, so they can just buy an all-inclusive ticket.
But the main audience is the local Chesterfield crowd of music-lovers, who seem to love the Retro Rocks nights as much as I do. I hope they continue to do so!
The next Retro Rocks is at Real Time Live on Saturday 26th November – featuring the triumphant return of Poizon!
Tickets are available from the Real Time Music shop or online at http://www.wegottickets.com/event/368273