All Ears interview with Alan Deadman

Photo credit Monika Klavins

Photo credit Monika Klavins

Words: Ella Wildin

The legendary Juju Club returned to Crookes Social Club on Friday 29th January, a couple of decades on from when they held their residency there. The old working men’s club, with it’s dodgy décor, has always made for a strange and beautiful clash with the sounds from Africa and Latin America that float out from Juju Club stages. We caught up with Alan Deadman, aka Papa Al in the velvet-clad bar of Crookes Social Club before the gig started.

(Alan is eating a chicken sub and it’s getting everywhere). I’m gunna need to hose myself down after this.

Just to give some background for people who don’t know anything about Juju Club? It started a lonnggg time ago, did you say ‘88? So if you could give us a brief synopsis of what Juju Club is and maybe how it’s evolved?

Alright you’ll probably have to stop me cus I do go on a bit. Six of us started it in 1988, three couples. Then there were five, cus one couple immediately split up, and then there were four, then there were three, two…and yeah it was just to hear and dance to all this exciting music coming out of Africa and other places. Warm music that makes you want to dance really. So we did a try out in the Polish Club on Ecclesall Road.

You said that’s still there but I’ve never noticed it and I cycle down that road every day.

Yeah it’s next to the Pointed Dog. We did about three there and then we got kicked out cus of club membership rules. And then we moved across to the Irish Club in Burngreave. And then we got kicked out of the Irish club.

An Irish club in Burngreave? I though you were gunna say a Caribbean centre but no an Irish club, of course.

Well the Irish always get there first don’t they, like Brixton.

Maybe that’s why the Jamaican and Irish accents sound similar.

They do, and the South West of England too, the West Coast, DJ Derek… Yeah so we were rooting around. And then I think it was 88, we had the World Student Games which was something that had been invented in Eastern Europe – kind of a left-wing student Olympics. And Sheffield held it, that’s when they built Ponds Forge and a lot of sports superstructure. They had a cultural side to it. So we ended up…we’d been going for about 3 months and we ended up doing a lot of stuff in the City Hall Ballroom for that. And it was great…

A bit of a change from the Polish Club on Ecclesall Road! So then how did you end up here. Because wasn’t this quite a regular venue you used later on in the life of Juju Club.

Well, back in the day the union Unison had quite an international flavour. They supported quite a lot of projects around the world. They put on a Cuban band here, so I came, just to check it out. And absolutely fell in love with the place.

I can’t believe I’ve never been here before it’s really quite…special.

It’s fantastic isn’t it. So after we’d been on our nomadic pilgrimage around Sheffield we ended up here for it. And we were here for 7 years, like a residency really.

Back when it was the working men’s club?

That was a whole story in itself really. Because it was the working men’s club, you had to be a member. So we had a membership scheme which put you on a mailing list – pre email. The Snail Mail days. So for a fiver or something you got a year’s worth of sendings and you became a member of the club. But women’s membership was very different from mens.

How?

Well it was a lot cheaper, but you couldn’t buy a drink. You couldn’t stand to be a member of the committee who ran the place. You couldn’t vote for the committee.

Did you have to stand at the back?

Well someone said: ‘You think it’s bad now, it used to be that on Sundays you could bring your dog in but you couldn’t bring your wife’. I mean we’re not going back that far but you know this is how it was. We got down to doing the gigs fortnightly in about ‘92 and we found out that was the first year the club actually made any money, they ended up 50 grand up at the end of the year – they’d been losing money ever since the collapse of bingo somewhere in the 70s.

From bingo to Juju…

It’s a natural transition I think. So we realised then that we had a bit of clout. And it came to a point where the club was closed because of noise problems – nothing to do with us. And we said we won’t come back unless you change all your rules.

In terms of sexism?

Yeah yeah, and there was Helen Jackson who was a left-wing Labour MP, and she got involved – it was quite a big story.

I can imagine – the crowd that Juju Club attracts definitely wouldn’t be one to uphold men only policies.

Not at all. So when it came to the vote at the committee AGM we got all the male Juju Club members to come down. And the club members – some of them were pretty fucking racist and sexist – realised that it was important for the club and they said you can come back. So that was quite an interesting time. Plus the fact that they used to kill themselves over some of the surnames of the people who came to our nights. You know Indian, Pakistani…

I bet that was bar time talk for weeks on end…

That’s right, they thought we were freaks. But we had a good time here.

Okay just a couple more cus it’s getting closer to showtime who are you really excited about on the Sheffield scene at the moment.

It’s gotta be K.O.G hasn’t it. And then I really like Hot Diamond Aces, Ricardo Angelina Abel’s fella heads up that band. I don’t know if you know but I got them both booked into Shambala?

Wow, cus I saw K.O.G there, they were on the headline stage?

Yeah and Barrio Afrika. Basically one of the three people who started Shambala, Chris is from Sheffield.

That must be why there’s such a massive Sheffield contingent there every year.

He and his Dad used to come to Juju Club and because of that he got into African music. So when they started Shambala, you know, there’s always a bit of African stuff in there. After their very first festival, which was quite quiet… (Kweku from K.O.G and the Zongo Brigade is doing his soundcheck) Can you hear Kweku singing? He’s got a lovely voice… We were doing Headcharge, me and Jamie. So I met Chris after they’d lost a bit of money on their first festival. And he said, can we get Sheffield involved. So we really rammed it through Headcharge networks. And the second year of Shambala we had three coaches going from Sheffield, the next year we had five. So it was really through Headcharge that we brought Sheffield into the story, and boy do they come in big time now. Cus we kind of cut the slight excessive hippie tendencies of the West Coast (Bristol) with our Northern grit!