‘It felt like a revolution’: Jive Turkey, the Sheffield club night that blazed a trail for UK house

For Sheffield’s music scene, 1985 was a year of change. Jarvis Cocker fell out of a window trying to impress a girl with a Spider-Man impression. Hospitalised and in a wheelchair, he had a lyrical epiphany that would change the fate of Pulp from cult outsiders to Britpop’s finest. Industrial-funk outfit Chakk signed a major deal and used the money to build FON studios, which produced countless hit records and effectively led to the birth of Warp Records. And a pioneering new club night began: a place where Black and white kids would feverishly dance to a new style of relentlessly jacking music imported from America.

“Jive Turkey was different” says influential DJ Luke Una, one early attender, who went on to run Electric Chair and Homoelectric in Manchester. “It sounded like a new world. I was reborn – [it was] the most important club in my journey that followed over the next 37 years.”

Nevertheless, while Jive Turkey constitutes a vital piece of UK nightlife history, its legacy is often overshadowed by the nostalgia surrounding behemoths such as the Haçienda. A recent BBC documentary on the club drew criticism for ignoring queer and Black stories, while in 2020, dance music critic Matt Anniss wrote a much-discussed article questioning how much of UK dance music history is real, given its propensity to lean on the same apocryphal tales.

That glorification means the significant contribution of Black communities in the story of UK house is overlooked, says Una. “A lot of that history has been whitewashed,” he says. “As if [house] was based on people coming back from Ibiza and opening a club in London when actually it’d been raging up north for years.”

Jive Turkey was born during a time of racist door policies in Sheffield. Some places capped the amount of Black people they allowed in, or wouldn’t let them in at all. The result spawned separate music communities. “I was living a very strong Black existence,” says Winston Hazel. “Going to soul and jazz funk clubs – what I called a Black ring of security.”

Hazel could be seen dancing around town as part of a B-boy crew or zooming around on roller skates. Meanwhile Richard Barratt, AKA Parrot, had quit his gardening job, gone on the dole and dedicated himself to going out. Hazel started DJing and the pair got friendly, bumping into each other in record shops, but after a year of “caning it” Barratt felt exhausted by Sheffield’s limited options. “So what else can you do other than start your own club?” he says today, over coffee in the corner of a Sheffield cafe huddled up next to Hazel.

Barratt, along with friends Matthew Swift and Jon Mattan, did just that. Mattan, an older soul boy, came up with the name Jive Turkey, inspired by an Ohio Players track. It started life in what Barratt calls a “seedy” upstairs venue called Mona Lisa’s with peeling wallpaper and pictures of topless women on the walls. Swift was the promoter, Mattan worked the door, and Barratt – despite never having done it before – was the sole DJ, playing a mix of early house and electro, street soul, and jazz funk. “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing,” he says. “It was shocking at first.”

Growth was sluggish until Hazel joined as a DJ. “I was in awe of the level of self-expression in the place and the mixture of people with a strong sense of individual fashions and identities,” he says. “Everyone was really comfortable in their own skin.” He was obsessed with playing the freshest records, and things accelerated. “He was a true futurist,” says Barratt. “And he had an evangelical belief that playing good music could transcend any barrier and bring people together. We bonded over inclusivity.”

The night grew into something special. “The depth and breadth of tunes we were playing was unrivalled,” says Hazel. “We were dropping in street soul with techno or hip-hop. An Anita Baker ballad next to a massive electro track would get the same kind of response – it was crackers.”

With little else like it in the city, word quickly spread. Film director Juliet Ellis was 15 when she first went. “I’d left home, was living in a bedsit and had nothing,” she says. “Jive Turkey became my world. I’m mixed race and there were a lot of Black people there. It felt like home and the music – damn. Like nothing else.”

“Winston was the critical change,” says Swift. “The club was suddenly 50-50 Black and white. That was completely different.”

The club had a unique alchemy, says Una. “It was this intuitively underground thing but wasn’t trying to be cocksure or full of itself. There was a real pride that this underground sound from Chicago, Detroit and New York was dropping in Nottingham, Sheffield and Manchester – the holy triangle. It felt like a revolution.”

Mona Lisa’s could hold a few hundred but was soon packing in 700. The club was a magnet for sharp dancers and footworkers. Booze was of little interest, especially since it was such a squeeze for the bar. “It was absolutely fucking rammed,” recalls Auriel Majumdar, a clubber now married to Swift. “It was way over the fire limit, a pure sweatbox. It had low ceilings and used to drip on to you.”

Having made a name for themselves at Jive Turkey, Barratt and Hazel would DJ warehouse raves and afterparties, although these weren’t always as easy going as their own night. “There was a guy with a sawn-off shotgun,” Barratt recalls of one night. “He used to carry it about everywhere. He was firing into the wall when I was DJing.”

Hazel turns to Barratt with a chuckle. “Do you remember when he put the gun in your face and demanded you play Mr Fingers?” Barratt almost fondly sinks into the memory: “Ahh, yeah.”

Nights are about dancers, not DJs. I hated all that superstar DJ bullshit

Jive Turkey’s popularity meant that it ran at the City Hall Ballroom for a period, where Swift bribed the doorman to let them fill the 700-capacity space with up to 1,500 people. “We were getting entire coach-loads from Nottingham in through the back door,” laughs Barratt. But the venue got wise and started counting numbers, so in 1988, the party moved back to Mona Lisa’s – now renamed Occasions.

As acid house was in full swing and the era of DJs being put on pedestals grew, Jive Turkey’s new DJ booth was far less glamorous: a windowless broom cupboard with decks propped up on stolen breeze blocks to stop them from jumping. “I absolutely loved it in that broom cupboard,” says Barratt. “Nights are about dancers, not DJs. I hated all that fucking superstar DJ bullshit.”

By 1989 the pair were making music as well. Hazel co-created Warp’s first legendary release, Foregemasters’ Track With No Name, and Barratt followed close behind on their third release with the bleep techno anthem Testone, a collaboration with Cabaret Voltaire’s Richard H Kirk. “It was mental hearing music created in this city and seeing it absolutely go off,” says Swift.

“It added an extra euphoria to the dancefloor,” says Majumdar. It was where Jarvis Cocker was blown away hearing an early outing of Testone, a track he went on to make the music video for.

Of course, the arrival of ecstasy helped. The drug hit Sheffield relatively early in 1986, after a crew of Sheffield grifters who hustled their way through Europe and settled in Ibiza returned home with new drugs and clothes looking like “hippies crossed with football hooligans”, says Barratt. “Like some weird mating had been going on.”

Initially the drug brought what Barratt calls “a new infusion of enthusiasm” from kids hungry for new house music while still respectful of the club’s soul roots, and encouraged Jive Turkey’s harmonious vibe. For a period this balance remained, with “the older football lads keeping the younger ones in check”, says Barratt. “They couldn’t take over the club because they’d get a slap.”

They had seen this shift at the Haçienda and wanted to avoid it. “It turned white overnight,” Barratt says of their Manchester peers. “All these indie kids taking an E and flooding the club. It was like a zombie film.” But by 1992, even Jive Turkey couldn’t hold back the surge of a younger crowd wanting harder, faster techno. “It got to a point where you looked out to the crowd and it was just lads with their shirts off,” says Barratt. “I had no interest in that.”

Jive Turkey exists as an interesting counter-narrative to the common tale of ecstasy being the ultimate unifier. In this instance, it severed a community. “Ecstasy killed it,” says Barratt. “It sieved all the Black people out.”

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“The music being made for people demanding ecstasy music lost any reference to soul,” adds Hazel. “Early techno and electro came from soul and jazz. The Black community didn’t turn their backs on it for no reason – it’s because it lost its soul and there was less of the good stuff being made. People just gave up.”

Jive Turkey ended later in 1992. “We were too bloody-minded and committed to playing different styles and tempos of music to neatly dovetail into the 90s clubbing boom,” says Barratt. “We were the old farts and it was time to move on.” Barratt made music in the All Seeing I and later as the Crooked Man, and produced records for the likes of Róisín Murphy, while Hazel has also worked as an artist and producer, and is still an in-demand DJ across the country.

Jive Turkey has never had the kind of retrospective documentary or book treatment that the Haçienda gets, but for those who were in the club’s sweaty, seven-year grasp, its legacy is one of revolution and reverence. “I discovered myself in Jive Turkey,” says Ellis. “It shaped my creative approach to life. Other places were just nightclubs.”