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Neil Anderson takes it To The Limit

By Neil Anderson
BBC Sheffield & South Yorkshire

Take Me To The Limit: the badge
Take Me To The Limit: the badge

A media storm followed the Sex Pistols' infamous appearance on Bill Grundy's Tonight programme in 1976, and after that it wasn't uncommon for local councils to order venues to cancel Sex Pistols gigs.

In fact Sheffield City Hall banned the Anarchy In The UK Tour date - but another local venue was forced to go further. Much further.

When The Limit nightclub in Sheffield applied for its licence, the country was still gripped by paranoia about the band.

The chair of Sheffield licensing magistrates refused to let the city's Limit nightclub open at all unless it agreed never to book the band in its lifetime - even though the Sex Pistols hadn't even booked to play The Limit.

The Limit at 70 West Street, Sheffield was a legendary venue, open from 1978 until 1991.

It was Sheffield's Hacienda, but while its Lancashire counterpart famously lost a fortune, The Limit became a licence to print money with its management living the life of rock stars.

George Webster was co-owner of The Limit at one point and he was stunned at the clause put in place about the Sex Pistols:

"When I went to the licensing court, the chairman thanked me for a fantastic presentation and said, 'I've now got a new outlook on what modern music is all about - but I'd just like to say that we grant the license on the understanding that you never, ever book the Sex Pistols."

Take It To The Limit by Neil Anderson
Neil Anderson (left) with Sex Pistol Glen Matlock

Glen Matlock was the Sex Pistols bassist at the time. He played at The Limit with another band - the Rich Kids - and is helping to launch the book Take It To The Limit:

"I look at it as a bit of a back-handed compliment really. The chairman of Sheffield licensing magistrates was probably a very wise man. People often think they know best but they invariably don't."

The Limit went on to host virtually every other punk band under the sun; Siouxsie and the Banshees were the first out-of-town band to play there.

But despite the punk scene it's probably more famous as the venue that was pivotal to Sheffield's early 80s electro-revolution, staging seminal gigs with the likes of Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, Comsat Angels and Vice Versa who went on to become ABC.

The venue was a true one-off. It helped break bands that went on to national and international domination. Everyone from U2 to the B-52s played landmark shows there.

Pulp at The Limit, Sheffield
Pulp were one of the many local bands who played The Limit

It was also subject to one of the UK nightlife's biggest ever undercover Custom and Excise raids, with every member of senior management arrested in dawn raids in a bid to find a missing £250,000 which was a huge sum of money in the late 70s/ early 80s.

The Limit machine seemed untouched by the Winter of Discontent, the early 80s recession and the miners' strike; it went on to host 13 years of club nights from early punk, mid-eighties goth to early rave and dance.

The club was so successful that it bankrolled the transformation of Sheffield Lyceum from a derelict eyesore to a state-of-the-art live music venue staging everything from Joe Cocker's Sheffield homecoming to The Clash and Simple Minds.

Have your say

What are your memories of The Limit on West Street in Sheffield?

Simon Slight, Columbia, Missouri, USA

I remember many nights of great bands, not-so-great beer and queuing up outside to go down those steps into the noise below. Standout concerts I remember... The Skids when we were 17 and had to go to the early show, Robert Plant, the Human League and probably the loudest show I ever heard... Swans. That one was so loud it was frightening! Having loved The Limit throughout my late teens to mid twenties I moved to the States and found a very similar place, the Blue Note in mid-Missouri of all places. Very similar feel, great bands, great music, eclectic crowd despite being over 4000 miles apart.

Hilary, Oxford

What memories, lager and black, Mondays and the fantastic music. Russell from Pulp and his violin case, seeing famous stars, best nightclub ever for my teenage years, dancing like the girls from Human League and my friends punk hairstyle and the MASSES of hairspray they used - ACE then getting the 2am bus home - wonderful.

Hunty, Sheffield

The Limit was the dogs. It gave you a sense of excitement mixed up with a bit of fear and unexpectancy and not forgetting the filthy sticky carpets. But overall, with a tear in my eye, was the best ever venue I've been to. Nowt has ever or ever will come close to The Limit. George Webster......God like...

Steve, Sheffield

There were many bands that played the Limit that should have gone on to bigger things. One that comes to mind is Cramped Legs. Other memories of the Limit are weak beer and sticky floors.

Robert Senior, Barcelona

I used to go to The Limit when I was 17, back in 1986-87, when I first started going out. We started going to the Goth night on Tuesday nights and then ended up down there almost every night of the week. It was 60p a pint for the scummiest glass of p*** ever poured into a glass. You could get wasted for a fiver and still have change for the bus home. I saw the music change from Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, Cure, etc to rave, hip hop and house. We danced to all of it. Some of you may remember me dressed in full Sisters style Goth gear dancing to "White Lines" on my own on the dance floor. A regular occurance.

I remember there was the so called Goth box where we use to sit and pretend we were the coolest kids on earth. Hahaha. We had a total laugh down at that place, it was a hole but it was a great hole.

Siouxsie and the Banshees
Siouxsie and the Banshees were the first out-of-town band at The Limit

Janice, Sheffield

I remember seeing Siouxsie and the Banshees at The Limit. I thought they were so bad that I actually went to the ladies toilet and stuffed some toilet paper in my ears! I thought she was so horrendous.

Andy, Chicago, USA

Somewhat hazy memories of the Limit, but I remember it having a somewhat 'eclectic clientele', a place where you could hear anything from Funkadelic to Punishment Of Luxury.

Strangely enough, Mondays seem to stand out as a being popular night (cheap drinks possibly?), and the also vinyl floor, which by the end of the evening was usually a sticky & pungent mess. It certainly didn't have the decor (or the pretentions of Manchester's Hacienda), but was the only option for anything resembling a decent 'late-night' at the time, esp. if your tastes didn't center around the chart-fodder being played at the 'handbag nightclubs', of which there were no shortage of in Sheffield at the time.

Dreadful place for bands to actually perform, with the onstage lights being literally inches above the performers head, due to the very low ceiling which also resulted in a persistent drip of condensation on the audience.

A couple of standout gigs I recall would have to be Squeeze around the time of their debut album, and ex-Be Bop Deluxe mainman Bill Nelson in 1981.

On return visits to Sheffield I always manage a memory or two of the Limit if I find myself taking a walk down West St, retracing what was the usual stagger down from the Hallamshire.

Marc Wells, Chesterfield

I loved The Limit. There was nothing like it and I doubt there'll ever be anything like it again. It meant so many things for many different. It's hard to believe a venue that opened up as a punk club became a haven for eighties goths and then known as a cutting edge dance/rave venue. Bring back The Limit!

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