Penelopes

Music can reach out to a lot of places; binding people together and breaking down barriers.Counterfeit takes a look at what’s going down at Penelope’s, Sheffield’s cool little nightclub next to the Odeon and the O2 Academy on Arundel Gate.

Penelope’s have launched a night, or should we say an afternoon, at the club called ‘Stardust’; an event for audiences who find it difficult to get out in the evening, including people with physical or learning difficulties.

Penelope’s promise performances from some of Sheffield’s hottest acts scheduled in for the afternoons, rather than late nights, to work around the busy schedules of carers, parents or people who simply don’t want to stay out late.

“Our gigs are normally in front of real raucous rowdy crowds, but this puts you in a different position. It takes you out of your comfort zone.”

Penelope’s has been specially re-designed for disabled access to support the event. I hope this is something that will catch on. Music shouldn’t be evening-only entertainment. This is a mould that needs breaking.

I caught up with Penelope’s to find out more about their matinees. “I was inspired to start in summer 2008 when I was researching why people with disabilities didn’t go to gigs…” remembers the Penelope’s manager, “We discovered that the time of day was a big barrier, due to issues with carers and transport… I think they also felt vulnerable being around a bunch of drunk people,” the manager added, “So here we are!”

Sheffield’s The Violet May opened the first Stardust event. Their frontman, Chris McClure, is also a care worker at Citizen First, a centre for people with learning difficulties. “They’re putting things on Friday and Saturday afternoons, at about 1 and 5 pm,” explains Chris, “It’s for anyone who can’t get to gigs at night really, like people with learning difficulties, single mothers, or anyone who might feel intimidated by going out at night in general.”

I question Chris on the peculiarity of playing a gig slap bang in the middle of the afternoon. McLure sheds some light, “There’s no sunlight in there so it’s just the same anyway! Our gigs are normally in front of real raucous rowdy crowds, but this puts you in a different position. It takes you out of your comfort zone,” admits Chris. At 2.30pm getting on stage sober as a judge- its hard to grasp at first,” continues McLure, “It’ll be interesting to see what bands come forward and step up to the plate.”

McLure is really enthusiastic about Penelope’s matinee venture and buzzes with excitement when describing the gig and what the events are about. “I honestly think it’s a wicked idea,” declares Chris, “It’s opened a whole new market- just because some people have learning difficulties, it doesn’t mean they should be just fed Abba or the Birdie Song…I’d definitely do it again.”

I hope other bands will take some inspiration from The Violet May. We ask Penelope’s how the musicians have taken to the daytime audience, ”The bands really like it,” confirms the manager of Penelope’s, “It’s certainly a very interactive and a very participating audience… One week a musician was asking the sound checker whether they could hear his guitar and to his surprise someone in the audience shouted, ‘Yeah, we can hear it fine luv!”

“We’ll be encouraging people to bring their deck chairs and sit down on the paved area outside Penelope’s, which should be quite nice!”

“There’s nothing different about these events really though,” asserts the Penelope’s manager, “It’s just a different time of day. The idea of a 24 hour city is that things happen throughout the day too; not just into the night.”

Stardust has already hosted some great talent so far, including musicians Spit’n’Strings, Puppet Glove, Bare Dollar, The Ratells, Linear North, Lovelacer, So Be On Fire, The Stoops and comedians such as cult-figure Frank Sidebottom.

“Each night’s generally a fiver and we’ve got bands booked right up until the summer. Hopefully we’ll soon have acts playing five days a week,” explains the Penelope’s manager. “We’re even looking at improving the disabled toilets with better changing places and hoists,” the manager continues. “We’re also looking to see what we can do if and when Tramlines comes round again- hopefully we can get a seated stage on the concrete outside Penelope’s… Last year there was a lot of rain and mud so people found it difficult to access; this would solve that problem, but we’re still waiting to hear back from the council on that one,” says the manager of Penelope’s.

“If it goes ahead,” adds the manager, “We’ll be encouraging people to bring their deck chairs and sit down on the paved area outside Penelope’s, which should be quite nice!” I would certainly welcome an expansion of Tramlines events across the City Centre, and having a stage on Arundel Gate is a good idea, especially if it solves disability access issues.

Big things could be in store for Penelope’s if they pull this off, and I’m backing the venue to make a real success of these matinee events. Cynics may sneer that ‘it’ll never catch on,’ but it’s a great idea with huge potential.

Not only will matinee performances encourage a crowd that doesn’t want to be out late among intoxicated-twenty-somethings, it may also provide a much needed boost for an increasingly lethargic music industry. More gigs mean more money, and if Penelope’s can pull in the punters then it could be a positive move for all.