King Mojo - 1964
In February 1964 Peter was asked by a local businessman if he wanted to buy his own club. The club in question was a little Irish dance club, Dey's Ballroom at 555 Pitsmoor Road, but the Stringfellows had to stump up £5,000.
"It was like asking for 5m in my eyes, and he couldn't believe I didn't have that kind of money ... so in the end he rented it to me for a phenomenal £30 a week. I painted it black and put in red lights and called it the MOJO CLUB"
The Front of the King Mojo
The dance hall was acquired in February 1964 and opened March 1964 as the MOJO CLUB, Peter, who lived there, ran it along with his brother Geoff, his mum Elsie who took the ticket money, youngest brother Paul, who also helped run the club and organise the coffee bar among other things.
Alongside the family there was big Brian Turner the doorman and John Hall a long standing mate of Peter, who when not gigging would drive Peter around as he didn't drive.
Dinkie Dawson sometimes filled in earlier in the evenings as DJ for Peter and another DJ, Dick West, did regular sessions there too.
The Mojo sat on the junction of Burngreave Road and Barnsley Road in Pitsmoor just opposite Abbeyfield Park and from the outside, it looked just like a house.
To the front left of the house, was the club’s scooter and car park. The ground floor rooms of the house were used as club offices to the left and dressing rooms to the right. The first floor was the Stringfellow’s flat where his wife Coral and a very large Pyrenean mountain dog called Fune lived.
Looking up Burngreave Road to the King Mojo
It wasn't the easiest club to get to: first you had to travel into Sheffield, then it was a bus from the city centre to the Wicker and another bus up Pittsmoor Road. If you were lucky you could get a bus direct to Pitsmoor Road from outside the Stylo shoe shop in the city centre, if you were lucky. You had to really want to go to the Mojo Club!
Anyone visiting the Mojo for the first time would wind their way through the crowd into the car park, to gaze in wonder at the array of Mod scooters parked there. They were as individual as the Mods that sat and laid on them while discussing and admiring each others scooters. The scooters were emblazoned with lamps, mirrors, chrome side-panels, tyre walls painted white and Union Jacks or fox tails frequently flying from ex-army Jeep aerials. On the fly screens, stickers’ identifying the mods’ home base were displayed.
They came from all over the north of England, places such as Leeds, Chesterfield, Leicester, Nottingham, Bradford, Derby, Wakefield, Doncaster, Mansfield and Worksop joining the local Sheffield mods.
But for many the mode of transport didn’t matter. They came on scooters, by car, bus, train, and even hitch-hiked from miles away. Distance was not a problem for them seeing that this was their weekend pilgrimage to The Mojo Club.
At the left side of the main building was an archway leading to the rear of the house where a flight of steps ran up and into the club entrance on the right. This was where you paid your dues to get into the hallowed halls of the Mojo, but first you had to get by Stringfellow's mum who took the entrance fee.
To the left was a corridor that took you into the Coffee Bar, alcohol was never sold at the Mojo. The Coffee Bar was separated from the main dance floor by a screen.
On the right as you walked by the Coffee Bar towards the dance floor was the entrance to the Girls Cloak Room and handbag bar.
Mods under the archway leading to the steps up to the club entrance
Entering the dance area, the main stage and DJ area is to the left at one end, doors at the other end lead by the Gent’s toilets and down to the back of the main house and the artists dressing rooms.
Stringfellow operates the record decks on the left-hand side of a stage that is only 25 feet long and 2 feet high. With such a low stage there didn’t seem to be any differentiation between entertainer and audience, which resulted in an electric atmosphere between the entertainer and the crowd.
The Mojo sound system was beyond state of the art for the time, kicking butt and easily blanketing the whole room. Eighteen-inch Goodman speaker cabinets with high end horns surrounded the dance floor; all driven by powerful tube amplifiers, three pre-amps, and two high quality Garrard turntables.
Janet Holsen and Jean in Mojo Coffee Bar
At the left-hand side of the stage and dance floor, in front of the Coffee Bar screen was a small stage. This was a good vantage point to view artists on the main stage.
One of the things that gave the Mojo it’s unique atmosphere was it’s unconventional layout. With the dressing rooms at the front and the stage at the back it was a problem for the artists to go up and down to the stage, when the club was crowded.
Peter wanted as much as he could from every artist he signed and that’s why he sometimes encouraged the audience to block the way for the artists to the dressing room until they had performed a couple of more songs. So, if the artists were really giving a great show, Peter would encourage everyone to squash up even tighter at the front and he'd tell the act that they couldn't leave the stage until the crowd let them, when they'd had enough. Many times, an artist would give extended encores until they would just about collapse on stage.
The club was quite small, with capacity for only 250 people, although it's membership grew to around 3,000. As the club had no air conditioning, sweat and condensation fell from the walls, but it all added to that special Mojo atmosphere.
By the end of April 1964 – two month into the life of King Mojo – the brothers were running all three clubs and Peter Stringfellow was never out of the press.
Thinking it looked a little austere he painted African warrior dancers with full headdress and tiled mirrors for eyes on the walls and the legend of the Mojo club was born.
The name Mojo was taken from the song "Got My Mojo Working" and the club soon attracted a new set of people who followed blues and soul music.
The club soon earned a great reputation because of the enthusiasm of the two brothers and made waves immediately.
Early African warrior art work by Peter
This teen and twenty something establishment didn't serve alcohol, and as a result filled a vital gap for the many underage kids who were well into the new music scene and looking for a place to hang out. From 1964 - 1967 the Mojo would keep on building on its huge popularity, not only in Sheffield, or Yorkshire, but also throughout the whole of the UK.
They'd got over 800 members within eight weeks of opening who couldn’t wait to sample the Mojo’s alcohol-free environment. At the beginning, it only was open on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday for British R & B or soul bands, opening from 8pm until 11pm.
Then Peter Stringfellow experimented with a records-only night on Tuesdays, then an original concept.
"There used to be a club down on [London's] Wardour Street called the Discotheque and I took it to Sheffield, this idea of playing records and no groups. What? So I did a little Tuesday night in my King Mojo club and charged one shilling to get in. And I advertised all the records I was going to play in the local paper. Within three months it was the biggest night of the year. Wow!"
During it's lifetime the best of music and fashion could be heard and seen at the Mojo as a vast range of musical talent, from established legends to up and coming UK and USA stars passed through it's doors. Many of the major 60s stars played on the small stage in the old Victorian house.
Clubbers would travel miles to be part of the Mojo's amazing vibe and music scene and good Soul music was always at the core of the Mojo scene. So it started off as a blues club, then became a rhythm and blues club, then a soul club, because that was the way Stringfellow's mind worked. He mixed all this music together.
Peter Stringfellow as the main DJ really knew his music and bought much of it in London in the beginning, he had too, this was a time when even Motown when it first appeared had to ordered on import. In the middle of each week, Peter would disappear off to London to run the dance floor action on Ready Steady Go. Whilst in London, he would obtain all the new 45's (UK & US) plus make new contacts re: booking live acts.
“Eventually, I’d like to open every night if there’s the demand. On Saturday night we can draw a crowd of 600 – and if we were allowed we could have more than 1,000 for Long John Baldry. We aim to bring all the top class R&B stars to Sheffield. I think the kids are willing to pay for them."
At the opening night of the Mojo Buddy Britten and The Regents played, the first band to grace the Mojo stage.
"The Mojo opened up as a blues club because blues were cool. I opened with Buddy Britten and The Regents, who were a Buddy Holly band (from Liverpool). I had this cool club with a Buddy Holly band opening it! He was the wrong act."
As the music scene diversified Stringfellow was playing music which no one else had and was soon booking acts to fit the music. He started landing acts that were set to spawn global superstars that are still as big today. They include:-
John Mayall with the likes of Eric Clapton and Peter Green.
The Graham Bond Organisation (with Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker, Dick Heckstall-Smith and Diane Stewart)
Steam Packet (with Long John Baldry, Brian Auger, Vic Briggs, Richard Brown, Julie Driscoll, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green, Mickey Waller and Rod Stewart).
"However, many of the American artists were shocked to play a venue where there was no alcohol. Sonny Boy Williamson came over and I remember going to his dressing room and he said, 'Where's the booze?' And I said we didn't have any and he said, 'I don't go on stage without no booze.' He wanted a bottle of whisky so we went to the off-licence across the road brought it back and gave it to him. And he said, 'Is this it?' And I said, 'What, you want two?' So he glugged half the bottle down in front of us and said, 'That's better,' and went on stage and drank the rest of the bottle during his show."
The list of acts that graced the Mojo stage in 1964 was formidable by any standards they include:-
From the USA - Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson and Wilson Pickett.
UK groups - The Kinks, Herman's Hermits, Alex Harvey Soul Band, Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporsted, Manfred Mann, The Merseybeats, The Yardbirds, The Searchers and the Stormsville Shakers.
Local acts - Johnny Tempest and the Cadillacs, Dave Berry and The Cruisers, The Blueberries, The Pitifuls, The Sheffields and Vance Arnold and the Avengers (later to be known as Joe Cocker)
Johnny Tempest and The Cadillacs
Peter and Geoff Stringfellow with Sonny Boy Williamson
Manfred Mann at The Mojo
"I used to go there, mainly to see the American blues singers and harmonica players, I managed to get backstage and actually sat and talked with Sonny Boy Williamson, he was so friendly & we chatted for about an hour, he gave me many tips on playing the blues harmonica, & even gave me one of his harmonicas and we played together, I couldn't believe my luck, he was a really nice guy."
The Yardbirds at The Mojo
In addition to all the live acts there were all the great new sounds on record that the place introduced to young people that passed through it's doors.
The Burngreave Messenger - Joseph Brown:
"We were just teenagers at a time when teenagers were first discovering their freedom! And we loved music so we started going to the club every week, from the day it opened to the day it closed. It was just up the road and it was quite something! People used to come from all over – even London! And everyone came for the music. There was just a coffee bar – no alcohol sold there. When it started it cost two shillings and sixpence to get in! The décor wasn’t much – all black paint inside but the music was fantastic!"