Since opening its doors in 1980, the Sheffield venue and club has hosted the likes of Pulp, Coldplay, The Stone Roses and Oasis
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In an interview with IQ, the Electric Group's Dominic Madden discusses the future of the iconic Sheffield venue
By Lisa Henderson on 08 Aug 2023
The landlord of The Leadmill has discussed the future of the legendary UK music venue, amidst the management’s ongoing anti-eviction campaign.
Since opening its doors in 1980, the 900-capacity Sheffield venue and club has hosted the likes of Pulp, Coldplay, The Stone Roses and Oasis, as well as early shows from Arctic Monkeys, Kings Of Leon and The Killers.
In 2017, the site’s freehold was bought by the Electric Group — the owner of London’s Electric Brixton, Bristol’s SWX and Newcastle’s NX – which became the landlord for The Leadmill’s longtime leaseholder Phil Mills.
The Electric Group served Mills’ company a notice of eviction last year in advance of his lease coming to an end in March 2023. This prompted the leaseholder and his staff to launch an anti-eviction petition which centred around claims that the venue was facing closure.
In a statement to IQ, The Leadmill’s general manager Ian Lawlor said: “Madden and Jacob Lewis are using a loophole in the law to force The Leadmill out of business. If they succeed The Leadmill will no longer exist.”
“We own other music venues up and down the country and we’d like to run [The Leadmill] ourselves”
The 2022 petition garnered 46,054 signatures and drew the support of artists such as Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs and Cribs, as well as politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn.
“This E-Petition is fighting to prevent landlords unfairly and unjustly evicting long-standing tenants for their own financial gain,” read the accompanying statement. “In circumstances where a tenant has invested a huge amount of money, time and effort in establishing themselves, has paid rent on time (even throughout Covid lockdowns) and has improved the fabric of the premises beyond recognition, it is inconceivable that the landlord should be able to evict and inherit the investment that the tenant has made. The Leadmill is a valuable asset to the community and an integral part of the local culture which cannot be destroyed in this way.”
But the Electric Group has maintained that the site would continue to run as a music venue – something the company will have to prove in court in early 2024 as it seeks to bring Mills’ tenancy to a close.
“The insinuation that The Leadmill was closing flat is a complete load of nonsense,” explains Electric Group’s Dominic Madden. “It was so disingenuous that we didn’t respond but what we’ve done in the background is engaged with political leadership, community activists, and residents and got a clear sense of what the music community wants in Sheffield.
“Our basis for saying to Mr Mills that we’re not willing to renew his tenancy is because we own other music venues up and down the country and we’d like to run [The Leadmill] ourselves and bring it into the Electric Group’s touring circuit.”
“It would be a success if customers or music fans come in, and [the venue] doesn’t really seem to have changed”
The management’s most recent appeal asked fans to object to Electric Group’s application for a premises licence, allowing them to run their own business from the site. The team suggested supporters research online to understand how the group’s other venues were run and make objections “based on your understanding of the landlord’s experience and competence”.
Madden counters: “A shadow premises licence is a very basic thing that landlords usually get to make sure that if a tenant goes bankrupt or hands the licence back that the premises then can carry on. We understand how to run music venues. The venues I have in Brixton, Bristol and Newcastle are all run by teams – we’re not an AMG-style operator. We don’t have reams of promoters in-house, we work in partnership with people, and the venues are really successful because of it.”
The incumbent management team has also claimed that retaining The Leadmill name would be an infringement on their intellectual property rights. While Electric Group initially said they would retain The Leadmill name, Madden says his company are now seeking legal advice on the matter.
In terms of the ongoing operation of the venue, Madden says he “doesn’t really want it to change particularly. I don’t envisage any real change in the tone of programming so we’re still focusing on gigs and comedy. It would be a success if customers or music fans come in, and [the venue] doesn’t really seem to have changed.
“The venue hasn’t been used that much by national promoters but we’ve had interesting feedback from some that really want to use it. So our intention at the moment is to do some work on [the venue] but we’re not intending to do a major refurbishment like we did with NX in Newcastle. The Leadmill just needs improvements to toilets, dressing rooms, some of the backstage areas, things like that.”
The management is holding a public hearing on 18 September in Sheffield where people can “help by opposing the Landlord’s latest attempt to force us onto the street”.
Madden, meanwhile, is confident Electric Group’s plans will go ahead: “We have a track record of running music venues, a great background in compliance and… our case is very, very strong.”
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