Nick Simmonite is the manager of the award-winning Frog and Parrot, the new home of Northern Exposure event nights on the 3rd Thursday of every month starting on the 19th of October. The quirky pub has a history steeped in musical greats and is nestled in the Devonshire Quarter in Sheffield. Nick has been the manager here for (at least) the last fifteen years and has worked hard to continue its tradition of supporting and serving musicians from near and far.
How did you come to manage the Frog and Parrot?
I came to the Frog and Parrot so many years ago – at least fifteen years ago but I’ve got a feeling I’ve been saying that for a couple of years now. Previously at The Old Grindstone up at Crookes – a successful little boozer with a live music element. And when I was offered this one and I thought about it for all of thirty seconds – a famous pub that needed some work – but I jumped at the chance.
Can you give us a low down of the association of music here?
An honest appraisal? We discovered more recently that decades ago Joe Cocker signed his album deal here and according to two members of his band – Gerry Scanlon and Jon Firminger who were in here. Why were they in here? Well, we had a cover band in for a birthday party for Carl Reid Senior‘s umpteenth birthday. The only time we ever got a cover band in for Sheffield’s oldest DJ at the time. When I say they were a cover band I mean they were a proper rock and roll band. The guy that played Buddy Holly in the Buddy Holly Story was the front man and he turned up with these very credible Sheffield legends who sat over there and said ‘Yeah that’s where we signed the album deal.’ I mean there is definitely something in the blood of The Frog and Parrot anyway.
But we’d been doing music for a little before that. We had music events on Bank Holidays when the council buildings were closed – we called them Frogstock events- that’s how we referred to them ( a complete work of fiction) and convinced a few people that they’d been running since 1979 hosting the likes of Human League, Artery and Def Leppard – that gigs took place but it didn’t happen here. We fabricated some art work and persuaded a few local bands that they needed to play at this legendary event that we’d been running every Bank Holiday for ever. We got a letter from a Swedish festival called Frogstock and they wanted our twitter handle and we told them we’d been doing it forever – we even sent them a mock-up of a poster from 1979 advertising the event – it was all made up!
But then the cream of Sheffield started turning up and playing these events every Bank Holiday, which just morphed in to what we do now for the Tramlines Fringe – a band on the hour every hour. From the moment you open to the moment you close and do it over an entire weekend. That’s what we’re good at.
Sheffield acts that have come through here- some have done all right. Bands that were formed here, debuted here, gained notoriety – the best one really (who are sadly no longer together because Leki [Alexis Gotts] departed from this world in a great way) was Wet Nuns.
Leki used to work here – we bought him a drum kit so he could practise in his lunch break and learned how to play drums. Wet Nuns did incredibly well but I think it just all got a bit much. Arctic Monkeys – did we discover them? Well yes, we did – we discovered them drinking underage rather than gigging here but back in those days as long as you had a plate meal and some loose association with parental permission you’d be alright. They’d come in in the afternoon and their mums would come in later. Everybody’s has been through here: Reverend and the Makers, Little Man Tate, The Violet May. Chris Mcclure’s first band was formed here and Chris Mcclure was the face of the first Arctic Monkeys album. There are a load of acts that you know they’re on the cusp of something great and you don’t realise how well they do. Mike Hughes is bobbing along quite nicely – he was a long term resident. Everybody seems to pass through these doors, many seem to grace the stage at some point on their way up or on their way down. Then we get national characters landing in here as regulars or the irregulars who turn a few heads – some more credible than others. Roots Manuva – he helped us out on occasion with a very sticky audit, Boyzone ruined our credibility by filming here for the Sunday Night Project – that was a fun day. Pete Doherty tipping up – Phil Goodwin was in a band that I think was called The Dodgems at the time they’d just had their bassist nicked by The Arctic Monkeys (Nick had gone to play with them) and Phil was in a mood anyway – Phil’s with Tom now in Cellar Door Moon Crow – I remember Phil refusing to lend Pete Doherty his guitar. Cheers lads, thanks for that. You sit here long enough and the stories can grow. It’s alright. We had a really hard time fifteen years ago getting decent acts to come and play. There’s always a dodgy amp that we’ve been borrowed that was banded around or a dodgy guitarist who couldn’t play but he had a van, but now the calibre of musicianship among the younger end is incredible. It really is. It’s easier now to find good musicians and bands like Red Faces. It’s nice that they have an allegiance here and want to play here, be seen here.
What’s your favourite kind of music to listen to when you have any down time?
Down time? What’s that then?
Fairly wide ranging – I have a certain breadth of music I listen to. If I had to choose one band I’d choose The Doors as the stand out band – my default band. I don’t quite insist my kids listen to it but maybe my eight year old daughter often falls asleep listening to Elvis so I’m happy with that. And some bands I’ve seen not a million miles away from here.
How would you describe The Frog & Parrot for people who are yet to visit?
Well. Traditional little pub that’s been here in excess of 300 years. It’s changed a bit over that time and it has a certain eclectic look – some would say schizophrenic, some reviews would say clearly whoever’s put it together has got a sense of humour – we certainly shout about music and that’s the pitch. It’s a good little pub on a street corner in a part of Sheffield that was the back of beyond but it’s got something at its heart.
So how do you promote music in Sheffield?
I delegate a lot of that to be honest because I have a great team of promoters. It’s easier to exploit their networks – social media – everyone does that. Old school posters don’t go amiss , especially ones done by Martin Bedford. Now we’ve got Northern Exposure in the pipe line. We’ve done a lot of daft stuff in the past. Once we had the bright idea that we’d sticker people at different gigs on your shirt or lapel in the hope you would wake up and see it the next morning. Some of our most successful events we stickered for and we packed out here after – I had some angry phonecalls from Barney down at the Boardwalk for ruining his club and not being able to see his mirrors anymore. That worked and word of mouth.
And some gigs we’d choose not to promote – secret gigs. Let people come back afterwards and say ‘What on earth happened here?’ One legendary The Violet May gig illicitly held upstairs in the Boyzone suite – you’d just got the cream of Sheffield Rock ‘n’ Roll royalty in the room and a handful of other people in the room. That was a cracking little gig. Because yes – Chris Mcclure was messing with the smoke alarm and you get the bounceback from that when you hear a lyric credit in Cornerstone by Arctic Monkeys:
I thought I saw you in the Parrot’s Beak / messing with the smoke alarm…
Cause yes Chris Mcclure was smoking directly underneath it so he’d set off the smoke alarm. I had a member of staff come upstairs to say the pub was empty as they were all on the street outside because the smoke alarm had gone off waiting for the fire brigade to turn up. Eventually he dismantled it with a mic stand.
F&P are going to the new home of Northern Exposure – how did this collaboration come about?
Well it’s a better looking team than Carl, Stevlor and Aaron to be honest!
That’s just ’cause we’re women!
We don’t see gender obviously(!) – we’re very PC – but they’re not the best looking promotion team going – we ally ourselves with people with real credibility. Yes, it’s Carl Maloney, Aaron Proctor and Stevla. These guys are good credible people and we wanted someone to join our credible team. Northern Exposure have certainly been making waves. Hard not to notice to be fair. Some great initiatives – the Musicians Against Homelessness has been bouncing around now for a couple of years and some bands that you’ve had faith in for the last couple of years that have come to the fore. We want to be a little part of that. Nice to be home to a brand that reaches beyond Sheffield.