Nonna Fab: Bringing Sheffield’s Musical Footprint Back

By Samuel Lakin

20 May 2024

Nonna Fab (real name Dave Sheard) has been involved with music since before he was born. His first gig experience came when his parents, themselves in a folk cover band called King’s Ransom, went to see ‘The Who’ whilst expecting. From there, he grew up in a musical environment, learning the keyboard and finding himself drawn to “soulful dance” tracks as he developed his own taste.

As a student at Sheffield Hallam University, Nonna began to DJ as part of a duo called The Native Project, growing used to the events scene in the city whilst working at CODE nightclub. In 2018, Nonna founded current DJ duo and Hi-Fi club night Apricot Ballroom alongside Joi La Frique (real name Gabriel Presland), and this is where his career in promoting truly began. 

Nonna said: “The thing about Sheffield which I’ve always found is if you want to do something just do it.

“It’s a great city for supporting people doing new things and everyone’s really keen to help each other.”

“I fell in love with the city, fell in love with the people, and then got to the point where I realised actually, it’s us that are now leading the city’s music scene.”

From this point, Nonna partnered with Aaron Dynamic of Sheffield underground dance promotion Control to form the “no frills, all thrills house party” Latent Desires after the two found themselves wanting to play more of this style of music than their current club nights allowed. 

Nonna on the decks.

In November of 2022, however, Nonna’s long-time partner was diagnosed with an under-researched form of stage three ovarian cancer known as primary peritoneal cancer, and was left immunocompromised by the resulting chemotherapy. The diagnosis not only impacted Nonna’s relationship, but also his work. 

Nonna said: “I couldn’t DJ for six months and I wasn’t really one to just sit at home and do nothing, I had to find something to do.

“I started listening to music in a very different way, I started listening to it off dance floors and I started to listen to it just in my own home. 

“The way that I processed music was different because the environment and the context changed as a result of my partner’s cancer.”

This was when the idea for Footprints Jazz Club, Nonna’s most successful club night to date, was born. Launched in early June 2023, as a more relaxed, intimate, night when compared to his other ventures, Footprints quickly established itself in Sheffield with monthly lineups at Sidney and Matilda, and is now selling over 200 tickets per event.

Nonna said: “It’s been needed for this city. I think how fast it’s grown in six or seven months, it shows that you really hit a gap in what is needed in people’s lives.

“People want to go out and listen to live music during the week but they want to listen to new jazz and new music that’s being created.”

The inception of Footprints also contributed to Nonna’s own transition from promoter and producer to performer, as he joined fusion quintet Fuji Speedway as their keys player, in what he says was a steep learning curve but the most fun he’s ever had as a musician.

Nonna said: “You have a lot of the older jazz heads which I think we piss off a lot of the time, and we’ve got a lot of the new people, younger people, that seem to dig it and I think that is something we’re battling with a little bit at the moment.

“We are a jazz band technically, but we’re also technically not a jazz band because we’ll play dubtunes or we’ll play broken beat stuff, I guess it’s new jazz.” 

Recognising a gap forming in its own performer and consumer base, Footprints launched its first jazz festival in partnership with the Sheffield and District Afro-Caribbean Community Association (SADACCA). SADACCA has been a key centre of Sheffield’s Afro-Caribbean community since the 1950s, and houses a studio run by underground legend Rob Gordon of Forgemasters, who pioneered the warp and bleep techno sounds and later set up Warp Records.

Nonna said: “With footprints I realised that when you have, and I say this from a humble place, created a new area of a scene, this sort of new area of jazz and live music that’s happening in Sheffield, I realised I had a responsibility to widen the communities which were involved. 

“I think any promoter for any event has the responsibility to try their best to encourage diversity and that isn’t necessarily even at the booking level, that’s on the dance floor too.”

“I saw myself in a position where all the musicians I was booking were white and it was because maybe a year ago I only knew of five bands in Sheffield and they were all white, all sort of pretty middle class and I realised I needed to reach out, to actually physically go out and meet people from other communities.

“Everything I do is to try and benefit Sheffield and put Sheffield on the map, and representing one area of middle class white Sheffield – I’m not too politically driven – but the least I can do is go and meet and represent people from other communities, which is how we got involved with SADACCA.”

Nonna during a set at Mondo Community Radio.

Following on from this success, Nonna is partnering with longtime collaborator and president of community station Mondo Radio Ed Malus, to launch a ‘Jazz in the Park’ festival in Sheffield’s Weston Park on 5th June. The festival aims to be an expansion of the SADACCA event, featuring multiple stages and workshops for attendees and members of the community. 

Additionally, Nonna has newly produced releases on the way, has partnered with Hagglers Corner to run two new monthly jazz nights, and is expanding Apricot Ballroom promotions into other cities such as Manchester and Leeds following a sold-out New Year’s Eve event. 

As for what motivates him, Nonna said: “Giving people a space where they are free to be who they want to be is something special, and just bringing people together has always been the driver. 

“I used to throw a lot of big, stupid student house parties and I realised over time that the reason I liked it so much was bringing a mixture of people together and seeing them interact.”

“It’s the easiest way to build a community centre as we get the same people coming every month and they don’t see each other outside of that, it’s a really special thing.”

Nonna’s involvement with Sheffield’s underground culture extends further than this however, with him having published a book about ‘The Workshop’, a space he says acted as an informal creative hub for many of the people who are now leading the city’s DIY music scene.

Nonna said:“The Workshop space is the definition of underground, a private if you know you know club. 

“It’s been an afters spot for the last five years – you go on a night out and then everyone goes back to the workshop and you’d stay there for more days than you should.

“It became a real catalyst for creation and creatives to meet but not as a networking event, it was a very organic thing which is now being seen across the scene in Sheffield. 

“As a result of not being able to go on dance floors I kind of had to step back and I thought actually, this is a pretty incredible thing we’ve got here, which then has led to the start of this publishing company.” 

A packed crowd at one of Nonna’s Footprints Jazz Club nights.

The Workshop book led to the creation of Love In Space, a publishing project with which Nonna and Sirrey aim to document underground culture in the North of England. Love In Space acts as the culmination of Nonna’s projects, aligning the aims of the events he promotes, and he has hopes to turn it into an independent magazine.

Nonna said: “Love In Space is about documenting and capturing promoters, musicians, venues, spaces, places, and people across the North of England.

“We want people to find what is special in the North that is not covered as much as places like London or Manchester, Manchester is obviously in the north but there’s a lot of good shit going on up here that isn’t covered. 

“People don’t know about it until they come to Sheffield and go ‘fucking hell, it’s sick’ like yeah, we’ve been here all along and we need to start shouting about these people, start shouting about these places because they’re fucking crucial.” 

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