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A Magazine for Sheffield

The Sheffield pub keeping a decades-old tradition alive

With its forbidden music board and jerry-rigged skip button, The Rutland Arms is swimming against the anti-jukebox tide. Just like Sheffield, it likes to buck the trend.


The Rutland's forbidden music board during the 2023 coronation.

Sam Gregory

It was just before midnight when I realised something strange was happening.

I was in a pub in Finsbury Park, North London, and there was music blaring from the speakers. So far, so normal. But then I noticed every single song was drawing this huge, visceral reaction from the pub. I first noticed it during ‘Just’ by Radiohead. Then the same thing happened when the intro to ‘Time for Heroes' by The Libertines kicked in. People had started climbing tables, waving their arms and screaming along to every word. Everyone was applauding at the start and end of every song. Then it hit me.

It was the jukebox.

A little metallic box in the corner of the pub was doing this to people. Intrigued, I headed towards it to see if my selections could cause a similarly riotous reaction among the pub patrons. “You’ll be waiting a while, fella,” said the barman hovering by the jukebox. Why, I asked? “Because there are about 80 songs queued up and we close in 20 minutes.” I laughed, put my quid back in my pocket, and went back upstairs to sing along to the next selection on this funny old box.

Given the picture I just painted, you might be forgiven for thinking that jukeboxes are an indispensable part of any good pub. In reality, they’re becoming a rarer and rarer sight.

Once upon a time, jukeboxes like that one in Finsbury Park were at the epicentre of the pub experience. They brought people together. They facilitated interaction between people who would never normally talk to each other.

When a song comes on the jukebox, tell me you don’t have a quick scan of the pub to see if you can figure out who put it on. Similarly, when you put a song on, I know you’re looking around to gauge people’s reactions. One person nodding along is a winner in my book. Two, and I’m seriously considering a career as a DJ.

Nowadays, jukeboxes are disappearing as fast as cash. But it wasn’t always like this. Getting nostalgic, I searched Sheffield Forum to see if the topic of jukeboxes has ever come up. I found seven pages of sheer bliss. There are misty-eyed memories of the legendary Nelson jukebox and excited tales of the introduction of video jukeboxes in the 60s. One poster even claims that Debenhams used to have a jukebox. Debenhams!

And another thing strikes me. 30 or 40 years ago, each jukebox would have had its own selection of songs, chosen by the landlords. You could pick a song, but only within certain parameters set out by that pub. Since each jukebox was different, each pub could project its own personality through it. If you wanted to hear a specific artist, you had to find a pub which had them on the jukebox.

Back in Sheffield, I decide to try and hunt down the last remaining jukeboxes in the city centre. I start by taking a whistle-stop tour of pubs that at least used to have a jukebox. The Porter Cottage, fresh from a hip refurb, have ditched their jukebox. The Globe, recently taken over by Craft Union, have also dispensed with theirs. The Cavendish? Nope. I soon see that there has been an exodus of jukeboxes from city centre pubs. Once such a vital part of the communal drinking experience, now they’re being replaced with, well, nothing.

But as I step through the bright red doors of a Sheffield institution, I finally find a pub that is swimming against the anti-jukebox tide.

As far as I’m aware, The Rutland now stands as the only pub in Sheffield city centre with a jukebox. It may not have an old school vinyl machine with a selection curated by the pub, but it makes up for that with its so-called forbidden music board. On one side of the wall is a list of banned artists and on the other is a list of recommended artists – sometimes based around current affairs – designed to provide some inspiration. This quirky Rutty tradition was recently honoured with a Northern Monk collab beer.


Forbidden Music Board, a Northern Monk beer paying tribute to The Rutland's jukebox policy.

Forbidden Music Board

Thanks to a jerry-rigged skip button in a cupboard behind the bar, any attempt to play one of the banned artists will be instantly rejected. Queue an Oasis song and it’ll get skipped. Queen? No chance. Arctic Monkeys? Heard them plenty enough, mate. You can choose a song, but only within our parameters. Just the way it should be.

It’s fitting that a place like The Rutland should continue the decades-old tradition of pub jukeboxes. Because just like Sheffield, it likes to buck the trend. This boozer is a shining beacon in a city centre swamp of chain bars and faceless gastro pubs. In many ways, The Rutty is a microcosm of Sheffield itself – a village-like atmosphere, where everyone knows everyone, but located smack bang in the middle of a big city. A mixed crowd, where people from all walks of life happily coexist and enjoy each other’s jukebox selections. Just like those old pubs with their curated jukeboxes, The Rutland has its own distinct personality that can’t be pigeonholed with a lazy label.

If you take a look around this cramped but cosy pub, you’ll see other relics, nick-nacks and quirks that project its unique identity. The forbidden music board. The Chauvinist Pig board game. The famous food board, offering some of the best pub grub in the city. Beers on the menu that cater for all tastes and palettes; everything from locally-sourced ales for under four quid to a £9 chocolate milk hazy stout IPA (OK, I might’ve made that last one up). The Rutland caters for almost everyone, but it never panders.

Rutland jukebox

The jukebox at The Rutty.

As I make my selection on The Rutland’s box, I continue to ponder what the future holds for jukeboxes. As they vanish from pubs across the country, it’s worth considering if we’re also losing a valuable piece of the pub experience. Jukeboxes bring people together, bring punters into the pub and act as a point of connection between disconnected strangers. Do we really want all of that to disappear?

I return to my corner seat, pint in hand. I’m surrounded by almost every node of Sheffield society, all joined together by this bright red and yellow spot in a sea of dull and dark grey. The next person sheepishly walks up to the jukebox. They put on ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen. It immediately gets skipped. I smile.

Long live The Rutland – and long live jukeboxes.

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