the brudenell at 100: nathan clark interview part 1Back
Back in The City Talking newspaper issue six, we interviewed Nathan Clark of the Brudenell Social Club about the changing role the social club turned top venue has played in Hyde Park. As the club celebrates 100 years since it opened at the end of 1913 with an amazing series of gigs featuring Shellac, The Fall, Forward Russia, Rocket from The Crypt and more, we’re reprinting the interview in three parts here; starting today with the club’s origins, and possible links to Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffalos…
“The Brudenell isn’t like, and isn’t set up like, any other club,” said Nathan Clark, known to most people as Nath Brudenell, licensee and promoter of the club and keeper of Charlie, the spaniel who adorns the club logo, t-shirts, and often the bar.
“It isn’t like any other working men’s or private club. It isn’t affiliated to any external body, so it’s not affiliated to the Working Mens Club and Institute Union, or any political parties.”
That’s been the key, according to Nathan, to how the Brudenell Social Club, in Hyde Park, has been able to change and thrive while other places around it withered. The Brudenell of 2013 is now firmly established as a gig venue, and its name is known to music fans across the country and bands across the world; compared to fifteen years ago, when I first went there, the clientele are younger, hipper and more numerous, and they don’t have to drink Webster’s Green Label anymore. You don’t have to be an old codger to marvel at how much it’s changed; but perhaps as an old codger you realise that it’s only changed because it’s still the same.
“We’re unlike a lot of places that are governed by certain legal rules and guidelines under affiliations or legislation,” said Nathan, “So that allowed us to change.”
The Brudenell Social Club is debt-free, and owns its building and the land it stands on. Instead of being beholden to banks, or subject to exterior regulations, it is directed only by the rules of its aims and constitution, rules that have allowed the Brudenell to keep changing because, since 1913, it has always been the same.
Rule: “It shall be called Brudenell Social Club and its office shall remain at The Club House, on Queens Road, Leeds.”
“There’s a bit of a cloud around who set this place up originally,” said Nathan. “It looks like a group of wealthy businessmen set it up for the local community. I found a box belonging to the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffalos here, with all their old chains and stuff; they did good for communities and set up things like this around the same era, so you wonder, was it set up by them?”
Whoever they were, “They originally planned to have the Hyde Park Picture House,” further along Queen’s Road, and now one of the country’s most precious historic cinemas. “Until the 1920s or 30s the Brudenell owned the big old stone house across the road with the bus stop outside, supposedly for the landlord or steward. The club building opened here in 1913, and the year after that the Picture House opened, so there’s a bit of correlation. I think there was some problem that meant it couldn’t happen there and so they had to find some alternative use.
“At that time the university had been set up, and every old house around here, if you look at Belle Vue Road and the ones up Ash Grove, they’re all huge old mansions, now split into smaller flats and houses. It was quite a well-to-do affluent area, close enough to the city centre for people to walk or go to the university.”
Being so close to the university means there has always been a student influence in LS6, but the rapid expansion of both the University and the Met in the nineties, combined with a property boom, brought rapid change to the area around the Brudenell. Those who could, sold their houses to student landlords and used the profits to move away; those who didn’t own their houses, or couldn’t afford to move, had no choice but to stay behind and deal with their many new, young and boisterous neighbours.
Nathan moved in as a youngster when his parents became licensees in the early nineties. The idea of a hostile welcome behind the Members Only door, “was a bit of a myth. The same people still come in here now, they’re still at the bar, they’re still sat round there. It’s a bit like Daffyd in Little Britain being the only gay in the village – instead of the locals looking at ‘outsiders’ coming in, it was people coming in thinking they should be scared of the locals, when there was never really that much of a divide.
“It was just about people plucking up the courage. There was a key piece of fixed seating that was in there, and I always saw that as a bit of a barrier: we ripped that out after the smoking ban, and as soon as you walked in it opened the room up. That was key to people thinking they don’t actually have to walk past those people, they can walk in and avoid them; and then once they’re in, they realise that there isn’t really any barrier there – it’s mythical.”
Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 6