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the brudenell at 100: nathan clark interview part 2

the brudenell at 100: nathan clark interview part 2

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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 yesterday with the club’s origins, and possible links to Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffalos, and continuing today as the story moves from times of trouble in Hyde Park, to the growing importance of the club to the local music scene.

Rule: It shall be non-political, and the club premises shall not be used for the purpose of political party meetings nor for any purpose which in the opinion of the officials would be opposed to the objects for which the club is established.

The most severe confrontations in Hyde Park weren’t ever with students, but with the police, culminating in the riot of July 1995. Suspicion about police activity in the area turned into violence after a series of raids. “It was a bit weird because you could pre-empt that it was going to happen,” said Nathan. “It just was. It was in the community, everyone knew there were tensions building up. It was all mainly up and down Hyde Park Road and didn’t come near here, but I remember having a lock-in on that night because the taxis wouldn’t run. So everyone stayed late and played darts.”

It was in the wake of the riot that Hyde Park Unity Day began, as efforts were made to rebuild the LS6 community. “The first Unity Day meetings were in our concert room,” said Nathan, “and it was originally going to be a small festival over the road and using the car park. It was like: there’s a space, and you can use it. Rooms and spaces here have been turned into practice rooms or meeting rooms or anything else; it’s always been seen as a utility that should be used, and not about how much we can charge to use it. So it’s been helpful to a lot of groups in the past.

“I think the Brudenell has also been a lot more accepting of style changes and social changes; we’ve always gone out of our way not to put a tag on it as a ‘safe’ space, but it’s just accepting. You’ve always had Asian people in the area, an Afro-Caribbean community, the schools I grew up in were always mixed and there were never any problems. You’ve always had the Halal butchers and the English butchers.

“When you get past that cultural change into the late 90s and 2000s, students became the norm in shops and in the post office, so queuing for things and realising students are going to get their credit cards out has just become more acceptable in this area, and people just get on with it. People who were students who came in 1995 or 1990 and stayed have been here now for 15–20 years and this is their establishment as much as anyone’s. We listened to what they want, and I think that’s the point.”

Rule: The objects of the club shall be to provide the means of social intercourse, mutual helpfulness, mental and moral improvement, and rational recreation.

The beauty of the Brudenell is that it has been able to listen to new customers without alienating the old, seen no more clearly in the way the concert room has gone from a community facility hosting occasional gigs, to one of the most well-regarded venues on the independent circuit. “There were various groups and charitable projects doing gigs and fundraisers, and a few other things in the really early 90s, and it stemmed out of that,” said Nathan. “I remember Mike Jolly and Cloth Cat, before it was Cloth Cat,” the music charity now based in Holbeck. Cops & Robbers, a monthly fanzine listing ethical and DIY gigs in Leeds, began in 1999 and frequently featured gigs at the Brudenell. The room promised endless possibilities: people would come to see one gig, and come again either to play or promote another.

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Nathan himself was changed by what he saw going on, in what was, essentially, his living room. “Music wasn’t something I was into, up until I was 15 or 16 – in the mid-90s you had bands like Blur and Oasis and you knew them and heard them on the radio, but it wasn’t until I was being opened up to other avenues, and you think, actually there’s something there about that… There wasn’t a moment in time or a thing, there was just a general kind of swathe of things that happened.

“I went to America for three years, and I came back in 2001. My dad got ill, and I wanted to go to university because I’d not been educated to a level where I wanted to be. Something in me said I needed to do something for myself, and said I needed to come back and plant some roots. So I started helping out here at the same time as doing Sport Health and Leisure and Management, and then an MBA.”

April 2004 took the room’s reputation beyond the confines of LS6. Claire Broadley, who made music as Printed Circuit, and Andy Brown, who now drums in Glasgow band Divorce, had known members of Franz Ferdinand from their earlier bands and offered the new group a gig at the Brudenell. In a flash, however, Franz Ferdinand were bone-fide top ten pop stars, with a gig booked to play before thousands at the cavernous Blank Canvas in Leeds’ Dark Arches. Rather than cancel the gig at the Brudenell, however, the band adopted a new name – the Black Hands – and the not-so-secret gig had people queuing from the doors of the Brudenell, out of the car park and along Queen’s Road.

“They’re a band that I think reflects this place a lot,” said Nathan. “It’s in their make up, not only in their music, but the way they did their artwork, their interviews, and the way they wanted to step off that tour and do a small show with friends that was secret, but more just about fun. The gig passed off successfully and made people think: let’s do more of that.”

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Part three is now online here – and in case you’ve come in halfway, here’s the link back to part one.

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Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 6


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