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the brudenell at 100: nathan clark interview part 3

the brudenell at 100: nathan clark interview part 3

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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; part one looked at the club’s origins, and possible links to Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffalos; part two took the story from times of trouble in Hyde Park, to the growing importance of the club to the local music scene; and below in part three, Nathan tells us how the community rallied round to keep live music at the Brudenell, and laid the foundations for it to become an internationally known venue, that’s still as big and as small as it ever was.

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 venue couldn’t keep pace with the demands for bigger and louder concerts, though, and 2004-05 was a struggle as noise complaints took the concert room to the brink of closure. “We were on our last warning and gigs had to cease for a short while,” said Nathan. Sound baffles were needed, and expensive acoustic fire doors – so, driven by regular users of the room, fundraising efforts began, with quizzes and Bullseye nights, badges for sale bearing faces of the bar staff, and in July 2005, an all day gig: Keep the Brudenell A-Live Aid.

“I don’t think anywhere else you would have got the catalyst of people with a genuine emotional attachment to a place, or…” Nathan struggles to explain it. “There was something special in the way the community rallied round, and helped, and thought they could save that amazing space where they’ll let you do what you want. There aren’t many other venues that say, yeah, just go on, and do art stuff like Black Dogs did; where else could you have put on Lightning Bolt, Hella and DJ Scotch Egg back at that time? It just wouldn’t have happened, and I think people really appreciated that it was their space.

“When we got the fire doors and saved the live music side of the club, it was a catalyst for other people to say they wanted to do things. It spurred us on to put in the application for the lottery grant that bought the P.A.”

With the venue secure, The Kaiser Chiefs and The Cribs played a ‘secret’ gig in late 2005, but by then the secret was out, and the stature and fanbase of the bands playing in the concert room steadily increased, along with the standing of the club, which now regularly appears on lists of the best live venues in the UK.

“It’s nice to know you’re there alongside places that are reviewed highly around the country,” said Nathan, “It means someone views you in a good way. But I am not fussed whatsoever that we are in the NME. If someone gives you an award, you can put that on a shelf and people can see it – but you know you’ve done it anyway. It comes and goes, that kind of thing, and that’s not really what motivates us. We’re just happy to keep on doing what we’re doing.

“It’s more important to be supportive of other places, like when Wharf Chambers opened we gave them loads of glasses and shot measures, and we’ll happily stock their flyers and things like that. This place hasn’t ever been competitive, so I see it as an organic growing community. It’s nice to have good bands playing here, but it’s also good that there are other good places thriving as well – it helps for the better of everywhere.”

The concert room is still the same utility as always, still there for anyone with a use for it. “We didn’t have a gig on so Battle Lines, a young band that won Futuresound, are having a production day with an engineer, because we’ve got the same desk they’re going to be using at Leeds festival.

“Tomorrow we’ve got Middleman’s album launch, and the other week people drew a giant map of the world on the floor and played Risk. When you talk about profile and the NME and other things, people don’t see that; they don’t see the comedy night that goes on that’s still £2 entry. We’ve had some of the biggest comedians, but I don’t hear people talking about it.

“We just don’t go out of our way to shout about things, or be this arts and music and film place, we just say, go and do it, let the art create itself – let people just do it.”

Rule: All monies received shall be applied towards carrying out the objects of the club.

“You don’t plan the future,” said Nathan. “The Brudenell has got here through not planning. We managed in the last few years to cut any debts so there is no single debt on the place, it is wholly owned by the Brudenell. The other change was to the licensing laws, that said you either had to be members club or not. We had to make a big decision, and decided to form a not for profit company that still has the same aims as the club always had, and is still bound by the same constitution.

“So with that we turned it from a members club into a publicly open, licensed place that runs as a social enterprise and reinvests its money, so the future is that if this place does well, it will do well for the better of itself and not for a corporate company or an individual or for anything else. It will just reinvest and do as well as the place is doing.

“We’ve now got a better spec than anywhere that’s putting on similar gigs, just because of the natural organic reinvestment, and new dressing rooms and toilets and showers and stuff like that. You can physically buy facilities, but you can’t buy the model of reinvestment, and I don’t think you can replicate it either.”

It’s important to remember that the Brudenell Social Club isn’t the building or the fittings; it’s everything, in fact, that isn’t bricks or mortar.

“The thing that I personally want, more than anything, is I want people to have an experience when they come in here,” said Nathan. “Like the people over there can play pool for forty pence and go away knowing that they haven’t been ripped off, they’ve had a good time and feel comfortable playing pool here. Or they come to see a band and can drink an ale from America at reasonable price and just think, that’s a really good band, and a really good beer, in a really good room that’s like nowhere else. It doesn’t have to be better than anywhere, it doesn’t have to be the best, it just has to be a good experience.

Rather than plaudits or praise from the NME, what sums up the Brudenell for Nathan is something simpler. “A lot of people that we know just really like coming here. It’s not about money, it’s not about status, it’s about a lot of hard work being put in here over a long time, and about a lot of the ethics behind it, that means a lot of people understand and support it for that reason. The Brudenell still has that core because it still reflects those values.”

One hundred years, but only one constitution; the Brudenell Social Club could be something else entirely in another hundred years, or even another ten. But it will only become something else because it will do what it has always done: stay true to itself.

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This is part three of the interview; catch up with part one here, and part two here.

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Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 6


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