The demand to play Brudenell, which led to the installation, runs right through the music industry. As well as local bands and unknown artists, the 400 capacity concert hall regularly hosts household names and acts who could easily fill a venue with an extra nought at the end of its holding; from Fleet Foxes and Kaiser Chiefs, through Kate Tempest and Charlotte Church, to Martha Reeves and Jonathan Richman. It is the latter who Nathan cites as an example of how surreal his work can be; “When you listen to The Modern Lovers and The Smiths and then Jonathan Richman and Johnny Marr are playing a show in your home…”
It’s times like that which keep Nathan going; “Of course you can’t have the same passion for every gig,” he says. “But any that I’m not as into, someone else on the team who is will work on.” Amongst the continuous stream of music blasting through the Brudenell, there is one that stands out as a favourite; “I always say Thee Oh Sees,” he says. “Just the energy they bring, and the energy in the room that night, is something special.”
Looking outwardly at Leeds’ music scene, its importance, and that of this area in particular, was recently highlighted by American band Mountain Goats. Playing Brudenell, they discovered the city’s musical heritage and resonated with the history of the sounds that came out of the surrounding streets so much that their new album, Goths, was inspired by the subject. “The birth of goth, bands like Sisters of Mercy,” explains Nathan. “In fact there’s so much creativity, art and music from Leeds that was made within this 3 mile radius.”
Of the current Leeds scene, Nathan enthuses over much of the happenings, as diverse and vibrant as ever before, but equally would like to see more inclusivity. “There are events which are great and claim to be inclusive, yet people and places from less fashionable areas are not part of it,” he says, describing Brudenell’s ability to stand alone, away from cliques and outside of the centre, yet friends with and involved in anything that seems right.
These bonds made with others across the city appear to be the driving factor behind Brudenell. Those on the way up often return to play later, as evidenced by The Cribs and their legendary Cribsmas shows. “The friendships you form over the years is what keeps us doing this,” he says. Older friends too have crossed his path, and I’m not the only middle schooler to reunite. “Quite a few people have come down. Some have been in bands, some are into really intense music, one tried being a rapper, one was Bruce Springsteen!” he laughs. “They’re not always like you remember them!” Indeed; I certainly don’t remember the child Nathan Clark making quite the positive impact on Leeds that the adult Nathan Clark surely has.
Many years ago, aged 9, I left my primary school and headed towards a now extinct institution; the middle school. For the next four years, we were to hang aimlessly here, neither young enough to know what to do with or old enough to know what to do, waiting to step out into the big wide world of high school. Whilst this childhood stop-gap may appear insignificant, for me it represents the possibilities of life; vague memories of distant names, known and lost when still a child, now adulted off in diverse directions of opportunity. Who and where are they now?
For some, I have heard, this meant escaping Leeds to wider successes; for others, so I’m told, prison. But most, I imagine, remained in this city and built a life for themselves; passing one another on Briggate, unrecognisable and unbeknown; occasionally crossing unavoidable paths of recognition that lead to nostalgia and disbelief.
One such middle schooler who has travelled both the furthest and the least far is living in his family home less than a mile from the Hyde Park land where our middle school once stood. Yet this isn’t a tale of a boy too scared to step out into the unknown, for here he has brought the mountain to Mohammed, and created a community, a reputation, and a life that nobody could have predicted when parting 12 year old ways.
“I was playing football in America when my dad became ill,” says Nathan Clark of a journey which had already taken him from Burley back streets to professional ‘soccer’ player and back. “So I returned home and started helping out here.” ‘Here’ being the Brudenell Social Club, at the time owned by his parents and a standard working men’s pub in a seemingly standard working class area. Nathan quickly saw otherwise;
“I’d studied a Business Masters and looked at what we had and what the surrounding demographic wanted. It’s a lot of 18-30 year olds, which is unique for a place like this.” With pubs reportedly closing at a rapid rate, Brudenell began work to avoid a similar fate by making itself attractive to the nearby students and younger locals. “We had to either evolve or die,” he confirms.
Years later and the (r)evolution abounds. The traditional social club concert room now hosts cool and cult music every night, and the bar is filled regularly with a contrasting mix of Leeds; old regulars remain alongside visiting gig-goers and students finding their new local. It’s an oddly clashing mix that unites through Nathan’s simple ethos: “I treat everybody equal, and try to instil in the staff to do the same.”
This is evident in Brudenell’s current renovation into a new second concert room. Having increasingly frequently converted the games room into a stage, the decision to expand was as much about those who wouldn’t use it as those who would. “It’s nice to give people a new room, a new PA, new toilets…” Nathan says. “But it’s also about not pissing off the people who like to have a pint and play pool.” The outcome of such thinking is what Nathan calls “that Cheers thing.” He goes on; “It grows organically, we’re receptive and welcome everybody in; people feel an ownership of belonging”