MUSEXPO preview: Bob Shennan talks the past, present & future of BBC Radio

The most important radio stations in Los Angeles next week won’t be KROQ or Power 106. Instead, BBC Radio 1 and 2 will be taking over MUSEXPO at the W Hotel in Hollywood on April 29-May 2. BBC director of ...

Inside the Brudenell Social Club's mission to protect the grassroots circuit

There’s a scene in one of the peerless early series of The Simpsons where Homer’s boss, the devilish Mr Burns, is musing over what to call his new casino. “It’s got to have sex appeal, and a catchy name,” he insists, prior to unveiling the less than inspired title of ‘Mr Burns’ Casino’. Whether the founders of Leeds’ 105-year-old Brudenell Social Club engaged in a similar thought process back in 1913 is lost in the annals of history but regardless - as the 400-capacity venue has gone on to prove time and again - first impressions can be deceptive.   “The Brudenell started out as an old working men’s club,” notes its long-serving general manager Nathan Clark. “The name stereotypes it to some people. However, it is nothing like that whatsoever.” Demolished and rebuilt in 1978, the Brudenell has become a much-loved staple of the Leeds music scene, hosting West Yorkshire’s own The Cribs and secret shows by Franz Ferdinand and local heroes Kaiser Chiefs, among others. The club celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2013, welcoming the likes of The Wedding Present and The Fall, while recent performers have included John Bramwell of I Am Kloot, Keyon Harrold and The Orielles. “We’re not pigeonholed as an emo, pop/punk, rock or jazz venue,” points out Clark. “We tailor it to be open and accepting of everybody. The spec is well thought out and the building is well-maintained, so it doesn’t get bogged down with those kinds of perceptions.” Clark, whose family took on the venue’s licence in the early 1990s, tells Music Week: “Over the past 15 to 20 years we have tried to make it evolve into a modern, forward-looking place that is also in keeping with the characteristics and values of the community. “We are effectively running the venue as a social enterprise: We invest all the profits back into the building, the staff, PA, lights to make it a better experience for everyone.” The Brudenell was honoured with the inaugural Grassroots Venue: Spirit Of The Scene prize at last year’s Music Week Awards, which prompted Clark to launch an impassioned speech in support of the network (see panel below). This year’s nominees are London’s 100 Club, Broadcast in Glasgow, Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff, Nottingham’s Rescue Rooms, Guildford’s Boileroom, The Joiners in Southampton and Trades Club, Hebden Bridge. “It’s nice to be recognised alongside other established and well-run venues,” says Clark. “People honestly care about the Brudenell - not just me, but the artists that play here. We give over a level of ownership. A lot more work goes into what is best for them rather than what is best for us as a venue. “We promote a lot of the shows as well - we are promoters and a venue – so we see it as in our interests to do our best by the artists. We want to build relationships for the long term, so that their visit isn’t just a singular one, it’s a returning one. It’s also about trying to work with their crew and attuning to their needs - we understand they are as important as anyone.” Clark speaks of his frustration at previous clumsy, if well-meaning, attempts to acknowledge the role of the grassroots scene.   “I look back at when the NME was strong and they called us ‘toilet circuit venues’,” he winces. “Small venues were seen as these grotty little places that put on gigs and that, to me, was a disservice to the hard work and curation of places that are run well and do a good job. “They were talked about as somewhere you started off and then went on to better things when, actually, these places should be and will be highlights as well, because they’re where you build your first fanbase that is going to stay with you for life. They’re the places that teach you your trade. “I think that, in the last few years, people have started to understand the hard work that goes on at that level. It has changed in a positive direction.” Nonetheless, believes Clark, much more needs to be done to help venues at the bottom of the ladder. “The support network that is given to the venues is minimal,” he warns. “The music industry has to understand that where we are as a society has changed in the past five to 10 years through technological development. Entertainment is now on demand, so people stay in a lot more. “If there isn’t the footfall going to the venues, there isn’t the breeding ground for new artists or the practice spaces and the turnover. There’s a whole economic knock-on effect that people don’t see. That’s where I feel there’s a sea change, in the fact that people are starting to recognise it.” The UK’s grassroots network was handed a significant boost earlier this year when the Government backed plans to enshrine the Agent Of Change principle in law, meaning developers would be required to take account of the impact any new scheme could have on pre-existing businesses before going ahead with their plans. “That would go a long way to creating more safeguarding options for our industry,” states Clark, whose club battled noise complaints in the mid 2000s, forcing it to briefly abandon gigs while it raised funds for soundproof firedoors. “It would be a massive positive if we could push it through as legislation, not just as guidance.” The inception of the Music Venue Trust in 2014, he adds, has also been a major plus, enabling members to speak with a collective voice. “It is one of the only outlets that can give support and reassurance and guidance to an industry that has no one else to turn to right now,” he adds. Clark also weighs in on recent UK Music research, which revealed that opera gets £8 for every £1 awarded to pop music from the £368 million available to music in an Arts Council England fund. “It feels like everyone is trying to get their cut of the pie without thinking what is best for everyone overall,” he laments. “There is no genuine discussion. We’re at a breaking point within live music, and opera will not have the musicians, lighting and technical engineers in future if they do not have the venues to learn in and hone their skills.” Future shows at the Brudenell include Shonen Knife, Slug, Mastersystem, an acoustic set by The Enemy’s Tom Clarke and a talk with BBC DJ Steve Lamacq as part of Leeds International Festival. “The most positive thing for the venue is when we see people walk out with smiles on their faces,” reflects Clark. “Also, it is great to see artists grow and staff go on to work as professional photographers for major magazines, or sound engineers go on to work for everyone. You see the roots of what you’ve done go on to be much wider in scope and it makes you feel like you’ve made a contribution to the wider fabric of the industry. “How we’ve contributed to the music community as a whole is the most pleasing part of it. If that isn’t there then we’re going to struggle. Music venues are the seeds that make other things blossom.”Nathan Clark’s Music Week Awards 2017 speech revisited:“I feel proud for setting a benchmark. It’s great to be representing a bunch of venues that have done well just to be represented. We’ve put a lot of passion into the venue for a long time, nothing any different to anyone else. There is a sea change in the way small venues are perceived. With the closure of a lot of small venues there is now a groundswell to recognise that these places are the breeding ground for music and that things wouldn’t happen without them. That’s an opportunity. The threat is increasing, with licensing and burdens of regulations and things like that. If we can increase investment in the sector then there’s a long-term future.”

The Aftershow: BBC 6 Music & Music Week Awards presenter Lauren Laverne

Being a radio DJ is so rewarding because...“In a strange way it’s a contrast: you have the music side of it, which is really exciting and wonderful, then you have this incredibly personal and intimate connection with people. I can’t think of another job that puts those two things together in such a special way. It is my dream job, and both sides of it are equally important to me. It’s so exciting to meet your heroes, to be able to interview people like Smokey Robinson, or Bobby Womack coming in and playing a session on my show… and Tony Allen! That’s proper death bed montage stuff that I will remember when I’m a really old lady. I’ve played piano with Macca, mate. I’m done, put a fork in me. There’s only Little Richard left. All of that is a dream, but the bits I love most about it – the most deeply rewarding stuff – is the fact it’s a part of people’s real everyday lives.” The change I want to see in the music industry’s attitude towards gender equality is…“More diversity in all sorts of different ways. There’s some really interesting work going on to make things fairer, but I think if you look at the music industry there’s a huge job of work to be done. Speaking as someone who co-founded The Pool website and built that up, it’s good for your business if you have a diverse mix of people bringing different skills and experiences to your team. That’s what you want. Part of co-founding The Pool was I wanted to give some young women their first jobs, I wanted to try and create opportunities. That was my answer to it. If you’re lucky enough to be in a postion to give someone an opportunity, do it.” The advice I would give to a new band is... “Play what you love. You’ve got to have a vision of what you want to sound like, and what is good. Don’t lose your ear, don’t let that be changed by people around you trying to get you on a particular radio station’s playlist or telling you their version of what they think is a single. Nobody ever made a good record or did anything interesting that way.” The most nervous I’ve ever been in an interview is... “I was very, very nervous about Lou Reed, but it was actually lovely in the end. The day before, I was at a birthday picnic and there were loads of music journalists there. I was like, ‘I have Lou Reed tomorrow – has anyone interviewed him?’ Obviously, everyone had so many stories. I did loads of research and he had talked about how he always called James Brown ‘Mr Brown’ because he admired him so much he wanted to be respectful. When I met him I called him Mr Reed, and he just took a bit of a shine to me and we got on really well. It was great and I got three kisses at the end. He was brilliant. I’ve been lucky enough to interview Laurie Anderson several times, and she is an absolute hero of mine. The first time I interviewed Paul McCartney I was very nervous, partly just because of the idea of doing it – it seemed so fantastical. Like you’re going to meet a dragon, or going to Hogwarts – ‘You’re a wizard!’ It’s that kind of feeling.”

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