Creating Chaos With The Chunk Collective
Henry Rollins briefly lived in Leeds, but the Rollins Band were born there.
After Black Flag broke up in 1986 he took the 200-mile bus journey from London to visit Chris Haskett, and in a matter of days they’d finished 17 tracks. They bedded down at 52 Harold Mount, a five-minute walk from the Brudenell Social Club, and Rollins flew back to the States in a daze with the quarter-inch tapes for Hot Animal Machine under his arm.
Although local lore says he didn’t much like the city, the memory of his presence – and the spirit of the American punk underground – is plainly visible more than 30 years later in the practice rooms and performance space maintained by the Chunk Collective.
Among its members is Tom Bradley, guitarist and vocalist with Bearfoot Beware. “My favourite band is Fugazi,” he says. “I adore them. Their ideas of self-sufficiency, that you can go and create your own scene, do your own thing and make yourself happy; that’s definitely transferred over to a lot of people’s attitude. We’re creating our own space in order to do our own thing.”
Bearfoot – completed by bassist and co-vocalist Ric Vowden and drummer Michael Osbourne – self-released their first album, the tense and righteous World Owes You Nowt, before doubling down to release Sea Magnolia through Superstar Destroyer Records, the Manchester label behind releases from Poly-Math and Alpha Male Tea Party.
Sea Magnolia is an unqualified success for Bradley and the Leeds scene that have supported his band, especially since he couldn’t have imagined himself as a musician when he moved from Manchester a decade ago. “I couldn’t even really play guitar to be honest,” he says. “I had a guitar, but couldn’t play it.”
Bradley’s first Bearfoot guitar is now lost to memory, and thieves. Their earliest line-up practiced in the basement of a shared house, long before the idea of a city-wide collective – let alone secure premises – had become a reality. The basement was robbed and the whole band lost their instruments.
“They took a ridiculously large TV as well,” he says. “We haven’t a clue how they did it.” Insurance saved the day and the claim went towards a Telecaster, which was the guitar he had always wanted.
Cowtown, shot by Kirsty Garland
Chunk, now known as Independent House, began as a dilapidated practice space, and was first secured three years ago for bands like Bearfoot, Esper Scout, Cattle and Beige Palace to get together and rehearse. The building is privately owned but was languishing. The collective members clubbed together to create a kitty from contributions and struck a rental deal with the landlord, described as a decent guy who’s happy to see the activity and improvement. All-dayers at the Brudenell – one billed as ‘The Shape of Chunk to Come’ – raised money for maintenance, getting the loos up to code and making the place accessible. They’ve repaired the part of the roof that was disintegrating. They started opening up the doors and welcoming people in. In doing so they’ve created a place that’s saving people from the same old road to the same old destiny.
“It’s a site for the unusual,” says Sarah Statham, guitarist and vocalist with Esper Scout, the four-piece who have released the acclaimed singles Gaps In The Border Fence, Compass, and a double A-side with esteemed Washington/Portland label Kill Rock Stars. “It’s the fact that Chunk is made up of members, and friends of members, who curate the events without any sort of monetary incentive.”
Like Bradley, Statham moved to Leeds from Manchester, disillusioned with the lack of any supporting ethos for weird or truly independent music. Despite the nostalgic impression of Manchester as a musical centre, she says it wasn’t vibrant when she and her bandmates Kirsty Morton and Rebecca Jane left.
“There was quite a dominance of pay-to-play promoters in Manchester,” she says. “We didn’t have a place like Chunk, or the Fox & Newt or the Packhorse or even the Brudenell, that accommodated, encouraged, and allowed for unfunded DIY music to take place.”
Her move to Leeds came as a hunch after visiting to watch the avant-garde musician Herb Diamanté. They learned that you could book a room for £40, make your own posters, put the word out to your network of friends, and people would appear.
“I wondered, what is it about this place? And later learned that it was all The Mekons, Gang Of Four, and Henry Rollins living here for a bit. All this history, and all bands that have come together and practiced in the basements around Hyde Park. That’s a romanticised version of it, but it’s pretty true.”
Steve Myles, shot by Kirsty Garland
Steve Myles, currently playing in Cattle and Groak, worked in the area at the time, for seven years managing the beloved venue in the basement of the Royal Park Cellars. A new manager arrived, muttering that the heavy music crowd ‘lowered the tone’, before word came from the brewery in 2013 that they had to ‘cancel all outstanding gigs and remove themselves from the premises.’ “It was quite a rough pub anyway,” says Myles. “But seven years is a long time, and I ended up being offered a job at the Well.”
The Well, another fondly-remembered Leeds venue, closed for good in 2012, ahead of the Cockpit which closed in 2014. Despite the number of venue closures Myles says that punk, hardcore and grindcore bands are thriving, pointing to Lugubrious Children, Famine and The Afternoon Gentlemen. He’s relaxed about the health of the independent scene, and celebrates the fact that it can look after itself.
“I really enjoy the community around it,” he says. “Knocking around with all the bands who are trying to start something. I started playing gigs when I was about 15, and I’m 32 now, and I never really got into the whole ladder-climbing aspect. I’m never really one to turn down an opportunity if it comes along, but never really got into the clamour of it either, which always seemed quite competitive, quite aggy. But everyone knocking around, watching each other’s bands, bigging each other up and generally being a bit more co-operative, that’s a really precious thing.”
The Chunk community creates the kind of environment where bands can coalesce and disperse for the weirdest of reasons. Freddy Vinehill-Cliffe, currently releasing music with the beautifully-unnerving post-hardcore act Beige Palace and the outré five-piece Thank, once played in a band named Virgin Dad, who wore wrestling masks, but broke up after two gigs when they realised that nobody in the band actually liked the music they were playing. He remembers a particular Chunk highlight from the tail end of 2016, when the mysterious Minneapolis group Uranium Club agreed to travel up and play a spontaneous bolt-on show after the Static Shock weekender in London.
“Beige Palace supported at that gig,” he says. “As far as I’m aware they were the only two UK gigs Uranium Club have done. Having them playing on a cold December Sunday night – and the Chunk building is freezing – but it was packed; everyone was pulling together. Sometimes you get competitive elements in DIY, but everyone just really wanted to see this go ahead. It was a really positive kind of atmosphere, of teamwork.”
And although a commitment to making these things happen can create occasional strife or hardship, everyone involved agrees that Leeds is close to having the best of all possible worlds, that in 2018 there’s no need to chase rainbows in other parts of the UK. For Bradley, preparing now to tour with Bearfoot, the gains are always greater than the losses.
“We’re doing it because we love it and it has to be done,” he says. “At the same time it’s quite hard looking at the thing you love and seeing it drain your bank account two times a year. It really does make you think, well, is it worth doing? But when you get to go out and meet all these really interesting people, and not do the same thing as everyone else, I tend to believe I’m living a much more interesting life than a lot of people out there. And I need to live that kind of life.”
Sea Magnolia by Bearfoot Beware is out on March 16 via Superstar Destroy Records. Check it out on the stream below.
The Chunk Spring fundraiser takes place on April 28. Bearfoot Beware are on tour in the UK now. Catch them at the following shows:
Thursday 15 - Leeds - Wharf Chambers Friday 16th - Manchester - Soup Kitchen Saturday 17 - Sheffield - The Audacious Art Experiment
Friday 23 - Nottingham - JT Soar
Saturday 24 - Bristol - Mother’s Ruin