It's Good To Talk: An Introduction To Chinwag, Leeds

Everyone from Alan McGee to Andrew Weatherall has got on stage for a Chinwag. Founder Chris Madden tells us the secret of its success.
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The great thing about Chinwag is that talk wise anything can go down. Staged at Leeds city centre venue Outlaws host Chris Madden encourages his guests to direct the flow of these relaxed and open conversations, not interview. Your not likely to hear 'what's your favourite album' much, its something way more natural than that, though at the same time if that's what the conversation turns to then so be it, its about what ever they feel like talking about at that time.

Its something like those discussions you find your self getting into round some ones house late at night after the pubs shut. Very natural, quite honest, funny and always insightful. Something which can sometimes help bring out a new, or just different side to your favourite DJ, writer, actor, artist or musician - So you really never know how its going to turn out till the talking actually starts. Ex music industry/band manger now therapist Chris Madden laughs as he recounts “One of our regular attendees - who I recognised but had never spoken with- comes up to me and says ‘You do that Chinwag thing, I thought the Andrew Weatherall one was shite. You asked all the wrong questions.’ He tells me that he expects more from an interview. The thing is, and I told him this, it’s not an interview, but it’s not a Q&A. It’s a chat. I don’t want to do anything that structured. In fact, I never set out with any questions or even an idea of how it’s going to begin or where we’re going to get to. I'm properly winging it in order to create something unique. He totally got it. The penny really dropped and it completely re-framed what I try and do. Thanks Barry Lethem!”

Since Chris's first Chinwag session back in 2013 which featured ex Creation head Alan McGee the event has gone on to entice many names and faces to Leeds and on to the couch for a round of unique and interesting chinwags. People like; Anton Newcombe, Don Letts, Ian Tilton, Viv Albertine, Dean Cavanagh, Grant Fleming, Eddie Piller, Dave Beer, Irvine Welsh and Sabotage Times own James Brown to name a few, which are all now on the new Chinwag website for all to see...

Another reason why maybe the Chinwag sessions work so well might have something to do with the venue itself. Based just around the corner from the cities Corn Exchange, Outlaws Yacht Club, like the Chinwag conversations themselves, is what you'd call laid back and really friendly, giving you the feeling your in some spacious living room rather than a TEDX session, though nothing wrong with the popular TEDX events but its the venue itself which adds to the relaxed environment and ultimately the open conversation in front of you.

So how did the Chinwag events initially come together, how important is the venue, the new website and of course who's next up at Chinwag, questions we put to host Chris Madden who gave Sabotage Times the run down.

On getting started...

Chris Madden: Chinwag began as an afterthought really, we did a couple of one-offs- Alan McGee and Pete Fowler (who was launching an exhibition of his wonderful paintings) and people turned up, seemed to really enjoy it so we simply kept on doing it. The calibre of guests has been phenomenal and due, in a big way, to one of our guests Dean Cavanagh who has told so many people about it.

I think though that the best part about it is that it serves a much greater purpose in our supporting of a Leeds based charity called MAP( support young people in our community. They do amazing music and art projects with kids on the edge of exclusion from mainstream education. What they do is so vital in building confidence and helping young people to reach their full potential. That is, hands down, the reason we keep doing it. It’s a made possible by our guests giving their time for free so we can support MAP. Everybody wins, what’s not to love about it.

What makes Chinwag different?

CM: We’re inviting you to lean in and listen to a conversation about life and whatever else that springs to mind. Unlike a typical Q&A there is no set format so this is an opportunity to get to know someone a bit better, hear a few of their tales, find out what makes them tick, share some insights and maybe ask a few questions too.

I'm deeply interested in everyone I meet, so Chinwag is an opportunity to share some time exploring. I appreciate that this is not a typical approach but I really don’t want to be Parky, The Culture Show, Jonathan Ross or Melvyn Bragg…it’s a chat! I never have a starting point before we sit down together, I never know what I'm going to say or how it will begin, I don’t have an agenda or a place to get to. Each guest is free to bring as much of themselves as they are comfortable with.  This way  means that stories evolve naturally, surprising things come out in conversation, connections are made.

The Outlaws venue... 

CM: Outlaws Yacht Club is such a lovely space to do it in because it’s very intimate. In many ways the space dictates Chinwag because it lends an intimacy to two people who’ve often just met, having a chat. I’m always really curious about how a person has got to where they are right now and about their story and I think the small space of Outlaws allows that to develop. From that position, anything can happen. Wherever it goes, one thing I know for sure is that our regular crowd are all as deeply interested in every guest as I am. And each of our guests wants to come back and do it again! That’s wonderful because, for me, it’s a huge privilege to be able to share such a unique experience with our incredible guests. And what guests we've had….Viv Albertine, Irvine Welsh, Anton Newcombe, Don Letts, Andrew Weatherall, James Brown, and that’s just a handful. We’re really blessed that the people we invite really get what we’re doing.”

The Chinwag website

CM: We’re 2 years into doing Chinwag as a live event and we've finally gotten around to launching a site Our friend Marc Lucas has been documenting the event for the last 18 months and we've had people asking when they can see it so the site gives a home to the mountains.

to give a home to the mountains of film  that we have which allows people who can’t join us in person an opportunity to share these really lovely chats. The lads who've develop the site Griff (who’s also one of the brains behind the mighty Interrobang and Tom Pitts ) have created something really lovely and simple to use. We film most events so there’s loads of stuff to dip into. We’re really proud of it.

Who's next?

CM: What I really love about Chinwag is that it keeps surprising us. Next up we've got a returning guest which, to be honest is something I'm not too keen on, but we’re bringing back Justin Robertson on 1st April and he’s launching an exhibition of his painting. Justin Robertson- a painter too! Who knew? I love that and can’t wait to explore this side of him. All I know is that, as ever, we’re in for something utterly unique and special. What a great thing to be involved.