Interview: Chris Madden talks about Chinwag

Chris Madden, founder of Chinwag. Picture: Coby Erikson
Chris Madden, founder of Chinwag. Picture: Coby Erikson
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From DJ-ing in east London squats during his days as fine art student during the 1980s to directing pop videos for the likes of Cud and The Wedding Present, founding the “legendary” Leeds club night Soundclash to running a record label and management company then being headhunted to work for Virgin Records, Chris Madden has led a varied life.

Nine years ago – while working for Sheffield City Council as a project manager on the New Deal for Musicians programme – he fell seriously ill.

“I woke up one day feeling a bit rough, that roughness continued for a few days and ended up with me crawling on my hands and knees around the living room in agony,” he remembers. “My appendix burst, I was rushed into hospital and almost died on the operating table. Then I got a secondary infection and almost died from that.”

Fortunately he recovered but found the prospect of returning to an office job unappealing. “I just thought I want to do something, if this is it – wearing a suit and tie and going into an office is what’s left – I’m not sure that this is what life’s about.”

Instead he started to re-train as a psychotherapist. “The process continues to this day,” he says. “I order to do what I do I’ve got to continually train and constantly stay ahead in the world of psychotherapy and psychology.”

Madden says he has no regrets about leaving the business side of music.

“Working in the music industry I did it because I had a real passion for music. Naively I thought that everybody that worked the industry was into music in the same way that I was then I realised that they weren’t. I got a kind of shock working at Virgin when they started referring to music as product.

“Now I’ve found a field, an area of study that I’m as passionate about as music. I’ve been really lucky to have found something that inspires me on a daily basis.”

Two years ago he decided to found Chinwag, an evening of chat with distinguished cultural figures, at Outlaws Yacht Club, near the Corn Exchange, in Leeds. Guests have included the author Irvine Welsh, Viv Albertine, former guitarist with The Slits, writer and broadcaster James Brown and the DJs Andrew Weatherall and Don Letts.

“With the exception of re-training over the last couple of years, everything that I’ve done has come about just by conversation and chance meeting,” Madden says before explaining how it all started with an introduction to Alan McGee, the founder of Creation Records, who was producing Kubricks, a film written and directed by Dean Cavanagh, Madden’s long-time friend with whom he had run the Soundclash club nights.

At the same time Craig Christon, one of the then owners of Outlaws Yacht Club, said to Madden he would like to do a series of events where people talked about their career. “He said, ‘Do you think Alan McGee would come up?’ I said, ‘I got on really well with him, we spent a lot of time together while we were shooting the film, I’ll ask him for you’.”

McGee, however, was sceptical and initially turned it down. “Twenty minutes later he was back on the phone and said, ‘I tell you what, seeing as you’re a therapist I’ll do it if you do a live therapy session with me’,” Madden recalls.

“I said, ‘I’m not really comfortable with that but how about we have a chat, there’s some stuff that I’ve not asked you that I’m really curious about. Do you fancy it?’ He said, ‘All right, I’ll do it’.”

The evening proved such a success that a month later he was asked to do a second night, with Pete Fowler, the record sleeve artist who has regularly worked with Super Furry Animals.

“That’s how it started. It was, this is quite a nice thing to do, people enjoy it, let’s just keep doing it.”

Two years on, Madden is still doing Chinwag, with proceeds now going to MAP (, which does “amazing things with kids who are on the verge of exclusion from mainstream education – it’s kind of like the last place for these kids to go before they disappear off the radar”.

“For me that’s the reason for doing this,” Madden says. “What it’s given us in terms of the ability to generate higher profile guests like Irvine Welsh and Viv Albertine is the money goes to an amazing charity.

“I get to do this amazing thing to sit down and meet somebody who really interests me and who’s involved in something that I’m really passionate about and we help kids – everybody wins.”

Madden’s next guest is Dave Haslam, the writer, broadcaster and one-time Hacienda DJ, who has just published a new book, Life After Dark: A History of British Nightclubs and Music Venues.

“I’ve read it and it’s brilliant and I’m really curious about how he writes and what he does,” says Madden. “Whether that will come up in conversation I don’t know because I do very little research for these events, I never know what I’m going to ask right up until the moment I sit down, I keep it really clear. In some ways what I do in terms of being a psychotherapist I use those skills and some of that way of being to develop a conversation.”

Next year Madden says he’s considering taking Chinwag out and about, “doing different things in different places, possibly at festivals” in conjunction with a sound system.

“There’s so many people I want to meet,” he says. “Every guest we get is brilliant. What a privilege to sit down and talk to people who are recognised for being creative.”

Chinwag with Dave Haslam takes place at Outlaws Yacht Club, New York Street, Leeds on September 16. For tickets visit

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