I am not normally a joiner, no I don’t mean that my woodworking is useless – although it is, but I am with Groucho Marx when it comes to belonging to a group he said that he would never care to join a club which would accept him as a member. Last week, however, I made an exception to this rule and became a member of The Tetley.

Sadly, or perhaps thankfully, there was no membership scheme when it used to be a working brewery, if there had been I probably would not be here to write this article. Anyway, there is one now and for two quid a month (plus tax and shipping, total £29.20 for the year) and there seems to be no scheme offering better value. If you are fortunate enough to have not yet reached your twenty-fifth birthday it is free to join albeit with a couple of reduced perks. Fortunately I was able to join on-line and must have slipped through their vetting process as I soon received my confirmation email welcoming me to the fold. This made it a binding contract and so I didn’t need to don a disguise for my first visit on 20th May to attend their Members Only Pre-opening Event. I had toyed with the idea of a Groucho Marx pair of glasses complete with bushy eyebrows, moustache and cigar so that I wouldn’t be rumbled. I love a bit of irony.

The event was designed to celebrate The Tetley being able to throw open its doors for the first time since 4th November last year, when the latest lockdown was imposed, and to introduce us to two artists who are the first to exhibit their work in this new dawn.

I was welcomed by Hannah, the marketing manager who gave me a carrier bag with various goodies and promotional material, and an outline of the evening to come. For someone who looked intelligent, she asked the daftest question ever posed to me, ‘Would you like a drink.’ It was then I realised that I had definitely slid under the radar unnoticed. Although there were cocktails available I had something which had been denied me during lockdown, a hand-pulled half of Tetley Bitter. Nectar. After a chat with some of the people who work there, mainly Sam Fish who I know of old and who introduced me to others involved with the scheme, I took my seat in the dining room to listen to the first speaker of the evening. I must stress that, should you have preferred a more informal format, then you were free to roam around the exhibitions on your own and skip the chat. I opted to attend for two reasons; the first was to learn about the artists and their works and, secondly, because the only female voice I had heard during lockdown was the disembodied one thanking me for shopping with Sparks but then castigating me because there was an unidentified item in the bagging area.

Bond…….Bryony Bond

Bryony Bond is the Director of The Tetley and brought us up to speed as to what had been happening during the enforced closure. There has been a revamp of the gift shop and some redecoration undertaken. This being an arts venue, rather than slap a coat of magnolia on the walls of the bar, they commissioned Herfa Thompson, of whom more later, to paint a mural on one of the walls.

Bryony went on to explain about the schemes to encourage new artists in the area and the launch of the Superhero hunt. Recognition is to be given to people who are making a positive difference to the lives of others in the area. They don’t have to wear their underwear over their top clothes or be able to lift up a double decker bus to release a trapped cat, anything, no matter how small, will suffice for a nomination. One of the Superheroes is eight-year-old James who has been making and selling cards during lockdown to raise money for his five-year-old friend who has a particularly virulent form of cancer. The Tetley has helped by agreeing to sell them in their gift shop with all proceeds going to James’s cause.

To find out more and make a nomination go to https://www.thetetley.org/whats-on/superheroes-of-leeds

The assembled members then took a leisurely stroll through the main space where the exhibition From This World, to That Which Is to Come by Mel Brimfield is on show. Although originally scheduled for last year it is even more relevant today as it deals with mental health issues. There is a central installation which has a collection of chairs each with a speaker built into the seat which emit sound composed by Gwyneth Herbert at random intervals. Unfortunately when I was there it remained in defiant silence, perhaps mistaking me for Groucho rather than just grouch. It was built and performed by over 100 collaborators. On the back wall is a display of portraits of people with whom the artist has come in contact during her research residencies at Bethlehem Royal Hospital’s National Psychosis Unit and Kings College Institute of Psychiatry. It looks like one of the trades union banners which were a common sight at the head of marches in the 1960s-1980s. That is appropriate as one of the ideas behind the exhibition is that mutual support can alleviate the effects of mental health issues.

There are other rooms, one with a very personal montage of thoughts and another in a recording studio. The exhibition is one which needs to be experienced in person if possible as it transcends my ability to describe it adequately. Should you not be able to physically attend there is an on-line experience to be had at https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=jA17F98pgmm&play=1&hl=1&guides=0&brand=1&title=1

I was fortunate to be able to have a chat with Mel Brimfield and to get a photograph of her with her work. The only problem was that she stipulated I join her on the picture and take it as a selfie! I could not refuse so here is the only image of me you are ever likely to see on my sites. As they say on all of the most interesting tv programmes, the following contains images which some people may find disturbing. I am obviously talking about the creep with the beard.

Mel Brimfield and photobomber

It was back down to the restaurant for a selection of canapés with samples of what to expect when it reopens on 21st May. Wow, that’s today! The siders and balls were all excellent as was the second half of Tetley Bitter.

Finally we were entertained by Herfa Thompson who explained that after a lifetime of globetrotting, she has made her home in Leeds. Not only a great artist but a woman of exceedingly good taste and judgment. The mural in the cafe is the first of a series which will adorn the walls in the coming months. It represents the open spaces of Leeds’ surroundings and references brewing, and the rhubarb triangle amongst other features which have influenced her decision to settle here. She also runs still life workshops called Drink and Draw which are open to people of all abilities. They begin on 26th May 18.30 until 20.00. Tickets are £4 or free if you choose the on-line version. For more details and to book tickets please go to https://www.thetetley.org/whats-on/drink-draw-still-life-drawing-with-herfa-thompson

Hertha Thompson with her mural. The bit with the radiator is extremely lifelike!

I once again managed to get a photograph of the artist and her work, thankfully I was not called upon to be in on this one.

I must say that this was a great way to get back into the swing of things. On the odd occasion I have been out since restrictions were eased I have found it a bit of a struggle to break my enforced routine but I am now looking forward to my first theatre trip on Saturday so the exhibition has done its job without realising it.

I feel as though I have already had my money’s worth from The Tetley membership scheme and so I am reviewing my stance on joining organisations. I wonder if I could blag my way into the Women’s Institute.

If you are not averse to joining an organisation of which I am a member, The Tetley not the WI! please see https://www.thetetley.org/become-a-member

For an overview of The Tetley please go to https://www.thetetley.org/

All photographs by Stan Graham

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