REGULARLY voted the best live venue in Britain, King Tut’s has helped break some major artists in its 25 years, says Fiona Shepherd
On the occasion of King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut’s 20th birthday in 2010, Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody, no stranger to the Tut’s stage over the years, was heard to comment, “has it only been 20 years? It feels like it’s been there forever”.
Even before the accolades started flowing – Britain’s Best Small Venue, Best Launchpad Venue, Radio 1’s Best Live Venue for three years running – King Tut’s had established a steadfast place in the hearts of musicians for its friendliness, professionalism – and food – and among punters for consistently delivering atmospheric and memorable gigs.
The garlanded Glasgow venue, tucked away in the city’s business quarter, up a set of stairs emblazoned with a highly impressive rollcall of the now established names who have played over the years, from Coldplay to Franz Ferdinand, celebrates its 25th birthday in February with a month of gigs interspersing business-as-usual support of local and touring bands with intimate shows from homecoming heroes such as The Twilight Sad and We Were Promised Jetpacks, both past recipients of the famous bottle of whisky presented to any act which sells out the 350-capacity venue.
“I remember receiving the whisky after the gig… it’s also fair to say that I don’t remember the rest of the night after that,” says Twilight Sad frontman James Graham. “I’m looking forward to celebrating their 25th birthday and once again forgetting what happens after a few glasses of their fine whisky.”
We Were Promised Jetpacks made their Tut’s debut in June 2009 on the same day they released their debut album. “It was one of the first few shows that we had ever sold out that wasn’t just our family and friends so for those reasons it will always be one of our favourite shows,” says drummer Darren Lackie. “We also did our very first encore that night.”
Craig Johnston has been booking bands at Tut’s for the past two years and sums up the venue’s spirit as “the place in Scotland to see the big bands before they become big. People come in to play King Tut’s roulette and sometimes find their new favourite band. That’s what I think it’s all about, taking a chance on new music.”
So to mark its quarter century, here’s a chronological jaunt through ten of Tut’s landmark gigs.
12 July, 1990
A lucky roulette spin for this writer, taking a chance on a young London band making their first trip north of the Border without so much as a single to their name and, therefore, with next to no pulling power. But around 40 other gig-goers were playing Tut’s roulette that night too, and witnessed their invigorating indie set and the chaotic, clumsy antics of their lead singer Damon Albarn. A year later when they returned with a top ten single There’s No Other Way, they were turning folks away weeping at the door.
2 Manic Street Preachers
9 March, 1991
The Manic Street Preachers arrived in Scotland for the first time, equally hyped and reviled, and tore up Tut’s in front of a relatively sparse crowd. But, oh, the mushroom soup with which their hungry bellies were lined. The group never forgot that hospitality. When they headlined T in the Park eight years later, they gave a shout-out to Tut’s, “the first venue to treat us properly and give us hot food on tour”.
3 Glass Onion (later Travis)
Various gigs, early 1990s
Yet another future T in the Park headliner starting out under the wing of King Tut’s. It’s trickier to track down specific Tut’s appearances by the band who became Travis but there were at least a handful around the early 1990s. Led by their ambitious new singer Fran Healy, Glass Onion were pretty popular on the local gig circuit, lapping up support slots and their own shows, but eventually they changed their name and quit the city to make a go of it in London.
31 May, 1993
It’s impossible to talk about significant gigs at Tut’s without mentioning the one guaranteed a place in the history books: the night a bunch of gobby Mancunians rolled up without a booking and demanded to play. Ever accommodating, the promoters crammed them in first on the bill in front of 69 paying punters. Creation Records boss Alan McGee was in the audience having a quiet night out with his sister. Four songs later, he had seen the future of rock’n’roll and duly signed it. Other young bucks on the Tut’s flyer that same month: The Verve and Radiohead.
5 The Strokes
20 June, 2001
There are few things in live music as exciting as catching a new band on an unstoppable upsurge, and there was no hotter property than The Strokes at the time of their Scottish debut. As was typical for an early Strokes performance, the band took a trim half hour to dispatch the songs from their shortly-to-be-released debut album Is This It with an enviable mix of momentum and insouciance. Everyone in the capacity audience wanted to be in their gang.
6 The Earlies
23 October, 2004
This show was not especially significant for the headline set by Mancunian psych pop group The Earlies, lovely though it was, but for the support act, Half Cousin or, more specifically, for the young singer/songwriter who had agreed to help out in her friend’s band for the night. While KT Tunstall trilled away happily on the recorder, her debut TV appearance, recorded earlier that week for Later…With Jools Holland, was being screened nationwide. A star was born, even though no-one in attendance knew it yet.
7 Biffy Clyro
13-16 December, 2005
Biffy Clyro have a long, shared history with King Tut’s, playing a dozen or more dates on their steady climb to prominence. Most recently, they returned to play an acoustic show last April, saying “it reminded us why so many young bands aspire to get on that stage”. Prior to becoming Scotland’s biggest rock band, they played this four-night stand, one night dedicated to each of their three albums to date plus a bonus evening of fan favourites. Idlewild beat their record with six albums played over five nights in December 2008.
8 Paolo Nutini
11 June, 2006
Or indeed any of a number of gigs the teenage Nutini played at King Tut’s in 2005 and 2006, cutting his teeth and building an audience while he readied his debut album for release. Like Biffy, he has returned to play a couple of special intimate shows since, declaring he would rather play multiple nights at Tut’s than one big venue. Sadly, his schedule won’t allow it.
9 Calvin Harris
12 December, 2006
The world’s highest paid DJ was a mere bedroom boffin from Dumfries, albeit with a freshly minted major label deal, when he played this gig in front of 150 people, presumably without much of a budget for a laser lightshow.
Because who knows when the next (pop) stars will align?
• For a full line-up of King Tut’s 25th birthday shows, see www.kingtuts.co.uk