King Tut's: Hail the King of rock
As King Tut's celebrates its 20th birthday, Fiona Shepherd discovers the secret of the venue's success in nurturing new talent: feed them well and they will repay you with performances to remember
• Picture: Allan Milligan
GEOFF ELLIS, currently the head of T in the Park promoters DF Concerts, recalls receiving a phone call one evening in May 1993 in his then capacity as manager of King Tut's Wah Wah Hut.
The venue was running a three-band bill that night but an extra band had turned up on spec from Manchester and were looking for a gig. "We couldn't pay them but I said if the sound engineers can cope with it and the running times allow it, just give them some beers and let them play."
That band was Oasis and the story of their unscheduled appearance (in front of just 69 paying customers) and the record deal which resulted from it has become the most famous piece of King Tut's lore. But the anecdote also says something about the friendly, accommodating ethos of the venue which was voted the best in the country by Radio One listeners for three years running and celebrates its 20th birthday this month.
"Has it only been 20 years? It feels like it's been there forever," says Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol, one of countless bands who played King Tut's at the start of their career before moving up to arena level and beyond.
Last year's T in the Park headliners Blur tore up Tut's in front of a sparse crowd in July 1990, before they had even released a single. The Strokes and The Charlatans played their first Scottish shows there to ecstatic sold-out crowds; Pulp and Manic Street Preachers to more modest numbers. Radiohead and The Killers played first in support slots before returning to headline, and a little Glasgow band called Glass Onion were regulars in the 1990s, before moving to London and renaming themselves Travis. Of the veterans who have also graced the bijou stage, Joe Strummer and Rolf Harris both left a mark on the venue – the latter by drawing on the dressing-room wall.
King Tut's Wah Wah Hut was set up by DF Concerts' founder Stuart Clumpas in February 1990, named after a famous New York club – whose reputation it has now arguably outstripped. In 2005, New York Magazine listed the Glasgow venue in its top ten "euphoria-inducing destinations" in the world (ahead of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro). Ellis comments: "King Tut's has become quite representative of the buzz that's in Glasgow." And he added that when he visited the venue for the first time in 1992, he was surprised it was so compact: "It always struck me that its stature was greater than its physical size."
When it opened, it was the only dedicated gig venue of its size in the city and quickly established itself as the place to play. Over the years, other venues have followed its model, fortifying Glasgow's enviable live music scene, but King Tut's has held its own by sticking to its original goal to host new touring acts – BBC Sound of 2010 winner Ellie Goulding will play in April, for example – and support local bands through its regular triple bill nights. In recent years, they have introduced the monthly Your Sound showcase, featuring a playlist of tracks by unsigned bands, and launched King Tut's Recordings, which has released singles by The Dykeenies, The Twilight Sad and Woodenbox.
Many bands return to King Tut's, even though they have long outgrown the venue. Biffy Clyro played four consecutive nights in 2005, playing each of their albums in turn. In 2008, Idlewild pinched their record with five consecutive nights.
Perennial favourites Paolo Nutini and Manic Street Preachers are back to play exclusive gigs in this birthday month. Nutini, whose second album Sunny Side Up has just returned to the top of the charts, played the venue many times as a teenager and the veteran Manic Street Preachers once fondly declared from the stage at T in the Park that "King Tut's was the first venue to treat us properly and give us hot food on tour". They specifically recommend the mushroom soup.
"Stuart always had a philosophy that if a band feel fed and watered, they play much better," says Ellis. "Looking after artists has been our main thing – yeah, it costs you more money, effort and time to do it, but you get the payback in the long term."
DF promoter Dave McGeachan, who was a regular punter at King Tut's before coming to work at the venue in the late 1990s, agrees the key to its longevity is a welcoming environment. He says: "From the gig reps to the sound engineer to the whole production team, the people that work in the kitchen and behind the bar, the whole thing is they love Tut's and they love music and they're there for the right reasons. Hopefully that's portrayed to the bands and the customers. That's what makes us."
• King Tut's Wah Wah Hut celebrates its 20th birthday throughout February, with gigs by Paolo Nutini, Manic Street Preachers and many more. For full listings see www.kingtuts.co.uk
WHAT THE HUT MEANS TO ME
RICKY ROSS, DEACON BLUE
"Stuart Clumpas used to say that he bought it on the back of money he made from promoting our shows. Well, if he did, I feel proud that something that's been so good for Glasgow's music scene came from a few rock shows."
GARY LIGHTBODY, SNOW PATROL
"I've lived in Glasgow off and on for the last decade and a lot of that time was spent in Tut's. We played there a lot, more than any other club in the world, and I must have banged my head off the ceiling about 30 times jumping around on the stage – me tall, it low. Not too many venues of its size give bands, all bands, the same friendly welcome, hearty meal and well-stocked beer fridge. Most venues seem to say, 'Play and f*** off!' Tut's is more, 'Play and come back soon'. Long may it last."
"Playing King Tut's is always great. I love gigs in intimate venues and there's not many that are as special, and as legendary, as King Tut's."
"When I decided I wanted to be in a band in 1994, it was a decision inspired partly by King Tut's as so many great artists had their first gigs there. My ambition simply was to join a band and play King Tut's and that would be me happy."
KENNY ANDERSON, AKA KING CREOSOTE
"Few venues would turn a blind eye and allow a man wearing a cardboard box to wander the dance floor handing out jazz cigarettes while leaving a trail of satsumas… Such were the antics at (Anderson's former band] Skuobhie Dubh Orchestra's album launch for Spike's 23 Collection at Tut's in 1993."
KYLE FALCONER, THE VIEW
"We've had some of our sweatiest gigs ever there. It was always one of the places we wanted to play when we were younger, it's a great platform for new bands."
JON FRATELLI, THE FRATELLIS/ CODEINE VELVET CLUB
From the moment I started playing in a band King Tut's was the venue that I aspired to play in. Barrowland, the SECC, these places can seem like a lifetime away, but, if you could score a gig in Tut's, you always had the sense that you were on your way. It was definitely the first gig we'd played in Glasgow where you could feel that something was shifting, that feeling of excitement."
SCOTT HUTCHISON, FRIGHTENED RABBIT
"It really means something to play there when you are getting the ball rolling, which explains why so many big bands go back to do tiny, sweaty shows after they have outgrown it. Or maybe nobody ever outgrows that place…"
"King Tut's is an institution in Glasgow. I was honoured to play there. It is an amazing venue and to his day I am so jealous of my friend who saw The Killers perform there at the start of their career. I am gutted I wasn't at that show."
JOHNNY LYNCH, THE PICTISH TRAIL
"The last time I played there was supporting Malcolm Middleton – it was a roasting hot day in late June, and the ceiling was literally dripping sweat. It felt a bit like doing a gig in Meatloaf's armpit. Sounds disgusting, but it made for a really intimate gig."
VIC GALLOWAY, BBC RADIO 1 & RADIO SCOTLAND
"I have many memories of King Tut's over the years, particularly seeing a typically righteous Rocket From The Crypt dressed in gold lam kicking out the jams one night. They felt the crowd were a little uptight, so instructed us to turn and face the back wall of the venue and massage the person in front, soundtracking our relaxation with blissed-out Hawaiian tones. Good times! "
RODDY WOOMBLE, IDLEWILD
"King Tut's is all the things a good rock club should be – too warm, loud and cramped!"
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