I AM standing in the hub of Britain’s musical universe, Glasgow School of Art. Meanwhile, my iPod is relaying to me a run-down of every rock band that has ever stepped through this establishment’s doorway - Franz Ferdinand’s drummer was a nude model here, apparently - while said band’s association with the college has single-handedly pushed up the number of applications it has received over the past year to record levels.
This is the sound of the world’s first iTour. A digitally downloadable guide to Glasgow’s creative hotspots, well off the beaten path and with a soundtrack to die for. Next, the voice in my head - local DJ Jim Gellately - is informing me I should be heading to a place called Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’s. Normally, I would ignore advice to go to a place with that sort of name, but this is not a normal occasion...
Developed by Tennent’s Lager - who have a long-standing and intimate association with the Glasgow music scene - the idea was born, according to Rob Bruce, the company’s public relations manager, out of a happy accident.
"We had been looking for something to tap into the burgeoning iPod and MP3 culture, but to bring into the local music scene," he says. "It just happened that we were approached by Sam Chapnick, a New York-based producer who had the idea for a tour of the city, and the two ideas married perfectly.
"Essentially, we were looking at it as a way of giving something back to the city, promoting it to the world at large. It really provides you with your own personal guide to Glasgow’s music.
"But it’s not just that, the whole music scene is tied up with the visual arts and local culture. So where there happens to be a musical focus, there are other cool things going on around them."
With the world completely obsessed with Apple’s iPod and digital music, it was only a matter of time before the possibilities of using digital music to reach that all-important youth market were realised, and Glasgow has become the first city in the world to have it’s own downloadable cool guide to the musical hotspots.
Aimed at pulling in young clued-up tourists who are looking for the Glasgow that the normal tour guides would run a mile from, would-be hipsters can find themselves rubbing shoulders with the ‘characterful’ locals of the Horseshoe Bar - where Travis used to rehearse in the upstairs bar, and Pop Idol winner Michelle McManus first found her voice while taking part in the Karaoke competition.
Peppered with music from local bands and interviews with the likes of Franz Ferdinand lead singer, Alex Kapranos, it is the hipsters guide to Glasgow - where band names such as Belle and Sebastian, The Delgadoes and Arabstrap are everyday currency.
The fact that the tour was compiled with the help of these bands means that the listener is being given an insider’s view to the city.
Which brings me to Nice & Sleazy’s. It is perhaps at this point that the listener will realise whether or not the iTour is for them. At the door is a bloke wearing a hairstyle that could only have been accomplished using a pair of gardening shears, finished off with by the application of bleach to the back of his head. Inside it is not unlike a derelict 70s lounge with putty green wallpaper and orange furniture, the atmosphere the dictionary definition of ‘funky’.
However, Gellately assures me that this is one of the most popular concert venues in the city, though so small and ‘intimate’, he insists: "You could be close enough to see a singer’s breath."
The iTour, of course, is marketing at the cutting edge. Using the most up to date technology to sell the city and the brand, it is literally piped into the listener’s head. iTours has been developed as a ‘copy left’ concept which means that the material is not only free, but people are encouraged to share the file with as many others as possible.
This makes it difficult to track the overall success of the project, but it can only be a matter of weeks or months before similar iTours begin appearing for all the major cities in the UK and around the world.
Scott Taylor, chief executive of the new Glasgow City Marketing Bureau, says: "The music scene in Glasgow is the best in Britain and this iTour describes it by those best placed to know -music enthusiasts, music promoters and the bands themselves. It’s a vivid portrayal of a stylish, vibrant and creative city and I am sure it will persuade more people to visit."
Pushing on, I head to the Bohemian West End, home to Byres Road and the areas around the university where the city’s musical elite hang out.
Nosing around the Byres Road Oxfam, where Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch once unloaded a pile of the band’s demos and early unreleased material in the hope that some unsuspecting fan to happen upon the treasure trove, I suddenly realise that if I want to, I could leave this shop dressed like any one of the city’s major bands. Resisting the thrift shop look, I take myself off on another long trek - cursing my Chelsea boots and aching feet - to Mixed-Up Records. Apparantly, alt-rock hero Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth fame spends hours here whenever the band play in Glasgow. Tucked away in Otago Lane, it is virtually hidden from sight, and is one of the gems of the tour. Even in my exhausted state I can tell that this is a mine of vinyl and CD gold. In fact it takes all my will not to leave with an armful of records.
Fortunately, the last of my sights for this whistle stop tour - I only did six out of the sites and that took three hours - proves to be a real find: the Tchai Ovna. This Russian tea room, according to Jim’s avuncular tones, was the backdrop for the cover of Belle and Sebastian’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress. At the risk that this means nothing to the listener, the place itself is quite unlike anything I’ve ever been to: all mismatched furniture, pillows and wooden drinking bowls, customers are confronted by a sign which reads: ‘Try Observing These Shapes Without Recognising Them As Words’.
Meanwhile Jim is informing us: "If you don’t fall immediately in love with this place on entering then, I swear, you need to get your heart checked out... Tchai Ovna Teahouse is a very special and extremely unique Russian teashop on Otago Lane. It stocks hundreds of varieties of tea from over 80 countries around the world, from Afghanistan to Vietnam."
At this point though, I’m happy just to enjoy the place without the soundtrack. And perhaps that’s the point. The tour can be switched on and off as you feel like. It tells you the significance of what you’re going to see, but ultimately, it’s taking you to places that other guides don’t.
Yes it was fun, to do it properly would probably take a couple of days and there is no doubting it will take the adventurous tourist and maybe the less clued-up local into places they would otherwise not see. Can’t say better than that.
The mp3 file can be downloaded from.tennentsitours.com as of today.