New book celebrates Glasgow’s iconic music venues

Mick Jagger in his pomp at the Apollo. Picture: Getty
Mick Jagger in his pomp at the Apollo. Picture: Getty
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New book unearths archive photos and memories of 22 locations where pop and rock legends performed

IT is the city that gave the world Simple Minds, Primal Scream, The Blue Nile, Wet Wet Wet, Belle & Sebastian and Franz Ferdinand.

‘The scene is better across all music genres, styles and types than ever before’

Singers as varied as Edwyn Collins, Billy Connolly, Frankie Miller, Sharleen Spiteri, Lulu and Lloyd Cole famously emerged from its music scene.

And the names of its iconic venues are etched in the memories of music fans, from long-lost favourites such as the Apollo and Empire to modern-day icons like King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut and the Barrowland Ballroom.

Now the full story of Glasgow’s musical heritage is to be told for the first time, through the buildings where reputations have been forged and crowds have thronged, from the smallest bars and underground clubs to the city’s most prestigious concert halls.

A new book, commissioned to help raise the profile of Glasgow’s official Unesco City of Music status, will see writers, music industry experts and historians delve into the history books to unearth long-forgotten stories and memories, as well as archive photographs.

Dear Green Sounds, “the first book to celebrate the collective history of Glasgow’s music,” is planned to be the start of a series of official collections. It is hoped they will even inspire walking tours around the locations of existing venues and the sites of those that have not survived.

Svend Brown, director of Glasgow Unesco City of Music, said: “One of our main tasks is to draw attention to Glasgow’s amazing musical heritage and infrastructure. I went to the Mitchell Library to try to track down a history of Glasgow’s music and found nothing had really been done before. There were lots of fragmented stories that added up to something really special, but there wasn’t a straight line to trace.

“I came up with the idea that we should look at buildings, as without them music doesn’t really have a presence anywhere. It turned out that there were far more than we could possibly feature in one book. Glasgow has had a staggering number of venues you could say were iconic in different ways.”

The book, which features 22 locations, explores the impact of the opening of the SECC in 1985, which allowed the city to attract the world’s biggest pop and rock stars, and the Royal Concert Hall, the city’s flagship venue for classical concerts, opened for its reign as European capital of culture in 1990.

It also turns the spotlight on the Grand Ole Opry, the famous country and western club which has been running for more than 40 years, the City Halls, Glasgow’s oldest purpose-built performance space, which dates back to 1841, and the Sub Club, the ground-breaking nightspot which opened in 1987.

One of the smallest venues featured is the tiny Scotia Bar, where the likes of Billy Connolly, Gerry Rafferty and Alex Harvey all performed. Arguably the grandest venue is Glasgow Cathedral, which has been hosting musical events since the Middle Ages.

Broadcaster Vic Galloway, who worked on the book, to be published on 4 April, said: “These kind of historical documents are definitely needed. They shine a deserved light on homegrown talent and the infrastructure that has helped create it. Everyone continually looks to the USA or London for inspiration, but occasionally we need to realise what’s right in front of us in Scotland.

“Glasgow’s music scene has developed enormously in the last 25 years. It was once a haven for blues-rock, small folk gatherings and drunken sing-songs. It is now a bustling metropolis of venues, clubs, bars, labels, record shops, promoters and, most importantly, fans. The scene is better across all music genres, styles and types than ever before. Glasgow’s heritage may be well known to established music-lovers already but, by and large, it’s only coming to the larger general public’s attention now, after a continuous series of success stories.”

Fiona Shepherd, pop and rock critic for The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday, said: “People come to study in Glasgow because it’s really well known as a music city, and musicians also gravitate there because they’ve heard of the grass-roots scene. What makes it so good is that it has an entirely DIY culture.

“I think the last 20 or 25 years have been key – 1990 was a watershed for Glasgow culturally and music was a big part of that. After that a lot of bands started to stay in Glasgow, rather than move to London, and enriched the scene. By the time bands like Mogwai, The Delgados and Belle & Sebastian came along there was no question they could remain and do their own thing.”

Veteran Glasgow-born music critic Billy Sloan added: “Glasgow has been punching above its weight musically from the late 1960s and early 1970s and there was a real golden period up until the mid-1980s. I used to say at the time that you couldn’t walk down Sauchiehall Street with a guitar case without someone jumping out a shop doorway, waving a chequebook and trying to sign you for a record company.

“It’s not just the venues that are special in Glasgow, it’s the people who have gone into them. It sounds like an old cliche, but I’ve spoken to scores of bands over the years, and when they see a 35-date tour and they see Glasgow they are literally counting the days till they come here. A lot of that went back to the days of the Apollo. It was that old ‘New York, New York’ thing. If a band could make it there they could make it anywhere.”


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