Ten years of the iconic Hydro arena that put Glasgow on the global map
It is the iconic venue that propelled Glasgow into the premier league of live entertainment within months of opening its doors.
It is almost exactly 10 years since Sir Rod Stewart took to the stage for the first concert at the Hydro arena on the banks of the River Clyde.
Within months it was being ranked one of the world’s leading arenas and with more than a million visitors a year quickly became the second-busiest venue on the planet.
Now the 14,300-capacity venue, now officially known as the OVO Hydro, is estimated to have generated more than £1 billion for Glasgow’s economy from well over 1000 shows since it opened.
And the auditorium has bounced back from an 18-month Covid-enforced closure to host more than 150 different shows in the space of a year for the first time.
As the Hydro, which attracted 1.2 million visitors last year, approaches its 10th anniversary at the end of September, the man in charge of the venue is in no doubt how transformational it has been for the city.
Peter Duthie, chief executive of the Scottish Event Campus, which includes the SEC Centre, which dates back to 1985, the Armadillo, which opened in 1997 and the Hydro, can vividly recall the impetus for building the new venue – major artists were increasingly giving Glasgow the cold shoulder.
Mr Duthie, former commercial director at the SEC, said: “We were staging around 70 concerts a year in hall four at the SEC, but we were also using it for exhibitions and conferences, so there were a lot of restrictions on availability.
"We had to identify a window when we could build a concert set-up. We'd try to run eight or 10 shows, but it wasn’t a great customer experience and although we could fit in 9,000 seats, promoters for major artists were looking for more than that.
“By this time, most major cities in the UK had a purpose-built concert arena. Glasgow was being left behind. There was one week when we turned down bookings for Lady Gaga, Michael Buble and Stevie Wonder.
"It was a case of: ‘We need to do something about this. Scotland needs an arena and if it’s going to have one it has to be on our site’. That was the main driver behind the Hydro.”
A new arena was first announced in 2003 but it was Glasgow’s successful bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games, clinched in 2007, that may have made a crucial difference in the Hydro going ahead after the financial crash in 2008.
Mr Duthie recalled: “The funding package we’d put together for the Hydro fell apart when the Bank of Scotland pulled the plug on a developer we’d done a deal with.
"We were about to appoint a main contractor and were suddenly left with a £40 million funding hole. The Hydro was an integral part of Glasgow’s bid for the Commonwealth Games. We discussed with the council whether to mothball the project or find some way of financing it to make it happen. They chose the latter option and we agreed to sell all our buildings to the council under a lease-back arrangement, which allowed us to crack on.
“The city had given a commitment that this arena would be there for the Commonwealth Games, so there was certainly an element of leverage about that. But I think the city also recognised it was something that should happen anyway. It’s easy to look back and say ‘of course they should have done it’. But there was absolutely no guarantee of how successful it would be.”
Mr Duthie is convinced that the design of the Hydro was what immediately set the venue apart from rival arenas around the world when it opened.
He said: "When we researched what we wanted the venue to look like, we looked at the best venues around Europe and North America. All the arenas were rectangular in shape, as they were built around an anchor sports tenant.
“We decided our venue should be built for live entertainment. The brief for our architects (Foster & Partners) was to give us ‘the Colosseum meets the Royal Albert Hall’. They actually delivered pretty well, given the way the Hydro works. Every seat faces the stage, giving the audience and the artist a much better experience.”
The Hydro was a success almost immediately with Prince, Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, Dolly Parton and Robbie Williams among the early music stars to perform, while the venue attracted a string of other big-ticket events.
Mr Duthie said: "The Hydro's success has been driven by the audience. Right from the outset, promoters knew that they could sell tickets in Glasgow. On average, about 60 per cent of an audience comes from the Greater Glasgow area.
“A few things set the tone early on like the MTV Europe Music Awards, the Ryder Cup gala concert and the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards, along with the Commonwealth Games. They all really raised the profile of Glasgow and the Hydro. Our reputation for delivery really gave people confidence they could really trust us with their event.
“Our original business plan was based around an annual audience of around 700,000. We’ve done more than a million every year since we’ve been open. In its first full year, the Hydro was the second busiest live entertainment arena in the world, which was just bonkers.
"The people of Glasgow really embraced the Hydro from the outset. They recognised it was a major step forward from what they were experiencing before. They’re also proud of it. It’s such an iconic landmark. Alongside the Armadillo, it is often used to portray the city. The whole experience starts before you even get inside. When people see it lit up it creates a real sense of excitement.
"The Hydro has absolutely put Glasgow on the world stage in terms of live entertainment. Pretty much any artist that is touring will come to Glasgow now.”
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