Bill Blackstock of Queen Margaret Union’s Farewell Guest Blog
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September 16, 2019
On 20th September l finish up as General Manager at the Queen Margaret Union after almost 6 years, making way for a new team to take things forward. It will also be my last (28th) Freshers’ Week and I’m very excited to have a band I think are destined for great things, The Ninth Wave, to round off this year’s proceedings.
My first gig, at the age of 16, in 1973 was Status Quo at Greens Playhouse, followed by Genesis (with Peter Gabriel). I queued all night for tickets for The Who, my all-time favourite band (again at Greens) then walked home to East Kilbride after the gig. I never thought that at 62 I’d still be going to gigs. My last 3, The Cure at Bellahouston, Edwyn Collins at QMU and the Skids at St Luke’s are all memorable for different reasons — though I have to say after 40 years the Cure now topple The Who and Alex Harvey at Celtic Park as the best gig ever.
I was probably destined to end up working in an environment where live music played an important part. There have been many memorable times for students and gig-goers at 22 University Gardens since it became the home of the QMU in 1968. The first band to play the venue was The Move featuring Roy Wood.
We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of student unions as live music venues, in the 70s and 80s Glasgow Tech and Strathclyde Union put on gigs too. The same applied across the country and many of those gigs were featured on the TV series Rock Goes to College, although surprisingly none were filmed in the QMU as Stirling Union was the preferred Scottish location.
You can view a selection from Rock Goes to College here:
I started out in student unions when I joined Glasgow Caledonian, formerly Glasgow Tech, in September 1992 as Finance Manager. A week later the first band for Freshers’ was Daisy Chainsaw. Over the years Dead or Alive, Doctor and the Medics, Shed 7, Kula Shaker, Space, Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine and Alison Limerick all played.
I remember querying why we were paying £500 for the Christmas Ball for a bunch of guys based in Dundee. That bunch of guys was Snow Patrol and we eventually paid them £350 plus travel and a nice rider. In my last year there a 17-year-old Paulo Nutini supported Jill Jackson during Freshers’ Week 1985.
Glasgow Tech had a reputation for putting on those “troublesome” punk bands, but one band we didn’t put on was So Solid Crew. I received a summons to the cells in Stewart Street Police Station where I was told in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t the wisest idea. Apparently there was intelligence to suggest a crew from London intended to come up for the gig and cause trouble. I made the “choice” not to proceed.
I moved to the University of Abertay in 2006 to manage the Student Centre and Association. The Hideout, Abertay’s student union had a capacity of approximately 300 and was stretched to capacity for an infamous gig in 2006 by The View. Of the songs recorded on the night only ‘Skag Trendy’ appeared on the USA issue of their album Hats Off to the Buskers. The other live acts featured were mainly local or up-and-coming bands such as The Hazey Janes and Vukovi.
When N-Trance played, all the fire alarms went off and we just continued in the street for a bit. We hosted a number of DJ sets with the Zutons and Fun Lovin’ Criminals— I shared a nice bottle of JD with Huey (20/80%) and I am still amazed he made his early flight. One artist we didn’t get was when the Freshers’ Committee dallied about paying £600 for some young DJ from Dumfries who we were assured was going to the next big thing…Calvin Harris. Ah well you cannae win them all…as I found out when I had to appear in front of the University Health and Safety committee after a minor incident at the first ever Dundee Tattoo Convention held in the centre across all 5 floors:
Yep — it made the final item on many a news and radio station around the globe.
I moved to QMU in January 2013. Incidentally the only band I had seen there before moving was the Bluebells, I met Bobby recently at Edwyn Collins Gig.
In its heyday in the 80s QMU used to average 40 gigs per year. But over the last decade or so the music scene and the number of venues providing live music has expanded rapidly with many purpose-built venues. The opening of larger capacity venues, such as the Carling Academy and the ABC O2, naturally led to bands who could easily sell more than 900 tickets electing to play there and saw the number of our gigs drop to around a dozen per year as we fell off many promoters’ tour venues. It was a factor that contributed to tough times in recent years.
Our most iconic gig is probably Nirvana and I would encourage you to read Andy Bollen’s Nirvana Diaries with a full chapter on the gig if you want to get a feel for it. Andy was the drummer in the support band, Captain America, who then went on to tour with Nirvana. The setlist and promotional material are framed and on my office wall. The setlist appears to be Kurt Cobain’s with his footprint on the back, if so kerching for QMU if ever needed! In 2015 Dave Grohl’s setlist sold for £5625 https://www.bonhams.com/auctions/21947/lot/305/#/
In the Nirvana museum in Seattle there is a photo of Mr Grohl in the QMU Games Room Bar at the time. A sound recording of that night is available at:
Hue and Cry recently filmed a short piece about how important the QMU was to them in their early career and Pat Kane said the best gig he ever attended was Was not Was at the QMU. Many bands play QMU and go onto bigger things: we see a lot of bands going on to Barrowland, O2 Academy and the Hydro (Chvrches, George Ezra).
We recently celebrated 50 years of live music at the QMU and the response was simply phenomenal.
The project culminated with an event on November 30th 2018, where we invited local artists (and UofG academics) Glasgow Glam Rock Dialogues to tell the story of our venue through a mixture of songs, images and speeches. The event was well attended, it was recorded and can be viewed online here
https://bit.ly/QMU50video ( using the password glamrock)
Around 607 setlists for gigs at QMU going back to the 70s are listed here and we think the bands that have played the most are Biffy Clyro and Twin Atlantic:
Obviously working at QMU has given me access to watching all sorts of new and up- and-coming bands sound check and perform. I’ll definitely be back for the Selecter on the 19th October, the last time I saw them was 1979 on the famous Two-Tone gig at Tiffany’s along with Madness and The Specials— still in my top five.
So, who stands out in my time here LP, Idles, Kamasi Washington, Sam Fender, Thee Oh Sees to name but a few.
But my top two are The Skids (for BBC Alba’s ALT) and just recently Edwyn Collins (I suspect a throwback to my younger days when I was back at the Tech 79-80). Edwyn last played the QMU in 1984. His partner Grace Maxwell actually was the student events convenor in the late 70s and her last booking was the Ramones, supported by the Snips and Paul Coia doing a stint as DJ. Grace told me she formed friendships at the QMU that have lasted her a lifetime.
Like many student unions across the UK it has been a difficult period for the QMU. I am 100% confident that it has a long and prosperous future after I have gone. To fit with changing student lifestyle and demands we have just completed a substantial review and restructure with a new strategic plan put in place: one of the key demands is to be a hub for culture and music.
QMU is now a KEYCHANGE associate venue and has pledged:
- to ensure that our 2019 and all future Freshers’ Week line-ups are 50/50
- to aim for 50/50 gender balance across all of our internally-run events by 2022
- to encourage our members to sign-up to the pledge (including the creation of a Keychange Champion position)
- to encourage promoters and bookers who use our venue to sign-up to the pledge
- to encourage our colleagues at the University of Glasgow to sign-up to the pledge
- to encourage gender diversity in our senior management positions and aim to eradicate any gender pay gap by 2022
- Keychange include all women, trans and non-binary performers in the 50% target. Already this year Primavera Sound Festival managed to achieve a 50/50 line-up and a further 45 UK events have pledged to do the same. We believe that as a well-known venue in the Scottish music-scene, and one with a uniquely female heritage, we are well placed to be a promoter of gender equality in the music industry. 50/50 is achievable and it is the future. By Freshers’ Week 2019 (September 13th – 21st) we aim to have set-up a page on our website where people can find out more information about Keychange and how you can help us to fight for equality
In addition, this year we will be continuing our fundraising for MHF Live. At each gig, all 4 student bodies will be collecting for them during Freshers week — we’re hoping the QMU will raise £1500. One of the dominant issues in society at the moment is the growth of mental health issues and I have witnessed the exponential growth in students. Another key aim of QMU is to improve the wellbeing of our members and we feel that attending music events and participating in your Union is good for tackling this. We are also acutely aware of the situation and pressure many musicians face, so it seems a natural step to link our music heritage to this campaign and hopefully raise thousands of pounds over the coming year for MHF.
We also hope to develop our work with SWIM (Scottish Women Inventing Music) and Safe Gigs for Women and will continue to champion local and student bands. A whole range of new initiatives will be rolled out over the next 24 months.
With a record number of gigs, a second series of recordings for ALT and the start of a new Friday night club in conjunction with Propaganda the scene is set. There will also be QMU Presents, Open Mic night and our own Freaking Out the Neighbourhood and Double Denim club night. Exciting times indeed. Why not check them out here https://www.qmunion.org.uk/listings
None of the above would be possible if it were not for the team of staff around me who did all the hard work and the young team at QMU I am sure will all go on to develop great careers. Me I was in it for the selfies….
So Long Live the QMU and as for me I am looking for a new challenge from October hint-hint anyone. Hurry on sundown towards another day.
C/O Hutchison and Co B5 Whitecrook Business Centre, 78 Whitecrook Street Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire G81 1QF