Pathfinders: Celebrating the women on the Barrowland Park Album Pathway
Anyone who has taken our Merchant City Music Past and Present tour will already know how much we love Jim Lambie’s Album Pathway in Barrowland Park, which records the artists who have graced the Barrowland stage since its conversion to beloved gig venue in 1983.
For International Women’s Day, on Friday March 8th we want to honour the women who have made their mark on Barrowland. Most are featured on the pathway but a couple have a history with the venue which goes back much further and, in the case of our first honorary mention, to its very inception:
Margaret “Maggie” McIver
The woman who founded the Barras market and the Barrowland ballroom was an enterprising fruit seller, who rented out wheelbarrows to her fellow traders – hence the name, the Barras – from 1921. A roof and a second storey duly followed, and the Barrowland Palais de Dance opened on Christmas Eve 1934.
The original ballroom was devastated by fire in August 1958, only a few months after Maggie’s death. Her family rebuilt in her honour and the Barrowland ballroom we know and love today opened at Christmas 1960 with a new sprung dancefloor of Canadian maple, an octagonal layout for sequence dancing and a curved ceiling studded with stars.
Lena Martell, 23 Dec 2008
Easy listening country chanteuse Lena Martell might seem like an unlikely candidate to play at Barrowland but her history with the venue goes way back, as she was one of the singers with the original ballroom house band Billy McGregor and the Gaybirds. She went on to tour with Sammy Davis Jr. and perform with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, modestly remarking “I got lucky, I suppose”. She also understudied for Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl and hosted her own TV show, but remains best known for her one hit wonder, One Day At A Time.
Another local singer who got her break at Barrowland in the 1960s was Dennistoun teenager Marie Lawrie, better known as Lulu, who was inspired to record her first and most enduring smash hit, Shout, when she heard another Glaswegian belter, Alex Harvey, performing his raucous version of this Isley Brothers gem.
Blondie, 19 November 1998
Blondie’s only appearance at Barrowland must have made an impression on Debbie Harry because when the band played the Armadillo in 2013 she asked “whatever happened to the Barrowlands, does that place still exist?”
Grace Jones, 27 April 2003
As is her habit/prerogative, the fabulous Ms Grace Jones was late for this memorable engagement. The promoters sent a people carrier to the airport to pick her up but she insisted on a limo instead. Once at the venue, she demanded six bottles of Cristal champagne and two dozen oysters before she would go onstage – organizers managed to source the necessary vittles from Rogano just before it shut for the night. Grace finally went on stage two hours late, wearing a different hat for every song she performed, but left the oysters and champers untouched.
Katy Perry, 21 August 2009
Teen pop princess Perry had to take three flights to make this rescheduled show. “By the last flight, the third time going through security, I lost it on a security person,” she remembers. However, she did manage to walk down Sauchiehall Street unrecognised and popped into M&S.
Although Kirsty MacColl never played Barrowland in her own right, she did attend Big Country’s legendary Hogmanay show in 1983 with her new boyfriend, the producer Steve Lillywhite. At midnight, Steve popped the question, she accepted his marriage proposal and they toasted their nuptials at Jim Kerr’s house. Kirsty’s memory of the night was that “it all started with a bang under a starlit sky” which we think sounds rather romantic, and a bit rude!
Shirley Manson with:
Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, 2 May 1987, 22 April 1989, 22 March 1991
Garbage, 21 March 1996, 27/28 August 1998, 4 July 2012
No stranger to the Barrowland stage, Shirley Manson’s Barras debut with her first band Goodbye Mr Mackenzie was the biggest show she had played to date and she has been a great advocate of the venue ever since. She marked Garbage’s Barrowland debut in 1996 by persuading her American bandmates to take the stage in kilts. When she was inducted into the Barrowland Hall of Fame, the engravers mistakenly carved Marilyn Manson’s name on the first trophy they made for her.
Amy MacDonald, 14 December 2007
Amy is another proud inductee in the Barrowland Hall of Fame and has written a song, Barrowland Ballroom, in its honour. All together now – “nothing beats the feeling of the high Barrowland ceiling when the band start to play.”
If you love the park as much as we do and want to keep it, please lend your support to Fans of Barrowland Park who campaign to retain the park and the album pathway. They’ll shortly be announcing a date for their annual spring clean and would love to see you there. Follow them on FB and twitter @BarrasParkFans
KT Tunstall plays Barrowland this Saturday, 9 March