ROCK THIS WAY: See Raintown’s rich music history in a new tour of top live venues
By Paul English
18 July 2015
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GLASGOW Music City Tours gets ready to show off the city’s music credentials
in a walking tour that’s a walk down memory lane. (Photo Wattie Cheung)
IT’S the character common to countless songs from Abba to Arab Strap. Michael Marra wrote about it as an overprotective mother watching all her weans. Will Fyfe, after a couple of drinks on a Saturday, sang about belonging to it although he was from Dundee. With its slick streets and brooding clouds, The Blue Nile saw Tinseltown in the Rain, falling on all those tired eyes, tears and frowns of Deacon Blue ’s Raintown. It’s where Mogwai predicted the George Square Thatcher Death Party and Aztec Camera got there by bus to Killermont Street while Glasvegas promised a Go Square Go.
Having long been eulogised in song, the streets and music history of Glasgow are now being mapped out in a new walking tour, which starts next week as part of the Merchant City festival. Glasgow Music City Tours were formed by Jonathan Trew, Fiona Shepherd and Alison Stroak. Having sat on the idea longer than the average gap between Blue Nile albums, former music journalist Jonathan is excited to see his labour of love come to life.
He said: “Glasgow has this fantastic music history and no one seems to be doing anything with it. It’s the only UNESCO City of Music in the UK so we thought we could do something to shout about that, make it fun, bring together some of the historical elements and try to explain why Glasgow punches above its weight in terms of producing bands which go on to have huge international profile.”
While a plethora of pop careers began on the city’s streets, the tour also has tales from international stars who played venues such as the Barrowland and King Tut’s . Music writer Fiona Shepherd has been going to gigs in Glasgow for 30 years and reviewing them for 25 for a variety of publications. She has scripted two tours, one for the Merchant City and the east end, and another in the city centre. If they prove popular, there’s talk of expanding west.
Fiona said: “Oasis, Metallica and Chuck D all love the Barrowland. They’ve all said it’s their favourite venue and the Scissor Sisters have even said if it was ever threatened with closure they’d buy it because they love it so much.”
The trio gave The Record a taster of the tour, walking us from indie hangout Mono, the Merchant City venue where local legend Stephen Pastel runs his record shop, to the Barras and a peek at St Luke’s Church in Calton, which will soon open as a live music venue.
Fiona proudly proffers a Barrowland star, which may or may not have fallen from a dressing room wall, delivered with an anecdote about David Bowie having a similar minding in his Paris flat. There’s also a set list from the Manic Street Preacher’s first gig in Glasgow at Tut’s among her treasure trove of memories.
Fiona Shepherd with her star “stolen” from the Barrowland dressing rooms.
(Photo Wattie Cheung)
There’s the tale about record producer Steve Lilywhite and the late Kirsty MacColl getting engaged at the Barras after a Big Country Hogmanay gig and Leonard Cohen playing The Apollo after Scotland beat England at Hampden in 1976.
The well-worn tales about big names busking – The Clash throughout the city and Neil Young outside Central Station – aren’t woven into the fabric of the tour, but aren’t entirely discounted either, nor is the significance of The Horseshoe in the history of Travis or the role of King Tut’s in the well-worn story of Oasis’s start.
The Apollo concert hall in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow
But there are other, lesser-told tales about Bob Dylan at the Piping Centre, Scarlett Johanssen in the Panopticon and an unlikely yarn about Russ Abbott in the east end. The now defunct Paddy’s Market pops up in a late 70s tale about one of the city’s best-loved record labels.
Fiona said: “Alan Horne and Edwyn Collins used to go shopping there for clothes. They found old postcard records (literally vinyl records with postcards on them) and a kids’ cartoon book with a picture of a cat playing a drum. That became the logo of Postcard Records.”
Dry-runs for the tours have seen punters sharing their memories. As we walk from Nice N Sleazy , talk meanders from The Beatles ’ Glasgow shows to Sheena Easton at Glasgow’s Big Day in 1990.
Nice ‘n’ Sleazy has hosted many a band on the way up
(Photo Wattie Cheung)
Alison, who ran Byres Road’s John Smith Bookshop hosting sessions by bands like Teenage Fanclub, offers her own tale about Lux Interior from The Cramps doing something on stage that we can’t write about in a family newspaper. She said: “The entire audience were pelting things at him. He leapt off chairs and my wee brother’s friend spat in his mouth. I’ve never forgotten that. I remember hitting him thinking, ‘This is disgusting’ and then going home thinking it was one of the best things I’d ever seen in my life.”
The trio know music is a big draw in the city. Jonathan said: “Last year more than a million people went to the Hydro. If we can get one per cent of that market then we have a viable business. There are more than 130 gigs a week in Glasgow.”
Unlike Abba, who sang about being “sick and tired of everything” in a call from Glasgow, the tours are bound to entertain whatever Raintown’s weather. Jonathan added: “We can go inside at some places but people don’t come to Glasgow to top up their tans.”