IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE MUSIC
By Nicola Meighan
3 August 2015
Link to original article
Glasgow Music City Tours touring the Barrowland pathway
Do I love you? Yes I love you. Will we always be happy-go-lucky? Well, that depends on whether you can name the urban hymn I’m quoting, and what inclement landscape it’s evoking. If you answered The Blue Nile’s Tinseltown in the Rain and Glasgow respectively, then we’ll muddle along famously, especially if we embark on a new walking tour of the city’s pop geography.
And if that was not your answer, no matter: Glasgow Music City Tours cover over 100 years of music in the Dear Green Place, retracing the steps and stages and stories of countless local and international acts, from Billy Connolly to Biffy Clyro; from Marilyn Manson to Maggie Bell, so there are tales for everyone. Run by Fiona Shepherd, Jonathan Trew and Alison Stroak, who share decades’ worth of experience in music journalism and publishing, the tours explore Glasgow’s musical folklore and topography via its venues, past and present.
There are two weekly walking tours for now. Glasgow’s Music Mile covers venues including the Royal Concert Hall, King Tut’s and the late lamented Apollo, while Merchant City Music Past and Present takes in The Barrowland Ballroom, Mono and Britain’s oldest surviving music hall, The Britannia Panopticon, among others. The various pit-stops, and en-route meanderings give rise to excellent rock ‘n’ roll yarns about Sydney Devine and Simple Minds, Metallica and the Manic Street Preachers, Prince’s greatest aftershow and Russ Abbot’s unlikely role in pop legend.
“We felt that the most sensible way of mapping out the city out was to do it by venues, rather than trying to follow stories around,” says Trew. “It gives the tours a physical focus, and lets us get inside some of them. It’s one of the few times you’ll get to see a space for what it is, instead of it being full of hundreds of people. It’s a different atmosphere. It give you more space to appreciate everything about it.” It’s practical too. “Well yes, it is Glasgow. A lot of the time the weather might not be, you know … ideal,” he laughs.
Glasgow has long been mapped out in song – from Love and Money’s Jocelyn Square to Mogwai’s George Square Thatcher Death Party – and so too have its venues been explored, on a virtual tour (Walking Heads’ Glasgow app) and in print (Dear Green Sounds, edited by The Herald’s Kate Molleson). But there is something to be said for physically approaching a venue; for examining its stage in the light of day; for storytelling and sharing memories and considering the voices that have previously filled the room on and off-stage.
Shepherd conducts the tours armed with historical research, personal anecdotes and impressive artefacts, whether shedding light on bygone Sauchiehall Street venues (The Empire, The Locarno), or bringing Jim Lambie’s Barrowland Park album pathway to life with unlikely tales of David Bowie, Justin Timberlake and Runrig. She makes unlikely, but welcome, associations too – the Optimo banner on the Barrowlands pathway gives rise to an off-script chat about Glasgow’s clubbing culture. There are connections everywhere.
“Yeah, that’s what’s been very interesting about the research,” Shepherd nods. “You can find a way to get the story in because there are so many connections. So our door into Postcard records is actually Paddy’s Market, because that’s where they bought the book where they got the [drumming cat] logo. That leads us into the story of indie music in Glasgow, and then we move on to talk about the bands that came immediately after them – Altered Images, The Bluebells, Deacon Blue, Del Amitri, Texas.
“And then you’ve got the more indie strand,” Shepherd continues. “The Pastels, and bands coming in from the satellite towns, the suburbs of Glasgow, so Primal Scream, The Jesus And Mary Chain, The Bellshill bands [Teenage Fanclub, BMX Bandits], Glasgow becoming an indie mecca in the late 1980s. Which leads us on to talk about the 13th Note, and then on to Mono which continues the story today…”
Mono itself has a trove of connections – to Stereo, to the old 13th Note, to the 1990s Apollo (now the Flying Duck) – itself of course a homage to the original 1970s / 1980s Apollo – and to John Smith’s bookshop on Byres Road, where Stroak used to work with indie torchbearer Stephen Pastel, who now runs Mono’s in-house record shop, Monorail.
“John Smith’s opened up a record shop on the top floor, and we started putting on gigs, and it had such a brilliant bunch of people working in it,” Stroak recalls of the shop’s gilded alumni which includes Belle and Sebastian’s Sarah Martin. “It’s still the saddest thing to walk past now and see a Starbucks in its place. It’s heartbreaking.”
One of the most heartening elements of the tour is the way it brings such loved, lost venues back to life, through stories, shared memories, photographs and artefacts. It plots a map that’s personal and communal, current and historical, real and imagined, drawing from Glasgow’s collective pop conscience. “I do think you can start speaking about psychogeography,” Trew nods. “There’s a big store of memories which are invested in these places. And it’d be nice for us to tickle them alive every now and then.”
The venues and walkways act as visual cues, too, and have already prompted anecdotes from people on the tours. “On our first Merchant City Festival Tour, I’d say about half of the group were probably retired,” offers Trew. “And I think it was quite nice for them to hear and share some of the stories of places which they may have been in during their youth, as well as seeing what folk who’re 20 or 30 years younger than them are getting excited about – although a lot of the time, I’m sure it’s just a question of the same old thing but in a different guise.
“That was one of the interesting things about some of the buildings – they’ve been used as entertainment venues for over 100 years in Glasgow,” Trew continues. “And whilst the actual style of entertainment has changed – whether it be a circus or a dance hall or a rock venue – people still want a night out and the same old buildings have been reused and recycled for all these different sorts of entertainment. People like those memories. They like to talk about that.”
Younger music fans seem equally taken with the tour’s accounts of bygone buildings and bygone days. “We took my nephews on a tour, my youngest is 19, and he really liked the historical stuff,” Stroak recalls. “He knows his music, he’s in bands, but he didn’t know a lot about the older stories, the connections, and he really liked that.”
Trew nods. “Also, I don’t want to patronise anyone, but younger people might think that bad behaviour started with punk rock, so going somewhere like The Panopticon is great – you know, the idea that even 100 years ago people were peeing off the balcony on to the performers,” he says. And he’s right: nothing changes. But the tales and adventures along the way are fascinating.
The city’s superstars, subcultures, bricks and ghosts are well-served by these enlightening walks on the wild side. As Glasgow’s heavenly pop cartographers Deacon Blue once almost sang – buildings, and places, and memories, and faces: they count for everything.