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Issue 38 - Glasgow – city rhythms

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Scotland Magazine Issue 38
April 2008


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Glasgow – city rhythms

Edinburgh might claim to have the picture book history, but Glasgow is the pulsing heart not just of Scotland but arguably of Britain too. Dominic Roskrow reports

Do you remember the Sensational Alex Harvey Band? You can learn a lot about a place by looking at the musical groups that grew out of them.

And The Sensational Alex Harvey Band were quintessentially Glaswegian.

The band were a raunchy, rough and ready rock band fronted by a singer who seemed to be permanently inebriated. “Are you going to the tea party?” he sang, “going to the Boston Tea Party?” And it wasn’t so much a question as an instruction, and one to be obeyed or ignored at your peril.

SAHB were of a time and a place, a bunch of drinking mates who were fun to have on your side but you suspect wouldn’t be adverse to the odd punch up or worse. Such was Glasgow in the early 70s.

Fast forward 35 years and take a look at the city’s music scene now. Arguably the city’s most championed bands at the moment are Franz Ferdinand and The Fratellis. Both say much about the modern day city that spawned them – sharp, clean, smart, literate, cosmopolitan, disciplined and professional, they are just about everything that the Sensational Alex Harvey Band weren’t.

Bands such as these are ambassadors for a city that has worked hard to rid itself of its reputation for drunkenness and violence, for bitter sectarian divisiveness and a deeply ingrained switch-blade culture.

And it has successfully moved way across to the other side, offering a totally different cultural experience to that on show in Edinburgh. It hasn’t attempted to outperform the capital in history and heritage but has set about offering a different experience, focusing instead on its unique architecture, its monumental contribution to Britain’s industrial wealth and prosperity, and its ability to provide the strongest of platforms for organic, living art and culture.

And nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the field of contemporary music and in the field of sport, two areas where it is eminently more established than its rival city to the east.

Scotland has, of course, a long folk music tradition, and Glasgow is the ideal place to explore traditional roots music from Scotland itself and through offshoot musical styles such as new country and ‘Americana.’ Legends such as Ewan McColl and Bert Lloyd cut their teeth here and it should come as no surprise to find that the traditions are alive and well.

The Star Club in St Andrew’s Square is the perfect place to experience top notch Scottish folk first hand. It’s held every Thursday night and has featured greats such as Clive Gregson and John Hinshelwood in the past. This summer you can catch two of Scotland’s top folk performers when vocalist Sylvia Barnes appears with guitarist Sandy Stacy. Also this summer international acts including American Jeff Warner and Canadian James Keelaghan are both set to appear.

For those serious about their music, acclaimed traditional Scottish singer Cy Laurie runs Laurie’s Acoustic Music Bar in King Street. Every second Sunday of the month you can enjoy the lively sounds of the Carlton Jug Band and there are a host of other acts staged regularly.

Any folk fan will tell you, though, that the music’s best moments come from spontaneity, and you have to go to a proper open session and take pot luck. The Free Candy Sessions are held at the Liquid Ship in Great Western Road and the Satellite Sessions held in West Regent Street; both are free and well worth checking out. And for an eclectic mix of folk, roots, jazz, blues and more contemporary music it’s well worth visiting the Tramway Theatre, in Albert Drive.

But Glasgow’s reputation as a musical hotbed stretches way beyond folk music. In recent years it has developed a live music scene that is not only the pride of Scotland but is envied by most of Britain and even Europe. The city centre is teeming with quality live venues. Many of them, such as King Tut’s and Barrowlands, have etched themselves a place in rocky mythology.

Others are earning a reputation as a springboard for the latest wave of Glaswegian talent. Few cities can boast as many live acts on such a regular basis.

Unsurprisingly for a city of Glasgow’s size, the cream of international artists regularly visit the city and this summer acts at the biggest venue, S.E.C.C., include Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Kylie Minogue, Dolly Parton, UB40’s Ali Campbell and Cliff Richard, while the Carling Academy plays host to Sheryl Crow, Boyz II Men, Queensryche and the Stray Cats.

Barrowlands, regarded by many as one of the most atmospheric live rock venues in the world, will stage indie legends My Bloody Valentine and the wonderful Irish folk singer Christy Moore, while in Union Street the hot and sweaty Cathouse has an epic rock night featuring former Georgia Satellite frontman Dan Baird and sleazy rockers The Quireboys.

Elsewhere there is a music to suit all budgets and all musical styles, and a style of venue to content the most sophisticated on one hand, and the most scuzzy on the other.

If you aren’t particularly passionate about music but want to explore another area at which Glasgow excels, then turn to sport. As part of its efforts to repair the divided sectarian past that blighted its history for so long the city has launched a bid to establish Gaelic sports such as Gaelic Football and most recently hurling within the city’s community.

On a more traditional note Glasgow is home to Scotland’s most famous football teams, Celtic and Rangers, and the famous national stadium at Hampden Park. All three venues can be visited and toured, and each offers the visitor the chance to view the extensive trophy rooms, learn about the ground history, visit the changing rooms, warm up areas and dugouts, and walk down the tunnel on to the pitch.

Whether it’s music or football you’re after, the Glasgow experience can be completed by a fine meal at one of the city’s many quality restaurants. Ever since those long lost days of the early 70s when a sizeable and vibrant Italian population was enriching the city’s food offering, Glasgow has developed in to a cosmopolitan mix of bars and restaurants.

Our list of where to eat is taken from The Top Ten Glasgow guide (, a site run by Scott Docherty, a passionate Glaswegian who works as a partner in a law firm by day and extols the virtues of his home city by night.

Why the enthusiasm?

“I am pretty passionate about Glasgow,” he says. “I travel the world but have never felt the desire to live anywhere else but here. In recent times Glasgow has been changing for the better. She’s had the mettle to recognise that cities don’t magnetise tourists by relying solely on their clichéd reputation, the narrowing confines of their architecture.

“She’s smacked herself hard on her sootcracked face, yanked up her deteriorating frame, dusted off the debris from generations of social retrenchment and powered unlike any other city in the world back down the road to enrichment.” Too right. Are we going to the Boston Tea Party? No, Alex, we’re staying right here in Glasgow.You got a problem with that?

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