It’s not quite a trip to the jungle, it’s not a tour through sparkling snowy waste, but exploring the side streets of Glasgow can be just as much a life-changing experience. It’s the music that does it, as I discovered on trips to the city in the last year. Live music happens in every street; not just in grand concert halls but in basements bars and attic clubs, in ageing art deco cinemas and old variety theatres, in subterranean tunnels where gigs are punctuated by passing trains, in vegan (yes vegan) cafes which would not look out of place in San Francisco. Live music transforms even the most battered parts of the city into an unforgettable experience – O2 Academy stands like a beached liner, a defiant dazzler on Gorbals edgelands. Barrowland is a beacon for rock bands the world over, The Arches and Sub Club rock the city underground and even the Apollo, long gone, absolutely refuses to die. All adding to the gritty, almost industrial strength of Glasgow’s cultural life. No wonder this is the UK’s first UNESCO City of Music. I explored Glasgow with the help of Walking Heads audio tours who have just produced Glasgow Music Tour as a free app.
The Barrowland Ballroom is a hot, sweaty venue with a low ceiling which is virtually unchanged since the ballroom was rebuilt in 1960. It has excellent acoustics and a sprung dance floor (because of its original role as a ballroom) and is just the best place to see live bands. Although its capacity is limited to just under 2,000 it attracts big name bands because of the fantastic atmosphere - a reason it has remained popular with the punters for 50+ years. Have a look at the 1983 video of Simple Minds' single Waterfront, which was filmed there.
If you're in Glasgow check out who's playing in the local paper and go along if you can. Have a drink in the Saracen's Head pub, opposite, to sample the full flavour of a Glasgow night out!
The building was discovered languishing as a council car park by Jim Smith, director of the Glasgow Jazz Festival in 1992. Since then the Old Fruitmarket has been reinvented as one of the most atmospheric venues in the UK. With its wooden boat-like roof, huge old clock and still retaining the old stallholders billboards from the time when it really was a market hall, the Old Fruitmarket is now a thriving venue for music, comedy and for festivals such as Celtic Connections and the Glasgow Jazz Festival. A refurbishment got rid of the cobbles that threatened many a high heel, strengthened the balcony, improved the heating and sealed the roof against the pigeon squatters, but did nothing to dilute its essential character. It's a large enough auditorium to hold 1500 standing, but still works cabaret style for under 100.
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