There can’t be a music fan in Scotland who has not had a few swallies in town before rambling up Argyle Street and nodding a cap to Glasgow Cross, entering the Gallowgate and then experienced that magical rush when turning that wee bend in the street that allows you to see the neon Barrowland sign sparkling its welcome, often or not reflected double in a pool of Glasgow rain, as people queue past Baird’s Bar.

Tom Joyes who has been manager at The Barrowland Ballroom and adjacent Barras street market will modestly confess, “I know nothing much about music”, so seldom entranced with sound-checks he broke his own rule of leaving the bands, crew and promoters to get on with it and on 22 Jul 1997 he stood to watch a certain David Bowie get ready for his show. Towards the end of his sound-check, a porcelain star fell from the famous venue ceiling and narrowly missing Bowie. An unperturbed and suave David Bowie bent down, picked up the star, casually slipped it into his pocket and the incident passed with no mention to management or promoter.

I jokingly asked Tom a few years later, if he asked for the star back and he replied, “No fecking way, I was just glad not to get sued”. For me the story sums up The Barrowland in fewer words than I will use here, a colossal megastar who could have been playing a much larger venue, taking a souvenir of a place filled with gallus history, a hint of East End tack, a broken streetlight shade of violence and acres of allure.

Shy and prone to understatement, Tom Joyes may profess to not knowing new music but what he does know is the blood line of arguably the best venue in the world, as votes by numerous polls of bands, musicians and fans will testify. Built in 1934 by Maggie McIvor, “the Queen of the Barras”, the venue has remained in the McIvor family since opening in 1934, though it was rebuilt in 1958 after a major fire.

Manager Tom is fiercely protective of the venue’s independence and heritage so when he talks about the venue his passion, love and understanding is evident, “Glasgow audiences always provide a great atmosphere”. The stand-up hall is better than seating for rock concerts, with fans having access to the bar within the hall throughout the concert. Even with a capacity crowd of 1950, he claims that “from the back of the hall you can see the whites of the performers’ eyes”. Press Tom further and he will sum the venue up in two words, “atmosphere and character”.

The Barrowland is the best example of, “if the wheel ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, Tom says, “it’s also down to the fact that we’ve not changed the design of the place since the 1960s and have no plans to. We want to keep it the way it is.”

So the venue is intrinsically the same place as it was when Billy McGregor and the Gaybirds or The Alex Harvey Soul Band played standards to local Barras traders, families and friends, offering talent competitions and punters the chance to open a mystery box, where they could win anything from £500 to a rotten egg.

Many folk met their future spouses on the dance floor and talking in the Daily Record local resident Agnes McLean confirmed that, “To break into the big-time social scene in Glasgow in the Thirties, one had to be a ‘rerr’ dancer”.

If you have ever been to a Proclaimers show at the Barrowland and bounced to 500 Miles with the best of ‘em, you may not be aware that you’re being assisted by an imported Canadian wood floor, rumored to be sprung on thousands of tennis balls cut in half to cushion those dancing shoes. The current ceiling was designed in 1958 by the resident big band leader and barring a lick of paint, it remains unchanged to this day so the acoustics are second to none.

Legendary sound man Johnny Ramsey of EFX Audio who is not a man to mix his mince with his tatties once told me, “if you sound rotten here, it’ is because you’re rotten or your soundman is deaf and you need to fire him,”  and in her song Barrowland Ballroom, Amy Macdonald sings that “nothing beats the feeling of the high Barrowland ceiling when a band begins to play”, (see video below).

Alec

Next week Alec recounts some of the legendary shows that have made the venue such a part of Glasgow lore.

Photo credit: Flickr

The Best of Simple Minds on Youtube here

Alec continues his love letter to the Barrowlands with Part 2 of this article here.

Read Part 3 of this article where Alec lists his top 50 Barrowland memories here.

Comments

  1. Steve Earle, 1990

    Greatest concert I ever saw. Twice he had to stop mid-song because the crowd were singing ‘Here We Go’. Earle still mentions it as the ‘best venue in the world’.

  2. No Where in Glasgow, Scotland, UK or even Europe has the same feeling and enery and sound as the Barras – you just can’t beat it!

  3. I went to the Tin Machine Shows ! awesome , seen many ,many bands there . Sadly looks a bit weathered now .

  4. Well written Alec, really sums it up for me personally and the many thousands of Barrowland fans. Aspiring musicians and bands may well dream of playing Wembley or Madison Square Garden…..mine is to headline the Barras – best venue in Glasgow, best in the UK!

  5. The day I left barrowland to start my own buisness I didn’t know what an impact it would
    make. Being part of that buisness I saw hundreds of concerts and witnessd many moments that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
    Thanks alec you have made me remember those times.

  6. born in Glasgow spent my teen years at ballroom dancing in the fiftys, met my then husband there got married, went to Canada, but have never forgot the rush we used to get when tthe big bands would start to play, unforgetable thats what Glasgow, and the BARRAS MENT TO ME. ANNE.

  7. 59 i left : the barras was our magnet i roamed a bit Germany Ireland england south africa mozambique Natal zimbabwe namibia durban and the cape angola durban p/elizabeth e/London england and belguim running from antwerp to spain italy portugal the benelux group between trips from antwerp even the seychelles for a bit; never has there ever been anything to compare with the barras the atmosphere zest and power of the barras is a memory that cant be equalled anywhere in the world.

  8. what in the World came over me to leave My Glasgow Home to wander in dark places looking for ‘what! or just to roam’ the pain that gurgles through you as you look at the Southern Cross On the last days for many Years you walk on foreign sods Fondest Memories that i left behind will never be forgot Tears and Pain and memories of all ex-pat Scots who wander over this old world “take time sometime, for thought” My child-hood friends the River Kelvin too Barrowland and dancin memories those Treasures we all knew. what in the world came over me when
    my life was young and new. Glasgow, Glasgow i love you.

  9. Sitting with mates sinking a few well lots of swally and thinking back to ALL the great gigs at the barras and how what changes in the auld place,We all agreed how great it has been and all the fantastic gigs we went to and how many times we tried to get backstage after and failed, Amongst other things we agreed on was whatever happened to the Supervisor at the front door who was always at the windup no matter how FAMOUS punters thought they were, If you felt you were hard done by you went to him and he made you feel that your complaint was dealt with fairly, But if you were a dafty you were papped oot, The present door staff while good at their job don’t give the same Barras welcome as before, So before we get more blooterd is he making a comeback or is his time gone BUT not forgotten, I don’t think we are the only punters who miss his banter and windups, But time waits for no body EH

  10. Regards the front door staff everyone must have a favourite story who helped who hindered, C’mon there must be some gems out there so share,One of my own has to be the foot and mouth wind up where everyone had to wipe their feet before entry and i’m sure it was the big supervisor who carried it through he had all the punters wiping heels and soles before entry, he had people from outside glasgow thanking him for making the effort, His reply was because the band MSPreachers came from wales and had crossed the border into scotland it was the law and we could not take a chance and how he kept his face straight was priceless, So come on fellow gig punters lets hear your tales and who was your Favourite wind up bouncer or as the Supervisor would be heard to say steward not bouncer

  11. The Barras staff have one of the hardest jobs in the world dealing with drunk excited kids/adults who are desperate to see their idols. Sadly old school doormen are a dying breed and the laws which protect the public and standards imposed makes them fearful to interact in many cases. The Barrowland has always made an effort to train and retain the best door people and the odd rotten apple has been let go and the odd good guy girl pushed to the limit.

    My fav quote was, “I have spoke to Mr Bowie and he has cordially invited you to fxxx off”!

  12. Fair comment, But is that not the case at any venue with drunks so your saying that it’s just the barras that have drunk punters that’s not very fair on other door staff who are very good at their job, Regard old school as you call them I personally would rather have one of them who could give you a feeling of welcome/Safety than some youngster who was still learning the job, And would you not agree it’s only a hard job if you make it hard IE if give punters a hard time you get a hard time back, Regard the laws they have always been there even before the SIA came in which i agree has helped get rid as you say the odd rotten apple and seen the good staff pushed to the limit but then with the old school there to pass on years of wisdom ? would/could blend into a first class door team AND learn from each other because you should never be too old/young to learn adapt to new rules or practise for everyones safety, Shall we agree to disagree on some things and agree that all door staff old/young can work and learn from each other for the good/safety of the most important person the PUNTER agreed

  13. Can’t really see where we are disagreeing and no that problem is not particular to the Barrowland, just that this article is focused on the venue and people have good and bad memories of Barrowland door staff, (hopefully more good).

    I think you can take your point to life in general so many old school tradesmen and workers have been discarded or left trades due to changes and the pressures of modern society so there is a skills and common sense gap in society with the answers in many cases sitting drinking tea at home.

    I also agree with your point about dealing with punters but you can have as many security courses as you want, the art of being a good door man or tradesmen is learnt on the job and often from your experienced colleagues, which sadly are no longer there as it is cheaper to employ “youngsters”.

    I would still be interested to hear more stories x

  14. My story is from a good few yrs back,We were there early to get to the see the band arrive maybe get to hear the sound check, We were all at the front door waiting so we could be at the front when a crowd came up and dumped a very drunk girl at the door and went to leave her there when the supervisor stopped them and asked them where they were going and got some abuse from them,So he got 1st aid down and after a while got some details and a phone No and phoned her parents to inform them about her state,We could hear him say to 1st aid that she came from irvine area and would get there as soon as,While waiting for an ambulance to arrive this girl came and said she was her sister who stayed near the venue and worked at the Royal Hosp,She went away with her to the royal and we went into the gig,After the gig my dad came to collect me and my cousin we told him what had went on he went over to ask how the girl was and spoke to the girls sister who had came to get her bag off the staff and was told she was as ok feeling very sorry for herselfe, He also found out the supervisors name which was Willie and my dad thanked him for taken care of all of us and he said that was what he was there for good times bad times,So from myselfe my cousin AND all the punters Old and young a very BIG Thank you for making the Barras a very safe happy place for the punters to go too Thank you

  15. Going back a good few years when FPC were the security and Supergrass was the Main band my daughter and her mates were there and lost her bag with wallet money and it had not been handed in,When she went to report it to the toilet staff she would/could not help them so they went down to the front door and spoke to the supervisor whose name was willie and told him about their problem,He took the details and gave them cash to call home and he spoke to myselfe , I had told my daughter to get a taxi and i’d pay it when she got home but no taxis would take the chance so when the Supervisor heard this he gave them cash to get the last bus home which they just caught by seconds on london Rd, Two nights later at the next show me and my daughter went into pay him back and we had to struggle to get him take it,He said he was glad to help and told us her bag had been found but no purse with it but all her other stuff was there,He sent staff to get it and all he would take was a can of coke, As a single parent at the time i was very grateful he took the time out to help my daughter and her pals get home without being sure he would get his cash back, So can i take the time to thank him for all the kindness he showed that night and whatever he’s doing now God bless you Willie, A Very grateful Mum x

  16. Great stories for sure i’m also thinking these are what all the great barras memories are made of for all ages all types of music Etc,What about a quiz for example best/worst gig plus best/worst bouncer NO PRIZE involved just the stories should be enough to bring out the glesga banter by the way,So come on you punters young and old wheres your stories to be told some are fact some are rumour but tell them all wi the glesga humour,Remember NO PRIZE involved just bring out your memories also your tales of the LEGEND that was Josies
    burghers AND the invisible ladies cleaner[she never could be found] Ha Ha L o L

  17. I was reading with great intrest all the tales of back in the day and i’m surprised that there’s been little response Esp from THE DEAR on 12th Sep who said they would find out about past Staff and so far nothing,Over the yrs i’ve bored my grandkids with my slightly TALL tales regard the Gigs or as i said the concerts,So can we please have some new tales please and soon, I wait to hear from any one,Esp the dear whoever you are

  18. Thanks for all your efforts to alex and the dear but who/what are your credentials to give insights to gigs and other matters Regard the Barras I.E. Are you a staff member past/present with great insider Info.It’s just to see how you can give Info and we can be sure it’s the real deal.But meantime lets have your tales small/TALL with all the famous Glesga banter/patter we’re famous for

  19. Does no one read these requests regard memories or can nobody be arsed too reply c’mon you all say what a great venue but you have no tales too share i would hate to have been at some of them gigs,Where’s Alec or the Dear they on a date Ha Ha or do they just check in when their TV’s down, Lets get behind these pages and show the world just how proud of the world famous Barras Ballroom you say you are,Your story’s might stir up memories no matter how little or large they may seem,Give it a go see what response you get

  20. Not quite sure how me and Alec ended up getting abuse on here but there you go! Also I’m in America and Alec’s in Turkey so it’s unlikely we’ll be going on fun dates soon.

    Anyway, I appreciate your enthusiasm and I’m all for this page becoming a host for assorted Barras memories, but maybe the requests are falling on deef ears because this is quite an old article.

    I’ll re-tweet it and re-post it on Facebook tomorrow and see if that makes a difference.

    Ok and here’s my wee contribution. The first time I ever went to the Barras was to see the Spin Doctors in the early 90s. Remember them? And it was actually the second time I’d seen them having been at their King Tuts gig a year earlier.

    At the end of the gig I used the legendary springy floorboards to leap above a few unimpressed punters and catch a drumstick which I still have somewhere. On the way back to Central Station me and The Wee Man got completely lost but I remember thinking that if we got jumped then at least I had a drumstick with which to defend myself.

    Hopefully we can at least agree that my taste in music has improved significantly since then.

  21. I’M SO SORRY WASN’T MEANT AS ABUSE NEVER EVER, just they go on about how great a venue it is but given the chance too BRAG to the wide world it seems it fell on very DEEF ears, Regards your music taste that’s one of the many many reasons that’s why the magic there and keeps drawing punters young/old back to hear the music as it should be heard,Regards the fun dates please take it was meant as GLESGA banter and not a personal attack as i know you and Alec only have the best wishes for the Barras, Can i once again say SORRY, So come all you DEEF folk send in your storys some body might spark a memory some where Sad or glad it is all memories,

  22. I bounced to 500 miles and god does that dance floor bounce. Have many good memories of being at Barrowlands with friends.

  23. Went through the gig list and saw big country and drifted down memory lane,I had the great pleasure to talk with Stuart Adamson a few times and when he passed i was very sad he was so young but we didn’t know what’s going on with his thoughts Eh,But we have his music which will live on forever and we can take our own memorys from gigs at the Barras and other venues myself good/great bouncy ones where pissed out my face thinkin i was a better chanter than the band but everybody did Eh,So i for one thank every group that was allowed to grace the Barras and go then on too Bigger venues BUT have always came back because the magic/memorys draws them home too the greatest venue bar none,Agree/ disagree this’s the pages to have your say so on you come you know you want to, A punter with very great/fond memories of Many great gigs at the Barras

  24. My top five Barras’ gigs:
    5) PJ Harvey supported by the then little known Tricky. The young Bristolian, on stage with the stunning Martina Topley-Bird, played an amazing set (not always the case in my experience of a Tricky gig), then went and got a pint at the bar and stood in the crowd to watch Polly Jean. This was PJ’s Gothic Diva period, promoting the underrated ‘To Bring You My Love’ album, and she took the stage in red satin gown, Bette Davis makeup, and white Stratocaster. I immediately fell in love.
    4) Grace Jones. This is for the sheer incongruity of Grace at the Barras, the high camp factor (including two guys dressed a la Richard Gere in ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’), and also the amazing tunes. This was a set list that included ‘Nightclubbing’, ‘Pull up to the Bumper’, ‘Private Life’, ‘Warm Leatherette’, and an almost unspeakably brilliant ‘La Vie en Rose’. In a reversal of the expected roles, I’ve never been part of a crowd so willing to please an act. We sought her approval and she appeared impressed. For one night the Barrowland Ballroom was once again the best dancehall in Glasgow.
    3) Primal Scream on the ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’ tour. The band I’ve seen live more than any other, who rarely let you down, but this was something special. Again, this was about band and crowd working together, and both were up for it. I would imagine that substances were taken on both sides and it showed. A stunning show that was the perfect mix of the Andy Weatherall driven bliss of ‘Screamadelica’ and the ‘Exile’ era Stones tribute that was ‘Give Out But Don’t Give Up’, a record that made much more sense live. This was the night that Bobby’s disparate gang proved that they meant it.
    2) Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. This was unapologetic nostalgia, it being the 20th Anniversary of the release of the magnificent ‘Rattlesnakes’, the best record released in 1984 (yes, even better than ‘The Smiths’ by The Smiths). Such nights can fall awfully flat, but this was a belter. The recurring theme of all of these reminiscences is the importance of the crowd. This one willed Lloyd and the Commotions to success. Every single word was sung by a full house.
    1) But top of these particular pops was Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. It was a wet Tuesday night when I got the phone call to say that there was a spare ticket if I wanted. I was aware of Welch, but had not really engaged apart from a couple of songs, so I went with few expectations. The Barras was perhaps ¾ full, but still buzzing. Barras’ audiences are not known for their restraint or good behaviour, but from the first hello Gillian had us in the palm of her hand. Every song was heard in absolute silence followed by roof raising applause. The music was spellbinding and I went out the next day and bought everything I could get my hand on. They encored with support band Old Crow Medicine Show and did a cover of The Band’s ‘The Weight’. Every soul in the place sang along. It was electric and unforgettable and the second time I fell in love at the Barras.

  25. hi alec, just too see if any joy regard the old staff/guard and what became of them, And any more tales TALL small,They might spark a response good/bad whatever bring them on get the barras world famous Barras banter/patter flowing,

  26. Went to the barras on Sat for From the jam what great gig well done what memorys.AND it had the perfect ending as we saw the barras LEG END that is Willie.We had a great natter about back in the day and how life had been to us.We had a laugh about past gigs and his banter was the usual p–h but it was good to see him still alive but not kicking LoL, Last word to the cloakroom staff try and give a smile now and again and make folk welcome Esp that young lad. ALL THE VERY BEST TO ONE AND ALL FOR 2011

  27. Yeah Top Venue with a lot of History etc etc, but the area itself is one Absolute Shit Hole.. & That’s even from a Celtic Fan, Absolute Nightmare to get a taxi around there too and not the sort of place you’d wanna be waling around at night…

  28. Barras is the best music venue I’ve been to by a mile and I’ve been to loads in Scotland and England. It’s a crying shame that the promoterss have established some kind of cartel and that the bands that come to Glasgow play the O2 Academy now where before they would have played the Barras.

    I would like to see a campaign of sorts to get the Barras back as the premier music venue with visiting bands all playing it.

    The Academy is a shit venue compared to The Barras.

    The only bands of note that still play the Barrowlands are the ones that genuinely love it and make a point of playing it, like SLF and the Charlatans.

  29. It is often the gigs you think may not have a good atmosphere that turn out amazing – and vice-versa. An example would be that I thought Simple Minds on their last visit playing all their early stuff would be a great atmos = very average, as was Guns final visit there. Some of the best gigs for crowd participation would be Radiohead on The Bends tour, Oasis on their 10 Years of Noise and Confusion tour and Spear of Destiny on their World Service tour. Always found the staff helpful – then again I never look for trouble…..

  30. In my family tree is an uncle of my dads, Duncan McIntosh, originally a policeman who lived in London Road. He was wounded in WW1 and had a scar on his face, giving him the nickname ‘Mons Star’. In my notes from a late relative, it says “He was seen in the TV programme, ‘Last Tango in Barrowland’ about the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow, He became the Manager of the Barrowland Ballroom after retiring from the Police. He was called ‘The Scar’ due his war wound. He had a reputation as a hard man. ” You didn’t give cheek up to that Manager!”
    Duncan always went around in a dinner suit and bow tie. When the Barrowland burnt down, he as asked by the owner of the Barrows Market, Sadie Mcvor to manage that, which he did.” After his first wife died he remarried to the Cloakroom girl from the Barrowland: see Marriage cert below:
    Marriage Certificate Information

    Name of Parish/District: District of Bridgeton in the Burgh of Glasgow, County of Lanark
    Parish No: 644.1
    Entry No: 563
    Date / Place: 1961 August thirtieth
    According to the Forms of: (after Banns) The Congregational Church
    Name of Groom: Duncan McIntosh
    Usual Residence: 521 Gallowgate, Glasgow
    Age: 68
    Occupation: Dance Hall Manager
    Marital status: Widower
    Groom’s Father’s Name: Donald McIntosh
    Occupation: Carter
    Deceased? : (decsd)
    Mother’s Name: Catherine McIntosh
    Maiden Name: McNeill
    Deceased: (decsd)
    Name of Bride: Georgina Trodden or McFarlane
    Usual residence: 521 Gallowgate, Glasgow
    Age: 44
    Occupation: Cloakroom Assistant
    Marital status: Widow
    Bride’s father’s name: Andrew Trodden
    Occupation: Wood Turner
    Deceased?: (decsd)
    Mother’s Name: Jeanne Trodden
    Maiden Name: Forrester
    Deceased?: (decsd)
    Witnesses: Duncan McIntosh, 5 Dungoyne Street, Glasgow
    J F Farrell, 6 Bakewell Road, Garrowhill

  31. Brilliant reading all those great memories, remember the last dance and getting a lumber ! the song ” whose taking you home tonight” by Billy Mc Gregor…. band leader. Lord help anyone who got chucked down all the stairs for being out of control/drunk by the bouncers…….a few sair heids !!

  32. My memories of the Land go back a wee bit farther than many of the ones I have read here. Its more around the time that the venue was more a dance hall rather than a concert venue, they had a few big names play there but they were mainly bands, not groups of guitarists, people like Johnny Dankworth with his full band and more people like him, I even remember when Bill Hailey and the Comets played there, that should give you a ballpark figure of the time zone we were in, when Tuesday night used to be registered night, when the girls received a book of tickets at the door, to be given out to guys she fancied during the night for a dance, got myself many a lumber out of that idea, and at the top of the dance floor to the right of the bandstand was a little place called Bugs Alley, where all the people who could jive used to meet and jive to some of the great tunes of the day, and if I have to explain jive to you, well you wouldn’t understand, and as for someones comment about getting thrown down all those stairs well I have seen it happen but it wasn’t the bouncers, just a dispute about who was walking someone home, also seen a guy lose one of his ears when he left the Land , there was a team waiting to claim him, which at the time wasn’t unusual, 50/55, unfortunately, I left the area in 55 to move to the states with my parents, I have been back a few time to check out the old place [Glasgow} but there are too many changes, my Glasgow is gone now and now it is the new Glasgow that belongs to the young crowd, I hope as time rolls along that they will have as wonderful memories of the old place as I have, and remember all the great things that Glasgow taught them, I even went to see where I used to live at 248 London road across from Margaret Forresters, but the building is gone now, just a vacant lot, but thank god the Land is still standing, god only knows for how long though, because everything else seems to be disappearing slowly, even Bairds Bar is gone although that was not original anyway, where it stood was once a tenement when I lived there, anyway, Long Live Glasgow`s Barrowland Ballroom and the people who still go there you lucky B#$&$*%s.