Dark stories of Bible John, memories of jitterbugging yanks, and tales of the only appearance in Scotland of Bill Haley & his Comets and The Rolling Stones being paid £5 to perform in 1964, steep the venue in Glasgow lore….. Alec Downie continues his love letter to the Barrowland Ballroom.
Simple Minds filmed their video for 1983 hit, Waterfront at Barrowland and a deluge of famed performances at The Ballroom enhance the legend, filling fans and bands with awe and a slight degree of trepidation, and a common agreement that the experience brings a measure of insanity; Graham Coxon of Blur recently commented that “The Scottish audiences are mad. I was just up at The Barrowland in Glasgow with Pete Doherty. It was insane”, and The Editors’ Tom Smith said “We did a Friday night in the Barrowland recently and that was insane”.
Alun Woodhouse of NME states, “I like the fact it’s quite rough and ready”. Anybody visiting the venue for the first time would be quite scared because it has a rough and scuzzy sham about it and a recent Scotsman review of The Feeling, opened with the line, “There are certain things one can expect from a Barrowland gig, usually along the lines of a rock’n’roll rampage”, and their Arts Editor Andrew Eaton says, “Headlining at Barrowland for the first time is a milestone for any Scottish band”. Glasvegas played there recently and you could literally see the band take a collective breath walking out in front of the rampant horde.
Having a 2000 capacity venue in Glasgow has allowed Scotland’s major promoters, DFC, PCL, Regular Music and CPL to nurture major artists at the beginning of their career and build intimate relationships with promoters. Indeed most of the bands performing at T in the Park will have trod the boards at the Barrowland first.
DF Concerts put on an average of 50 shows a year at the venue and promoter, Dave McGeachan said in a recent Evening Times interview, “It’s about the ballroom feel. Nothing has changed in years and a lot of bands last year did two nights at the Barrowland like Amy Winehouse. For the bands that turn up, it’s all about the big luminous sign and the atmosphere. Anyone who comes to Glasgow says it’s the best show they’ve ever done”.
As Dave testifies, many bands like Biffy Clyro, Franz Ferdinand, The Fratellis and Travis have opted to play a string of nights at the Barrowland, rather than prostitute their art in a larger soulless shed. Out of town Scots bands like The View have caused mayhem and electrified the floor and if you really want to know what it is like to play the Barrowland read, Kieran Webster’s blog, “Soon the guys leap onto stage and burst into Glass Smash as the crowd jump around like mad. As everyone gets there breath back I look onto the stage and just see the guys with massive grins on there faces, I think they know its gonna be a good one”.
The Barrowland forges a special place in the hearts of Scottish bands as colossal as The Finnieston Crane and if you have ever heard “Chance” by Big Country being sung by a capacity Barrowland crowd, then it was no surprise that the Dunfermline band chose to hold the tribute concert for Stuart Adamson at the venue. This love affair never seems to wane and the cover of Franz Ferdinand’s latest album, “Tonight”, was taken at the venue, “We shot it just after midnight behind the Barrowland. We wanted a Weegie vibe – Alex Kapranos, Franz Ferdinand.
That, “wee Weegie vibe”, is what the Barrowland is all about and sadly the tragic demise of CBGBs in NYC demonstrates that you can be complacent when development money comes knocking. There are always persistent rumors about the venue being closed, which would evoke the rage of 3 or 4 generations music fans in Glasgow, though if you ask Tom, he will say in a matter of fact way, “No gonna happen, look at the gigs listings, we are doing fine”.
Christy Moore – Barrowland
There’s an easy place down Gallowgate to the East End of Glasgow
It’s a ballroom of remembrance and a disco
Where the shooting stars light up the fresco
Where the last ones and the lovers go … to carry on
We sang about the Nicky Tams in the back room of the Scotia
We drank sweet wines and called for neon pints of Fidel Castro
Till it was time to fly to dreamland
Out of Bairds, up the stairs to hell or to heaven we’d go
Come all you dreamers hear the sound of the Barrows humming
Come all you dreamers to Barrowland
Hear Mags McIvor and the ghost of the GayBirds calling
Come all you dreamers to Barrowland
The Lassies of the Broomielaw in their Cuban Heels are dancing
Here comes Our Lady of the Clyde and there goes Jinky Johnsto
They’ve come back to rock and roll in the church of ceili
To waltz beneath the carousel of healing
To jitterbug and boogie the night away
Come all you dreamers
Other songs about the Barrowland:
Amy MacDonald – Barrowland Ballroom
Frankie Miller – Dancing in the Rain
Noted acts that have played at The Barrowlands include:
R.E.M.,Oasis,The Cure, The Smiths, AFI, Green Day, U2, Blur, Bob Dylan, Björk, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Stiff Little Fingers, Metallica, Blondie, INXS, Bloc Party, Justin Timberlake, Garbage, Sheryl Crow, Britney Spears, The Smiths, Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, and Elvis Costello, more recently, The Thrash band Megadeth in 2007, and popular UK indie bands such as Arctic Monkeys, Babyshambles, The Zutons and Spark of Genius.
Homegrown talent, include:
Travis, Mogwai, Biffy Clyro, Franz Ferdinand, Orange Juice, Aztec Camera, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Nazareth, Horse McDonald, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Love And Money, Deacon Blue, Del Amitri, Teenage Fanclub, Simple Minds, Big Country, The View , Idlewild and The Jesus and Mary, The Fratellies, Glasvgas, Camera Obscura and Belle & Sebastian.
A full list is in the history section of www.glasgow-barrowland.com