A brief history of Glasgow in 8 columns, part 6: City of Music.
A tear is trickling down my cheeks. It feels strange, not suited to the environment I’m in. Here, there should be beads of sweat on my forehead at most, leaving the tears for the cinema or theatre. Or the opera, if you aren’t like me always fighting to stay engaged or even worse, awake. But a song sung by two Swedish sisters about the pure frustration and anger they felt at sexual assaults and at yet another perpetrator of rape walking away freely while victims are shamed, guaranteed my crying in the O2 Academy. Or rather, it was the powerful speech afterwards. During the song I was too busy singing or screaming along with what felt like all 2,499 others in the audience. You are the problem here / No one made you do anything / And I hope you fucking suffer. Then, Klara, half of folk-duo First Aid Kit, shared her anger and frustration, and happiness that we are finally talking about this. She asked the audience to support women and stand up for them, no matter what. It was one of those moments that only exist when the shared power and hope of people come together, the floor of a music venue equalling the square where a speech is held during a demonstration.
In some ways, messages that artists share are as valuable as speeches during a demonstration, as they reach a completely different audience (literally and figuratively). I think it’s so important for musicians, and anyone in the public eye, to use their platform and to speak out for what they believe in. Thankfully, we are seeing that happening more and more, from Stormzy at the Brits to the black dresses of the Time’s Up campaign gracing the red carpet. Being part of such a moment can be cathartic, emotional but it mainly makes the experience of going to a gig so much more worthwhile. Although, to be honest, gigs in Glasgow usually tick that box already.
Named UNESCO City of Music in 2008, as first city in the UK, Glasgow has 130 music events in a typical week. Special festival are dedicated to celebrating Celtic, folk and world music (Celtic Connections) or piping (Piping Live!). We apparently have the world’s oldest surviving music hall: Britannia Panopticon on Trongate. No, I’d never heard of that either. It opened in the late 1850s and acts ranged from dancing girls and Irish ballad singers to acrobats and animal acts to actual, apparently great, music acts. More well-known is the venue that launched the career of Oasis (King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, in 1993) and the venue with the largest rotating mirror ball in Europe, O2 ABC, which started its life as one of Glasgow’s first cinemas. I wonder who studied rotating mirror balls around the world and came to the conclusion that O2 ABC’s was the largest in Europe. That is, however, beside the point.
There are, of course, great music scenes around the UK, in London, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Cardiff, to name a few. But I don’t really care that the Rolling Stones, Coldplay and Queen were founded in London, or Liverpool is the Beatles’ hometown. And frankly, I don’t care much about the facts above, although I do hope they will help you win the music round in a pub quiz someday. What makes Glasgow’s music scene so special, so vibrant and exhilarating, is how great memories of gigs are dotted through the city, from the small, intimate basement venues to the exciting, overwhelming massive ones on the Clyde. My experience going to gigs in Glasgow is encapsulated in the colourful shining stars of the Barrowlands, the twinkling lights and brilliant ambiance at converted churches, the way bands greet the audience here and the audience itself – singing, dancing and drinking together.
Oh and by the way, as International Women’s Week 2018 has just passed, I’d like to mention that First Aid Kit released ‘You Are The Problem Here’ last March in time to honour International Women’s Day. This year, they are releasing an exclusive 7” version at the end of April, with all proceeds from the song going to Women for Women International, a charity that helps women survivors of war rebuild their lives, providing moral, practical and legal support.