An Ode to a Venue: The Barras

The word ‘iconic’ is a loaded one: an adjective that symbolises undeniable cultural relevance, describing someone or something so universally admired that it has become worthy of legendary status. Here in Glasgow, pieces of history and culture are everywhere, but for music lovers, nothing comes closer to deserving ‘iconic’ status than the Barrowland Ballroom.

I can’t help but smile whilst reminiscing on my own memories of the Barras – from the age of sixteen I was a wannabe ‘indie kid’, desperate to fit into the Glasgow gig scene, spending all my wages from my first minimum wage job on gig tickets. I was obsessed with discovering new bands and would pass the time daydreaming about singing my lungs out in a sweaty mob of people, hoping someone would offer me a view from their shoulders to get a better view of the stage. In my mind, the Barrowlands was one of the ‘coolest’ venues in Glasgow – some may call the decor dated, but I maintain that ‘retro’ is a better description. Barra’s gigs are always accompanied by an unparalleled kind of buzz: on a sold-out night, you are pressed against 1,900 other music lovers who know from the moment you see that glowing neon sign, you’re in for a night of pure joy.

In true late-2010’s ‘indie’ style, my first gig at the Barrowlands was Two Door Cinema Club – where I was introduced to the venue’s retro-style decor, ceramic ceiling stars and stairs painted with Biffy Clyro lyrics. The venue originally opened its doors as a dance hall in 1934, was largely destroyed by fire in 1958, before reopening in 1960. Despite these years of history, the venue still feels fresh and exciting: there is an indescribable hum of energy that fills the air – it is almost comforting to know that when you enter the venue you are joining decades of concertgoers who have all shared a mutual understanding and passion for music. This powerful history of the Gallowgate institution hangs in the air like a ghost – it is hard not to appreciate that legends from all genres have played the Barra’s stage – David Bowie, Alice Cooper, Debbie Harry, Lauryn Hill, and The Foo Fighters to name a few.

It goes without saying that my own first experience at the venue will not go down in history alongside the iconic performances mentioned above, but on a personal note, the gig still holds a special place in my heart. Glasgow crowds are notoriously special, but something about a Barra’s crowd just feels different – when the band at a Barra’s gig assures you that the Glaswegians are “the loudest we’ve ever heard” – you’re almost tempted to believe them.

Since this first visit, I’ve been back to the Barrowlands multiple times – it’s always special to note the timelessness of the venue over the years. As I’ve got older, my Barrowland experience has changed – whilst going to a gig at age sixteen involved rushing to the front to get the best view of the stage, at age twenty it involved getting a pint from the bar and enjoying the music with your pals. Nonetheless, each return trip to the Barrowlands reminds me of that feeling of youthful excitement, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have butterflies at the thought of seeing the glow of the iconic Barrowlands sign lit up for the first gig back after the pandemic.

I mentioned earlier that the powerful legacy of past Barra’s gigs can feel like a ghost hanging over the ballroom; but the sad reality is that the Barrowlands (and countless other venues) have been turned into little more than empty shells filled with ghosts over the pandemic. ‘Normal’ gigs haven’t taken place in person for over a year now, and the entertainment industry is facing blow after blow in terms of COVID economic hardship. That’s why it is essential that when the industry reopens, we must support artists and venues more than ever before. Long live the Barras!

[Molly Walker – she/her – @m0llywalker (instagram)]

[Photo credits: Stephen Murray]

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