Dedicated to the Business of Contemporary Live Music


22 October 2019

From new festivals to emerging artistes, the city that spawned acts such as Simple Minds, Primal Scream, Texas, Lewis Capaldi and Gerry Cinnamon is buzzing with energy and as one promoter and venue owner puts it, ‘resting on your laurels is not an option, you have to keep evolving’. Allan Glen reports

The live music scene in Glasgow has returned to “business as usual” following the devastating fire at the Glasgow School of Art that spread to the neighbouring O2 ABC (cap. 1,300, 350) just over a year ago.

Shocking pictures in the days that followed revealed the true extent of the damage to the ABC, which hosted club nights as well as a range of concerts almost every evening. Among those playing the venue early in their careers are Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars.

Donald MacLeod, whose company owns several venues in the city, says the fire and its fall-out had a major impact.

“The aftermath of the fire meant that several streets were closed around the city and this caused some major issues, mainly with trying to help relocate at short notice some of the shows to [Holdfast venues] The Garage [730, 330, 130] and The Cathouse [350],” he says.

“So it was all hands to the tiller. In conjunction with all the promoters and stakeholders involved, it was a task. I’m very pleased to say that was carried out successfully.”

According to the latest press reports, plans have now been submitted to demolish the building.

“Sauchiehall Street and the surrounding area has thankfully now re-opened and it’s back to business as usual,” adds MacLeod, more of whom later.

It is perhaps fair to say that Glasgow remains arguably one of the strongest markets in the UK, with a proud musical heritage, spawning acts such as Simple Minds, Primal Scream, Texas, Teenage Fanclub, Belle and Sebastian, Lewis Capaldi and Gerry Cinnamon.

In another positive move, anecdotal evidence from promoters suggests ticket sales remain strong, with DF Concerts, Scotland’s most prominent promoter, having the infrastructure to take artistes, such as Capaldi and Cinnamon, from the DF-owned King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut (300) to its TRNSMT (50,000) festival on Glasgow Green, which this year also featured Stormzy, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Richard Ashcroft, George Ezra, Emeli Sandé and Bastille.

All three TRNSMT days sold-out, as did the Spice Girls at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield stadium, the latter selling 55,211 tickets.

“The current live music market in Glasgow is very strong,” says DF promoter Chris Beltran, who points to local artistes Wuh Ho, Joesef, Aaron Smith, HYTS and Voodoos as emerging acts to watch.

“In particular there is a real boom in the number of people going to see local artistes in grassroots venues like King Tut’s.”

Other shows for DF include Pete Doherty and Frank Turner at King Tut’s, Maggie Rogers and Billie Eilish at SWG3 (1,000), The Twilight Sad, Tom Walker, The Specials and Dermot Kennedy at Barrowland (1,900).

DF’s concerts at The SSE Hydro (14,000) on the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) include The 1975, with tickets at £32.50, Chvrches (£27.50), Post Malone (£37.00), George Ezra (£37.50), Gerry Cinnamon (£23.50) and Bjork (£50.00).

Echoing the sentiment of encouraging ticker sales is Debbie McWilliams, director of live entertainment at the SEC, who also reports healthy ticket sales across the city.

“Glasgow is a strong marketplace for live music, demonstrated by the consistent number of events hosted each year,” says McWilliams. “As well as the success of The SSE Hydro and SEC Armadillo [3,000] the number of outdoor events is rising.”

Acts playing the Armadillo include Will Young, promoted by AEG Live, with tickets from £39.75, A-Ha, (£44.85), Dido (£36.90), James Arthur (£36.90) – all promoted by DF; Emile Sande (£39.75, Live Nation Entertainment/LNE), The Magic of Motown (£29.50, Entertainers) and Jools Holland (£39.75, Harvey Goldsmith).

Over at The SSE Hydro, acts playing include Little Mix, The Chemical Brothers, Alter Bridge and Shinedown (all DF concerts), Cher (Marshall Arts), Liam Gallagher (PCL Presents), Christine Aguilera and Rod Stewart (both LNE).

“The fan and client experience is at the forefront of everything we do and very much our main focus,” says McWilliams. “We’re always looking for ways to enhance this across the Campus.”

As for live music in the city, McWilliams points out it’s been designated a UNESCO City of Music.

Nowhere is this more apparent than over at Hampden Park (58,000) on the south side of the city,

“Glasgow’s musical culture is renowned globally, and a Scottish crowd in a full capacity Hampden Park is revered for its high energy and vibrancy,” says MD Peter Dallas.

“On many occasions we have received comment from artistes who have specifically mentioned how much they enjoy playing to a packed Hampden. The crowd and artistes seem to feed off each other resulting in an electric atmosphere and night to remember.”

Acts playing the stadium include P!nk, who played two nights (Marshall Arts), Ed Sheeran (AEG) and Jay Z and Beyoncé (LNE).

Hampden is another venue that is also always seeking to improve spectator experience.

“Electronic Access Control will be launched at the stadium before the end of the year, followed by cashless payment options and digital signage at all of our catering kiosks,” adds Dallas. “The introduction of our new Skybox concept with the privacy of your own space and a private seating deck to dance on has been particularly well received by music lovers at Hampden in the last couple of years.”

At major club level, the O2 Academy Glasgow (2,550) remains the venue of choice for many acts.

“Glasgow really lives up to its reputation as a creative hotbed, there are many venues catering for all sizes and a variety of artistes,” says venue general manager Chris Johnston, who points to local acts Alligator, Chlobocop and Dylan John Thomas as ones to watch.

“Glasgow offers a lot of choice for the gig-goer. This competition really pushes you as a venue to provide the best overall experience for both the artiste and the audience.”

Those playing the venue include Old Dominion (AEG), Elvana (Academy Events), Happy Mondays (Regular Music), Heels of Hell (Holy T), Machine Head (Triple G), Lizzo (DF) and Skepta (SJM Concerts).

“The sheer number of events taking place on a weekly basis means that competition for customers can be fierce, but there is a great level of support for emerging local artistes within the scene.”

This is a view supported by Holdfast’s Donald MacLeod. “We are constantly improving all our venues as there isn’t much time to rest on your laurels in this industry,” he says. “Touring bands always want to be using the newest, biggest and best equipment.”

“We have also added an extra dressing room to The Garage so we can comfortably hold multiple shows at once, such as having some emerging talent playing in the JD Attic [130].”

The latter is proving very popular, he points out, with a forthcoming shows featuring Dinosaur Pile Up (DF).

Acts playing The Garage [730] include Barns Courtney (Triple G), Stephanie Cheape (CPL/Regular), Third Eye Blind (Regular), Cavetown and The Dunts, both DF-promoted sell-outs.

Meanwhile over at The Cathouse (350), which has had sound, lights and dressing rooms  fully upgraded, as well as a complete overhaul of its front-of-house, acts playing include Mickey 9s (self-promotion}, Issues, Cattle Decapitation (both Triple G) Neshiima (Reaction Management), Dream State, From Sorrow to Serenity (both DF) and AB/CD (CPL).

Independently busy

With two venues, The Hug and Pint (120), and The Blue Arrow Jazz Club (180), the latter on Sauchiehall Street, 432 Presents is one of the most active independent promoters in the city, booking over 600 shows already this year, including programming three-day festival Doune The Rabbit Hole (10,000) in Stirling.

In November the company has its first all-day multi-venue festival, The Great Western, featuring artistes such as Songhoy Blues, Sacred Paws, Lightships, Cass McCombs and The Pastels across venues including Queen Margaret Union (900), Oran Mor (500), Hug and Pint, Macintosh Queen’s Cross Church (600), The Doublet (30), Webster’s Theatre (80), Burnbank Bowling Club (80), The Glue Factory (350) and the two rooms at Maryhill Community Central Halls (500, 200).

In addition, 432 also promotes across the city, with Mac Demarco at Kelvingrove Bandstand (2,300) and O2 Academy, Big Thief at SWG3 (1,300), Aldous Harding at the Art School (500) and Kathryn Joseph at Glasgow University Union (600). The latter show sold out, with Joseph playing the City Halls (2,475) in November.

“We also recently announced a show with Angel Olsen at Barrowland [1,900],” says 432’s Brian Reynolds. “This is Angel’s biggest show to date and it’s a huge buzz and, indeed, a great honour for us to present this show, having developed her in Scotland for over five years.”

At club level, one of the newest venues in the city is Glee Club Glasgow (650), the fourth in the brand’s network, the others being in Birmingham, Cardiff and Nottingham.

Opened in the spring of this year, and located on Renfrew Street, the venue offers full sound and lights, as booker Markus Sargeant explains, “Adlib have installed a high-spec rider-friendly PA, lighting and staging system.”

Among those promoting events at the Gee Club are DF with a Saara Aalto show, The Fallen Angels Club putting on Sam Outlaw and an in-house show for former Creation Records boss Alan McGee.

“As with all our Glee Clubs, we purpose-build very versatile venues and are working on a seated capacity of up to 350,” adds Sargeant. “Venue hire also includes our in-house box office for ticketing and in-house marketing support.

“We have also built two well-facilitated lounge dressing rooms and a production office direct to stage.

“The early responses from all of the city’s promoters attending venue views have been very receptive and complimentary.”

Also on Sauchiehall Street is the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA, 270), a registered charity, which over the years has hosted acts such as Teenage Fanclub, The Vaselines, Ela Orleans, Sacred Paws and C Duncan.

Shows at the venue are programmed by the Saramago Café Bar, which is located in the same building, while the Americana shows are programmed by local promoter The Fallen Angels Club in conjunction with the venue.

Guillaume Coet is head of operations and finance at the CCA, which he describes as “Glasgow’s hub for the arts”.

“Our year-round programme includes exhibitions, film, music, literature, spoken word, festivals and performance,” he explains. “Our capacity is great for musicians on the up, and also for more established acts looking to do a more intimate, or more experimental, gig.”

Artistes playing the venue include Beverly Glenn-Copeland (Saramago), Richard Dawson (PCL), De Rosa, Adam Green (432), Kim Richey and Carla J Eason (The Fallen Angels Cub).

Established since 2004, The Fallen Angels Cub is also behind the annual week-long Americana festival, which started three years later.

Acts playing the event this year include Rachael Sermanni in St Andrew’s in The Square (240), Rod Picott in The Admiral Bar (170), Mark McGowan in Mono (140), The Orphan Brigade Workshop in CCA, Jess Morgan and Nels Andrews in The Glad Café (120), and Chance McCoy in The Hug and Pint, the latter in association with 432 Presents.

As for ticket sales, The Fallen Angels Club’s’ Kevin Morris says they sales remain steady.

“We mainly focus on Americana and folk music,” he says. “Results can be mixed, but on the whole attendances are pretty good.”

In summing up, DF’s Chris Beltran says there are increasingly positive signs for growth in the market.

“Despite an economic downturn it’s apparent from looking at sales figures that people are very much still taking the time to go out and see their favourite live acts from across all genres, from emerging club level to festivals and stadium level shows.”

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