Glasgow is alive with the sound of music. So pack your iPod and head north for an audio tour of an audio town, says ELISE RANA.
In the future, all tourists will look like me.
Armed with headphones, iPod and walking boots, I’m embarking on a new kind of city tour, with only a downloaded map and podcast to guide me. I only found out what the hell a podcast was a week ago, but I can hardly think of a better place in the UK to roadtest one – an audio guide, made for your MP3 player. As the brash punk sounds of Raising Kain fade out, the voice of DJ Jim Gellatly fades in to welcome me: Welcome to Glasgow. This is the hottest music city on the planet right now.”
Not literally, you understand. Like many northern British cities (Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield), lead-grey, rain-sodden skies are part of Glasgow’s character, along with industrial decline, unemployment and disaffected youth – all the ingredients for great art, in other words.
From the original indie kids of the late ’80s (Teenage Fanclub, BMX Bandits, The Pastels) to today’s post-punkers, it’s the Melbourne to Edinburgh’s Sydney, with a flourishing music scene both of homegrown talent and creative types drawn here from elsewhere, thanks to its multiple universities and famed art school. And it’s far enough from London not to care too much what it thinks. This, at least, is what the enthusiastic Jim is telling me with great conviction as I make my way from the starting point, George Square, into the city centre. Is it just me or is every other person I pass carrying a guitar case?
At the Glasgow School of Art, everyone certainly looks as if they should be. When Alex Kapranos and the rest of the boys who would become Franz Ferdinand met here, decided to make music for girls to dance to”” and proceeded to set the world alight, admissions for the school rocketed. Surrounded by angular haircuts and vintage legwarmers, I feel a bit of a techno-dork, engrossed in my headphones as I gawp at them smoking on the steps. I move on with a silent pang of nostalgia for a time when that’s all I had to do all day.
Rather than just stand and stare at the gig poster-covered windows of Nice ‘n’ Sleazy’s, I pop in for a suitably studenty lunch of beans on toast. An impressively sideburned barman is deep in conversation with a punter about Johnny Cash’s guitar style. There are CD compilations of local bands on sale for £1 and a small shrine to John Peel next to the till. This is more like it.
“The market was so flooded with manufactured shit that people get excited as soon as an ‘new music’ turns up,” opines Kenneth Johnstone, Cash fan and student at Glasgow Metropolitan. “But the music scene here is just rebellious middle and upper class kids. What made Glasgow was the old man pubs where bands could go and play – thing is, now they’re being turned into style bars.”
Ross Annand – Cash fan, musician and barman – is equally disdainful of Glasgow’s much-vaunted music scene. When asked what he thinks of Franz Ferdinand, he stops short of making the universal sign of the wanker and grins: “They’re nice guys really – though only one of them’s Scottish.” Working in one of the city’s best-known live venues, he reckons there’s more than a bit of pretentiousness around.
“A girl came up to me the other night and her first words were ‘are you in a band?’ I met an Australian girl who said that the only reason she came to Glasgow was Belle & Sebastian. It’s getting like London. I’m sure the folk at King Tut’s will tell you different, though.”
King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, next stop, has a reputation that precedes it to say the least. Oasis were signed here. Radio 1 listeners voted it the UK’s best live venue for three years in a row. New York Magazine recently voted it the seventh best place in the world to ‘Follow Your Bliss’ this year. Jim is actually comparing it to the Pyramids. Friendliness to a lonesome music pilgrim is a little thin on the ground, however. I’m begrudgingly allowed to sneak a peek at the stage – with the lights off. “The marketing manager’s too busy to talk to you,” the barmaid tells me archly. “And the guest list for tonight is closed.”
Looping back towards the Horseshoe – legendary Glasgow watering hole, former haunt of Travis and home to the longest bar in the UK – the ‘word from our sponsors’ kicks in hard as Jim goes into overdrive about all the things Tennent’s (“Scotland’s favourite pint!”) does to support music in Glasgow – from King Tut’s to T in the Park to the Triptych Festival, the telltale ‘T’ is there to stump up the cash. Like Carling’s stranglehold on London’s gig-goers though, this corporate co-opting of the underground rankles and by the time I reach the Horseshoe I’m happy to order a pint of anything else.
In the end, the most rock ‘n’ roll course of action seems to be just to switch off the bloody commentary, put on some music (Teenage Fanclub – my favourite Glasgow band of all time) and explore. Advertising aside, though, my podcast guide has been almost the next best thing to being taken round the city with a local muso – from Afghan tea and shisha-smoking at Otago Lane’s Tchai Ovna to record-shopping at Belle & Sebastian’s local Oxfam, it’s not been the average city tour.
Pretentious it may be – head stuck in my iPod, I can hardly pass judgment of course – but tracing the musical arteries of this city leave no doubt about how alive music is here. Glasgow sounds good to me.
• To download the free Sounds of a Music Capital podcast and map, see www.seeglasgow.com.
Where to go
For hanging out:
Where musos, professional or otherwise, gather on much-cherished summer days for a bit of lazy, wine-fuelled jamming. At least, until the campaign to restore the Kelvingrove Park Bandstand has its way.
42 Otago Ln
(0141-357 4524; www.tchaiovna.com)
Quirky tea emporium with eastern European stylings and more than 80 different rare brews. The cover of Belle & Sebastian’s album Dear Catastrophe Waitress was shot here.
12 King’s Ct
Veggie and vegan food, live gigs, library and record shop Monorail.
50-60 King St (0141-553 1638)
Another popular hangout for visiting bands, former employees include Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos.
272a St Vincent St (0141-221 5279; www.kingtuts.co.uk)
Nice n Sleazy’s
421 Sauchiehall St (0141-333 9637)
260 Clyde St (0141-204 5700)
Old ballroom with star-covered ceiling and sprung dancefloor.
171 Byres Road (0141-334 7669)
Mixed Up Records
18 Otago Lane (0141-357 5737)
Essential listening: your Glasgow playlist
Take Me Out – Franz Ferdinand
Wrapped Up In Books – Belle & Sebastian
Actually It’s Darkness – Idlewild
All I Wanna Do Is Rock – Travis
Everything Flows – Teenage Fanclub
Rip It Up – Orange Juice
I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have – Primal Scream
Only One Word Comes To Mind – Biffy Clyro
All You Need Is Hate – Delgados
Truck Train Tractor – The Pastels
Kylie’s Got A Crush On Us – BMX Bandits
Almost Gold – Jesus and Mary Chain
Christmas Steps – Mogwai
Love Detective – Arab Strap
You Look Quite Nice – Mother and the Addicts
Melanie – Cosmic Rough Riders
Jesus Don’t Want Me For A Sunbeam – The Vaselines
Drop The Pressure – Mylo
I Love You ‘Cos I Have To – Dogs Die in Hot Cars
Johnny Cash – Sons and Daughters
I Never Look Back – Raising Kain
• For more, see www.beatscene.co.uk, www.nemis.org or www.jockrock.org. This year’s T in the Park festival is sold out. Triptych (www.triptych06.com) takes place across various venues in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh on April 26-30.”