A while a go I wrote about the first gig I attended at the Barrowlands for Walking Heads, after taking their audio walking tour of Glasgow’s music venues.
A producer from Steve Lamacq’s BBC 6Music show emailed me having found the blog, and asked me to take part in their on-going feature marking 20 years (20 years!) since the wave of UK music that came to be known as Britpop came to prominence. Lamacq’s Radio 1 Evening Session show was seminal in forming my music taste back then and his 6Music show continues to play both new music and the artists that he’s always supported. I’d been in touch with the show a few years ago, having taken part in their ‘Good Day, Bad Day’ feature, and offered to report on some Radiohead gigs I was attending. In the end that came to nothing – but I did meet Steve at one of the gigs – however his producer remembered me and thought I’d be ideal to record an eye-witness report of the 1993 gig (I remember that the Evening Session actually recorded it for broadcast at the time).
I spoke to Phil, the producer, on the phone a few weeks ago and the results were on the radio yesterday. The idea of the Britpop Timeline is to build an online archive of reminiscences from bands and fans, so I was happy to add my own part of the story to it.
Click the image below to go to the 6Music page and listen to my contribution.
Steve introduced me as “blogger and DJ” which will hopefully spur me on to carry on writing up my Radiohead adventures and maybe do some more radio myself…
This weekend was Doors Open Day in Glasgow and I volunteered to be a tour guide around one of my favourite Glasgow places – The Barrowland Ballroom. It’s 20 years since I first went to a gig there, and about 20 years since I first moved to Glasgow, so this felt like a good way to mark the occasion. It’s a unique place – still owned by the family who established it and the market it covers over – it has a very Glaswegian personality all its own. Here some Barrowland facts I put together for my tour:
1. The Barrowland was built in 1934 by Margaret McIver – the matriarch of a family of nine children, who originally bought the land and established the market for traders and their “Barras”. The market was covered in 1926 and completely enclosed by 1931. She instructed her builders Hunter and Clark that the ballroom “should not encumber the ground,” and it was built on stilts above the market. It was a ‘Palais de Danse’ with a big band and became the venue for the traders’ annual Christmas party.
2. Due to enormous popularity the ballroom was extended in 1938. The original sign on the roof was a man pushing a barrow, imported from the USA, it was believed to be the first animated neon sign in the UK. A flash mechanism gave the impression of spinning wheels.
3. The original building was destroyed by fire on 19th August 1958 (just a couple of months after Maggie McIver died). The McIver family rebuilt it and dedicated it to her memory. It was reopened on Christmas Eve 1960.
4. Over the stairs as you enter the present building, there is a cartwheel – from the original neon sign – is the only remaining fixture rescued from the fire.
5. The present neon sign was completed in 1985, it is possibly the largest of its kind in the UK (but no one kept the paperwork) and apparently it costs £1.10 per hour plus VAT in electricity to run!
6. An extra floor was added to the 1960 building. There are 18 vertical columns and cross beams which were added in the late 1980s to reinforce the fabric of the building and accommodate the change of use to a rock venue – 1900 people jumping in unison on the floor above.
7. On the floor of the “crush room” (the additional middle floor which houses the cloakroom, merchandise stand, toilets, support dressing room, production offices and Barrowland 2 bar) is the musical score of the opening line of ‘I Belong To Glasgow’ (written by Dundonian music hall star Will Fyffe in 1920).
8. The area by the ladies which is now closed off used to be the powder room – with alcoves and lots of mirrors for ladies to fix their hair before going upstairs to dance – some used to arrive in their rollers and put the finishing touches to their hairdos before doing upstairs to dance.
9.The production rooms and support dressing room. Donald MacLeod of Glasgow promoter CPL says “You canna trash a Barras dressing room because there’s f-all in it!”
10. When The Saw Doctors supported the Waterboys over two nights in 1989, they slept in the support band dressing room on the floor. When they later returned as headliners they requested the support room for old times sake. They’ve since headlined here 36 times – more than any other band.
11. When Barrowland 2 was Geordie’s Byre in the 1960s, it was home to Glasgow’s first disco – with a DJ. It has been redecorated several times since and now plays host to unsigned bands.
12. A team of paranormal investigators spent the night in the venue and claimed that “a man called James with a scar on his face and not much of a home life” was present… according to the staff, there used to be doorman answering that description…
13. Upstairs in the main hall, the dance floor is made of specially imported Canadian Maple – underneath is criss-crossed batons to give the floor its springy quality. In its heyday it was considered the best dancefloor in Glasgow. The octagonal lay out is for sequence dancing so dancers can see their place on the floor. Choreographer Michael Clark was intrigued by the floor’s geometry and incorporated it into his Barrowlands Project which took place here in 2012.
14. The stage used to be on the opposite side of the hall but was rebuilt in its present position in the early 1980s. The pillars, made of Australian Walnut go round the back of the present stage.
15. The oak prize boxes that used to flank the stage – for all manner of games and fun that the band leaders used to involve the audience in – are now in the People’s Palace.
16. In the 1930s, throughout the year the ballroom was rented to bandleader Billy (Bobby?) Blue and the Bluebirds who held regular dances, but canny Maggie McIver saw the queues for the dance nights and could see there was money to be made. She approached the drummer Billy McGregor to form a big band of his own and work for her. And so Billy McGregor and The Gay Birds become the house band. They continued to be the house band well into the 1960s.
17. The Ballroom was rediscovered as a rock venue in the early 1980s, after a stint as a roller disco – when Simple Minds choose it as the location for the video for their song ‘Waterfront‘, filmed there in 1983.
18. The stars on the walls of the main dressing room are often taken as souvenirs by bands – so often that the staff now make their own to replace them. David Bowie is alleged to have one in the bathroom of his Paris home.
19. The crew, many of whom came over from The Apollo when it closed in 1985, include Bill Gunn aged 66 – they’re famed for being able to get even the heaviest of gear up all the stairs without a lift.
20. The Barrowland’s first wedding took place on Saturday September 21 2013 (in the middle of the Doors Open Day weekend) when author Nuala Naughton married Dave. The ceremony took place in the dressing room and the reception was held in Barrowland 2. Nuala’s book, Barrowland: A Glasgow Experience, was launched over the weekend and is the source of a few of these stories, it also contains a list of all the acts to have played at the venue since the relaunch in the 1980s.
Thanks to all at the Barrowland, especially General Manager Tom Joyes, the hardest working man in Glasgow!
The second part of my Steve Reich odyssey takes place five days later in Glasgow. He is here for one of the Royal Concert Hall’s UNESCO Inspiring Encounters, but first there is time for a late addition to the programme. My Name Is… (1967) several members of the audience say “My name is” and their first name into a microphone.
Ensemble member Joby Burgess demonstrates how far technology has come since the work was conceived by immediately converting the sampled speech into a version of a piece that used to have to be meticulously pieced together from spliced tape. The names dissolve into a wormhole of repetition, words become noises, losing then regaining their sense.
Steve Reich warms to this theme and talks about how technology has caught up with his ideas. Dead pan, he talks confidently and assuredly about his own process. Clearly from a “classical” background, it’s interesting to hear a contemporary take on the art of composing from someone so clearly aware of his place in the musical lineage. Reich is a good talker, a harsh self-critic and disarmingly human for someone who takes their work so seriously.
He offers the invitation to the listener to get lost in the web of counterpoint. His phased work is all about patterns of rhythm, small variations make the sound ambiguous and the ear reassembles the patterns in different ways. There is some relationship to meditation, but he refuses to simplify his ideas to suit preconceived notions.
To a rock listener’s ear, it is a leap to contextualise this music without it being the soundtrack to a film. The grammar of performance is so different. Drumming, an epic piece involving tuned bongos, marimbas, glockenspiels, a piccolo and two female voices, is performed by The Colin Currie Group.
The resonance of the rhythms is such that I find my ringing ears have started to fill in the sound of instruments that aren’t actually being played. I swear I can hear horns. The intensity of the piece is a truly transformative experience in a way that rock performances have the potential to be, but so rarely are.
If you get the chance to see it, the BBC series The Sound And The Fury is a great introduction to 20th Century composers. I’m currently working my way (slowly) through Alex Ross’s epic history of 20th Century music, The Rest Is Noise, which I’d also heartily recommend.
Last month I went down to London to hear the premiere of Steve Reich‘s Radiohead-inspired piece Radio Rewrite at The Royal Festival Hall.
My crash course in the music of Steve Reich begins in London. My visit is to attend the premier of his new piece inspired by the music of Radiohead, performed by musicians of the London Sinfonietta.
We live in an age of musical convergence, and it seems only fitting that the man described as “the single most influential composer of the late 20th century” should bridge the gap between contemporary and popular music in such a way.
This is not the London Sinfonietta’s first association with Radiohead. They collaborated with Jonny Greenwood (along with Thom Yorke and the Nazareth Orchestra) for 2005’s Ether Festival and have often performed Greenwood’s pieces for orchestra, Popcorn Superhet Receiver and Smear.
Kid A draws on electronic and minimalist musical influences and is regarded as a breakthrough for a band who transcend simple description as a “rock” act. This shouldn’t have been a surprise, after all this is the band that used Olivier Messiaen’s stark Quartet for the End of Time – written when the composer was held in a World War Two concentration camp – as intro music for their shows way back in 1995.
To my rock-trained ears Steve Reich’s precise, tightly notated works, performed in the rarefied atmosphere of the symphony hall, seem a little clinical. Clapping Music, using the technique of subtly shifting the phase of rhythm, is deceptively simple; Electric Counterpoint, here performed by Mats Bergstrom, is made up of shimmering guitar chords over a prepared backing; 2×5 plays with a rock band format while fitting into the Reich’s classical music lineage.
There are sounds that remind me of Tortoise and other “math rock” bands in 2×5 yet it is “chamber music for rock instruments” driven by bass and piano rather than drums. For Double Sextet, Reich mans the mixing desk in his distinctive baseball cap.
Radio Rewrite comes in the second half. I can catch the melodies more easily than the harmonic progressions, there are shadows of the Radiohead songs as it moves from slow to fast, from Everything In Its Right Place to Jigsaw and back. Threads of the songs remain but they’re hard to spot. These are not two songs I would have linked together, but certain chords ring out as similar to Reich’s other works, there are moments where you can identify Radiohead but as channelled through Steve Reich’s ears.
My experience of Everything In Its Right Place is as a visceral live concert closer. I’ve stood in a huge crowd numerous times and clapped the off-beats to Phil Selway’s drums and it’s astonishing how the same piece of music can inspire such utterly different reactions and interpretations.
Steve Reich talks briefly about the work at the end of the show, the structure of the song, the way it is dissonant while still having a tonic… I don’t have enough theoretical language to explain it but I understand what he means. It is EVERYTHING.
I’ve had a great response to this post, which I published on my old blog Little Raindrops, so I’m going to re-host it here.
I’ve been putting together information on the line up for a festival’s new website, collecting photos and what I’d call bios (i.e. short informative descriptions of each band) to go with an external web link for each artist on the bill. I thought this would be a straight forward task…
A lot of bands make this easy and have PRs to deal with requests for such things, or have great websites with all the material someone who is trying to spread the word about an event that the bands are involved in might need, but there are some who seem to need a bit of help…
Here’s some important things I’ve noted, if you want people to find out about your band:
Have a name that is Googleable!
If you use MySpace (really?), Bandcamp and Facebook they will likely show up top of a search, so make sure they’re up to date. If you don’t want me to listen to your old demos, take them down. If it’s the first time I’ve heard of you I won’t know which page you want me to use, so…
Have your own website – even if it’s just a place to cluster all your links. It would be better if it were more than that – you’ve got a great opportunity to control your image, please use it.
Unless you’re super well known and too cool, write something about yourselves. How do you want to be presented? Please God, not just “indie rock”. I don’t have time to listen to your entire back catalogue, watch all your videos, read all your press. Condense it.
Have an easy to find contact email. If you have a PR working for you, lucky you! Why not make it easy to find them so they can do their job!?
Even better, have a nice high res picture that is downloadable from your website.
While you’re at it, name that picture file with your band name and if the photographer wants a credit, stick their name in there too.
When replying to emails that are requests, please check that you’re sending what’s being asked for – a list of hot shot record company flunkies who might be interested in your band, a list of platforms where you’re releasing your single and some gigs you might have coming up ARE NOT THE SAME AS A BIO!
A bio is this: Who are you? Where are you from? What do you sound like? What’s your website?
That photo – is it a picture of three or four disinterested blokes standing against a wall (or worse, train tracks)? IT DOESN’T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR BAND and you’re wasting an opportunity to make me interested.
When I Google you, do I find your best, most representative song? WHY NOT?
On Facebook, which shouldn’t be your only web presence, have you filled in the contact details in the ‘About’ section? This is a quick reference and should help people to describe you (yes even if you’re so wildly and fantastically original that your music defies categorisation sometimes it’s necessary to use, you know, WORDS). Failing that it should let me email the people you pay (or owe favours to) to do this for you. OR let me email you and ask you for what I need.
Nominate a band member to deal with this stuff, bass players often have a lot of time on their hands…
Finally, when you’re emailing someone who is obviously dealing with a lot of artists sending them stuff, remember to mention the name of your band in your message so they know who you’re talking about.