Over the last 10 months or so, it's safe to say that I've developed a bit of a love affair with the city of Glasgow. Back in the late 1980s I used to visit Glasgow with an almost weekly regularity, but always felt that I pretty much took the city for granted; never quite appreciating its culture or its staggering architecture. These last few months however, have seen the ~Streetlamp~ pay several visits to the city in search of art, music and culture and the overall effect has been a truly eye-opening and mind expanding experience.
And so, once again, we found ourselves with a Saturday free, so we decided to pay yet another visit to the mean city in search of some cultural buzz. Unfortunately we couldn't pry Ray away from his beloved Tour de France so, leaving him in front of the TV with few baguettes and a gallon flagon of vin du table, Griff and I headed out, arriving in our usual starting place, Glasgow Green in the East side...
As we had no planned agenda for the day, we casually ambled up to the start of the Barras and decided that, as we were here, we may as well have a scout around the market. To the uninitiated, The Barras a.k.a The Glasgow Barrowlands, is a huge street market, set up by the people for the people, deep in the East End of Glasgow, where the majority of immigrants were housed; Irish, Italian, Muslim and now Polish. Founded in the the early 20th Century by Margaret Russell who began selling fruit from her mother's old barrow, a small community of traders built up reaching a boom time between the First and Second World Wars, thriving during the Depression years and continuing unabated till this day. Ostensibly Glasgow's answer to the Paris Flea Market, the Barras now is a bustling quasi-shopping centre where you literally can buy ANYTHING! In the heart of the Barras you can find everything from clothes, furnishings, books, DVDs, knock-off cigarettes and booze, pornography, laminated pictures of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands, electrical goods, records and CDs, bicycles, home-made sweets and preserves, and a seemingly endless slew of ephemera connected to Celtic and Rangers (of various degrees of quality and taste).
On the periphery of the market, some of the poorer people from the area can be seen selling what are probably their only possessions. In the recent BBC 'Punk Brittania' TV series, post-Punk band the Gang Of Four were seen expressing their shock that people in Glasgow seemed to sell the very shoes from their feet in the streets, and yet it still goes on to this day.
Griff and I became quite smitten by a rather vintage looking bicycle. On further inspection we found the bike to be of Dutch origin, leading us to suspect that it was probably part of the Netherland's White Bicycle movement, and had somehow ended up in the East End of Glasgow.
Despite our intentions we didn't actually buy much; Griff bought a couple of maps, and I found a vinyl copy of a 1960s original Beach Boys Live album. But I found our sojourn around the Barras enlightening and educational.
Heading out of the Barrowland area, but still in the East End, is where you find the cooler shops and bars. This is where Mono Records and the 13th Note(mentioned in previous Blogs) can be found, along with retro-fashion shops, comic book emporiums, tattoo parlours, musical instrument shops, alternative medicine and Hemp outlets, and bookshops that double as cafés. This is because these shops aren't expected to do a roaring trade on a daily basis so they can afford the cheaper rates in the East End as opposed to the filthy consumerism of up West.
Again we spent a fair bit of time here amongst 'our own kind', the outsiders and the non-conformists, the nerds and the aesthetes.
After a non-alcoholic libation in the 13th Note, we headed up through the Merchant City, stewing in the muggy, hot swirls of rain that constitute our Scottish Summer, still in search of something of some cultural value to season the day. The International Jazz Festival was on, and whilst I admit to being no great lover of Jazz in any form, we were pretty sure we could stumble upon some live Jazz somewhere in the city. We had heard that the legendary Indie venue King Tut's Wah Wah Hut had some free live Jazz going on, so we headed on up there...
King Tut's is situated well away from the bustle of the city centre, up in the rather odd and incongruous setting of Glasgow's area of commerce. Here, among the vile over-priced restaurants and endless lawyers firms, lies the very black heart of Glasgow's banking system. This is where the streets will run with blood when the revolution comes! So, it was somewhat strange to find ourselves entering into an oasis of musical decorum amidst all this capitalist greed and soulless avarice....
Once through the doors, the heat hit like a blast furnace! No non-alcoholic beverages for us here, thank you kindly, we want freezing pints of the black stuff. As we took our places at the bar, the band were already in full swing....or as full a swing as bunch of septuagenarians can muster; for playing for us today were George Penman's Jazzmen. Formed in 1959, the Jazzmen play regularly all over Scotland, but have made the Saturday Jazz Matinees at King Tuts their own. Eschewing Trad or Be-Bop for a decidedly New Orleans palette, the Jazzmen's mix of well known standards like 'Pennies From Heaven' with some more unusual choices like 'Sugar' from the movie 'Pete Kelly's Blues' made for some extremely pleasant listening on this humid afternoon. As I said earlier, I'm no huge fan of Jazz in any form, but this was just what the radiographer ordered.
The atmosphere was one of affable conviviality; you got the feeling that this was exactly the same crowd who turned up week after week, and they didn't act sniffily at our interloping, but actually welcomed us into the throng, although we got the feeling they thought we were the band who would have been playing there that night and had come in to check out the music after our soundcheck!
Observing the watching/listening crowd was almost as much fun as the music itself....with the accompanying heat, it was like we had stepped into the middle of a Pedro Almodovar film; as the locals looked on there were scornful tuts as the feisty young widow danced in front of the harbingers of the 'Devil's Music', luring the snake-hipped, silver fox Lothario into a dance of sinful profanation under the steely gaze of his wife and the village elders......
Bibulous aporia of course, but somehow the heady brew of heat, alcohol and live music was casting its surreal yolk around us on this strange afternoon. As we sat in the corner we watched the band more closely....their solos were a joy to behold and all met with rapturous applause. I was particularly impressed with the drummer's uber-casual approach of at times not even looking as though he was playing, even though he could clearly be heard.
The second half of the Jazzmen's set strangely petered into chaos....a request from an audience member was met with confusion which led to an onstage argument. Then the next song after that failed to materialise even after the cornet player had affixed a mute to his instrument. It was at this point we decided to make our excuses and head home. Not that we were disappointed with the music (we'll almost certainly be back, probably with Ray in tow next time), just that we had to get back to civilisation.
Walking back to the car, we cut through George Square, where a stage had been erected and lots of types in stiff blazers were cutting about. Passing by the bottom corner of the square, Griff pointed out that this was where British Army tanks had once been placed in 1919 in fear of a Socialist uprising that could have dominoed after the Russian Revolution. As it became clear that those in blazers were ex-servicemen and that the concert was part of Armed Forces Day, we two of Marxist-Anarchist stock made our excuses and fled the atrociousness....
The Revolution Begins At Closing Time!!