An introduction to the Glasgow music scene
barrowland glasgow

Renowned as a bustling, pioneering metropolis, Glasgow is also a landscape soused in musical history. But with a wealth of venues, and gigs taking place every night of the week, where do you start?

Harris Brine offers an introductory glimpse into a city teeming with both new and established music, quirky record shops, club nights and dedicated music blogs…

barrowland glasgow
[The familiar façade of the Barrowland – picture: TSPL]

Arguably never healthier than it is now, a recent UK-wide poll of the best places to discover new music had three Clyde-side venues among its top ten, which only begins to tell the story of the vitality of Glasgow’s music scene, even when compared to the likes of Manchester and London.

Cultural events both large and small decorate its grid-mapped streets each year, and the city accommodates a vast assortment of different tastes and niches. From intimate acoustic settings and kooky club nights right through to eminent DJs and pop superstars in illustrious world-class arenas, Glasgow’s gravity manages to catch all in its orbit.

Mapped: the best of Glasgow

Places to discover new music

Glasgow has always been a potent source of brilliant new music, perhaps most famously when those uncouth mono-browed siblings  from Manchester argued their way onto a King Tuts bill 21 years ago, with Alan McGee in the audience. While much of the city’s venues live in the shadow of the St Vincent Street haven’s distinguished history, they do not lack in consistently-packed schedules, of both local groups and bands from far afield.

At over one-and-a-half miles long, Sauchiehall Street can cut something of a Jekyll and Hide figure. By day, it’s an expansive but tepid shopping haunt, but by night, it can be a wild and unpredictable beast. Fortunately, shelter can be found at one end in two neighbouring venues, Broadcast and Nice’n’Sleazy.

Sleazy’s is something of an institution, a thriving watering-hole with a belly that first staged some of the biggest bands in music, and still manages to lure surprise sets from groups that have long since outgrown its miniature capacity. A young pup by comparison, Broadcast’s bricked basement houses both international touring acts and native musicians, and has garnered a good reputation for itself in the process.

[Nice’n’Sleazy on Sauchiehall Street]

Running parallel is Bath Street, which homes Bloc and Flat 0/1, both of which temporary house some of the best home-grown talent. The latter, styled as a domestic flat, places a roof over MILK‘s head, a quirky dairy-themed monthly night that consistently hand-picks diverse acts for their first-rate rosters.

Beyond lies a recently-refurbished King Tuts, crowned best small venue in the UK by NME a few years back. In addition to propelling the aforementioned Oasis into the stratosphere, others who have graced its 300-capacity confines include Radiohead, Coldplay and Blur.

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Over the river in Govan, an emerging DIY venue recently saved from demolition is Kinning Park Complex, which has recently featured several brilliant line-ups, and in Shawlands, The Glad Café, an artistic hub teeming with musicians from the folk, alternative and experimental ends of the spectrum.

Not many buildings can boast that they’re a mini-brewery, a record shop, a vegan bar, a literature shop and also a venue for gigs, but Mono can. Their shows are not often, but acts are conscientiously selected (largely thanks to the input of Synergy Concerts), which means line-ups are rarely anything but outstanding (and great if you want to catch bands in a minuscule venue before it’s too late).

Music shops

In recent years vinyl has returned with a vengeance, and there’s a handful of places embracing its renaissance. Two good options are Rubadub Records and Record Fayre. The former also provides sound equipment, while the latter has a carefully-categorised collection for the most obsessive of record hoarders.

love music
[Love Music]

In the West End, there’s Oxfam, which not only gives profits to charity but puts on shows between its tiny four walls during October for Oxjam. Neighbouring the Arches is Missing Records, a labyrinth for vinyl lovers, and Love Music (Dundas Street), whose shelves are brimming with records both pristine and old (as well as intriguing zines and merchandise).

Also leading the charge in vinyl tender is Monorail, inside Mono. It has a massive selection of CDs, fanzines, and records from all across the world, so whether its a rare Mogwai imprint or an obscure copy of Tamikrest’s debut, Monorail will most likely stock it.

Places to see touring bands

Sonically, every Glasgow venue pales in comparison to the Royal Concert Hall, which is breathtaking, irrespective of whether it’s hosting grand, traditional orchestras or idiosyncratic visitors from distant plains, like Amadou & Mariam.

There’s also the looming re-opening of the illustrious Glasgow School of Art space, a refurbishment shaping up to have mightily impressive results. Renovations have served other venues well, with the city centre duo of the distinctive Old Fruitmarket and the old train station bricks of multi-arts venue The Arches, which always lures an eclectic range of huge names.

For a guaranteed solid gig, there’s the old cinema-turned-venue, 02 ABC, on Sauchiehall Street, or the larger O2 Academy across the Clyde. For something more alternative, there’s the Oran Mor, a beautifully-converted church in Glasgow’s West End, replete with stained-glass windows and a fantastic mural by Alasdair Gray.

Few venues in the UK can compete with the famous Barrowland, an anachronistic converted ballroom which is the essential place to go if you want to experience that famous Glasgow atmosphere. Many bands, including Oasis and Metallica, say it’s their favourite venue. Some groups even opt to downsize just to play there, such as Pixies and a double-date with Arcade Fire last year.

the hydro
[The interior of the custom-built Hydro arena – picture: TSPL]

Lastly, there’s the gleaming new SSE Hydro on the riverside, one of Europe’s most impressive arenas. Built specifically for live music shows, it may look like something from a Men In Black CGI backdrop, but internally it’s astonishing. The largest bands and pop stars in the world can now be enticed to Glasgow, and the overwhelming experience should be worth every hard-earned penny.

Folk nights

Whether you’re nursing your head after a heavy weekend or simply well in touch with your Celtic origins (or both), Glasgow can accommodate. The aforementioned Glad Café pulls in an impressive calibre of folk artists, from both the international (Ed Askew) to this side of the Atlantic (The Furrow Collective).

Turning up at any one of the Irish-themed trio of Jinty McGintys, Molly Malones or Waxy O’Connors can often produce a pot of folk gold, while the city centre sanctuary of Maggie Mays presents folk nights on Mondays and Thursdays. Larger folk gigs regularly take place in the Oran Mor and Old Fruitmarket, but smaller unplugged musings can be heard at the Old Hairdressers on Renfield Lane.

Open mic nights

For those thirsty for others to hear their vocal chords, almost every small venue has its own open mic night. Admiral Fallow’s Louis Abbot spearheads Bloc’s long-standing Bloc Jam, which soothes sore Sunday noggins and encourages plucky crowd participation.

Monday nights in Nice’n’Sleazy sees stalwart Gerry Lyons lead a returning audience through a honed, sophisticated affair, or you could welcome newbie Sammy at Glad Cafe‘s open mic night.

It’s the West End for Wednesdays. In the meat-free boundaries of The 78 a weekly Sing and Drink is offered up, or you can watch (and play) as unsigned musicians share the microphone on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of each month at The Roxy 171 on Great Western Road.

Want some help warming up for the weekend? Try the tropical jam night at Trongate’s Boteco de Brasil. Just make sure you return to Louis Abbot’s lozenges of calm to recover on Sundays.

Festivals and annual events

King Tuts showcase the best in rising Scottish music bi-annually, during January’s New Year Revolutions and July’s Summer Nights, and the eclectic Celtic Connections sees artists from the far reaches of the globe perform at venues across Glasgow from mid-January till early February.

Barrowland Ballroom

The Scottish Alternative Music Awards is ever-growing and is currently tethered to the Garage on Sauchiehall Street (March), while the winners of the Scottish Album of the Year Award will be presented with their prize at the Barrowland in June.

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The Americana-infused No Mean City and locally focused Tenement Trail have recently cropped up and see bands dotted around a litter of venues. The purveyors of impromptu gigs Detour recently revived their Wee Jaunt (December), which gathered 100 lucky revellers, told them to stick on winter woollies and carted them around Glasgow for ten surprise shows.

Anyone looking for harder decibels and heart-rates can do no wrong with the Electric Frog, which has previously pulled in Dave Clarke, Todd Terje, Boys Noize and Optimo, while Sunday Circus‘ New Years Day, em, all-dayer, is bound to wipe out any Hogmanay hangovers (until the 2nd, anyway).

Blogs and websites

For sheer writing quality, the cream of the crop can be found over at Nicola Meighan’s blog. She is a professional music writer who presents her broadsheet musings, features and reviews in handy blog format, as does Lis Ferla at Last Year’s Girl, who also writes for femme-focal collective TYCI.

Glasgow PodcART presents a weekly podcast on new talent (and much more besides), independent student radio station Subcity is teeming with new music and budding radio presenters, while The Pop Cop features a sweeping range of Scottish music, not to mention its monthly Music Pact Alliance with an army of bands from other nations.

Peenko and Aye Tunes have also been prominent for several years, although the former’s activity has slowed to a trickle of late (presumably as Lloyd Meredith is busy running Olive Grove Records).

Stalwart has long provided a platform for blooming music writers, as does the emerging Tenement TV, which also stages a Tenement Trail festival. itsaxxxthing contains vastly imaginative music reviews which wouldn’t look out of place in a graphic novel (a page-scrolling compliment), while Jockrock and Scottish Fiction interweave content, with online magazine Is This Music? also carrying regular reviews and features.

Ravechild receives special plaudits. Not only is it crammed full of reviews and news, but its dedicated (and meticulous) Glasgow listings service is a great resource.

Club nights with a music focus

It would be simply impossible to sum up the entirety of the Glasgow clubbing scene here, solely because there’s way too much going on in the wee small hours to mention, but we can aim for the current highlights.

sub club
[Sub Club – picture: Sub Club / Facebook]

House-based student bash Sub Rosa pops up every Wednesday at the world-class Sub Club. Twenty years strong, Harri and Domenic are comperes for the venue’s Saturday Subculture, and normally present illustrious guests, such as Jackmaster.

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Over at The Arches, Pressure has resident DJs Slam performing alongside the best in the techno/deep-house business. Previous guests? Maya Jane Coles, Vitalic and Green Velvet to name but three.

For New York frolics, there’s The Admiral‘s Melting Pot, and legendary DJ/producer Andrew Weatherall takes his residency at The Berkeley Suite for his co-owned monthly nights A Love From Outer Space; the same venue  also caters for lovers of disco (Supermax) and reggae and dub (Mungo’s Hi Fi).

Like this? Try this:

• An introduction to the Edinburgh music scene
• 10 of the best bars in Glasgow
• Glasgow Restaurants Guide

Harris Brine

What’s your favourite music venue in Glasgow?

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