The Famous Glasgow Barrowlands

A favourite restaurant with special memories of time spent with loved ones. A holiday destination that you always return to. A specific view that takes your breath away. Most of us have a place that makes us feel something special. Something powerful…different. Following a hiatus, a couple of recent visits provided me with the confirmation that my special place is the Barrowlands music venue.
Ask yourself a question. When was the last time you felt pure, unadulterated happiness? Eyes closed, lost in a moment kind of happiness. Life can be trying. That is precisely why we need to take the opportunity to scamper from the hamster’s wheel of life as often as we can to safeguard our well-being. A constant stream of miserable news surrounds us. A few days after Charlottesville, I found a place of positivity. A place we don’t get the opportunity to visit often enough, if we are truly honest with ourselves. Life periodically throws us the odd crumb. Happiness. Escapism. Elation. Call it what you will.
Fluorescent lights dangle from the stage like the BFG’s colourful shoelaces. Inflatable mushrooms strategically placed throughout. The ceiling is decorated in cheap looking tiles. All varying in size. Some with shiny looking red wrapping paper. Others look like square tiles crudely glued to the ceiling. A glitterball hangs from the ceiling directly over the stage. This place shouldn’t work. The antithesis of what any new venue or business aspires to. Sticking two fingers up to the sterile venues backed by blue chip companies. What this venue does have though…money can’t buy. History. Reputation. Soul. An aura.
Tuesday night’s aren’t meant to be like this. The Barrowlands has a special feel to it tonight. Right from the start. Perhaps it’s defiance. Who knows? Considering recent events, possibly the best equipped band for lifting the mood are playing tonight. The first line to the opening song seems apt: Two scientists are racing, for the good of all man-kind, both of them side by side, so determined. Now, picture this, we all have our heroes. I happen to think this guy’s lyrics are amazing. He’s one of the coolest guy on the planet in my tiny world. He’s riding a multi-coloured unicorn that looks like My Little Pony through the centre of the crowd. I’ve lost count of the number of gigs I’ve been to in this place. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen. I’ve seen the band before and experienced the madness of him orbing over the crowd—but this? I’m patting the Unicorn and shouting Wayne, Wayne, giggling like a schoolboy playing pass the parcel. He shakes my hand. Really? This is bonkers.
Adult’s transform into smiling, excitable children for ninety minutes. Ticker-tape replaces bullets as a gun fires it into the crowd. Large inflatable balls bounce throughout the crowd and onto stage. The only thing missing is jelly and ice-cream. However, don’t mistake this for childish, light-hearted, whimsical fluff. Yelling as hard as they can, the doubter’s all were stunned, heard louder than a gun, the sound they made was love. The music stops. Cue two thousand people clapping and stamping their feet whilst singing back…….love…love.. love. Where else would this happen?
The closing song embodies everything about the night. Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face? Do you realize we’re floating in space? Do you realize that happiness can make you cry? Do you realize that everyone you know, someday will die.
For me, the part of the song that follows this, just about sums up life. And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know you realize that life goes fast, it’s hard to make the good things last, you realize the sun don’t go down, it’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.
As I descend the stairs, shirt clinging to me like another epidermis, a man with a smile that will take some shifting, asks his friend who’s walking towards him a question, ‘How glorious was that?’
I concur. Pure unadulterated gloriousness. I sat in the pub afterwards on an almighty high, drinking my pint, recalling some of the highlights that I’ve experienced in the Barrowlands. Win Butler of Arcade Fire walking over the top of the crowd like a messiah to the strains of the anthemic Wake Up, making his way all the way to the back of the crowd. Witnessing bands who were never deemed to be ‘cool’ however the Barrowlands crowd seemed to take them to their hearts and blow them away. Under-appreciated musicians stunned at the reception they’re receiving. Bands like Embrace, that my older brother, Tom and I, went to see so many times, knowing full well the lead singer couldn’t really sing but the crowd would sing for him, pulling him through. A Reef gig that I attended with my other brother, Mark, where I ended up black and blue due to the physicality of it. Seeing one of my favourite bands ever, The Delgados, support Doves before graduating to headliners there themselves. Then, finally, a memory that a month or so later made it all seem perfect. Things turned full circle. I was absolutely buzzing to take my nineteen-year old daughter, Kira, to her first gig at the Barrowlands as an adult to see Wolf Alice. On the morning of the gig, I received an email confirming that my manuscript had been selected for publication. What a way to celebrate! Watching my beautiful daughter, wide-eyed, lapping up the beauty of the venue. Singing her heart out to a band that we both only came across after seeing Trainspotting 2 together and hearing a small clip of one of their songs. Then, the realisation, nineteen years previously, on the 10th January 1998, just nine days after she was born, I was in this very same place on my first night out since she was born, to see my favourite artist, Richard Ashcroft, play the Glasgow Barrowlands with The Verve. Three months earlier, they had released one of the best records ever, in my opinion, Urban Hymns. Ironically, that is the only gig that I have had to bail out on to catch my breath. Rolling People had me staring at those cheap looking ceiling shapes gasping for air.
I worry for the future of this famous venue, however, our elders who frequented the place to dance back in the sixties, probably thought the same.
It’s hard to make the good things last. And that is precisely the reason why we need to savour our special places and our cherished moments when they arrive.