Culture in Glasgow is great because you don’t have to know absolutely everything about it to enjoy it. However, if you’re like I was as a Fresher (a bit hipstery, but mainly hapless) and want to show off your new-found knowledge then there’s plenty in this guide for you too!
Chances are that you’ve already heard of a fair few bands from Glasgow, but now that you’re here you’re in with a very good chance of seeing them. If you’re like me and come from nowheresville, nowhereshire then this is a fantastic opportunity to find new music.
Beginner: Franz Ferdinand
Do You Want To?
Ahh, Franz Ferdinand. Even writing it has probably popped a tune into your head but, if it hasn’t, look up Michael or Take Me Out, you won’t regret it! These guys are still touring and play a lot of gigs in Glasgow so you’ll definitely have a chance to see them anywhere from big concert halls to wee basement bars. If you haven't listened to any of their new stuff it's still got the feel of very clever pop, definitely worth a listen!
Intermediate: Belle and Sebastian
Making your day a whole lot better
Belle and Sebastian are probably the best thing about Glasgow that survived the 90s. Cute, upbeat and unbelievably kitsch, these guys will make walking to class feel like a Zooey Deschanel film. If I could I would get them to soundtrack my entire life, as well as serving as Glasgow's best hangover cure. You can still see them doing gigs in Glasgow, but even without that it's still one of the best Glasgow bands to be listening to throughout your time here. Go listen to “The Boy With The Arab Strap”, it's pure music gold.
Advanced: PAWS, Fuck Buttons
I don’t get the names either.
The Advanced list here has my favourite two new Glaswegian bands, but the best to find something new is to see what’s being written about in organs like this lovely publication or listed at venues like Nice n Sleazy’s or SWG3, which are usually putting on the newest music going on in the city. PAWS have got some nice angsty indie rock to take the edge off your day, with properly raw live gigs. Fuck Buttons are probably best to see live; their form of electronica can be a bit hard to break into on CD, but makes sense when seeing them live, with their elaborate light shows and live sets giving a new insight into their music.
Special Mention: Mogwai
Not very talkative
Mogwai are some of Glasgow’s favourite sons, but they may not be for everyone. As my personal gods of post-rock they can go whole albums without saying a dozen words. While seeing them in a small setting is rare these days, the light shows and sheer noise of their gigs are absolutely incredible. A definite recommendation for a gig with real spectacle.
Artists, Designers and Writers
Glasgow has a long and illustrious history of producing incredible artists, with its recent success in modern art being hailed as “The Glasgow Miracle” by art lovers across the world. This may well be thanks to the establishment of several incredible art galleries as well as the Glasgow School of Art. From impressionist masters like The Glasgow Boys to the raft of Turner Prize winning modern artists the GSA is putting out, Glasgow is one of the best places to be to see art at its finest.
Beginner: Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Great guy; loved tea, straight lines.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh made gorgeous things. Painter, designer architect and sculptor, Mackintosh’s influence can be seen all over the city, from the beautiful buildings he designed (the architecturally fascinating House for an Art Lover and the recently on fire Glasgow School of Art building) to the rectilinear roses and Mackintosh font that you are going to see at least once a day for your time in Glasgow and indeed on the walls of anyone who used to live here.
Intermediate: Alasdair Gray
The one you’re most likely to see around here
Probably Glasgow’s favourite living writer, Alasdair Gray has also produced some pretty incredible novels over the years, with the city’s greatest literary contribution froma living author. He’s also a dab hand at painting and drawing; you can see his mural in Hillhead Subway Station as well as the gorgeous illustrations in his books. Definitely go ahead and read ‘Lanark’, ‘Poor things’ and ‘1982, Janine’ which is a bit freakier, as leaving Glasgow without it is an opportunity seriously missed.
Advanced: Martin Boyce
Unless you keep track of who wins the Turner Prize each year you probably haven’t heard of Martin Boyce, which is fair enough. Glasgow’s modern art scene is full of brilliant sculptors and Boyce’s inspiration by early 20th century modernism gives a new take on the situations he sculpts, turning it on it’s head for a fearful look at the designs of modernism as well as modernist takes on conceptual art. You can usually catch his stuff at some of the more modern galleries in Glasgow as well as at The Modern Institute.
Special Mention: Bullet Beard
Fight the system!
Although you probably won’t recognise it, Bullet Beard’s artwork is all over the city centre. Consisting of posters and artwork usually plastered on closed shop windows, Bullet Beard seems to have an objective of ‘reclaiming’ these spaces. Recently appearing on ‘The Street’ (which I wouldn’t watch unless you want a really depressing view of the city you’ve committed to studying in), Bullet Beard is in fact a local dude and his girlfriend putting up these posters because it’s cool. Easily the least wanky artist on this list, keep an eye out for Bullet Beard’s work and, if you’re out late, a fairly nondescript guy with black specs putting up posters. Shockingly he does in fact have a beard, bullets notwithstanding.
Musicians throughout the world have said that there’s nothing like a Glasgow audience. In the city there's loads of venues for you to see the kind of acts you're interested in and I'm sure you'll find your own venue where you feel at home. However, here's a couple to get you started.
Beginner: The Unions
Great gigs right on your doorstep
The QMU and the GUU, apart from being a combination of local boozer, café, cafeteria and club also put on awesome gigs right on campus. The QM’s had bands like The Smiths and Nirvana play in what is now Qudos (there’s one of Kurt Cobain’s footprints in the QMU safe) and the GUU has had a few upcoming bands like Frightened Rabbit and Arcade Fire play in its end of semester Daft Friday ball.
The QMU puts on loads of gigs and events throughout the year and you can catch anything from Franz Ferdinand to MMA and boxing in the same venue.
Intermediate: The Barrowlands
The one your grandparents might have been to
Glasgow’s most iconic gig venue, it’s impressive in every way a venue can be: its got a list as long as your arm of incredible acts that have performed there, including David Bowie, The Rolling Stones (in 1964 so they were still cool) and The Clash (the list they have on their website is pretty insane), apart from being an incredible place to see a gig. It kicked off as a dancehall and still has the awesome acoustics and sprung dancefloor which make the gigs here even better. It’s even got a massive neon sign so you KNOW it’s awesome. Although it's the biggest trek from campus on this list it's definitely worth visiting this Glasgow institution.
Advanced: King Tut's
Glasgow’s best jukebox.
The venue that every Glasgow band wants to play, King Tut's is the place to go to catch brand new music from the Glasgow scene and across the UK. Usually having gigs seven nights a week, King Tuts can have anything from new acoustic bands to Radiohead playing in the same week. With a list of Glasgow scene luminaries having their debut here, including Scottish indie legends Arab Strap, King Tuts is a great choice if you want to see something brand new without forking over loads of cash for it.
Special Mention: Sub Club
The best for the dancin’.
Perusing through the mountain of club PR blocking your doorway you may have noticed a club charging way, way more to get in than anywhere else. That’s because Sub Club has insanely good acts for every club night (special mention goes to the gigs run by Mortar & Pestle), with its most famous being Sub Culture which runs every Saturday. For catching dance and electronic legends or the next big thing, Sub Club is a great venue which can also give you some of the most unforgettable clubnights in Glasgow.
Glasgow’s great art scene is largely thanks to an incredible set of galleries. Fantastic places to discover new art, the city’s art galleries are some of the best in the world. Exhibition openings are a great place to start, often they’ve got a chance to speak to the artists involved and, crucially, usually have a load of free wine to give out. In any case, heading to the galleries below is a great way to spend a day, especially for a crippling hangover from an opening the night before!
Beginner: The Gallery of Modern Art, Kelvingrove Art Gallery
These galleries are definitely the prettiest things in this article. The Gallery of Modern Art (or GoMA) is based in an old Tobacco Baron’s Mansion just off Buchanan Street in the centre. As Scotland’s most visited modern art gallery the GoMA has been host to some of the largest exhibitions in Glasgow due to its sheer size. Kelvingrove Art Gallery is a jewel of the West End. A proud redstone building on the edge of Kelvingrove park, the gallery also includes a museum with exhibits from dinosaur bones to recordings of old Glaswegian patter. Home to a staggering number of pieces with an interior just as beautiful as its exterior, I heavily recommend going to see Salvador Dali’s Christ of Saint John on the Cross, which has its own wee room so it must be good.
Intermediate: Centre for Contemporary Arts
The most cultural thing on Sauchiehall Street
The Centre for Contemporary Arts (or CCA) used to be called the Third Eye Centre, one of the most influential modern art centres in Scotland’s history for its mission to present Scottish modern artists. Since it closed down the CCA has been established in its place and has taken on its role of giving Scottish artists a place to collaborate and present their work, including Aye Aye Books. This also has the distinction of being the only gallery in this article with a bar, which I only mention as the bar is pretty awesome too!
Almost too cool to go to
This gallery has got the proper cutting edge of what’s going on with art in Glasgow and hence is painfully, painfully cool. Set up by Glasgow School of Art Students to give new artists a place to show their exhibits. This is the smallest gallery on this list, but you can go in confidence that what you will see will be some of the best modern art Glasgow has to offer and a great way to get ahead of the curve in the art world.
Special Mention: The Hunterian
The one next to the books
The Hunterian has the advantage of being right on Library Hill so you can get your daily dose of art after staring at books and questioning your life choices. The Hunterian has got an incredible selection of historical and classical art, being the University's chief art organ it has had loads of stuff bequeathed to it and hence you can expect exhibitions on as well as most of Mackintosh's watercolours. It also features a custom built house to show Mackintosh's design work so these guys are all Mackintosh, all the time. Get your head out of your textbook and head over!
A city as big as Glasgow is bound to have some thespian chops and its got plenty of places to see them. Old classics, arty productions and native productions are all on, all the time and these are the best venues to see them in!
Beginner: Theatre Royal
Oh no it isn't!
Home to both Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet in Glasgow, the Royal is a great place to catch the more usual theatre productions as well as the incredible performances by these organisations. The chief attraction of the Royal to most students is a cracking Christmas panto and after a semester's worth of University you'll be surprised at how keen you are for some Dick Whittington et al.
Intermediate: Citizen's Theatre
By the people for the people.
Based in the Gorbals in Glasgow, the Citz has got a mandate of community engagement that means you can see productions you won't see anywhere else. Projects by the Citizens' Community Company and TAG Theatre Company mean that the Citz is your best chance of seeing something that's been produced from concept to performance by Glasgwegians for the stage. The Citz is definitely the best place to see what's Glaswegian about the Glaswegian art scene.
Advanced: Glasgow Film Theatre
Really old. Really Awesome.
More of a cinema than a theatre, the GFT is the best place to watch a film in Glasgow, from Holywood blockbusters to live streamed ballet performances. Originally founded in 1939 as The Cosmo before being taken over by the Scottish Film Council, the GFT is still Glasgow's premier arthouse cinema. They also do awesome memberships for cinephiles out there which is the best way to support glasgow's longest running cinema. Head over to the GFT and show that when it comes to cinema you're no novice.
Special Mention: Royal Opera House
The baller move.
Although not a theatre, Scottish Opera are definitely worth a mention. With student tickets for £10 you can easily go see any number of productions new and old or do what I do and mean to buy a ticket for 3 years but never actually be organised enough to get one. Take whichever of the hundreds of interesting folk you’ll meet this year for the classiest date they’ll ever have or pick one in a language you don’t understand and see if you can puzzle it out like an audible cryptic crossword.