New to Glasgow? Niamh Walker is here to take you on a whistle-stop tour of the city’s thriving music scene.
Crowned the UK’s only UNESCO city of music, Glasgow has an undeniably rich and varied music scene. The city’s friendly and welcoming nature means that its ability to foster and embrace up-and-coming, home-grown talent is unrivalled. Legendary pioneers of the Glasgow music scene include: Primal Scream, Franz Ferdinand, Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai, Teenage Fanclub, Frightened Rabbit, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Lewis Capaldi and Gerry Cinnamon, to name but a few.
Glasgow’s iconic music venues have proven vital in providing a platform for undiscovered local acts and achieving its reputation as the UK Capital of Arts. Here’s a breakdown of both well known and lesser known music venues and music festivals you should consider attending while living in Glasgow.
The Barrowland Ballroom
Affectionately known as The Barrowlands or The Barras, located in the Gallowgate area of Glasgow’s East End, The Barrowland Ballroom is perhaps the most iconic venue in Glasgow.
Constructed in the 1960s, with the original purpose of serving as a dancehall (or “eh dancin”), the interior of the venue has largely remained untouched. Don’t be fooled by the somewhat tired interior and surroundings of the venue. Nothing quite compares to the experience of a gig at The Barrowlands – if you know, you know. The classic neon sign, the shabby interior, sticky floors, the preserved 1960s decor and the ballroom ceiling only adds to the character of the iconic venue.
The Barras are integral to the city’s reputation as a world-class music hotspot, with Oasis, Metallica and Arcade Fire, among others, citing the venue as one of their favourites to play. In 1997, the late David Bowie reportedly kept a star from the venue’s ceiling as memorabilia. World famous acts such as U2, The Clash, The Smiths, Radiohead and ACDC have graced the Barrowlands over the years. The entirety of the impressive alumni of the Barrowlands can be observed on “The Barrowlands Walkway”, located outside the venue, documenting all the acts to have played the world-renowned venue.
In recent years, the Gallowgate area has undergone significant regeneration, with the addition of cultural hubs such as BAaD (Barras Art and Design) and St Luke’s & the Winged Ox. The latter, only a stone’s throw from The Barrowlands, is perhaps the most beautiful of all the Glaswegian venues. A church-cum-music and arts venue, you’d be forgiven for forgetting you’re in Gallowgate as you stand under the pretty canopy of fairy lights surrounded by stained glass windows. St Luke’s & the Winged Ox is notable for their inaugural music festival: St Luke’s All Dayer, hosting both local and rising talent from further afield, all day long, as the name suggests. This year’s line-up included the local bands Tijuana Bibles, Snash, Voodoos, and Parliamo. The Winged Ox serves as a dog-friendly bar and restaurant attached to the music venue. On the rare occasion of good weather in Glasgow, St Luke’s has a sizeable beer garden, perfect for enjoying some food and a pint in the sunshine before a gig!
King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut
Holding the title of “best small gig venue in the world”, boasting a modest capacity of 300 people, the legendary status of King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut is unrivalled. King Tut’s is renowned for propelling the careers of up-and-coming musicians; discovering the likes of Radiohead, Pulp, The Killers, and Florence and the Machine, to name but a few. The stairs leading up to the stage serve as a reminder of the sheer calibre of musicians to have played in this iconic venue, with each step listing an act who has played King Tut’s since its conception in 1990.
It was in this venue that Alan McGee of Creation Records signed Oasis in 1993. According to both the band and McGee, Oasis were not on the bill for that evening. Rather, the band blagged their way onto the bill by violent means in true rock ‘n’ roll fashion, threatening to wreck the venue if they were denied the opportunity to play that night. Oasis then went on to become one of the most seminal bands of the Britpop era – and the rest, as you know, is history.
King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut still retains its ethos of providing a platform for undiscovered talent. Up-and-coming Glaswegian bands who have recently gained attention playing in Glasgow’s King Tut’s include: The Ninth Wave, Slouch, and Bad Hombres. The venue also encourages local talent by hosting regular open mic sessions, where you can listen to a wide range of musicians over some drinks and bar food. Plus, they’re dog friendly and you receive 15% off your bill if you bring your four-legged friend!
The SSE Hydro, one of the latest additions to the Glasgow music scene, is the largest performance venue in the city. Opening in 2013 with a capacity of 12,000, the SSE Hydro has competed with arena venues in other larger UK cities, hosting acts such as Ariana Grande, Arctic Monkeys, Lady Gaga, Queen, and Fleetwood Mac.
The venue isn’t reserved strictly for music: in 2018, Glasgow-born comedian Kevin Bridges set the record for the highest number of sold-out shows at The Hydro, playing an incredible 19 consecutive sell-out shows. This earned him the “Gee it Laldy” award from the Scottish Event Campus, recognising outstanding contribution to the live event industry in Scotland.
If techno, trance or house music is more your thing, be sure to check out the world’s longest running dance club: Glasgow’s own, Sub Club. The basement venue initially served as a speakeasy in the 1950s, pulling in big names such as Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. The Sub Club that exists today opened in 1987, initially as a funk and soul club, but became increasingly influenced by the acid house movement.
The venue became internationally recognised for its contribution to techno and house music, bringing together world renowned DJs and bands alike. Primal Scream, whose Screamadelica album epitomised the Acid House movement, are reported to have played their first gig in the venue.
The club has continued to be influential after the Acid House scene. Sub Club is credited as the birthplace of techno duo Twitch and Jonnie Wilkes, who went on to perform under the name Optimo and created the eponymous club night. The duo held the record for the longest residency of any venue in the world, playing the Optimo club night every Sunday night from 1997-2010. The club night saw an array of artists playing, including LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip, and Cut Copy.
Nowadays, DJs Harri + Domenic have taken the record for the longest running weekly residency in the world, playing the club’s Subculture night every Saturday since 1994. Be sure to check out the Subculture nights, which see world famous guest DJs taking to the Sub Club stage, as well as the resident DJs.
If you get the chance to experience these, or any other, music venues and festivals in Glasgow, you’ll need no further proof that Glaswegians are the best crowd in the world, and will ensure that Glasgow holds a special place in your heart. From artists and bands, to DJs and club nights, Glasgow guarantees a night to be had for everyone in the company of the most talented and welcoming of people.