Lloyd Russell explores Glasgow’s Priory Bar pre-lockdown and why this underrated venue remains at the heart of the Scottish music scene.
Nestled on the hedonistically neon-soaked Sauchiehall Street lies what many people in the music scene perceive as the heart of Glasgow’s punk scene, The Priory. Loud, screeching guitars accompanied by the crashing of drums provides an unapologetic soundtrack to many walking by the unassuming entrance of The Priory’s Club Sabbath night. Since its humble inception in 2014, the bar has hosted some of Glasgow’s biggest up-and-coming punk and indie rock artists and, in the process, become renowned as the place to play for many small bands trying to make it in a music industry that is becoming increasingly corporate and over-saturated. Indeed, there is an awe-inducing sense of authenticity and community within the small capacity of The Priory’s walls that is hard to undermine with its increasing popularity and reputation for wild, crowd surf-inducing gigs.
Staggering down into The Priory on a Saturday night, you are immediately overwhelmed by its loud and gritty atmosphere. Bright-haired young punks sip sparingly at their £3.50 can of Dark Fruits while the likes of Idles, Voodoos, and Rascalton blare at top volume, drowning out already incohesive, drunken conversations at the bar. The staff exude a very Glaswegian sense of friendly sardonicism when responding to the weather being cold as: “Well it is fuckin’ February, pal.” The initial exclusivity of The Priory is perhaps its biggest turnoff for many young people trying to enter such a close-knit punk scene. However, after four keenly priced ciders later, this is quickly overcome, as I find myself chatting to two construction workers in their late twenties from Cumbernauld. Both have been attending Priory since the age of 19 and consider themselves regulars of the bar. They gleefully inform me that the interior, staff, and stage have all remained, on the most part, surprisingly unchanged over the years.
To associate The Priory primarily with its somewhat pricey drinks and cliquey undertones vastly undermines its overall cultural and socio-political significance within the local Glasgow and wider Scottish music scene. It is a testament to the hard work and talent of the many bands and background figureheads that such a vibrant and diverse punk subculture exists in a city that is primarily associated with its house and techno scene. In many ways, the success of Club Sabbath confirms that there are many young people looking for more music and club nights that ascend beyond the mind-numbingly mainstream appeal of clubs like Bamboo, Shimmy, or Kokomo.
Yet I wondered, is The Priory just a byproduct of 70s punk nostalgia? Or could it be Glasgow’s modern answer to The 100 Club in London or CBGB in New York?
There is a certain image that is conjured up when someone imagines the usual Priory punter. Ranging from young working-class boys enveloped in oversized Dickies and Docs to middle-aged men with long beards and old band tees to stylish punk girls with bright hair and studded boots. As a previous regular attendee to most small-band Glasgow gigs, you become familiar with certain faces and band members knocking about. It is these connections and sense of community that effectively link many of the band’s creative endeavours.
In order to survive in such a competitive and ruthless industry, many people within this small yet thriving punk scene must have multifaceted careers branching off into different unknown territories. For instance, a lead singer of a large band could work for a new Scottish record label and also write songs and produce music for other bands like Club Sabbath co-founder Johnny Madden of Baby Strange. This is one of the reasons why the punk scene is so completely diverse and fresh to many young people. Regardless of stature, their starting point is The Priory.
It is well known within the punk scene that the frontman of Walt Disco, James Power, pulled pints at The Priory. Walt Disco are celebrated for their high-energy, flamboyant and theatrical appearances on stage, with performances reminiscent of the likes of David Bowie or HMLTD. Earlier this year, Walt Disco performed at The Priory to raise funds for their trip to play the (now cancelled) South by Southwest festival in America. The event was a huge success and a testament to the band’s overall progression and popularity. This was Priory at its finest. Drunken teenagers were crashing into speakers, young girls were swinging around pillars and middle-aged men were struggling not to drop their pints.
18-year-old Finley Yates from Prestwick, a regular face at Glasgow gigs, describes the event vividly: “The band were genuinely mental. They were straight into it, no messing about. Their sound was genuinely as good live as on Spotify.” When asked about both the band’s unique style and Priory’s significance to the scene Finley responded: “I’d say it was incredibly significant to the scene as it seemed like everyone came out to support a great local band with their own style. The whole night had a friendly feel, as did the band”.
The Priory’s seemingly rough, punk attitude does not disguise the overall large sense of community within its walls. Many bands largely owe their initial success to The Priory for giving them exposure and, as a result, there is always a friendly atmosphere surrounding the pub, despite what the dingy toilets (reminiscent of Trainspotting) and candlelit tables might tell you. Beyond its rough exterior, the true overall significance of The Priory to local bands and even other concert venues within Glasgow cannot be overstated. The Priory is a fine example of what old punk clubs used to be like – it’s both a trip down memory lane and a glance into Glasgow’s current, promising musical talent. Its existence is integral to the survival and prosperity of the Scottish punk scene and, in a time of increased social and political dissatisfaction, the authenticity of The Priory may perhaps be an example for other venues to follow.