In 2008, Glasgow became the first city in the UK to be designated a UNESCO City of Music for “the vibrancy of its music scene and its role as a world player in music”.
With its legions of rock, indie and folk musicians spawning an estimated 130 live music events every week, Glasgow deserves the accolade, but the city’s rich musical history is another reason why it was honoured.
Let’s take a look back.
That time Neil Young busked outside Central Station.
If you’ve not seen the footage, then you’ve definitely heard the story. Neil Young sitting on the floor outside Central Station on Gordon Street, in 1976 singing “Old Laughing Lady” and playing his banjo is definitely an iconic moment in Glasgow’s musical heritage.
It has been suggested that Young sang that particular song due to the date, which was April Fools Day, as a practical joke on passers-by, who had little clue to who the longhaired hippie on the floor was, but who really knows – it’s still a bloomin cool story.
Later that night Young proceeded to headline the legendary Glasgow Apollo with Crazy Horse, opening the show with “The Laughing Lady”.
Bon Jovi played out a window on Argyle street
During their 1995 These Days Tour which saw American rockers, Bon Jovi play 52 shows across Europe, the lads stopped off for an impromptu gig on Glasgow’s very own Argyle Street.
With a gig in Scotland nowhere to be seen, as a thank you to their Scottish fans, the band spent their only day off travelling to Glasgow for an impromptu busking session. It has been reported that The Sun, who were a bit pissed about not getting an exclusive, tipped off the authorities about the band’s intended ‘illegal’ outdoor gig, and plans were halted.
Thankfully, Tower Records on Argyle Street offered their services and the gig was back on for a 30 minute set in front of 5,000 revellers.
That time The Clash busked their way through Glasgow
The Clash legendary ‘Busking Tour’ of 1985 started off in Nottingham, working their way up the country, playing sessions in small pubs and student unions, and on street corners. When they arrived in Glasgow it was no different, and before long they arrived at Duke’s Bar on Old Dumbarton Road.
The story goes that they were supposed to play at Glasgow Uni, but the police put a stop to it due to fear of overcrowding, which led to Allan Fullegar, owner of Duke’s, offering to pay their taxi to Old Dumbarton Road if they would play.
Obviously they accepted, with Duke’s now proudly sporting a plaque to commemorate the moment in Glasgow’s music history. The band ended up playing a 45 minute set at the small corner pub before moving onto Glasgow School of Art the next day. Their Busking Tour ended in Glasgow, and the band split the following year – a bittersweet ending, but another proud notch on Glasgow’s belt.
Pink Floyd supporting Jimi Hendrix at Green’s Playhouse in 1967 – now that’s a gig!
In 1967, arguably the greatest guitar player who ever lived, Jimi Hendrix dropped the jaws of millions of Beatles fans across the world. It was not only for his stupendous guitar playing, but for his bluesy cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, which he played that night in Green’s Playhouse.
With support from The Move and Pink Floyd, the gig was reportedly a shambles. It started with Pink Floyd being booed off the stage because they weren’t playing their hits, and ended with the venue’s curtains closing on Hendrix because staff thought he was doing rude actions with his guitar, which almost concluded with staff members trying to pull him off stage. We still would never have missed it for the world!
When Prince performed a secret gig in The Garage
In 1995 Prince was on the UK leg of his tour and it was during a time Prince was doing smaller more intimate gigs, alongside his huge arena shows, to try out new material while on tour.
Following his show at the SECC, the Prince hopped on over to the Garage where he performed a set to a select guest list of fans. Around 800 fans got to see their idol – but hundreds more missed out as queues stretched down Sauchiehall Street.
Owner Donald MacLeod had just opened the Garage at the time when Prince had offered to perform there. Thinking it was a wind-up by ex Wet Wet Wet manager Elliot Davis, McLeod almost knocked back the gig. When Prince returned to Glasgow in 2014, 20 years after the Garage first opened it’s doors, a petition was launched to get Prince back to the iconic venue.
Glasgow Music City Tours
We also caught up with Glasgow Music City Tours, who run walking tours around the key music sites of the city centre, where guests can get a flavour of some of Glasgow’s best loved venues past and present, and hear stories of some of the talented musicians who have played, stayed and slayed in this vibrant music city.
They have shared some of their favourite tall tales and urban legends.
Glasgow is home to the world’s oldest surviving music hall. The Britannia Panopticon Music Hall dates from 1857, and is one of the city’s greatest hidden gems, situated up an alleyway off Trongate.
Where other music halls of the time burned down years ago, the Panopticon was saved and preserved thanks to the delightful habit of its many male patrons who, rather than push through the crowds to find an outside toilet, would simply pee where they stood, saturating the wood so that it never caught fire.
One of Glasgow’s main claims to fame is that Oasis were first discovered at King Tut’s one night in May 1993 when they turned up without a booking but were squeezed on the bottom of the bill.
Creation Records boss Alan McGee was in the crowd – if 69 paying customers makes a crowd – to see another band on the bill but was so blown away by Oasis that he offered to sign them on the spot. For years, the urinal in the men’s toilet was called the Wonderwall in honour of this momentous occasion.
Paolo Nutini is another artist who played some of his earliest gigs at King Tut’s but years later, as an established artist, he was nominated for the Scottish Album of the Year Award.
After the ceremony, and well into the wee small hours, Paolo was spotted drinking in The Box on Sauchiehall Street, where he jumped up on stage and led the resident band through a couple of Prince covers.
The documentary Lost In France premiered at the Glasgow Film Festival earlier this month, looking back at the early days of the city’s most acclaimed indie label, Chemikal Underground Records, and the scene around The 13th Note bar in the mid-1990s, which birthed the likes of Mogwai, Bis and The Delgados.
The band booker at the Note back in those days was a young musician called Alex Huntley – these days he is better known as Alex Kapranos, frontman of Franz Ferdinand.
David Bowie played in Glasgow on numerous occasions over the years. When the Ziggy Stardust tour came to the late, lamented Apollo, there were reports of couples making very enthusiastic use of the golden divans – or “the dive-ons” as they were known to the locals – during the show. Fittingly, the support band were called Fumble.
Years later, Bowie played Barrowlands with his band Tin Machine and a story circulated that one of the stars from the venue’s ceiling fell on to the Starman during soundcheck.
In fact, one of the technical crew helped to dislodge it and presented it to Bowie, who displayed the trophy in the bathroom of his Paris apartment.