The Skinny Q&A: Monorail's Stephen McRobbie

As frontman of The Pastels, Stephen McRobbie has been an integral part of Glasgow's musical DNA for decades. But an equally vital contribution to the scene is his record store Monorail Music, which he opened with Dep Downie in Kings Court in 2002

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 22 Nov 2021
  • Monorail

How did you come to set up Monorail in King’s Court?

It just seemed to happen quite naturally. With the record shop we’d been looking for a while and hadn’t been able to find anything inspiring – lack of budget and other factors. Maybe we weren’t quite sure what we were looking for. Craig Tannock from The 13th Note was also looking for a new place to expand his ventures and invited us to come and have a look at this corner space under a railway line. It had the most potential of anything we’d seen and it was appealing to be in the same place as Craig. I wrote down a bunch of potential names for us and Monorail Music seemed the most apt. Craig then said he’d like to use Mono if we were ok with it and we said yes, of course.

What was the ambition for the shop in the beginning and how has that changed over the years?

I suppose survival was a big part of the initial ambition. Both Dep and I (and others too) had committed to it heavily in different ways and we wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just a flash in the pan. We wanted it to be a brilliant, world-class record shop but also wanted it to be part of something else too – part of what was going on in Glasgow, providing a platform for the music we loved and respected. Taking things more seriously in a way but also trying to be friendly and inclusive – community focused.

What was the neighbourhood like back then?

It felt a wee bit like an outpost – that maybe we were slightly too much on the periphery of things. It took a while for people to find us and it was all a bit uneven and unjoined up even though we weren’t first or anything – the Tron was there, Transmission, Street Level… The area has changed. To an extent it feels like an enclave of quite creative things, interesting shops and a good mix. It is still not a part of town that many of our customers live.

What do you think drew so many arts spaces and creative businesses – Transmission, 13th Note, the Tron etc – to this part of town?

Cheap rent and a feeling that you could be part of something creative with good neighbours. Glasgow Council invested in Trongate 103 and then the Modern Institute moved down here and then Good Press took on their own place. It just feels like a vibrant little scene. I’m sure everyone came here for their own reasons but it’s been very simbiotic. We feel very proud to be next door to really nice people who are doing brilliant things – Strung Out Guitars, Mr Ben, Shawarma King.

Obviously Monorail collaborates with Mono, but how would you describe the community vibe in the area?

I think it’s understated but important – people look out for each other. We have an ongoing relationship with Project Ability in Trongate 103 and Mono provided them with regular gallery space. We’ve got a close relationship with Musho Fernandez in Good Press – he’s doing a lot of our design work these days.

Apart from Monorail and Mono, do you have any favourite places to hang out in the area?

Project Ability is just always coming up with so much exciting work. I love being able to go across and look at their work if I need to feel inspired. And it’s great to have South Block and the Modern Institute close by. I usually try to go for a walk on my lunch – along the river or Glasgow Green or maybe GOMA.

Find Monorail Music, Glasgow's best record shop, at 12 Kings Court, King Street, Trongate