Rip It Up: Important and Influential Scottish Venues

Shirley Manson, Lauren Mayberry, Aidan Moffat and KT Tunstall among others tell us about the Scottish venues that have been most important and influential to them

Feature by Tallah Brash | 20 Jun 2018
  • Rip It Up: Talking Heads

To write the story of music in Scotland from the perspective of the people at the very heart of it, we contacted a few of Scotland's most celebrated musicians and behind-the-scenes influencers to ask them five questions.

Free to answer as few or as many as they wished, we're pleased to report that most of them responded (particularly Shirley Manson, we're really excited about Shirley Manson) answering all of our questions. To make this more manageable, we've broken this down into five features covering the following questions – the question in bold is the one covered here and you can click through to the others easily for continued reading:

1. What Scottish venue played an important and influential role in your musical career and why?
2. What is the most iconic gig you can remember attending in Scotland and what made it stand out?
3. Which Scottish band/artist has been really influential to you/ignited your passion for music and why?
4. What do you think have been the most significant changes in the Scottish music scene since the start of your career?
5. Where do you feel Scottish music fits in on a global scale?

"Well, I should really namecheck the Barrowlands which is by far the most influential venue in the country and my favourite place to play anywhere at any time. I also have to mention upstairs in the Waterloo Bar, Edinburgh where I played my first ever show with Goodbye Mr Mackenzie. I caught the bug that night and have never been the same since." [Shirley Manson, Garbage]

"The 13th Note was the place where you could get a gig if you wanted one. It was a real kind of proving ground for bands coming out of their parent's garage or their school classes, certainly in my experience. They were always really open to the idea of something absolutely brand new and then as I got older, Tut's and Sleazy's started to really come into it. But I think the one that really sticks in my mind is the Note because that was where you really really started. I've had some absolute shockers in there to be honest." [Martin Doherty, CHVRCHES]

"The first gig I ever went to was at the Barrowlands and the first gig I ever played was at King Tut's, but the most important venue overall was Nice 'N' Sleazy. Besides being a venue and hosting countless gigs for local bands, the pub upstairs was a real hub for the musicians that were around in the 90s – we'd all meet there to talk about music, get some inspiration, start new bands, and do the pub quiz." [Aidan Moffat, Arab Strap]

"The Cas Rock Cafe in Edinburgh. A fairly inconspicuous pub that let us play a few times every month after they realised that we brought a young crowd who drank beer. Playing at the Cas Rock allowed us to work out how to get good in front of a people – so many great nights and memories were made there. The last show we played before it closed in 1999 was dangerously oversold and chaotic, but one of the stand out gigs in our early career.

"Obviously the Glasgow Barrowlands is an iconic and important venue for Idlewild and just about any other Scottish band. The first time you sell out the Barrowlands is a milestone for anyone, particularly if you grew up going to see shows there as I did. It is still always a thrill to play there." [Roddy Woomble, Idlewild]

"Mars Bar, Glasgow. It’s where we went to see bands so to get to play it as one of our first gigs made the whole thing a bit more real... that Altered Images really were a band and not just an idea." [Clare Grogan, Altered Images]

"The Venue in Edinburgh. I went to so many life-changing gigs there in my late teens and then ended up DJing there at Pure every Friday for a decade. It gave me a musical education and also gave me an opportunity that set me off on a course I have followed ever since." [JD Twitch, Optimo]

"Sneaky Pete’s hosted the first Young Fathers Edinburgh show after I took over management of the group. It’s the perfect small venue, a black rectangle of possibilities. At Sneaky’s it’s possible for the sound to envelope you and with no separation between audience and stage the experience is visceral.

"Nick [Stewart, the manager] manages to book acts that are just hitting the buzz as well as DJs more used to larger venues. He’s smart and canny enough to navigate between the rocks of the council and fickle punters to maintain what is now an institution. The door staff are the most laid-back I’ve met in Edinburgh. When YFs played there we cooked up some chicken and rice – there was a competition between all three band members and myself to come up with the tastiest – and the event and the venue blessed the new direction the group were heading in." [Tim London, Young Fathers co-producer]

"The Liquid Room was the most influential for me because it was the first music venue I went to once I moved back to Scotland, and they gave me my first job booking artists 20 years ago or so now. It was such a great starting point for me because it’s an awesome room with first class production so I was able to book artists I loved; the venue made it easy for external promoters to come in too and they all gave me advice and were really supportive.

"So I cut my teeth in a super space and learned so much about touring and artist development. I went to Regular Music from there who are massive promoters and I would never have had the opportunity had The Liquid Room not taken a chance on hiring me so young." [Gráinne Braithwaite, Synergy Concerts]

"I started singing in public in the folk clubs of Ayrshire, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The local club when I was 17 and still attending school was The Eglington Arms on the High Street, Irvine in their upstairs back room [...] There I met with fiddle-playing girl Elenor Shaw and she taught me about all the folk clubs in the area and beyond.

"The ancient Eglington Arms had a very narrow and off-kilter staircase which lead to a very dark room with a small corner stage, tables and chairs would be set out with candles. Me and Elenor would help out the club doing 'floor spots' where you got in free if you played a few songs before the main act. There I saw the band Ossian and others. There was a healthy stream of very funny, older Scottish performers; Hamish Imlach, Titch Frier, Danny Kyle. Hamish became a kind of mentor to me, I’d annoy him with questions on how to calm my stage fright etc. I found a crowd of like-minded musicians and folkies and I learned a lot in that room." [Eddi Reader, Fairground Attraction]

"It was a club called Splash One! that ran from a Nightclub called Daddy Warbuck's in Glasgow from 1985-86. It was run by Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream and seven friends. There was no DJ, instead, there were mixtapes compiled a side at a time by the people who ran the club, and lots of great bands played ranging from The Pastels to Sonic Youth, from Primal Scream to Wire, Felt, The Soup Dragons and many more. BMX Bandits played there twice.

"It was the first time in Glasgow where a club felt like a safe place to meet like-minded outsiders, to exchange enthusiasms and make plans. Before that, in a lot of places feeling different from the majority could feel quite threatening. Bands that didn't follow a strict punk or rock template could often be met with hostility, flying pint glasses and other abuse. At times kicking against that attitude could be stimulating, but it was good to have a sense of belonging and a place where you could grow." [Dugas T. Stewart, BMX Bandits]

"It doesn’t host too many live shows these days, but The Caves – located on Edinburgh’s Cowgate – has always been a venue I’ve enjoyed as a punter, as well as a performer and promoter. Everything about the place is atmospheric and unusual – it genuinely feels exciting to be at a gig there. I’m not a big fan of custom-built, standard venues – I much prefer somewhere that has a bit of character about it, and The Caves has that in bucketloads. From the very first event I put on there, back in the Fence days, the owners have been super-supportive, and encouraging – which is a really important thing. It baffles me why so many other venues treat DIY promoters like dirt." [Johnny Lynch, Pictish Trail & Lost Map Records]

"I feel like Glasgow's so lucky because there's so many different venues, so many different sizes of venues, venues that are accessible to you when you're figuring it out. I like that there's space for alternative music and there's space for touring pop arena shows and things like that. There's a lot of cities which don't really have that. King Tut's is always a goal when you're growing up in a band. You're like, 'one day we'll play at Tut's and that'll be really exciting.' Then after you're like, 'imagine if one day we could play the Barrowlands.' So, when you eventually get to play those venues, it kind of takes the top of your head off." [Lauren Mayberry, CHVRCHES]

"The original 13th Note in Glassford Street, Glasgow, opened by Craig Tannoch who now owns Stereo, Mono, The Old Hairdressers etc. was of huge importance when we got together as a band in 1994. We were going along weekly to hear Radio Scotland presenters Peter Easton, John Cavanagh and Mark Percival DJ, and also watch a load of new bands that were being put on by Alex Kapranos and RM Hubbert at the time.

"There were loads of musicians there, all chatting about up-and-coming albums and tours, and there was a real sense of excitement that there was something to build on. The DIY scene was alive and well, and the idea of starting Chemikal Underground came out of all of that activity as there were so many great bands around." [Emma Pollock, The Delgados & Chemikal Underground]

"King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow. I remember getting a gig there was like the Holy Grail as a busker and wannabe musician in Scotland. It was where Oasis got signed, and everyone who was anyone played a show there. I always dreamed about headlining that venue, and it really meant a lot to me when it happened and I sold it out. It’s a great place to play." [KT Tunstall]

"It'll probably surprise some people but when I was too young to play in most venues, The Green Room in Perth was hugely influential and played a huge role in my development from really shy bedroom songwriter to performing in front of audiences. The venue manager was a guy called Frank and I can't thank him enough for bending the rules a little bit because he believed in my talent and wanted to help me develop. I also love venues like Stereo, where I played my first ever headline show which was really cool, and King Tut's too." [Charlotte Brimner, Be Charlotte]

"Edinburgh’s Playhouse was open to under 18s which meant before I could vote I had already seen an incredible range of acts including U2, Depeche Mode, Kiss, Madness, Gary Numan and Motorhead. However, it was The Venue which played the most significant role in my career. It hosted dozens of amazing shows and clubs, which in turn provided endless inspiration for my early journalism. In 2004, the last occupants were also good enough to put their faith in a new night my friend Brodie and I launched to bring together the local music scene. It was called Born to Be Wide, fourteen years on it's still going strong and has spawned Wide Days and the Off the Record youth events." [Olaf Furniss, Born to Be Wide & Wide Days & Under the Radar]

"Regular Music’s Monday nights at Tiffany’s in St.Stephen Street, Edinburgh were central to my musical ontogeny. A crowd of young punks would convene at The Antiquary pub beforehand and we then went along the road to Tiffany's to offer up our prayers to the great god of punk rock. The Saints, The Jolt, The Adverts, Elvis Costello, Gang of Four, Iggy Pop, The Only Ones, Tom Robinson Band, The Skids and even the last ever gig of Midge Ure’s Slik all remain vivid in my memory – great and happy days." [Ronnie Gurr, Music Industry Manager & Book Publisher & Rip It Up Exhibition Consultant]

"The legendary Glasgow Apollo on Renfield Street, demolished in the 1980s before it fell down of its own accord. My big sister took me there to see The Police in 1979 when I was eight-years-old! The Cramps were supporting. I think I was in shock all evening. After that night I wanted to be a drummer." [Francis Macdonald, Teenage Fanclub]

"To some it may be obvious but there is only one answer here for me and that is King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut! Since starting my career almost 17 years ago, the venue has been a focal point for so many great moments in music that I’ve been so proud to be a part of. From Paolo Nutini, Biffy Clyro and Manic Street Preachers being back in the Hut for our 20th birthday, to the phenomenal Paleo Canteen who are currently causing me to spend all my money on tasty (and healthy) lunches!

"Tut's is at the heart of our business, is constantly evolving and allows for us to build meaningful and lasting relationships with bands – taking them from the grassroots right through to being festival headliners. On a personal note, it’s also an almost extended living room for our DF family on the occasional Friday night! We often find ourselves downstairs for a beer (or two!) during the summer months and when we’re right in the thick of it, knowing that we can pop downstairs together, have a drink and a chat and finish the week on a high is a lovely feeling. Long live King Tut’s!" [Aarti Joshi, DF Concerts]

"The first gig I ever put on was a late night, one microphone affair at The Goulag Beat, a punk clubnight downstairs at the long-gone Ego nightclub. The venue was a sticky mess, chaotic, creaking, and all the better for it. Sometimes disorganisation goes a long way towards creating atmosphere." [Nick Stewart, Sneaky Pete's]

"Probably the Barrowlands. I mean, everybody says that, don't they? That's exactly why it's a special place, though – because people talk about it. You really feel like you've landed when you play there, and that's how Camera Obscura felt when we played there for the first time. It was very much, 'wow, we're a proper band now.'" [Tracyanne Campbell, Camera Obscura]

Click the numbers to continue reading the answers to Questions 2, 3, 4 and 5

Photo credits for lead image: Lauren Mayberry by Eoin Carey; Aidan Moffat by LUCUSj Photography; Johnny Lynch by Beth Chalmers; KT Tunstall by Piper Ferguson; Emma Pollock by Jannica Honey; Nick Stewart by Holly Brown; Tracyanne Campbell by Anna Isola Crolla