Monday 14 April 2014

Ivor Cutler and Aidan Moffat

Review: The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler and Aidan Moffat's "Where You're Meant To Be"

I first started listening to Ivor Cutler's music with my children. The fundraising CD "Colours Are Brighter", aimed at children and adults, had an eclectic selection of artists from Franz Ferdinand to Four Tet and Belle and Sebastian. However the one that got everyone singing along in the car was Ivor Cutler's "Mud". This led us to look up some of his own albums and "Ludo" became a regular for long car journeys. Its surreal, gentle humour appealing to all ages. So when we saw that there was a stage show trying to tell his life story he were keen to get tickets, but with a degree of trepidation as to how they would sum up a man who described himself as "never knowingly understood".
Ludo by Ivor Cutler

However Vanishing Point theatre company and National Theatre of Scotland have co-produced an excellent piece of theatre in The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, currently on at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow before touring. To try to get to know the man behind the person, writer/actor Sandy Grierson interviewed Cutler's partner Phyllis King and recreates these interviews here before the actor literally and metaphorically dons the costume and mannerisms of Cutler. Accompanied by the five onstage musicians they tell the story of his life interspersed with his poetry and interpretations of his songs. It was humorous, and as full of pathos as Cutler's songs and poems. It followed his life from Glasgow childhood, to navigator's training in the air force, art school, life as a teacher, to failing memory in old age. A nice touch was a link to a Spotify playlist of some of the songs which are used in the play, which we listened to in the car on the way to the theatre. This added to my children's enjoyment of the whole show a lot and we've been singing "I Need Nothing, I've Everything I Need." ever since.

Ivor Cutler seated aside yon Paul McCartney fella
There were some really interesting programme notes from Vanishing Point artistic director Matthew Lenton (an Englishman who has moved to Scotland). He wonders whether we still live in a country where ambitious artists like Ivor Cutler have to head south, to London, to follow their dreams. He wonders is "the cultural and political introspection of London" now alienating the rest of the UK? Should Scotland set its own agenda, in the arts, on the NHS, etc? They also have to make it clear that the views expressed are his own and not those of Vanishing Point or National Theatre of Scotland. Theatre seems to be successfully engaging in political issues, whether tangentially as in this case, or more directly (for example in the issue of refugees and asylum seekers in Benjamin Zephaniah's Refugee Boy and David Greig and Cora Bissett's Glasgow Girls, both seen at the Citizens in recent weeks).

Cover art by Aidan Moffat for Malcolm Middleton's HDBA album
(it's not Ludo, it's Frustration)

I think that Aidan Moffat is the nearest thing we have in Scotland today to an "oblique musical philosopher", as Ivor Cutler once described himself. I also hope that we know how to support and nurture our current deadpan poet, musician, artist and storyteller. Any of the tracks on the Scottish Album of the Year award winning album with Bill Wells, "Everything's Getting Older" such as "Dinner Time", could be considered a modern day version of Cutler's "Life in a Scottish Sittingroom".

Aidan Moffat in Tom Weir mode for Where You're Meant To Be

He is currently being employed by us taxpayers as part of the Commonwealth Games 2014 cultural programme, to tour the country re-interpreting Scotland's folk traditions in all their glorious bawdiness. Under the title/command/question, "Where You're Meant To Be" he'll be travelling to the likes of Lewis, the Faslane Peace Camp and Drumnadrochit before finishing off at the Barrowlands in Glasgow. The whole event will be made into a film by Paul Fegan to be shown at the closing of the Games and tickets throughout are free. I was fortunate enough to grab a ticket for the opening night on Monday 14th April, to be serenaded by Aidan and his band on boat down the Clyde, on an unexpectedly balmy Spring evening. Accompanied by James Graham (Twilight Sad), Jenny Reeve (Bdy_Prts) and Stevie Jones (from Alasdair Roberts troupe) who gave us a great wee support set. However the early evening star of the show was the River Clyde. I could not have been happier than to be sailing through Glasgow with clear skies on a beautiful evening with free whisky, and then there was still Aidan Moffat to come!

As we head down the Clyde the sunset is reflected in the Crowne Plaza Hotel
behind the Glenlee ship whilst the full moon rises above the Transport Museum
If Aidan's remit was to modernise some old songs, he has done it with bells on. These old songs are often saucy and daft, but to hear something like the Big Kilmarnock Bunnet redone with a daft laddie from Falkirk set up to meet a lady of the night at Blysthwood Square works a treat (I mentioned this old song recently in a football related jaunt to Kilmarnock). As a Partick Thistle fan I felt a wee bit let down by his re-working of Harry Lauder's "I Love a Lassie" as a different version rings out at Firhill with far worse lyrics than Aidan has conceived to pillory his English father-in-law. However others, such as the Kirriemuir Ball, were just silly, funny and struck the correct chord of modern vernacular, where effin' and blinding are just punctuation marks for most Scots in their normal conversational, away from work voices. Nice to see Cardinal Keith O'Brien up for special mention too in one ditty. Cutler also turned his hand to writing books for children and Mr Moffat for an encore recited from a children's book he has written, to be published soon. As he put it, after all the sex and drinking of the earlier songs, you inevitably end up with children.
Aidan Moffat singing on the boat. It wasn't listing, I was
 At the risk of sounding like a big sook, this was my perfect evening. Free tickets, Scottish nostalgia with a modern, sweary twist, a trip down my favourite river in the world, and me and my brother raising a (free) glass of whisky to the NHS surgeons at the Golden Jubilee Hospital as we passed Clydebank, where a few months ago he underwent exemplary and successful open heart surgery. If you get the chance to catch his show grab it. I don't know when will we see, its like again.
Coming back up river into Glasgow at the end of a great night out.

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Glasgow International 2014, Quick Review

I was looking forward to the return of the Glasgow International festival this year, after it being such an entertaining and engaging event two years ago. Sadly, however, I have found very few of the exhibits in this year's Glasgow International to be particularly relevant, engaging, interesting or thought provoking in any way whatsoever. Many times the idea behind the exhibits are so cryptic and pretentious that the festival guide reads like the Pseuds Corner world cup event qualifying, the navel-gazing round perhaps.

I like a lot of modern art. I particularly enjoy it when it elicits some kind of response, whether it is sadness, disgust, happiness, memories, laughter or even just admiration for the skill or technique on display. Artists should be part of the real world and can engage with events, politics, life, injustices, etc. On spending a couple of days catching up on things at various venues this year the most common emotion it created was disappointment. So much of it seemed cobbled together, cheap, pointless or pretentious. It seemed to be occurring in another reality where there is no national debate on whether Glasgow should be part of a new country, where there is no politics or emotion or engagement. It feels very petty. The real world seems not to have touched many of the things on show, they are happening in a bubble removed from anything I could connect with.

So what did I like?

  • Counterflows is an annual event in Glasgow of experimental and contemporary music. This year it was included under the umbrella of Glasgow International and was a resounding success. (Review here)
"The Colours of the Palestinian Flag" by Khaled Hourani
  • Khaled Hourani is a Palestinian artist who has work on display at the Centre for Contemporary Arts. Some of the work reflects the surreal nature of current events in Palestine with works here commenting on the Palestinian winner of "Arab Idol", donkeys painted as zebras in a Gaza zoo and a photo of a Picasso painting on display in Palestine. I didn't even notice the Picasso at the centre of the photo until I read the title, so distracted was I by the guards in the forefront. Every piece is stimulating, thought provoking and double edged.
Aleksandra Domanovic's work at GOMA
  • Aleksandra Domanovic's work is on show in the main hall at the Gallery of Modern Art. The Berlin based artist has filled the hall with huge celluloid screens with images from sci-fi films, reflecting the inferior roles women are often given in science fiction literature and films. The punchline comes on the last panel where a letter to a woman applying as an artist in the Disney studios is reproduced, showing where a woman's place is in that world. 

  • Reclaimed-The Second Life of Sculpture is an exhibition in the main hall at the Briggait. You could put an ice cream van on display and I would come in to see it as I just enjoy getting into this building where my great-great granny used to have a fish stall. This exhibition displays sculptures held in long term storage and raises questions about fashions in art and when it becomes disposable. Much of the exhibits on at other venues in Glasgow International give weight to the argument that there is plenty of sculpture out there that should have by-passed the galleries and gone straight into storage. A treat for any Glaswegian is seeing the "love it or loathe it" sculpture Spirit of Kentigern that used to sit at the bottom of Buchanan Street on display. I always thought it was meant to be a whale's tail until I read this week that it is actually representing the bird that never flew. Who knew?
  • Bricolage at The Pipe Factory. An interesting collection of stuff in an interesting building.

So what was mildly distracting?

  • At the Modern Institute Tobias Madison, Emanuel Rosseti, Stefan Tcherepnin have changed the frontage to resemble a ghost train, whilst the inside has become a sort of carpetted corridor. Ten out of ten for effort.
  • Gabriel Kuri at The Common Guild has made a colourful and interesting collection of sculptures, which make more sense once you flick through his book whilst going around (this was a recurring problem, exhibitions with no gallery staff helping to explain things or not raising their faces out of their iPhones to engage with you or with no leaflets left). The staff at The Common Guild and Modern Institute were very helpful, chatty and engaging as always.
Henrik Patzke at Project Ability
Work by Gareth Moore at Glasgow Sculpture Studios
  • Canadian sculptor Gareth Moore shows the products of his three month residency at Glasgow Sculpture Studios, drawing from the surroundings with discarded materials from the adjacent Forth and Clyde Canal and clay dug from local claypits.
Le Swimming at Fleming House
  • Also interesting, although maybe a bit unevenly executed, was Le Swimming in the disused underground car park under a shabby modernist building, Fleming House, in the city centre. It was quite witty and made a good point about the lack of such non-commercial amenities in the city centre and the folly of the construction of these buildings 
  • At David Dale Gallery in Bridgeton Claudia Comte has a collection of interesting sculptures, and top marks for venue goes to those behind Baldachini  under one of the arches on Cleland Lane by the Citizens Theatre.

So what was rubbish?

  • Well, following on from the point made about the lack of public amenities in Glasgow city centre I was keen to see inside the old Govanhill Baths, closed several years ago by Glasgow City Council but trying to find a second life as a community resource. It is meant to be home to a collection of inflatables (LOVE) by Anthea Hamilton and Nicholas Byrne but on the two days I tried to go I wasn't allowed in to see the building, because one of the inflatables had a leak. I really feel I could have mustered the imaginative powers to conceive the exhibition in all its glory without the full display but was told I wasn't getting in. Poor show. 
  • Kling Klang, an installation at Queen's Park Train Station was impossible to fathom. Were the two turned off electric guitars meant to be the "open access electronic music studio" promised in the programme?
  • The McLellan Galleries building was more impressive to see then any of the four exhibitions therein. Photocopies of an artist's genitals, video installations akin to many pop videos complete with someone shagging the pavement. I've got a bit tired of exhibitions where the attendants stop you at the door to say " might not want to take your children in there..."
  • Hydrapangea at the Botanic Gardens and Simon Martin at Kelvingrove sounded good on paper, but in reality were unengaging. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and the Botanics were both mobbed during the school holidays when I was in them, but the bland video installations in both were completely ignored by everyone. They were making no connection with their surroundings or the visitors to them who were all walking past. Both exhibitions were overwhelmed by their settings. This seemed particularly ironic in Simon Martin's case as the description claimed he was paying "attention to the relationship between viewer and artefact".
  • Gymnasia was full of ideas that sounded better than its actual execution, as were another pile of exhibitions I could mention, but won't.
  • Welshman Bedwyr Williams and America's Michael Smith have video installations at Tramway, the former in the main hall given a creepy twist with an abandoned coach illuminating the darkened main hall. However both seemed in thrall to TV and not unlike too many well known shows or similar characters I know drawn as roundly in comics I've read. Both were entertaining but there are a lot of videos on show in the festival. These installations come over as cheap and easy enough to dispatch to festivals around the world, but the world watches these things on YouTube, on their phones and tablets these days. It just often feels too disposable.
  • Sometimes getting access to buildings housing the exhibits was more worthwhile than the exhibits they held. SWG3 have a couple of disjointed exhibitions on in the studio spaces in the top floor there. It was nice to get to see the huge space up there but I would have been disappointed if I had climbed the stairs hoping to find a hidden artistic gem. Nowhere was this more apparent than at the new Glasgow Art School building in Garnethill. It was great to see inside the new building and to use Michael Stumpf's exhibition across the road as an excuse to re-visit the Mackintosh Building.
Atelier Public #2 takes over a floor at GoMA
  • Atelier Public #2 at GoMA? Is this really the best use of the space, recreate a children's play area in a shopping mall, but give the public less art materials than you'd get in one of these places.


The Glasgow International 2014 festival seemed incredibly bitty and disjointed. There were too many videos and exhibitions which seemed to lack a curator's touch or any point to them. Some of the favourite things which I saw were not part of the festival, such as the new art school building and Martin Boyce's glasswork in its entrance or Iain Hamilton Finlay's exhibition of prints in the GOMA. These displayed more wit, skill and bite than so much of the stuff that is in the festival. However it is all free, there is tons more that I haven't managed to see yet. I just think it requires more of a guiding hand than it seems to have, or maybe that just costs more money.

Martin Boyce's glasswork in the foyer of the new Reid Building at the Art School 

Monday 7 April 2014

Counterflows Festival 2014, Glasgow

Review of Counterflows Festival, Glasgow, April 2014

The biennial Glasgow International festival started this weekend in the city, a festival of contemporary art. Running alongside it this weekend was Counterflows, a weekend of contemporary and experimental music performances. Lots of copies of The Wire magazine were rolled up into the shoulder bags of chin-stroking, bearded men as they headed out to this over the weekend. In fact, contrary to this stereotype, it was nice to see a good mixture of people in the audience and on stage, with the prominence of women in the forefront of the experimental music scene obvious from the start.

Space Lady at Garnethill
It kicked off on Friday night in the Garnethill Multicultural Centre with The Space Lady. Not someone I'd heard of before but this isn't surprising as she hasn't played in Europe until now, usually being found over the past 30 years busking for hours either in Boston or San Francisco with her Casio organ. I was ready to be a bit cynical by a middle aged woman at a Casio organ wearing a plastic winged helmet with a flashing red light atop it. However within one song I was won over by her gentle singing and mastery of the full range of Casio special effects. A one off, and a good opening act. 48 hours later she'd be playing a set in Queens Park. 

Ai Aso is a Japanese singer and songwriter and purveyor of floaty, folky, psychedelic pop music who I'd been looking forward to seeing after hearing her album 'Lone'. However she was so floaty and quiet at times that we were craning to hear when songs ended, whilst the bar staff risked drowning her out it they opened a beer for anyone. In one song she had men rushing into their shoulder bags for their ear plugs as she whispered alongside raucous guitar feedback. If Death Metal has a polar opposite we were witnessing it.

Maja Borg's visuals accompany Ela Orleans
Ela Orleans is someone I am more familiar with, most recently when she supported Julia Holter in Glasgow. Originally from Poland, the Glasgow based musician, describes her output as "movies for ears". Her recently re-issued album Tumult In The Clouds is worth seeking out (here). Tonight she was playing with Maja Borg, Swedish artist and filmmaker. Ela Orleans created the roundest sound of the first part of the evening, excellent as ever, with visuals provided by Maya Borg, who finished the set off with a spoken word piece over one of her films. 

Akio Onda's set up
Next we trailed across the road to the intriguing venue of the underground car park below Fleming House. This has been commandeered by Glasgow International as an exhibition space, dressed up as a swimming pool. Tonight it was a perfect venue for two Japanese musicians/ sound artists - Aki Onda and Akio Suzuki. Akio Suzuki played field recordings from a train station on a Sony Walkman and manipulated the sound whilst the older of the two (Akio Suzuki) went for a more physical approach, dropping nails into a metal bucket, hammering them into a plank of wood, then playing the percussion instrument he'd created. There were a lot of echoes of Marginal Consort's Glasgow gig from 2008 in the entertaining mix of music and performance which fitted the venue perfectly. 
Aki Onda and Akio Suzuki
Next up was a short stroll around to the CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts) for the next course. Luke Fowler is an artist who works in Glasgow with film and sound and he has worked alongside Richard Youngs when I've seen him before. 
Mika Vainio, Lee Paterson and Luke Fowler
Tonight he was performing with Finnish industrial/ electronic musician Mika Vainio (whose album Fe₃O₄ - Magnetite I picked up once at random as I liked the title) and Lee Patterson, who has a history of amplifying sound from objects as diverse as Epsom salts and burning peanuts. The three silent men hunched over their respective electrical boxes of tricks in the darkened room were quite captivating. Ranging from violent drones to quiet electronic clicks they finished grandly with the highly amplified clicks and pops of a small conflagration Lee Patterson got going on his table. (60 second snippet below).

At a suitably late hour Joe McPhee took centre stage, one of the main attractions of the festival weekend. He was back on stage several times over the weekend, blowing the roof off in the closing concert on Sunday night. 

I didn't manage to take in all of the delights on offer on Saturday 5th April as there was the small matter of me wanting to enjoy the visit of Heart of Midlothian Football Club to Maryhill that afternoon. However I think the shockingly bad performance of Partick Thistle maybe made me less receptive than I might have been to the evening performances at the CCA. The programme was less varied than elsewhere in the festival with four duets all striking a similar tone. 

Sound poetry, sqwaking and screeching has always left me cold, so Cara Tolmie dancing about in the darkened room shouting "Ah, aaah, ooh, ooh, eeh" was never really going to be my thing, entertaining as it was for a few minutes. Paul Abbot's unaccompanied drumming was absolutely riveting. Controlled and aggressive. The latter half of the performance with him lying inside the bass drum reading gibberish whilst Cara dismantled the drum kit felt a bit of an anti-climax. The performance was impressive but the words felt meaningless.

Australian drummer Will Guthrie and Portugal's David Maranha were up next. Their first piece had Maranha playing keyboard as electric guitar complete with lots of feedback, accompanied by crescendo-ing drums. Their second piece had more interesting texture. They were met with polite, rather than uproarious applause.

Ghedalia Tazartes and Maya Dunietz received a warmer reception. Unlike the earlier shouts of Cara Tolmie, their chanting and singing had a much more evocative, captivating feel. Backed by an electronic soundtrack, drones and their own combination of prayer bells, whistles, mouth organs and chimes it brought to mind religious chants and funereal ululations. Maya Dunietz was back on the last night at the Glad Cafe introducing us to the music of Emahoy Maryam Guebrou, an Ethiopian nun, composer and pianist. 

John Butcher on saxophone with Mark Sanders were up last but their piece "Tarab Cuts" felt like a work in progress.
Roedelius and Schneider
Sunday night's finale at the Glad Cafe was a tour de force. Joachim Roedelius and Stefan Schneider performed on acoustic piano, accompanied by various electronic clicks, hisses and manipulation to great effect, the gentle piano playing contrasting sharply with the accompaniment.

Joe McPhee
Joe McPhee, the 75 year old American composer, musician, improviser and free jazz multi-instrumentalist gave a barn-storming performance to bring things to a close. I have never been a great jazz aficionado, working my way through some of the classics and enduring jazz bands in the Three Judges of an occasional Sunday afternoon. However if more jazz sounded like the Joe McPhee trio I'd have been paying it more attention. As well as the man himself out front on saxophone, Steve Noble on drums and John Edwards on double bass brought sounds out of their instruments that I've never heard before. An absolutely mesmerising performance. Next onstage was Swedish saxophonist and improviser Mats Gustaffson playing as a duet with McPhee. His was again a gripping performance, quieter and at times enjoyably odd. His saxophone, come trombone, come swanee whistle was a sight to behold, as was his masterclass in circular breathing. Next up he brought out a large bass saxophone to play against Joe McPhee in the style of a ship's foghorn, before the evening came to a close with a bigger ensemble.

It was a well put together festival of some high quality and diverse musicians. Credit is due to all those who organised it and kept things running smoothly through some busy line-ups. It was also good to see such healthy crowds coming to hear this stuff and maybe promoters should notice that there is a bigger audience out there for this music than they maybe realise.

Sunday 6 April 2014

Glasgow Firefighters' Heritage Trail

Glasgow Firefighters' Heritage Trail

Whilst jogging around Glasgow in recent years I have occasionally noticed in the pavement memorial plaques to firefighters who have lost their lives in the course of their work. This week I finally got around to looking into where this idea came from.

On the 50th anniversary of the tragedy at Cheapside Street in 1960, where 14 firefighters and 5 members of the salvage corps died in a massive explosion at a whisky storage facility, a Firefighters' Heritage Trail was devised. As a major port and industrial centre there have been many tragic fires in the city of Glasgow and memorial plaques have now been placed to commemorate these events, alongside a trail around further sites of special interest in the history of the Glasgow fire service. There is a guide and map available for more information from this website. The guide is also available here as a pdf.

When I applied to go to university, my plan B had always been to apply to the fire brigade if I didn't get in. I was sure that I just about met the height requirement, but in the end I did get into uni, so never had to find out if I was quite the height I thought I was. Fire fighters are respected throughout the world for the dangerous work they do. As some of the stories from the past show, at times they are putting their own lives at risk to save others. It hardly seems right that their starting salary is only £21,000 for this, does it?

I am training just now for a 10 mile race in Edinburgh in April, so looked out some points on the Firefighters' Heritage Trail to devise some longer running routes around Glasgow for myself. Here are a few of the things I came across.


Old Maryhill Fire Station, 1892-1941. Garbraid Avenue
I started off at the old Maryhill fire station as I used to come to the steamie in this building with my mother when I was a child, living about 100 yards up Maryhill Road from here. The only time I had any dealings with the firemen here was when my parents brought us down to hand in food packages when they were on strike. Maryhill Burgh Halls now houses a leisure centre and swimming pool amongst other facilities, but these four sandstone arches show that Maryhill Fire Station once stood here, built in 1892. During restoration of the building, sculptor Andy Scott (creator of The Kelpies at the Falkirk Wheel) was commissioned to design the gates that now stand in the archways which the engines used to drive through. They show firemen with period dress and equipment. Until the 1960s there were three floors of tenement housing above the arches here, where the firemen lived.

North West Fire Station, 1941-1995, Kelbourne Street
Not far from here is the fire station which replaced the old Maryhill station in 1941. Now converted into flats, the North West Fire Station was build during the Second World War and was home to the Glasgow Auxilliary Fire Service, one of the most modern fire stations in the country at the time. During 1994 this station attended 5000 calls. You can still see the five bays for the fire engines. I've visited someone in one of the flats here and was disappointed to find that there was no fiream's pole included. Shame.

New Maryhill Fire Station, Maryhill Road
Next up is the new Maryhill Fire Station, which I pass often on the way to see Partick Thistle play at Firhill Stadium. Their website gives a very workaday description of the local area, not exactly in the same language which estate agents use.
"Housing is mainly private sector, pre war flatted properties up to five storeys in height. The Dowanhill and Hillhead areas have many premises converted to student bedsit accommodation and pose access difficulties to the fire service. There are 44 blocks of residential flats of up to 25 floors. Industry is very sparse and consists of mainly light engineering."
 By contrast, here is a blogpost I wrote previously about Maryhill's past, when it was chock-full of industrial sites.

Memorial at site of ICL/Stockline Plastics factory, Glasgow
The Firefighters' Heritage Trail also describes points of special interest in the history of the fire service in Glasgow. One site nearby is the ICL/Stockline Plastics Factory on Grovepark Street. On May 11, 2004 an explosion in the building caused it to collapse. Many of the workers inside were seriously injured and nine of them lost their lives. 

Memorial plaque on Maryhill Road
The first plaque I came across on this route is the one you may have seen at St Georges Cross if you've headed up to Firhill from the subway station here. There is a short video on the fire at Maryhill Road from the fire service website. In November 1972 a fire, which had been started deliberately in a disused wallpaper shop, spread to the tenement flats above. Over 200 people in the flats were evacuated including 15 rescued by ladders. Sub Officer Adrian McGill succumbed to smoke inhalation after giving his breathing apparatus to a resident trapped in a top floor flat.

City Centre 

Central Fire Station, Cowcaddens
From St Georges Cross I headed under the M8 to Cowcaddens. Built in 1984 Cowcaddens Fire Station is the main station serving the city centre and motorway area now, and includes many modern training facilities. You have to admit though, it's a bit "functional" looking. 

Fire memorial plaque, Renfield Street
The next memorial plaque I came to is at the top of Renfield Street. This commemorates the site of a fire and explosion in 1898 at W&R Hatrick's Chemical Works. The fire started in a basement but had quickly spread throughout the building. Believing the fire was coming under control, some of the firemen had entered the building to continue work on it when a loud explosion caused most of the building to collapse. Four men lost their lives. 

Another plaque lies around the corner from here at the top of Hope Street, outside of the Theatre Royal, but is currently obscured by the building work going on here. In 1969 whilst tackling an extensive and difficult fire in the sub-basement of the STV studios at the Theatre Royal sub-officer Archibald McLay died. See video above for more info.

Citizen Firefighter
Outside of Central Station is a bronze sculpture by Kenny Hunter, "Citizen Firefighter". It is meant as a tribute to firefighters past and present. It became a focus for people paying tribute to the firefighters of New York who lost their lives in the 9/11 attack, 3 months after the statue was unveiled. 

Memorial plaque, Royal Exchange Square
On the south side of Royal Exchange Square, just outside the door of Light nightclub lies a memorial plaque to Fireman John Harrison. In 1856 teams of drummers had to take certain routes past houses in the city where firefighters and volunteers lived, to alert them to a fire requiring their work. Fire pumps were then collected from various sites and hand pushed to the fire. A fire started in the offices of a calico printer and quickly spread. Harrison was a slater to trade, 27 years old and married with two children. He was inside the building when joists collapsed down upon him in the fire. 

Memorial plaque opposite GOMA on Queen Street
Nearby on Queen Street, lies another memorial plaque, opposite the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art. In 1832 a fire had engulfed 24 properties here in Queen's Court when James Bruce and other volunteer firemen were called to the scene by the beating of a drum. He fell from the top of a ladder whilst tackling the blaze, onto a metal fence below. He had a wife and seven children.  

Memorial plaque on Argyle Street at Miller Street
The next memorial plaque that I came to was on Argyle Street at the foot of Miller Street. In July 1921 two firemen died whilst fighting a blaze which had started in Bowman's department store here, a draper's and home furnishings store. Although the fire started whilst the shop was open, the public were evacuated safely and the firemen were killed, according to a contemporary report in the Glasgow Herald, by wreckage from the blaze falling on them whilst they tackled the fire. 

Grafton's store on fire, on Argyle Street, 1947
Just along Argyle Street from here, opposite where Marks and Spencer's is now, there used to stand Grafton's Fashion Store. In 1947 a fire broke out in the crowded shop. Despite the efforts of the fire brigade 13 staff members from the shop died in the fire. They were all women, aged 15 to 23 years old. Two staff members from the shop were awarded the George Medal for heroism for rescuing five women. Shop manager and ex-paratrooper Solomon Winetrobe worked his way along a 5 inch-wide ledge on the top floor and persuaded the women to come along it to George Platt, a clerk, who helped them into a window of the cinema next door.

James Watt Street, site of a fatal fire that claimed the lives of 22 people

Another city centre spot on the Heritage Trial is at James Watt Street, by the Broomielaw. This marks the spot where in 1968 twenty two employees of A J & S Stern's furniture factory died in a fire here when they were trapped behind the barred windows and padlocked emergency exit of the factory. The men and women who died were aged from 17 to 60 years of age. The windows were barred from the days that the building had been previously used as a whisky bond. 93 firemen were in attendance but unable to save them. Only three people managed to escape the building.   

Central Fire Station, 1900-1984, Ingram Street, Glasgow
Central Fire Station on Ingram Street was the second HQ of the Glasgow Fire Brigade, replacing the College Street Station (1851-1900). This was the last Glasgow fire station built to accommodate horse-drawn engines. Winston Churchill visited the firemen here in 1941 after a bombing raid. In recent times it has been occupied by a succession of restaurants, but despite the attractive building, none of them seem to have managed to keep going for very long here.  

Memorial to Glasgow firefighters who perished in the
Cheapside Street fire. Glasgow necropolis
One of the worst tragedies to befall the fire service of Glasgow was on 28th March 1960. The nineteen men of the fire service and Glasgow salvage Corps who died that day are commemorated by a tomb within the Glasgow Necropolis, beside Glasgow Cathedral. Other firefighters who died at their work are remembered on the other side of this stone, including the seven men who died in the Kilbirnie Street fire in 1972. Every year these people are remembered by their colleagues as you can see by the fresh flowers laid here. The Firefighters' Heritage Trail is another way to make sure that the sacrifices made by these people are remembered and that we don't forget the lessons from these tragedies.


Yorkhill Fire Station, Glasgow
Old Partick Fire Station, 1907-1985, Beith Street
Down in Partick another old fire station now converted into a block of flats hides away on Beith Street. Compare this classy building to the picture of the utilitarian modern Yorkhill fire station above it. Partick fire station which opened in 1907 sits about 50 yards away from where Partick Thistle played their matches in their Meadowside ground down by the Clyde until 1908. It was built for horse drawn fire engines, with stabling for 8 horses. In 1941 it suffered a direct hit during a German bombing raid. 

New paint job in the Clyde Tunnel for bikes/ pedestrians (same smell)
From here I like to run through the Clyde Tunnel cycleway, which has been given a fresh lick of paint recently, and head over to Govan. 


Old Govan Fire Station 1898-1987
Old Govan Fire Station, in Orkney Street served communities on the south of the river and in the shipyards for almost 100 years before it was replaced with the new Govan Fire Station opposite here, on Govan Road. The fire station was housed at the rear of this building which, as at the old Maryhill fire station, was also home to the Police and the town hall until the new Govan Town Hall was built in 1899.

New Govan Fire Station, Govan Road
The next memorial stone that I came across was just outside the Glasgow Science Centre, at Prince's Dock. 

Memorial plaque by the
Clydeside near Prince's Dock
This marks the spot where in 1960 a fire broke out upon a German cargo ship called M.V. Pagensand. It was carrying matches, wood pulp and paper which had been smouldering in the hold for two days before it came into port in Glasgow. Overcome by fumes 11 fireman and one docker were hospitalised trying to tackle the fire. Station Officer Douglas Mearns was in charge of the St Mungo fireboat, part of the marine division of the Glasgow fire service at that time in what was one of the world's busiest ports. Despite entering the boat wearing breathing equipment he was quickly overcome by the sulphorous fumes and died. He had a wife and three children. 

Old South Fire Station, 1916-1987, 180 Centre Street, Glasgow
In the middle of all the gap sites of old Tradeston lies the handsome old South Fire Station on Centre Street, the first fire station in the city purpose built to have motorised fire engines. 

Memorial plaque on Kilbirnie Street at the top
of Francis Street under the M74
Nearby lies Kilbirnie Street. The memorial plaque here marks the site of a warehouse fire that claimed the lives of seven firefighters in 1972. When one of their colleagues got trapped inside whilst evacuating the building, six firemen entered the property to try to rescue him. They were overtaken by a massive flashover of extreme heat which killed them all. The bodies of six of the seven men were interred in the Necropolis, alongside the Glasgow firemen who had died 12 years earlier at Cheapside Street. 

Memorial plaque on Cumberland Place
opposite St Francis Chapel
The plaque on Cumberland Place tells a sad story. "Whilst attempting the rescue of four children from a dwelling house fire Station Officer William Clark of the Glasgow fire service and the four children died during the rescue attempt". An overturned paraffin heater started a fire in a council house in Hutchestown, in the Gorbals on the 15th of November 1967. The children were all aged under 6 years of age. Sadly I had a relative that died in a fire involving a paraffin heater too, which shows the way in which fire dangers change with the times I suppose. 

One other plaque on the southside which I didn't manage to visit tells the story of another fatal fire. On the 20th of March 1971 whilst tackling a fire on Deanston Drive in Shawlands, Station Officer James Mathieson, aged 49, was overcome from the strenuous efforts of tackling the fire in a top floor flat here. He had three children, the oldest of whom was to be married the following week. The plaque is located at the corner of Deanston Drive and Strathyre Street.

East End

Heading into the East End, the first point on the Heritage Trail I came to marks the spot where 29 women died when part of the wall of an extension being built on the Templeton Carpet Factory collapsed in high winds on 1st November 1889. 

Collapsed wall at Templeton Carpet Factory 1889
The Eastern and Central Fire Brigades attended the scene to search for survivors, and many women were rescued from the weaving shed on Glasgow Green which had been adjacent to the collapsed wall. The 29 women who died were aged between 14 years and 25 years old. A small memorial garden commemorates their deaths, with a sandstone plaque that was placed here in 1954, at the bottom of Tobago Street at London Road in the Calton. Their names and ages are also now recorded here. (This is often confused with the death of six Calton weavers in 1787 when their strike was violently suppressed by the city fathers, which is commemorated with the nearby Calton weavers' gate and in Calton cemetery).

Calton Weavers memorial garden,
Tobago Street at London Road, Glasgow
 Next up was a short hop to the Gallowgate at Graham Square where a plaque outside the Drover pub commemorates the fire in 1927. 
Memorial plaque at Graham Square
The old building facades have been preserved here with modern homes behind them, a shadow of the former grandeur of this part of town. On Christmas Eve 1927 the firemen were called away from festive celebrations with their families to attend a warehouse fire at Graham Square, which formed one entrance into the old cattle market. Four of the firemen died whilst tackling the blaze, made more tragic by the timing of it at Christmas.

Calton fire station, with the Barrowlands just behind
Hunter Street has the new Calton fire station at the bottom end of it, between the Barrowlands ballroom and Morrisons. The top end is now all gap sites, but was once the home of a large railway complex.

Memorial plaque, Hunter Street, Glasgow
The North British Railway Company had their "mineral terminus" at this end of Hunter Street and the central fire brigade were called from Ingram Street to a fire at the oil gas producing works here in November 1904. Fireman William Rae, who was a joiner to trade, died from his injuries when a boiler exploded in the fire. He had a wife, and four children all aged under 10 years old. 

Watson Street, Glasgow
 One other disastrous fire recorded in the Heritage Trail occurred in a lodging house in Watson Street, Glasgow in 1905. Less than a mile from where the notorious Bellgrove Hotel stands now, Watson Street was once home to several lodging houses, including two owned by William Nicol, a member of the Town Council. 200 of the city's poorest working men lived at one of these houses at 39 Watson Street, crammed into wooden cubicles. Despite the efforts of the fire brigade an inferno swept through the building and 39 men perished. This contemporary news report gives a harrowing account of the events.

Cheapside Street fire memorial, beside the Kingston Bridge, Glasgow
The Firefighters' Memorial Trail around Glasgow is a good way to remember those who lost their lives helping others. It also reflects the history of Glasgow, when its rising industries, chemical plants, warehouses and docks earned it the nickname "Tinderbox City" for a while. The trail was put in place to commemorate those who lost their lives at the fire at Cheapside Street, so that is where I will end. Cheapside Street is now an empty street parallel to the Kingston Bridge. In 1960 it was home to a whisky storage warehouse that contained over a million gallons of rum and whisky. Whilst tackling a serious fire here on the evening of 28th March 1960 a sudden explosion within the building blew out the walls and falling masonry resulted in the deaths of 19 firefighters and members of the salvage corps, Britain's worst ever peacetime disaster for the fire service. A ten minute video here marks the events that night. Every single appliance in the city was called to fight the fire, including the fireboat on the Clyde as it spread to a neighbouring tobacco warehouse, ice cream factory and the Harland and Wolff engine works in the narrow streets nearby. 

Memorial plaque to those who lost their lives in the Cheapside Street fire

The Heritage Trail is a useful way to hear about the stories of the important people and incidents in the firefighting history of Glasgow. I hope that I've encouraged you to have a look at their website and visit some of these sites.