Sunday 25 June 2017

The Submarine Time Machine.

Theatre review - National Theatre of Scotland - The Submarine Time Machine

June 2017 - National Theatre of Scotland Production on the Forth and Clyde Canal, Glasgow

Since in was established in 2006, the National Theatre of Scotland has made a virtue out of being a theatre company not based in any theatre. This has led to a variety of imaginative and site-specific productions, and ensures that they endeavour to entertain all of the nation. "Theatre without walls" as they at times describe it. 

After a decade of renting storage and administrative space, National Theatre of Scotland has recently opened their new headquarters at Rockvilla, on the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal. (For more on the area see this blogpost on Possilpark, Lambhill, Cadder and Ruchill). With Glasgow Sculpture Studios in the nearby Whisky Bond building, and Scottish Opera and the Royal Conservatoire having premises nearby, this former industrial area is being actively rebuilt as a cultural hub. 

Submarine Time Machine production
To mark the occasion they produced a weekend of performances along and on the canal, riffing on the history (real and imagined) of the area. Under the banner "Submarine Time Machine" a promenade along the canal banks from Firhill Basin to Speirs Wharf could take in twelve to thirteen 10 minute acts, starting or ending with the aforementioned submarine. This follows the curious tale of a mini-submarine that passed through Maryhill in 1952, travelling along the canal to Rosyth to be de-commissioned. For the purposes of the entertainment a barge had been lovingly rigged up as the submarine, and could take the audience on a short, imagined trip. 

A mini-submarine in 1952, passing through Maryhill on the Forth and Clyde Canal
The Submarine Time Machine at the Whisky Bond building 2017
I meandered between the various performers with my daughter and could dip in and out as we fancied, others came along with their dogs, in groups or alone. Usually performed in rhyming couplets some acts were more successful than others, but were always engaging and imaginative. 

We had a choir accompanying a sad story of a deer trapped upon the frozen canal, a solo performer (who was my daughter's favourite) telling us about a fairy who had lost her wings, and at Firhill stadium a video of a promising young troup of young artisans re-enacting Partick Thistle's famous victory over Celtic in the 1971 League Cup Final. In Firhill, the pie stand was open for snacks, and you could either watch a video of the re-enactment, or you could sit in the empty stands and listen to the commentary of it all. I was in attendance at the match when the theatre company filmed it at half-time. They were unfortunate that Partick Thistle were 5-0 down in an end of season game against Celtic at the point the fan-actors emerged from the tunnel. On another day, with a different score unfolding, the crowd would maybe have been in a more light-hearted mood and entered into the spirit of it a bit more enthusiastically. Seeing it as part of this production though, I have to say I was impressed with how they managed to pull it all together. 

Firhill Stadium, one of the canal-side venues used

Further along, those performing the piece about the boy who pulled the plug out of the canal deserve special mention for their energetic efforts. The other piece I liked was the story of the Incredible Glesga Doo, alongside the pigeon loft near Firhill. 

The boy who pulled the plug out 
Pigeon play
When I lived in Maryhill I looked down onto the canal from my bedroom window, and I could watch people crossing the bridge over it late at night on unsteady legs. In those days, before it was cleaned out and made navigable again, it was full of discarded washing machines and cars. This weekend it was filled with tall tales, dance, songs, performance, wartime reminiscence and a general farrago of nonsense which made for a very enjoyable two hours spent walking along the canal. 

If you want to come back to see yet more dramatic performances along the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal remember that you don't need to wait for National Theatre of Scotland to organise it. The football season starts on the 5th of August. 

Star Trek-like uniforms for future visitors
The next performance of "Partick Thistle 4 Celtic 1"? Well, Celtic visit Firhill on 12th August 2017, come along and see what happens. Under-16s go free, entertainment often available.
Partick Thistle 4 Celtic 1. Next performance?

Tony Allen - "Tribute To Art Blakey"

Review - Tony Allen - "Tribute To Art Blakey". Old Fruitmatrket. Glasgow Jazz Festival, June 2017

Tony Allen  and band, at Glasgow Jazz Festival 2017
Tony Allen's recently released first record for the Blue Note label looks back at the work of Art Blakey, with a four track EP. He expands this in a live performance at the Glasgow Jazz Festival 2017 at the Old Fruitmarket. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Tony Allen's drumming style mixed West African rhythms with jazz music, from the likes of Art Blakey and Max Roach, to create his own unique style and sound that drove forwards the music of Fela Kuti and others to create "Afro-beat". Since then he has been sought out for collaborations by many different musicians. I saw him perform with Keiran Hebden (Four Tet) at the Tramway in a eye-opening collision of improvisation and electronic squeaks and squwaks. He played a couple of albums with Damon Albarn (as The Good, The Bad and the Queen) and performed drums of one of my favourite ever songs "5:55" by Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow
Tonight's performance with a jazz quartet is therefore, in some respects, a step back to his roots, to his own influences and teachers. Art Blakey was born in 1919 in Pittsburgh. He played drums with the likes of Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker before forming "Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers". In 1947 Art Blakey traveled to Africa and stayed there for 2 years. The influences he took away in his drumming, then came back to African music through Tony Allen.

The Old Fruitmarket looked pretty full as the four musicians came on stage. With a dread-locked Jean-Phillipe Dary at the grand piano and keyboards on his right, and on his left Matthias Allamane on double bass, Tony Allen sat centre stage behind his drum kit, directing proceedings. With a nod here and a raised eyebrow there from behind his sunglasses, he would set off the saxophone or bass on a solo, before bringing it all back together with a rap on the drums.

There was never any showboating or tedious noodling, but some classy playing from some classy musicians with the drums driving it all forwards. There were smiles on the faces of the musicians, clearly enjoying what they were creating, and certainly I sat with a wide grin on my face all night. The drums sounded like there was more than one percussionist on stage at times, the polyrhythms pressing onward. A lovely night of beautiful music, and a fantastic ensemble, led from behind the drum kit.

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Sporting Statues of Glasgow and the West of Scotland

Sporting Statues of Glasgow and the West of Scotland

I am a big fan of public art and I've written previously about the murals displayed on the walls of many Glasgow buildings and Partick Thistle giving away objects created by contemporary artists last season.

I would argue though, that sport and sports venues are now providing sculptors with their most reliable source of employment. Although it can be easy to sneer at many of these as dead-eyed simulacra, I have a bit of a soft spot for them. A 2014 study found that in Scotland, it was Glasgow which had the highest density of sports-related statues. I tried to have a quick look around all the sporting statues that I could think of in Glasgow and nearby towns, and have listed them below, but first a few quick thoughts on the whole notion of sporting effigies.

Some of the statues outside Celtic Park, Glasgow
Public art has been with us since the first caveman decided to celebrate catching a mammoth by daubing its image on the walls of his house. Early art works for public consumption could be regarded as PR exercises. Whether you are a Roman emperor showing the public your square jaw, chiseled in marble, or the church, the Kings and the Queens of yore able to pay the top artists of the day to reveal to the world all of your glory.

Royal art, for art's sake
Statuary of the rich and famous adorned many Victorian streets, including Glasgow's George Square. But by then, standing alongside royalty and the landed gentry you had other heroes of the age. In George Square we have Queen Victoria, but also Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott, inventor and engineer James Watt and chemist Thomas Graham. Glasgow has very few sculptures of real women (Queen Victoria, Lady Elder in Govan and Dolores Ibarurri/ La Pasionaria is it). There is currently a campaign to add to that number by funding a statue of Scottish political activist Mary Barbour. However since the last of Glasgow's female statues was erected in 1977, by comparison, there have been five football related statues of men put up in the city.

My holiday snaps of Ken Dodd in Liverpool...
...and Tommy Cooper in Caerphilly
Our modern day heroes being set in stone (or cast in bronze) are more likely to be entertainers and sportsmen (sorry, there are far fewer statues of sportswomen being built). Famous sons of Morecambe (Eric Morecambe), Liverpool (John Lennon, Ken Dodd) and Caerphilly (Tommy Cooper) are now becoming visitor attractions. In particular, creating sporting statues seems to be a growth industry, and on the whole, it is football leading the charge. 

Scotland's greatest footballing work of art - Kingsley,
the Partick Thistle mascot designed by artist David Shrigley

Sporting statues - the good, the bad and the ugly.

Many sporting statues seem to be not dissimilar in their general appearance. They are most commonly bronze, life-sized, and life-like in appearance. Intentionally expressionist or abstract renditions are rare. Unimaginative, safe, bronze zombies are common.

The commonest option appears to be immortalising the sporting hero in a formal pose, usually standing with a bit of sports equipment handy to give you a clue to who it is. Alternatively they can be rendered in an action shot - running, jumping or sliding. If poorly executed however, this runs the risk of making someone remembered for being fluid, fast and elegant, instead look accidentally leaden and heavy. Thirdly, a famous image can be recreated in statue form - holding a trophy aloft, aping a famous celebration or a classic photographic image.

Many sporting statues are famous for bearing no resemblance to the intended subject; for being weird, for looking more like the bust at the end of that Lionel Richie video than the intended sporting hero. The recently unveiled bronze bust of Ronaldo at Madeira airport maybe wasn't what they had envisaged when they ordered it, but I'm sure that their airport is now better known throughout the world than it ever was before.

Christiano Ronaldo at Madeira Airport. So bad it's good.
You do not get any weirder in the world of sporting statues than Mohamed Al-Fayed's decision to put a statue of Michael Jackson outside Craven Cottage. Once Al-Fayed lost control of the club it was removed from there and transferred to the National Football Museum in Manchester, a move Al-Fayed blamed for Fulham's subsequent relegation.

Michael Jackson statue at Craven Cottage
One statue that managed to stumble into all the available pitfalls in undertaking such an enterprise was Southampton Football Club's attempts to render former player, manager and director Ted Bates in bronze. The first effort was so embarrassingly bad that it was rapidly removed, and at great expense replaced with a less imaginative version.

Ted Bates version 1.0 and version 2.0
Some statues can be divisive. On attending a game in Sunderland a couple of years ago I came across the exuberant statue of Bob Stokoe outside the ground. He was the Sunderland manager who in 1973 led the club to their fist FA Cup victory in 46 years, the first time a second division team had won the trophy. His spontaneous run down the pitch, in trilby and mac, is captured in this statue outside the Stadium of Light in Sunderland. Some people are not keen on it, but it made me raise a smile when I saw it, and I think it is great.

Bob Stokoe statue outside Sunderland's stadium
Whilst Bob Stokoe looks full of energy the statue below, which I came across outside Twickenham rugby stadium in London I found just odd looking. Nine metres high and costing £455,000 to complete it shows a rugby line-out in full flow. It may well be an accurate representation of a moment in the heat of a match, but static, frozen, stationary, with best will in the world I could only see that the guy at the bottom was parting his colleague's buttock cheeks to look for his lost keys or something.

The point that I am clumsily trying to make is that a statue that makes a connection with you does not need to be the greatest work of art in the world, and if it is alien to you (like me and rugby), you just might not get it.

Rugby line-out statue at Twickenham Stadium, London

Sport statues in Glasgow and the West of Scotland - Football

When it comes to representations of real sports stars, it is the Old Firm that lead the way in the west of Scotland, and in particular Celtic FC. They have now redesigned the approach to Celtic Park from London Road, creating a path where fans can pay to have their name on a paving stone, alongside statues of several of the clubs heroes. The latest addition to their collection of statues is Billy McNeill. 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of McNeill captaining Celtic to European Cup victory in 1967, and there he is, looking down London Road with the cup held aloft.

Billy McNeill statue at Celtic Park
Nearby stand three other prominent figures in Celtic's history (or one sits and two stand, to be completely accurate). Sculptor John McKenna, who created the Billy McNeil statue, is also the man responsible for the statue of Jock Stein up near the main entrance to Celtic Park, again holding the European Cup. John McKenna also created the bagpipe carrying statue of AC/DC's Bon Scott, which now stands in Kirriemuir.

To confirm a slight "Lisbon Lions" tendency among Celtic statues, standing on Jock Stein's left is Jimmy Johnstone who played in the 1967 final. The Jimmy Johnstone statue has been here three years longer than his manager, being completed in 2008. It was created by Kate Robinson. She is also responsible for the statue of two figures which overlooks the M8 motorway in North Lanarkshire - Woman Man Sun Moon and for another statue here at Celtic Park. In 2005 she completed Celtic's first statue, the seated figure of "Brother Walfrid". Brother Walfrid was the Marist priest who founded Celtic Football Club. Originally from Ireland, but working in the 1880s at the Sacred Heart School in Glasgow, he proposed setting up a football club in order to raise money for the impoverished residents of the east end of Glasgow. In the overcrowded housing of the area many lacked food and employment, both the longstanding residents of the area and the new immigrants from Ireland, who also had to deal with discrimination. The new club played its first game in 1888, funnily enough, against Rangers.

Statues of Brother Walfrid, Jock Stein and Jimmy Johnstone outside Celtic Park
Jimmy Johnstone has previously been voted as Celtic's most popular ever player, and that maybe explains why there is another statue of him nearby. Six or seven miles east of Celtic Park, in his home village of Viewpark, Uddingston, Jimmy Johnstone stands with fist raised aloft. This is another John McKenna statue and it is clear that neither sculptor depicting him could represent someone known as "Jinky" in a stationary pose, as both statues try to get a bit of his movement into them.

Jimmy Johnstone statue, Viewpark, Uddingston
Just five miles away from Jimmy Johnstone's plinth in Uddingston, in the grounds of Hamilton Palace Sports Ground stands Davie Cooper. Born in Hamilton, Davie Cooper started his playing career at Clydebank, but found fame as a winger with Rangers FC in the 1980s. In 1995 he died suddenly from a brain haemorrhage at the age of 39. I have to say I don't think the statue really does him justice. Although the face is a good likeness, the proportions look a wee bit off. At least he is staring out over the football pitches at the nearby sports centre, ready to lay on a pass. The sculptor for this one, Kenny MacKay, has several other familiar sculptures that you might know. These include Donald Dewar at the top of Buchanan Street, the golden "Light and Life" figure atop the old Co-op warehouse beside the Kingston Bridge, and he moulded the leafy metalwork on the outside of Princes Square (designed by Timorous Beasties). 

Davie Cooper in Hamilton
The former Rangers captain John Greig is the other Rangers player who has a sculpture in the west of Scotland, although his is a far more sombre affair. Unveiled in 2001 as a memorial to the Ibrox disaster of 1971, he is depicted in a contemplative stance, with his left hand holding a football against his hip, and his head turned towards the direction of the entrance where many spectators died. A crush on the stairs here in the final minutes of a Rangers v Celtic match on January 2nd 1971 led to 66 people losing their lives, the youngest aged 9 years old, and 145 people being seriously injured. My uncle Ronnie and my uncle John were at the game together, each supporting different teams. They had left the match a few minutes before the end, and unaware of the later events they had headed off for a drink after the game. In the days before mobile phones let you track people down, their respective families were going crazy with worry until they rolled in later that night, oblivious to the disaster that had occurred at the match. Many other families did not have a similarly happy ending that night. Plaques on the plinth of the statue also commemorate those who lost their life in two other episodes at the stadium. Two people died on the same stairwell in 1961, and much earlier, twenty-five fans died during a Scotland v England game in 1902.

John Greig statue at Ibrox, commemorating the Ibrox disaster of 1971
Created by Andy Scott, it is a properly iconic statue. As a sculptor he has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to create great public art. Among his other popular works are the Heavy Horse beside the M8 near Easterhouse, and the fantastic Kelpies in Falkirk.

Despite Glasgow being the home of the Scotland national team, Partick Thistle, and Queens Park, that is it as far as footballing statues go in the city. Across Scotland there are a few other notable statues of footballers, such as a statue of Denis Law in Aberdeen and of a young, slim Jim Baxter in his home village of Hill O' Beath in Fife. Another destination oft visited by footballing tourists, particularly from Liverpool, is the village of Glenbuck in East Ayrshire, where a plaque marks it as the village that Bill Shankley came from.

Sport statues in Glasgow and the West of Scotland - Other Sports

There are not that many other commemorations of real athletes in this part of the world. Around Scotland we have boxer Dick McTaggart's statue in Dundee and racing driver Jim Clark in Kilmany, Fife. Golfers are represented by Ben Sayers in North Berwick, James Braid in Dalmahoy and Old Tom Morris at the Golf Museum in St Andrews. Runner Eric Liddell can be found in Edinburgh Old College and Hawick has motor cyclist Steve Hislop. However I was struggling to come up with many more in the west of Scotland, so I have been a bit loose with the definition of a sporty statue from hereon.

Clyde, the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games mascot, in Partick library
The Commonwealth Games of 2014 which took place in Glasgow included a varied arts program alongside the sport. Much of it feels a wee bit temporary now, a couple of years after the event. Across the city numerous versions of the games' mascot "Clyde" were placed during the games, all differently decorated by Glasgow schoolchildren. Twenty-two of these have now been re-located to various council premises across the city. You may have one at your local library or swimming baths.

"Big G" Commonwealth Games logo
The logo of the games, a "Big G" structure that stood in George Square, can now be found in Glasgow Green. It is very much just a marketing logo. I am not sure it really holds a warm place in many people's hearts and I don't think it will age well.

Rugby player outside Govan fire station
Glasgow's eleven fire stations had sculptures erected in their grounds before the Commonwealth Games, representing the various sports in the games. These were built by prisoners in HMP Barlinnie and are still on display around the city.

Hockey player at Calton fire station
Pondering other sports that might be commemorated with a statue I could not think of any horse racing or greyhound statues in the city. There are a few notable equestrian statues in the city that it may be worth mentioning however. The horseback Duke of Wellington statue on Royal Exchange Square, permanently topped off with a traffic cone, has become almost a symbol of the city. Two other slightly odd horsey statues are worth mentioning.

Buffalo Bill statue in Dennistoun
For four months in late 1891 "Buffalo Bill" Cody ran his Wild West show, featuring Annie Oakley and many more, at the East End Exhibition Centre on Whitehill Street in Dennistoun, off of Duke Street. This statue was put up in 2006 by the housing developer that built the nearby flats that year.  
Lobey Dosser statue on Woodlands Road
After several months of repairs (the statue gets repeatedly bent by people riding on it) the world's only two-legged equestrian statue is back in place on Woodlands Road, opposite West On The Corner, the former Halt Bar. Lobey Dosser, the sheriff of Calton Creek, was a character from Bud Neil's strip cartoon in the Evening Times newspaper from 1949 to 1956. Erected in 1992 by public subscription, the statue was created by Tony Morrow and Nick Gillon. Tony Morrow is also responsible for Dundee's statues of Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx

Running Clock by George Wylie
What about athletics? Definitely a sport which appears to be underrepresented in statue form. One bizarre statue which Glasgow used to house, beside Scotstoun Swimming Pool, was of tracksuit wearing marathon runner and all-round weirdo Jimmy Savile. When his activities came under investigation by the police, his statue was discreetly vanished.

Although not the complete athlete, George Wylie's "Running Clock" statue outside Buchanan Bus Station is worth a mention, as running for a bus is probably the peak of physical activity that many of us do. It is rare in recent years that the council have managed to get the four clocks at the top of it telling the same time, but when I photographed it today, they were all actually telling the correct time too (plus five minutes to make you catch your bus). Another running man nearby stands outside what is now called Buchanan House. Some offices of Transport Scotland are housed here in what was built in the 1960s as new headquarters for British Rail in Glasgow. British Rail commissioned the sculpture to symbolise the "power and virility" of rail travel(?). At the time of its unveiling, journalists used this daft premise to ask, if that was the case why the sculpture was not anatomically correct, genitals having been omitted. Called "Locomotion" the sculptor was Frank Cossell.
"Locomotion" statue in front of Buchanan House
There is one more athletic sculpture I came across which once stood hereabouts, on the roof canopy of Bishopbriggs Sports Centre apparently. This picture below is a photo belonging to Hugh Barrow, one time runner and rugby player, taken from "The Sporting Statues Project" website. They report that the statue was atop Bishopbriggs Sports Centre from 1973 to 1995, and is in storage now. Three statues of "The Runner" were made in 1933, cast from a new aluminium alloy called Sindal. Originally modeled on Clydesdale Harrier athlete Bobby Gray, it was made by John Longden, a Baillie in Clydebank, who worked at Tullis's Kilbowie Ironworks. Apparently a plaster version of the statue stood in Clydebank Library for decades, but no longer. I am intrigued by him apparently being painted in Partick Thistle colours, but I am guessing that the red and yellow is in fact meant to be West of Scotland Football Club's rugby colours. Does anyone remember this statue? Where is he now?

Although football casts a long shadow, there are many other sports played in Glasgow. I have written about being a spectator at some of these previously, but speedway, ice hockey, rugby and basketball have yet to throw up a character sufficiently prominent in the public consciousness to merit a statue.

One sport however in which Glasgow has managed to produce champions that could take on anyone in the world is boxing. However there are not yet any sculptural reminders of these wee men on the city streets. A quick search of the internet finds that in boxing there have been 12 Welsh world champions and in Wales there are four statues of boxers. England has had 70 world champions, and has six statues of boxers, with one of Henry Cooper also on the way. Northern Ireland has had 8 world champions, and has four boxing statues.

Depending on who you count, Scotland has had between 13 and 18 world champions and has only two statues. It was briefly mentioned above that Olympic and amateur champion Dick McTaggart has a statue in Dundee. The other Scottish boxing statue that I could find commemorates the life of Newmains boxer, James Murray. The Scottish bantamweight champion died from a bleed to the brain after his last fight in 1995, aged just 25 years. Alison Bell is the sculptor who created this statue of him that stands in the centre of Newmains in North Lanarkshire, gloves raised and wearing his champions belt. A reminder of the risks boxers take every time they go into the ring.

James Murray, boxer from Newmains

Any more statues on the way?

In the past week I have had news on my Twitter timeline about fundraising schemes to build statues in Glasgow for comedian Billy Connolly, campaigner Mary Barbour, and in his hometown of Saltcoats, "Lisbon Lion" Bobby Lennox. This latter one has John McKenna penciled in to create the statue, as he slowly works his way through the whole 1967 Celtic squad.

Benny Lynch training for a fight, photo possibly taken at Firhill Stadium
One campaign that I think has a lot of merit, and already has some momentum behind it, is the push to remember boxer Benny Lynch with a statue. Like many of the sportsmen named above, Benny Lynch grew up in a poor neighbourhood, in his case the Gorbals in Glasgow, and his boxing ability was what lifted him to become champion of the world. Thousands of people came to greet him at Glasgow's Central Station when he returned home as champion, and carried him shoulder high. I hope that either in the station, or near his Gorbals origin, we soon see a statue to Scotland's finest boxing champion. You can find out more about the campaign here, including how to contribute.

If anyone can think of any other sporting statues near Glasgow that I have omitted, or any glaring factual errors in what I have written above, please let me know in the comments below.
For more info on much of this see The Sporting Statues Project.

Saturday 10 June 2017

Kraftwerk 3-D, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Live review

Performance Art

Kraftwerk 3-D, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Concert review. June 2017

Electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk released their album, Autobahn, over 4 decades ago now in 1974. Several more albums of repetitive rhythms, vocoder voices, synthesisers and drum machines that gave them their distinctive "robot pop" sound followed until 2003, when they released their final album, Tour de France Soundtracks. This year Stage 1 of the Tour de France cycle race, a time trial, will pass the old Kling-Klang studio in Dusseldorf where the cycling enthusiasts of Kraftwerk recorded their most famous music. Although no longer performing as the classic Kraftwerk line-up, most of the current band have been performing together for over twenty years now, with Falk Grieffenhagen the newest member. 

Usually performing as a uniformly clad, austere foursome, their appearance has always been as distinctive as their sound, with shop mannequins, robots and large projections being recurrent elements of their performances. Rarely giving interviews and performing with earnest personas, their aloofness has stood them in good stead, and matches the industrial, cold themes of a lot of their songs. Their influence on everything from hip hop to Coldplay (Computerlove is the basis of their song Talk). Since 2008, only Ralph Hütter of the original line up still drives the Kraftwerk brand onwards around the globe. They have remixed the back-catalogue and repackaged their look to tour over the past couple of years as a 3-D audio-visual extravaganza. 

One question that I had coming to their show tonight (I am struggling to call it a concert) was how much do they bring to the performance? How much do they add standing, staring at lecterns whilst electronic music and projected visuals bring the entertainment? The answer was a resounding "loads!".

The Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow is a comfortable, seated space, more used to hosting classical concerts, but I have seen great shows here from musicians as diverse as Billy Bragg and Mogwai. On the way in we are all given our 3D glasses to enjoy the show's visuals, a wee problem for me and my bespectacled brother, particularly for him as he has poor 3D vision due to an eye problem. Due to our original seats being so far round to the side that the stage as it has been set up would have been unseen by us, we were moved to seats in the third row of the stalls, which was a wee, pleasant start to the night.

Kraftwerk 3D specs
The curtain pulls back to reveal the four performers at their pedestals, heads down, earnestly noodling away all night. Only as they walk off one at a time after a brief solo, does it become apparent what each musician is contributing to the mix. For about 90 minutes we are bombarded with a string of all their well known material, complimented by a dazzling variety of visuals on the screen behind them. Compuerlove (1981) predicts the world of Tinder and on line dating, other songs again play with ideas ahead of their time, with sounds nobody else was creating. The sincere way in which it is all performed creates a visual atmosphere of being in a modern art gallery at an exhibition. Their tight fitting bodysuits, with wire-frame model highlights look like we have entered a real life version of the 1982 film Tron

Kraftwerk on stage 2017
It is hard to pick out highlights in the setlist as so many fabulous tunes wash over us; Neon Lights, The Man-Machine, Spacelab (complete with a 3d spaceship which seemed to crash into the guy in front of me in my mind's eye before it is shown on screen flying over the River Clyde and landing outside the concert hall), Trans-Europe Express

The Robots, Kraftwerk
The first encore finds the stage taken over by the red-shirted robots, spooky and bonkers, like a mad 1970s episode of Doctor Who. 

Geiger Counter/ Radioactivity, in Partick Thistle colours
The mask doesn't slip, they play it straight right to the end, and leave the stage to thunderous applause to the fading sounds of Musique Non Stop. A fantastical and unique show. Not just four old blokes staring at computers after all, but a good old fashioned son et lumière, performed by Constructivists with some banging tunes.

Thursday 8 June 2017

Partick Duck Club

Partick Duck Club, old and new.

Partick Duck Club, Hyndland Street, Glasgow
Once it was The Hyndland Bar. Then it was Brian's Bar. An imaginative re-brand gave us a decade of Cafe Rio, with its 1950s diner vibe and jazz, poetry readings and open mic nights. All that changed a few weeks ago. With classy new decor insight and a shocking blue coat of paint outside, the Partick Duck Club arrived in this part of Partick, the corner of Fordyce Street and Hyndland Street. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner they are aiming at the bistro feel that has been successful further up the street at Cafezique. I enjoyed a tasty lunch in here last week (I ordered their duck dish of course) and wish them success in their venture.

The Partick Duck Club name rang a bell for me. I had read about the original "Partick Duck Club" before. On an afternoon randomly browsing books in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow I came across the intriguingly titled "Glasgow and its Clubs; Or Glimpses of Conditions, Manners, Characters and Oddities of the City" by John Strang, published in 1855. The complete book is available in various places online now, a gossipy and snooty account of the various city worthies and their pastimes, some chapters of which appeared in The Spectator in the 1850s. Alongside tales of the Hodge Podge Club, Waterloo Club, Sma' Weft Club and the Face Club is a chapter on "Partick and its Gastronomes - Duck Club". As the name has been resurrected I have reproduced the chapter from this book on the original Partick Duck Club.

The Bunhouse, Partick, 1827
Formed in 1810, the Duck Club of Partick was a social club made up of merchants, bankers, shopkeepers and professors. They would meet up on a Saturday and walk out from Glasgow to the leafy village of Partick, on the banks of the River Kelvin. The picture above (from 1827) shows the tavern in which they would gather, the "Bun and Yill House", also know as the Bunhouse. This stood on Old Dumbarton Road near to the river. Yill is an old Scots word for ale. The Regent Flour Mill stood near to the Bunhouse inn and tavern, and was usually known as the Bunhouse Mill because of this. All that carries the name now down in that part of Partick is Bunhouse Road, which runs alongside the Kelvin Hall, connecting to Old Dumbarton Road.

The members of the club would come out here to drink the locally brewed ale or a glass of cold punch and enjoy green peas with roasted duck; ducks made abundant and healthy from feeding at all the local grain mills down by the river here. It was a Partick which still had the ruins standing of the second Partick Castle (recent archaeology has confirmed the existence of an earlier castle than the one Mr Strang describes - I have written about it here). 

John Strang's account of the club, in its heyday from 1810 to 1830, was written in 1855 at a time of great change, from a rural village to an industrial town, ready to be swallowed up by Glasgow growing out towards it (I have previously looked back at Partick's growth here). He writes of there being only one notable tavern in the village at that time, whereas in his day Partick "has now many more public-houses than even the greatest enemy to the Maine Liquor Law could well justify." Maps a further 30 years after show a Partick in 1884 with many more tenement blocks, many more pubs, and no licensed premise on Old Dumbarton Road.

1884 map of Partick with pubs and premises licensed to sell alcohol highlighted

Below is the account of the Partick Duck Club, from his 1855 book "Glasgow and its Clubs; Or Glimpses of Conditions, Manners, Characters and Oddities of the City".

Partick and its Gastronomes


"Among the many rural villages which at one time surrounded Glasgow, perhaps none surpassed Partick in beauty and interest. Situated on the banks of a limpid and gurgling stream, which flowed through its centre; and beautified, as it was of yore, with many fine and umbrageous trees; and above all, ornamented with an old hoary castle, with whose history many true and many more fabulous tales were associated; and when to these were added its dozen or two of comfortable and clean cottages, and its picturesquely-planted mills, historically linked with the generous gift of the successful opponent of the lovely Mary at Langside, - all combined to render this locality one of the most favourite of suburban retreats.* It was, in fact, the resort of every who enjoyed a lovely landscape, an antiquarian ramble, or a mouthful of fresh air - to which might be superadded, the certainty of getting a mouthful of something better, provided the visitor should have ever heard of the good things obtainable within the walls of its ancient “Bun-and-yill-house.”

*The mills at Partick belong, to the Corporation of Bakers. In the year 1568, the forces of the Regent Murray, who successfully opposed those of Mary Queen of Scots at the battle of Langside, were quartered in Glasgow and its neighbourhood. On this an occasion the bakers were called upon for an extraordinary supply of bread for the troops, which they implemented so much to the satisfaction of the Regent, that he gave them a grant of the Archbishop's mill, which had now become the property of the Crown, and a piece of ground adjoining it. In 1664 the bakers erected a small mill on the site of the old one, which, in conjunction it the Town's mill, served them till the year 1771, when they purchased, from the Magistrates and Council of Glasgow, the malt and snuff mills at Clayslaps,  a few hundred yards above the Partick mills. These the Incorporation fitted up as a flour mill, which has subsequently been enlarged, and, since then, they have made large additions to the establishments at Clayslaps and Partick.In 1818 the west wing of the old mill was taken down and rebuilt, and in 1828 the remaining part of the old building was taken down and reconstructed.

 Such was Partick during the latter part of the last century; and even for a few years after the commencement of the one which has produced so many metamorphoses it still retained its rural character and its smoke-less atmosphere. At the latter period, there were still only a straggling house or two on the side of the turnpike from Anderston to the Craw-road. The summit of Gilmorehill had scarcely been two or three years crowned by Mr Bogle's handsome mansion; and the house at Dowanhill was just being finished, while the trees in front of it, which are now so lofty and leafy, were only being planted, under the boyish eye of him who now pens this notice. The fact is, Partick was then truly in the country. Its comfortable thatched and white-washed cottages, with its ruinous castle, were such as to evoke the admiration of every tasteful limner; and its river, while it suggested a theme for the poet's lyre, likewise offered an attraction for the angler's rod.
For many long years after this, however, Partick may still be said to have maintained its sequestered aspect; but at length utilitarianism, that foe to beauty and the picturesque, marched westward from the City. The steam-engine became, a necessary accessory to the flour and corn mills, and, thereafter, to many other public factories. The few one-storey cottages that spotted the slopes of the Kelvin, or surrounded the ancient Castle, could not meet the requirements of the hundreds of houseless ship-builders and other citizens, drawn from a distance to the extensive establishments which increasing capital and enterprise had there erected. The ground on which these cottages stood soon became too valuable to be occupied by such humble dwellings, which were ere long supplanted by more formidable though less picturesque tenements; while the once-honoured though ruinous-gabled castle was some years ago, converted into a quarry.* 

* The old castle of Partick, which had stood as a landmark for many long years,at the junction of the Clyde with the Kelvin, was removed almost in a night, by ruthless hands, to form dykes to the neighbouring fields. It entirely disappeared about the year 1836 or 1837. In a pamphlet giving the story of Partick Castle, and in letters addressed to David McKinlay, Esq., preceptor of Hutcheson's Hospital, by Laurence HIB LLB., he says, "I became aware from some private personal papers of the founders, which, on the death of Thomas Hutcheson's widow, Mrs Marion Stewart, passed into the hands of their nephew, Mr Ninian Hill of Lambhill, that this house (Particik Castle), known as Bishop's Castle, and which was certainly built in the year mentioned by Chalmers, was the work not of Bishop Spottiswode, but built as a dwelling-house for himself, by George Hutcheson." Mr Hill adds, "the contract betwixt me and ye masoun in Kilwyinning, anent the bigeing of the house of Partick," dated the 9th and 14th January, 1611. So that in future, the ecclesiastical status of the ruinous house which once so picturesquely adorned the west bank of the Kelvin, must be annihilated.

At this hour, the landscape painter's occupation  about Partick is gone; the sketching desk may be for ever closed, and the pencil and pallet thrown aside. The village is now a town, with a provost and baillies, a police force, local taxes, and a lockup-house; and instead of having one celebrated “Bun-and-yill-house," it has now many more public-houses than even the greatest enemy to the Maine Liquor Law could well justify. It has been stretching out on every side, and for some time has been shaking hands with Glasgow, so far as gas and lamp-posts are concerned. Its future destiny will doubtless be, to be swallowed up like its suburban relatives, Calton, Bridgeton, Gorbals, and Anderston, by its all absorbing Babylonish parent city.

It was about the period when Partick was in its more rural, that there existed diverse knots of individuals connected with Glasgow, who, inspired by the noble purpose of enjoying ducks and green peas in perfection, with cold punch ad libitum, proceeded hebdomadally to indulge their gastronomic propensities at this picturesque village. Among the many inducements which this locality offered to these united bands of kindred spirits were, the agreeable and health-inspiring distance of this common rendezvous from the smoky City—the picturesque appearance of the village itself—the refreshing flow of the limpid Kelvin, broken by successive cascades—the neat and comfortable character of the hostelry; and above all, the superior quality of ducks reared under all the known advantages that arise from the proximity which large grain-mills naturally afford for good feeding. To these inducements, too, was superadded the delicious manner in which the ducks were prepared for the table, and which never failed to excite an appetite, which was only each guest had finished his bird!

 Of these various groups of Glasgow gastronomes, there was one which, par excellence was truly entitled to the appellation of the DUCK CLUB OF PARTICK, seeing that, during the whole season, when these luxuries were in perfection, and even after they became a little out of date, there seldom was a Saturday permitted to pass on which the several members of this social fraternity were not seen either wending their hungry way towards the well-known "Bun-house" of that village, between the hours of three and four o'clock, or returning therefrom "well refreshed" before "set of sun."

Many of the men who composed this rather gustative and gormandising fraternity had long been connected with the management of the Trades' House, and had held deaconships and masterships in several of the Incorporations of the City, in which capacities they had learned the value of the good old and well-known Hudibrastic apophthegm, and never failed to practise it when they had any object to carry. They felt also, during their long experience in public office, that business might be carried on successfully, although the members of the sederunt should quaff, during the breathing-time intervals, something rather stronger than the produce of the Westport well. In short, they were men to whom good eating and serious drinking was no novelty—such creature comforts, in fact, forming a peculiar feature in their every-day corporate life. As a key to the Corporation class who were members of the Duck Club, we may merely mention Mr M‘Tyre—a gentleman who, after passing through all the gradations of the Cordiners' Corporation, arrived at last at the Convener's chair and a seat at the City Council board. This personage, who may be justly regarded as the president of the social Partick brotherhood, was exceedingly popular, not only among his Council friends at the "Bun-house," but likewise among the members of the Trades' House. He was, in fact, so much esteemed by the latter body, that they expressed a unanimous wish to have his portrait taken as a most appropriate ornament to their Corporation walls; and there it now hangs as a stimulant to every ambitious man to do his duty. It was during the period of this popularity that the Convener was most frequently found wending his way, with majestic step, towards Partick; it was then that the ducks in that village suffered most from his Saturday visits; and it was on one of these occasions that the Club poet, Mr William Reid—of whom more anon—improvised the following true and touching couplet
"The ducks of Partick quack for fear,
Crying, ‘Lord preserve us; there's McTear!’”*
And no wonder. For no sooner was the rubicund beak of the worthy Convener espied by the blue and white swimmers of the mill-dam, than it was certain that the fate of those now disporting would become, ere another Saturday, that of their jolly companions who at that moment were suffering martyrdom at the auto-da-fe in the kitchen of the "Bun-house!" Though the ducks, as may reasonably be supposed, quacked loudly in anticipation of their coming fate, yet the Convener, having no sympathy with anything akin to the melting mood, except what was produced by the sun's summer beams, was deaf to pity.

* We have been favoured with a correct MS. copy of the poem penned by Mr Reid; and although satirical, severe, personal, and perhaps not altogether just towards the individual who is the burden of the song, it is at least characteristic of what Dr Chalmer’s powerful oratory produced soon after his arrival in Glasgow.

"Ilk body has his hobby-horsey:
John Lawson sings --Brown fechts wi Dorsey;
 There's souter Will, used every day
 The Catholic synagogue survey;
Since Chalmers cam he changed his tune—
Some say he'll be an elder soon
His name is never out his mouth,
Even when we meet to slocken drouth;
And what, has been his curious lot,
He’s made a proselyte of Scott!
Not  only him, but there’s the tanner,
Of curious, furious, swearing manner,
Even he’s at kirk the ither Sunday,
And swears by G— he'll back on Monday!
There's Gibb the sonter in a broil,
Does every Sunday fecht wi’ Croil;
About a seat he’ll bite and bark,
Argue wi’ bailies and their clerk;
Vulcan and Condie, ill their turn,
 Will warsle keel' wi’ Dr Burn.
A' this proceeds frae souter Willie,
Wha’s now turn'd good and unca holy.
The Provost says it's guid to men—
Great need there was, and that some ken;
For, when he was in London toun,
‘Tis said he was an unca loon;
He made his boots, they said, on Sunday,
And then he drank and ---- on -Monday;
But now his heart is holy warm,
His Sunday face as lang’s my arm;
We've seen the day he used to revel,
And even on Sunday went to travel;
The fowls at Partick used to ken him,
It’s even been said they used to name him
The ducks the quack’d through perfect fear,
Crying, ‘Lord preserve us! There’s McTear!’”

He felt too strongly the truth of Cato’s famous saying, that "it is no easy task to preach to the belly, which has no ears." The truth is, that neither the poetry of Reid nor the quacking of the ducks had any power over the alimentative bump of the carnivorous Convener. Its cry never ceased from June to October, when, alas! the broad sheet of water which, in spring, had been almost covered with the feathered flock of youthful divers, was found, in autumn, altogether untenanted, save by the lamenting parents of their once happy and noisy families! The Convener and the Club had, during the summer's campaign, made conscripts of all the young, and had sacrificed them to their own gustative propensities, without one tear for the family bereavements they were weekly occasioning, except, perhaps, when that was now and then called forth through the pungency of the spiritual consolation which universally followed the Saturday holocaust!

And, in good troth, when we reflect on those duck feasts, we do not wonder at the weekly turn out of guests who congregated at Partick, or that there should have been, in consequence, a hebdomadal murder of the innocents to meet the cravings of the Club. For we verily believe, that never did even the all-famous " Trois freres Provenceaux," in the Palais Royal at Paris, send up from their celebrated cuisine, un canard roti in better style than did the landlady of the Partick "Bun-house" her roasted ducks, done to a turn and redolent with sage and onion ; — and then the pease, all green and succulent, and altogether free from the mint of England and the sugar of France! What a glorious sight it was to see the Club met, and what a subject would such a meeting have afforded to the painter of character and manners! The rosy countenance and bold bearing of the president, seated at the head of a table surrounded by at least a dozen of happy guests almost as rubicund and sleek as himself, each grinning with cormorant eye ever his smoking duckling, and only waiting the short interval of hastily muttered grace to plant his ready knife into its full and virgin bosom; —verily, the spectacle must have been a cheering one!

It may easily be conceived how many changes must have occurred among the members of the Particik Duck Club, during the twenty years in which, from 1810 to 1830, the fraternity met and guzzled; but, perhaps, none was more striking than the change which befell its worthy president. The Trades' House, Police Board, and Council popularity, which Convener McTyre had won by his talents for business, by the energy of his character, and by his devotion to the best interests of the City, was all lost during the short and evanescent struggle of a Parliamentary election. At the time to which we allude, the Council of Glasgow was nearly equally divided between the claims of two gentlemen, who then offered themselves to represent them in the House of Commons. These worthy individuals were, the well-known Mr Kirkman Finlay and Mr Campbell of Blythswood; and, although the commercial mart of the West of Scotland was as yet limited to having only a fourth voice in the representation, it so happened that her voice on that occasion settled the Membership. The interest in the result was therefore more than usually keen, and the candidates and their supporters were more than usually exacting. It must also be remembered, that although both candidates for the seat may be said to have been hitherto linked with the Tory party, still Mr Finlay, from having given tokens of greater liberality in commercial matters, and particularly in having loudly advocated the opening up of the trade with India and China, secured for himself the support of the more liberal portion of the community, and, consequently became the popular candidate. Mr McTyre, who all along, during his public career, had voted with the latter party, was looked upon, at first, as a sure card for Mr Finlay. But ere long he began to coquet with the supporters of his opponent, and at last went fairly over to his camp. The consequence of this one false step in the eyes of his former admirers was, that he was hurled from his lofty throne of popularity, and stigmatised as nothing better than a political recreant and tergiversator. And so high was political feeling then carried, that it was seriously mooted, in order to testify the popular displeasure against such conduct, to urge the Trades’ House to order the full-length portrait of their once beloved and admired Convener to be turned upside down, to deter others from turning their coats and changing their colours in future! In short, it was gravely proposed to hang the poor Convener by the heels instead of the head,—a degradation which, however, for the honour of all concerned, was, under the reflection of cooler moments, never carried into execution. The instability of popular feeling, combined with an increasing love for his birthplace, drew the ex-Convener from Glasgow to Maybole, and, consequently, deprived the Partick Club of one of its chief loadstars and the ducks of their chief enemy.

While these rulers of the various Trades may be considered to have been the chief assistants at the weekly demolition of ducks and green peas, which took place in the comfortable hostelry situated near the flour-mills at Partick, there were happily others also present who could throw their mite of merriment into the afternoon's symposium; and among these was a gentleman to whom we have already slightly alluded—the facetious Mr William Reid, of the well-known firm of Brash & Reid, who, as book-sellers, carried on for so long a period a successful business in the Trongate, and to whose labours the bibliomaniac is indebted for some rather scarce and curious publications. In the then extensive field of Glasgow's social companions, it would have been difficult to find one more courted as a club associate than Mr Reid. To a peculiarly placid temper, he united a strong smack of broad humour, and an endless string of personal anecdotes, which he detailed with a gusto altogether his own. Of all things he loved a joke, and indulged in this vein even at the risk of causing the momentary displeasure either of an acquaintance or a customer. We say momentary— for with all his jesting and jocularity, he never really said, we believe, one word which was meant to offend. To "laugh and grow fat" was his constant grotto, and, consequently, he never troubled himself either about his own obesity or about that of any one else who might follow his laughing example. Of the satirical sallies poured out behind the book-seller's counter in the Trongate, we have heard as many repeated as might well eke out another supplement to the already thousand and one sayings of the " Laird of Logan"—who, most assuredly, had he lived in the pantheistical days of the early world, would have disputed with Momus the god-like crown of mirth!

Mr Reid’s every-day off-hand rhymes it is perhaps enough to say that they entitled him to enter the lists as a Scottish improvisatore. But while the witty bibliopole indulged in these playful and innocent vagaries, it must never be forgotten that he has also left behind him " drops of ink" that will go down to posterity—verses linked, as a few of them are, with the never-dying lyrics of Robert Burns—whose early friend and acquaintance he was—which will be sung as they now are; and although but too frequently believed to be altogether the breathings of the bard of Ayrshire, are nevertheless partly the production of the bard of the Duck Club of Partick. It is only justice to say, that in early and mature life Mr Reid could boast of no small share of that peculiar talent which the genius and dazzling career of Burns evoked in the minds of many of his admiring countrymen. He not only shared in the general enthusiasm which the appearance of that "day-star of national poetry" elicited, but he also participated  himself not unworthy of either such intimacy or such inspiration. These lyrics are chiefly preserved in a collection entitled " Poetry, Original and Select," and which at this moment is rarely to be met with, save in the libraries of the members of the Roxburgh, Bannatyne, and Maitland Clubs, or of the more unobtrusive race of bibliomaniacs scattered over the country, but which, since the demise of poor Dr Thomas Frognall Dibdin, are now sadly getting into the " sere and yellow leaf." There is another curious publication with which Mr Reid was connected, the "Life of James McKean," who was executed for the murder of James Buchanan, the Lanark carrier, at the Cross of Glasgow, on Wednesday the 25th January, 1797. As a piece of biography, it is certainly neither remarkable for taste nor talent; but as a statement of what McKean, while under sentence of death, actually communicated to the compiler, it is both curious and startling. The work had an extraordinary sale, through the never-ceasing existence of that odd craving for everything connected with the horrible . As a conclusion to this imperfect sketch of Mr Reid, we may mention that for many years he kept a large vase, or pinnar-pig, into which he deposited his literary scraps, where, for aught we know, they still remain under that ban which he so often made use of when making a deposit or closing a story, and which we would in his case also repeat –
“Down wi’ the lid! Quo’ Willie Reid.”
With the departure of the shadow of the jolly Convener from the “Bun-house,” the Duck Club may be said to have closed its regular sittings; and although many knots of social spirits have since met in perpetuation of the Partick Club, still, never have the roasted ducks and green peas been demolished with such gusto, nor the punch goblets been drained with such delight, as when the broad humour and telling anecdotes of the Trongate bibliophile made every well-lined paunch shake with laughter.

Since the departure of these two worthies from the scene of their gormandising glory, the “Bun-house” of Partick has as much ceased to Glasgow gourments to be the shrine of Apicius, as the castle of Partick to be the haunt of the antiquarian limner. "