Saturday, 5 May 2018

Bridgegate, Saltmarket and the Glasgow Fish Market

District 14, Glasgow

Saltmarket from Bridgegate, by Thomas Annan. 1868
In late 19th century Glasgow the area bounded by Stockwell Street and Saltmarket, the Trongate to the north and the Clyde to the south was referred to as "District 14". In 1889 a report by Glasgow's Philosophical Society described this area as having 7,150 people living in 1,308 houses and sharing 100 water closets. Of the 99 common lodging houses in the city, 63 of them were in this small district. The city's medical officer in a report on the area described the slums that people here were living in as "filthy beyond measure....High Street, Saltmarket, Briggait are all sanitary evils....For years the population of  many thousands has been added to Glasgow by immigrants without a single house being built to receive them."

A correspondent for the Glasgow Herald complained about the "public houses...doing a roaring trade". Managing to then offend several diverse groups of people at once he continues "A graphic sketch of the conditions around the High Street, Saltmarket, Bridgegate and Trongate, between the hours of midnight on Saturday and six o'clock on Sunday morning would astonish many of our featherbed philanthropists who devote so much thought into bettering the conditions of Australian savages."

So what made my great-great-great grandparents move to this area at that time, and stay here for the next 50 years to bring up their family?

Medieval Glasgow

The Bridgegate (or Briggait) is one of the oldest streets in Glasgow, leading to the first major bridge over the River Clyde and then south towards the Gorbals village. “Gait” is from the old Scots word for “the way to", rather than meaning “gate” in the modern sense.

In the 1100s the street later known as the Bridgegate was a track leading to a simple bridge, referred to in William Wallace's time as a "brig o' tree" (wooden bridge). In 1297 Wallace allegedly rode from Ayr and defeated a small English force in the Battle of the Bell O' the Brae near to Glasgow Cathedral, at the top of what is now High Street. Blind Harry tells how Wallace brought his forces to "Glasgow bryg, that byyggit was of tre", dividing his forces with some going straight up High Street (known at one time as "Bell O' the Brae") to Glasgow Castle, and the others coming around from the rear, up Drygate and across the bridge over the Molendinar Burn. Drygate is often called the oldest street in Glasgow, pre-dating the cathedral. Druids apparently used to worship on the hill of Fir Park, now the necropolis. The word"dry" is a pagan word, of German origin, meaning priest. So although it is known now as the home of a brewery, Drygate is the "priests' way".

Statute in Glasgow commemorating William Wallace's Battle of the Bell O' the Brae
The wooden bridge over the Clyde was replaced by the first stone bridge across the river in the time of Bishop Rae (1335-1367), around 1350, at the bottom of what is now Stockwell Street, called Glasgow Bridge for around 500 years. Stockwell Street is named after a well with a wooden stock that once stood here. Prior to 1345 the street was called Fishergait, as it led to the salmon fishers' village on the banks of the Clyde.

In later times one of Glasgow's first music halls, The Scotia Variety Theatre, opened on Stockwell Street. Harry Lauder made his first stage appearances here. In 1895 high unemployment in the area meant that the Scotia Theatre (and also the Gaiety on Sauchiehall Street) was operating a soup kitchen during the day to provide some food to local residents.

Later this music hall became the Metropole Theatre, managed at the start of the 20th century by Arthur Jefferson. His son used to help him out on occasion in the theatre, but made his own stage debut around the corner in The Panopticon, at the age of sixteen. Travelling to America in the same ship as Charlie Chaplin as part of Fred Karno's vaudeville troupe, this young man made his name there, as Stan Laurel.

Map of central Glasgow from about 1547
In the above map from the 16th century Glasgow Cross was then called Mercat Cross (market cross). This was where the tron, or weighing beam, was found; where goods were weighed and taxed. Gallowgate led to the gallows, which were out near where Barrack Street now stands, until they were moved in 1765. On the map above Saltmarket is called Walkergait, from the waulkers, that worked here, no doubt preparing their cloth with “waulking songs” which are now only associated with Scottish island communities. The later name “Saltmarket” came from 1650, when the market selling salt for cuing salmon operated here.

The Saltmarket and Bridgegate became fashionable areas for the city's wealthy merchants to set up home. In 1650 Cromwell stayed here when he visited Scotland. In 1759 a certain Agnes Craig was born on Saltmarket, fifth child of respected physician Andrew Craig, she is better know under her married name, Agnes MacLehose, or through the alias she and Robert Burns communicated – Clarinda. Around 1710 the city's first post office was on Saltmarket, in 1763 James Watt ran a shop here and Peter Tait's Glasgow Journal, forerunner to the Glasgow Herald, was run from number 11. Entertainment on Saltmarket came from the old show grounds and circus building near the court buildings. It was also home to the City and Adelphi theatres.

Merchants' Hall, Bridgegate

Originally the Bridgegate (or Briggait) was lined with the mansions of wealthy merchants. It was therefore a natural place for them to build their original Merchants’ Hall (or Hospital as it was known initially, in the old sense of the word, a place for giving out alms). Built in the early 1600s on the Bridgegate, it was re-built in 1659 on the same site. Designed by Sir William Bruce, the distinctive tower, which was completed six years later, is all that survives from that building. The ground floor of the Merchants’ Hall here initially provided apartments for pensioners of the hospital, with the large hall being found on the first floor. In the late 18th century the ground floor was converted into four shops, and houses to be let out for rent.

Engraving of the Merchants' Hall of 1659 on the Bridgegate, the clock tower all that still remains
As the area became increasingly less salubrious, the Merchants House of Glasgow planned to build a new hall elsewhere and their building was largely demolished in 1818, replaced with tenements on the same site. As part of this deal, signed in 1817 for the sale of their building and land for £7500, the steeple was to be preserved and any tenements built were to be restricted in height to allow it still to be admired. The steeple is 164 feet tall, and still topped with the emblem of the Merchants’ House, the ship on a globe.

Lord Dean of the Merchants' House at the time, James Ewing was not shy about explaining why he felt it was time for the organisation to move away from their old building.
"A very material change, however, has since taken place...The Bridgegate, which was then the most respectable and fashionable part of the Town, has now become the residence chiefly of the inferior classes, with an awkward access, and a still more objectionable vicinity."
The arrival of a public slaughterhouse on Saltmarket in 1744, bleachfields and court buildings reflected the changing use of the area over the years. Over time the many fine mansions had been sub-divided or replaced by tenement buildings, housing the workers required for the new industries sprouting up in the city. The well to-do were heading for the clean air in the west of the growing city.

Bridgegate from Stockwell, about 1830, showing the tenements that replaced the Merchants' Hall, with the familiar tower above


In the 18th century immigration from Ireland to the west of Scotland was not unusual, many of those coming to Ayrshire, Lanarkshire and Glasgow at that time were skilled cotton workers, largely from Protestant communities in the north of Ireland. In Glasgow many of these people settled in the Calton area, centre for handloom weaving at that time.

Over the next hundred years the numbers of Irish immigrants would rise steeply, just as workers poured into the city from the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland. Around the mid-1700s it is widely quoted that Glasgow had only 39 Catholics recorded as living in the city, but 43 anti-Catholic clubs. In the early 19th century many people arriving on the Broomielaw from Ireland were escaping poverty and starvation, and took on some of the lowest paid, often physical work in the city, particularly working on the bustling docks, building roads, railways and canals or in mining. The area around Saltmarket and Bridgegate provided some of the cheapest accommodation, from lodging houses to crowded tenements. After the Irish famine of 1845, the numbers of people arriving in Glasgow rose dramatically, at a time when Glasgow was one of the most rapidly growing cities in the world. In 1831 the population of Glasgow was 220,000. By 1861 there were 460,000 Glaswegians.

St Andrew's Cathedral, Glasgow
The Catholic Church set in place the first Catholic priest in Glasgow since the Reformation in the early 1800s and by 1816 work had begun on St Andrew's Cathedral on a prominent site by the Clyde, just along from the bottom of Stockwell Street. Much of the funding for this building came from weekly subscriptions from some of the city's poorest people. The same criticisms that are levelled against recent immigrants to the city were raised against the impoverished Irish residents of the city at that time. Letters in the Glasgow Herald and sermons from Church of Scotland pulpits of the day complain about diseases they are bringing to the city (typhus outbreaks were common in the cramped and insanitary housing conditions), about crime and drunkeness caused by these new arrivals, and criticising them for coming to Scotland to claim Poor Law assistance and charity, even though as new arrivals in the city they were not entitled to many of these resources. When Sir Archibald Alison gave his inaugural address as Rector of the University of Glasgow in 1850, he choose to criticise the religion of many of these new arrivals in his speech titled "The Intolerance of the Catholic Church Through the Ages". I imagine Polish, Roma and Muslim immigrants to Britain would recognise the atmosphere being created by these pronouncements.

Orangemen from the old country could also get together with like minded people on arriving in Glasgow. The Brunswick Loyal Orange Lodge was the first one set up in Glasgow, in 1813. Many of the first Orange Lodges were set up by Glaswegians returning from fighting in Ireland as part of the Fencibles forces, set up to combat the 1798 rebellion by the United Irishmen, led by (the Protestant) Wolfe Tone. The first Orange walk in the city is recorded by John Burrowes in his book "The Irish" as taking place on 12th July 1821, and ending in a "fracas" near Glasgow Cross, where the statue of King Billy used to sit. Over the years many more inter-religious flashpoints would occur, but much of the divide was less overt. It was widely known that certain factories or shipyards would not employ Catholics, and on the other side of my family, when my great-grandfather came to Glasgow from Ayrshire, I have no doubts that his standing in his local Masonic Lodge helped him into work, and promotion, at Harland and Wolff's shipyards in Govan.

Bridgegate or "Briggait"

By 1824 an “Old Clothes Market” had been set up in Scanlon’s Close south of the Bridgegate and the street was soon lined with shops and barrows selling old clothes. The clothes market, known colloquially as "Paddy's Market" due to the large numbers of Irish people living and working here, can be seen on this map of 1847, that pre-dates the current Briggait building. The merchants’ steeple here is at the northern end of Guildry Court, a short street with tenements on either side (click to expand). The streets were soon lined by shops, largely run by the new new Irish immigrants.

Map of Bridgegate, 1847
By the end of the 19th century the tenements of the Saltmarket were notorious for their dilapidated state and the crowded, unhealthy conditions. At that time the housing still followed the medeival alignment. On Saltmarket tenements of various ages lined the street, with closes extending perpendicular to the street, and further rows of houses found behind, where we would expect a back green to be behind a tenement now. These were some of the worst slums in Britain. This led the city improvement trust to demolish many of the old 17th century buildings here. The current tenements on Saltmarket date from the 1880s, with their crow-steps, gables and chimneys copying the style of the demolished buildings.

The close at 128 Saltmarket, where my great-grandfather lived
The arrival of the Union Railway in 1864 again drastically altered the area with the slaughterhouses and old clothes market building being swept away (though the market lived on) and an engine shed being built where King Street car park not sits. The line came across the Clyde from the south, over the Bridgegate and swung left towards St Enoch Station, across Stockwell Street. New tenement buildings filled in some gaps, but the area became more of a backwater than before.

Closes at 122 Saltmarket, where Partick Donnelly lived
Writing in 1873 JFS Gordon in his book "Glasghu facies" complains about the changing face of the Bridgegate. He bemoans the fact that the "Tobacco lords, princely merchants and fashionable ladies" have moved on, "their places are filled with a new and strange race of traders from The Emerald Isle". He continues that the"stately mansions have either been demolished, or are turned into Whisky Shops, Ham-Stores, Old-Clothes-Emporiums, Brokers'-Stalls and common Lodging-Houses." Reporting that there were many Irish lodging houses on the Bridgegate, he mentions the The Londonderry Hotel "for the Orangemen", whilst the nearby The Emerald Isle tavern is "for the Papists". At this time he comments also that the street was rightly known “for the quality of its tripe, potted meat and cow heel”, for its public houses, but notorious also for being wild on a Saturday night. The reason his writing at this time grabs my attention, is it was the time my ancestors were living in the Saltmarket and the Bridgegate. The year he was writing, 1873, was also when a new trade arrived in the area, the fish market was built on the Bridgegate.
From 1873 book mentioned above "only remaining
wooden houses in Saltmarket", including number 122

The Bridgegate Fish Market

Bridgegate about 1904, looking towards Saltmarket
Glasgow fish market Clydeside frontage, with winged sea horses at the top
In 1873 the fish market was built, with a grand French Renaissance style frontage facing the Clyde on East Clyde Street, designed by architects Clarke and Bell. The cast iron galleried, glass-roofed market hall within served as the city’s fish market for over 100 years, until 1977. To the east of the market hall at that time still stood rows of tenements running perpendicular to Bridgegate, including Guildry Court.

Guildry Court viewed from the south, the Merchants' Steeple at the top
The fish market had been a success, and was extended in size in 1886, with a low, utilitarian hall pushing eastwards, towards the tenements on the western side of Guildry Court. Then again in 1903 further expansion was required and the western block of Guildry Cort tenements were demolished. In 1914 the final addition to the market saw the last block of tenements demolished and replaced with a two storey block of offices on Bridgegate, with a corner turret. The Merchants’ Steeple was again all that remained of the old landscape, now with the fish market built completely around it.

1897 mapwhen one block of Guildry Court tenements remained
On the 1897 map above one row of tenements remains on the block, at the eastern side of the fish market, noteworthy to me as my great-great grandad lived here and his son-in-law ran a confectioners on the Bridgegate in the ground floor shop. Also of note there are seven public houses marked on this one block in 1897, with many more nearby.
Glasgow city crest, flanked by two over-sized fish on the wall of the fish market

Inside the main fish market hall in the 1960s
Building phases on the Glasgow Fish Market

Glasgow fish market building as it looks today, the distinctive Merchants' Steeple poking up through the roof

Merchants' steeple above the winged sea-horses of the fish market building today

"Peter, I Will Make You Fish Merchant to Men"

Patrick Donnelly (also known as Peter), was born in Roscommon, in Ireland, in 1826. Like many other Irishmen and woman he moved to Scotland shortly afterwards, where he married an Ann McCartney born Old Cumnock, Ayrshire, the daughter of handloom weavers. In 1871 and 1880 he is recorded as living at 122 Saltmarket, which at that time was one of the last remaining wooden tenement buildings on the street (as mentioned above). Shortly afterwards it was replaced by the sandstone building that stands there now and the closes behind it largely cleared.

Like many Irishmen that moved to the area, and many immigrants coming to the city ever since, unable to get into the closed shop of local industries, he opened his own business. In 1871 he was a “dealer in fruit”, 1880 “general dealer", running shops in the area at this time.

The block between 67 and 127 Bridgegate today
Patrick (known as Peter) Donnelly's son, Peter Donnelly (usually called Patrick), was born in 1860. In 1880 he was living at 122 Saltmarket with his parents. He married an Annie McLuskey in 1880, who was born in Paisley to Irish parents in 1861. Peter was at times a tinsmith (a tinker), a labourer and worked later in a china wholesalers shop with Annie for a while at 107 Bridgegate.

128 Saltmarket today, 122 to the right
In 1883 his you family were living at 128 Saltmarket and by 1885 he was running a confectioners shop at 131 Bridgegate, just east of the fish market entrance. In 1892, leaving his young family at home, he left for Philidelphia and died there 2 years later from TB, leaving Annie to bring up her children alone.

Register of businesses showing Peter Donnelly renting a shop to run as a confectioners in 1885
Annie’s father Patrick (also known as Peter) McCluskey came from Ballycastle in County Antrim.. In 1861, not long after arriving from Ireland, he was working in Ayrshire as a coal miner. He then moved to Paisley, working as a labourer and a bricklayer. In 1881 he is living at 109 Bridgegate.

In 1884 he is recorded as a “provisions dealer/victualler”, renting a flat and shop at 139 Bridgegate. The flat he is renting faced onto the Bridgegate in front of the Merchants' Steeple and was later demolished as the fish market expanded. My granny always described him as the "first butter, ham and egg merchant" in the west of Scotland and at this time it is how some shops across the city began describing themselves. He and his family seem to have a hand in a few shops, with other McLuskey's running butter, ham and egg shops on Bridgegate and further west on Stobcross Road. A couple of years later, the successful fish market catches his eye and by the mid-1880s he is recorded as a fish merchant, running one of the shops on the Bridgegate just next to the main fish market entrance.

 In 1891 he is living with his daughter Annie and her children at 1 Guildry Court, and he and his daughter are both working as fishmongers, living practically above the shop in what must have been pungent accommodation. As well as her father Peter McCluskey, her younger brother Patrick (in a break from tradition, known as Paddy) 17 years her younger was staying there, as were her children Peter S. Donnelly (always known as Peter, born 1883), his big sister Annie and two younger siblings. Another daughter, Rose, died in infancy, like many other children of that time.

10 years later Peter S. Donnelly had moved out, Paddy was 22 and working as a “vanman” ferrying goods around, and the younger children Katie and John Francis were still at home. Daughter Annie was now married to John McGinty, a bookie and in later years their daughter (Annie McGinty, always known as Annie McGinty, even after she became Annie Taylor) continued the family tradition, working as a bookie's runner. One of her two sons, Kenny Taylor, eventually worked as a cooper but in his younger days was a decent footballer. Before he played as a winger for Clyde FC he had got himself into the papers for managing to score three goals direct from corners as a player in the Juniors.

From 1896-1898, Peter McCluskey continues running a fish merchant’s shop at 151 Bridgegate and the family are all staying in a flat at 137 Bridgegate. Annie continued this trade after her father's death, running the shop for at least the next 20 years. Her fish merchant's shop at 151 Bridgegate was not actually in the old Briggait fish market which was number 141, but next door, between it and the current Clutha Vaults pub. At this time there were 9 shop fronts either side of the Bridgegate entrance to the fish market. These were all fish merchants and fish curers, some also specialising in rabbit and game. Few of the shops here seem to have been run by women and I get the impression from my granny's tales that she wasn't a woman to mess about. She was still living at 137 Bridgegate until 1903, when these last remaining tenements on the block were demolished to further expand the fish market building.

Whilst her son Peter and his young family were living at 153 Stockwell Street in the newly built tenement from 1905, in 1903 Annie and her family had moved just around the corner to 132 Stockwell Street, a few doors south of 116 Stockwell Street, where the Metropole Theatre stood (roughly where the current Scotia Bar sits). Perhaps a teenage Stan Laurel took her ticket at the door of his dad's theatre as she went inside. They lived here for at least the next 10 years, and in time various family members gravitated a couple of hundred yards south to spend the rest of their days in the Gorbals. On researching this branch of my family they seem to have been a very tight-knit group, marrying people from the same few nearby streets and never moving more than a couple of streets away over a 50 year period. Other nieces and nephews married into the Corrigan family that still run fish-shops in the city, or to the Dunne's who ran a haulage business from Bridgegate into the 1960s.

132 Stockwell Street now lies under the modern Holiday Inn Express, south of the Scotia Bar
153 Stockwell Street today
Religion was never spoken about to me as any great bone of contention, but it was always an important part of my granny's family identity. Her father narrowly avoided being murdered in 1920 after relatives he had been visiting a few days earlier in Ireland were burned out of their home by Black and Tans. He had started down the road of training for the priesthood before he changed tack and opened a shop as a dentist in the Gorbals in the early 1900s (you did not need a dental degree in those days). To his mother, fish-merchant Annie Donnelly, religion was important and she traveled widely during her lifetime, three times to Rome and once to the Holy Lands.

Although my granny married a protestant without anybody batting an eyelid, she told me about her aunt, another Annie Donnelly, who stayed above the Citizens Theatre on Gorbals Main Street. After having seven children (Kathleen, Mary, John, Ann, Peter, Alec and Helen), her mother-in-law "stole away her 8th child", when he was only 3 days old, swearing that she was going to have one grandchild brought up a Protestant - he stands out among his siblings as being named William.


Wandering about these streets today, it is an unecessarily neglected and shabby part of town, with gap sites and scrappy car parks lying undeveloped, right in the centre of one of Britain's largest cities. The closure of Paddy's Market nine years ago was meant to part of a wider regeneration scheme in the area. The imagination of the city council on redevelopment does not seem to stretch much beyond shopping malls when it comes to granting planning permission, and as these seem to be becoming yesterday's idea, no grand vision to re-invigorate a once wild and bustling part of town seems to be on the table.
The old fish market building. 137 Bridgegate would have been in front of the steeple,
151 to the right of the Briggait entrance
The old fish market building, now branded as The Briggait, seems to be thriving as a home for visual artists and cultural organisations, and regularly hosts exhibitions and food festivals in the old market hall. Glasgow's current fish market shares a building in Blochairn with the city's wholesale fruit market, and is a decidedly functional place.

On trying to find out more about these relatives I re-discovered the place where Annie Donnelly, who ran her shop at the fish market for so many years, had been buried in St Kentigern's cemetery. Her brother, Patrick McLuskey, and later Annie herself lived with my great-grandad Peter Donnelly in their later years and as they are all so fondly remembered by many family members, it was nice to get a headstone back in place on their grave. Gone but not forgotten.

Sources other than my own researches on national records and Post Office directories,
The History of Merchants' House, Glasgow - JM Reid
Irish: the Remarkable Saga of a Nation and a City - John Burrowes
Glasgow Streetnames - Carol Foreman
Public Sculpture of Glasgow - Ray MacKenzie

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Glasgow International 2018 - Ah, but is it art?

Glasgow International 2018. Festival of Contemporary Art

A quick first impressions review of some of the stuff that is on at the sprawling Glasgow International art festival in the city for the next two weeks. It is an absolute pleasure to have this kind of gala appear in the city every two years, and much of it feeds off of the community of people making art in Glasgow. In the space of a few hours I battered around over 30 different exhibitions at 18 different venues on my bike, and would have kept going if I hadn't needed to get home for my daughter getting in from school, and I still felt that I had barely scratched the surface.

Maybe by Urs Fischer
However, it must be said that a fair amount of the stuff on show this year is high in concept, low on execution. If it takes you longer to read the accompanying blurb than it does to ponder the work itself, that's not usually a good thing. Sometimes you need no explanation, such as with the fabulous pair of mechanical (and very life-like) snails crawling around the floor of the Modern Institute's Aird Lane space. "Maybe" by Urs Fischer makes you laugh, makes you linger and is beautifully executed. Another highlight for me is found in the main space on Osborne Street of the Modern Institute, given over to the powerful post-modernist images created by Duggie Fields.

Inside Oxford House
Less successful are the many exhibits at House For an Art Lover, the Oxford House and Stallan-Brand Architect Office beside the Sherriff Court, and the Savings Bank on Bridge Street. However even in these places it is at least a chance to get inside these beautiful and fascinating Glasgow buildings not always open to the public.

Toby Paterson's Pallisade on High Street
Nicolas Party's big purple head outside Aird Lane and Toby Paterson's "Pallisade" outside the old Linen Bank on High Street are colourful distractions, whilst Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid's jolly dragon which stretches across the main hall in Kelvingrove Art Gallery looks like the kind of bland decoration you would find in a department store during some nondescript festival.

More head scratching ensued when we came across the combined efforts of eight artists in the Botanic Gardens glasshouse. I really did not feel that it explored either the "paradoxes relating to the interplay of global and local forces upon the communities and places of Glasgow" or the "heterotopic space containing its own oppositions; interior and exterior, nature and culture, global and local." Equally disappointing was Lauren Gault and Sarah Rose's "Sequins" floating in the Forth and Clyde Canal, resembling little more than the other detritus floating nearby.

In the Kibble Palace, Glasgow
One exhibition where it was productive to read the accompanying blurb was in the Briggait, where Montreal-based artist Nadia Myre had riffed on the once upon a time sizable Glasgow industry of clay tobacco pipe production. With old pipe stems fashioned into various other items it raised questions about colonialism and waste and was a rare instance of concept and execution coming together to create something memorable.

Soft Measures by Kapwani Kiwanga
Ciara Phillips's prints in Glasgow Print Studio were beautifully presented and fascinating to see, and also worth seeing were the sculptural creations of Kapwani Kiwanga at Tramway, lumps of granite suspended on curtains of fabric. Next door in the main hall at Tramway Mark Leckey had a solitary carved figure, a blown up version of an 18th century figurine, facing off against a video of his cavities being explored, all perfectly entertaining once your eyes had adjusted to the gloom.

Nobodaddy by Mark Leckey
Two highlights for me were the photography on show at the Hunterian Art Gallery at Glasgow University and that on show at SWG3. German photographer and film-maker Ulrike Ottinger has an extensive exhibition of bizarre and unsettling photographs, evoking cabaret acts and freak shows, on show alongside some of her films at the Hunterian. At SWG3 Hugo Scott's street photographs are full of humour and interesting characters, each one a short story.  Also worth seeing at SWG3 were the sculpture in the main hall from Richard Wentworth and Victoria Miguel, and across the lane the creations and collages of punk designer Judy Blame.

A Roomful of Lovers by Richard Wentworth and Victoria Migual
The Gallery of Modern Art has a jumble of interesting ideas and images, nine artists collectively displayed under the name Cellular World, but it all feels rather disjointed. If you rummage about in the main hall there are some interesting bits and pieces among all the clutter, Joseph Buckley's concrete wall I found the most engaging.

Cellular World at GOMA 
Finishing off my day at The Common Guild felt like a gentle palate cleanser after the barrage of stuff earlier in the day. A solo exhibition by German artist Katinka Bock, a collection of small, quiet, clay and, slowly oxidising, bronze sculptures.

There are two weeks to go, and at times it is a bit hard to sift out the wheat from the chaff, but there is surely something there for all tastes. Just keep looking.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Chrysta Bell. Glasgow gig.

Live review - Chrysta Bell. Oran Mor, Glasgow. 8th April 2018

Brought to public attention by her role as special agent Tammy Preston in the latest series of David Lynch's Twin Peaks, Chrysta Bell seems a surreal presence on a chilly Spring evening in Glasgow. As a musician she has been performing since the 1990s and although her current tour is taking her all over the globe on the back of her recent acting turn for David Lynch, the audience for tonight's gig was on the rather meagre side. To compensate, the venue (Oran Mor) was set up with cabaret style seating, which lent an appropriately louche atmosphere to the gig. 

Chrysta Bell and band, Oran Mor, Glasgow. April 2018
I think the polite way to put it is that Chrysta Bell Zucht's acting in Twin Peaks: The Return was divisive. In the world of David Lynch and Mark Frost it can be hard to tell if the appearance they were after intentionally was of a plank of wood. If that was the case then she nailed the character of Tammy Preston. 

Introduced with projected eery visuals and electronic twangs that would not sound out of place in a Lynchian dream sequence, Chrysta Bell slinks on stage and launches into 52 Hz, all echoing vocals and electric drum beats before battering straight into Devil Inside Me, more breathy vocals and melancholy.

The night continues in the same vein, a coy "thank you" between songs and onward into another anthemic torch song. The three piece band are tight and well drilled throughout without ever setting the heather alight. An occasional twang of steel guitar lifts the music above the mundane.

We are never far away from Twin Peaks though. The kaleidoscopic projected visuals, Chrysta Bell's vampish presence and the unsettling songs which could all fit snuggly into the Bang Bang Bar playlist (one song is even called Blue Rose in case you don't notice). There is also songs like Down By Babylon co-written by David Lynch.

It's an engaging and slick performance, without ever appearing to get out of second gear. Many of the small crowd are here because of the Twin Peaks connections, which ultimately smothers any individuality from the concert. It felt like watching Jessica Rabbit covering some Chris Isaak songs, but then that just brings us back to Twin Peaks again. Isn't that right agent Chester Desmond

Chrystal Bell pub, Gallowgate, Glasgow - no connection

Monday, 26 March 2018

Young Fathers. Barrowlands, Glasgow. March 2018

Young Fathers. Barrowlands, Glasgow. March 2018. Live gig review

I have said it before, but it is worth saying again, Young Fathers are by far the best live act on the go just now. They are growing their following whilst barely changing the formula that they started out with: three Edinburgh men singing, contorting, crooning and shouting over a droning electronic background and vigorous live drumming. Live they give the impression of barely contained rage, and building pressure with little more than a dour Scottish sneer on show, the only visible release onstage is when Kayus Bankole convulses in an intermittent blur of flailing arms and legs. 

Cocoa Sugar by Young Fathers
With the release of their latest album, Cocoa Sugar, they continue to produce a string of strong songs, which are uniquely "Young Fathers" when you hear them. Their very presence is a statement, but they don't beat you around the head with it, it's the nusic that assaults you. 

When it was announced that they were playing the Glasgow Barrowlands, tickets sold out within days. The question was whether their intense stage persona, which doesn't usually involve crowd pleasing "HALLO GLASGOOOOOW" shout-outs, would manage to lift the ballroom crowd. 

Support act WWWater were appropriately uplifting, with hints of Grace Jones and analogue synths among the increasingly abstract singing of Belgian Charlotte AdigĂ©ry. The crowd were showing signs of being in the mood for tonight's gig with the enthusiastic response she garnered. 

Young Fathers, Glasgow Barrowlands
Young Fathers when they came on stage could not get started until a cheering, stamping, expectant crowd had quietened down sufficiently to let them get going. Any doubts that they would not manage to take this whole room with them blown away in the first few seconds. With Graham 'G' Hastings, Kayus Bankole and Alloysious Massaquoi out front, largely silhouetted for the night against a white screen, they came together and drifted apart through all the songs, their voices merging and splitting from years of playing together. Tracks from the new album dominated the setlist (Tremolo, Toy and In My View stand out tracks tonight) but there were outings for plenty of stuff from their earlier output merged seamlessly into it. 

'G' almost broke into a smile at a couple of points as he tried to give us a few words, but ultimately stuck to the music. Loud, angry, energetic and something worth listening to. 

The crowd were grinning, cheering, singing along and baying for more - a reminder of how good it can feel to be part of a big Glasgow crowd when they are in the mood, whether at a football match or a concert. Best gig I've been to in a long time? Probably. 

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Something old, something new. Weekend Glasgow concert reviews

Live gig review -

  • Lee 'Scratch' Perry. St Lukes, Glasgow 10th March 2018
  • Superorganism. CCA, Glasgow, 11th March 2018
Saturday night's gig was my choice, Sunday night was my brother's. Our musical tastes have some overlap, and some differences. Luckily in Glasgow there is always a variety of musical options and if we had wanted something different again we could have alternatively joined the thousands of people at The Hydro for the "Country To Country" shows. As it was I settled for veteran Jamaican dub reggae musician Lee 'Scratch' Perry on one night, and "BBC Sound of 2018" nominees Superorganism on the other. One night it's all ginger wine and marijuana, the next it's Diet Irn Bru.

Lee 'Scratch' Perry and the Upsetters, St Lukes, Glasgow

Lee 'Scratch' Perry
After the life he has led, first let me say hats off to Lee 'Scratch' Perry for still being here. The 81 year old Jamaican producer largely created the dub style in the 1970s, taking existing reggae tracks, remixing and looping them in the studio to make new tracks. Emphasising the drum and bass, the instrumentals, he was constantly innovating and a whole new musical genre was born. His behaviour can probably be best described as eccentric over the years, from burning down recording studios, communing with aliens and wearing his hat that represents connections to elemental gods. A lifelong belief in the powers of ganja may have a part to play in his personality (his letter to the Japanese Minister of Justice in 1980 in support of Paul McCartney, who had been arrested for allegedly carrying cannabis, maybe best sums up his views on the matter).  

His tight four-piece band introduce themselves as The Upsetters, the name of Lee Perry's old house band, and they kick things off until the man himself wanders on stage after a couple of tracks. Bedecked in an old braided military coat, wearing his trademark hat and dyed red beard he laughs and sings away, treading a fine line between improvisation and rambling gibberish - not always successfully. The setting of St Lukes as a former church seemed to appeal to him, the old church organ behind him on stage, and the words turn to god and Zion at times. 

Lee Scratch Perry and band at St Lukes, Glasgow
When a fan at the front hands him a large bag of a herbal substance early on, he happily sequesters it away with his suitcase on the stage and throughout the night blithely puffs away on his pipe between songs. There will be no smoking ban at a Lee 'Scratch' Perry event. Breaking off for a few sips of the ginger wine that he has brought on stage, he mumbles on for an hour and a half, loosening up as the night goes on and seeming to be enjoying himself as much as the collection of Glaswegians in the audience. As has to be noted that the audience have been providing some of the worst excuses for dancing that I may have ever seen. As he wanders off stage during a riff on Bob Marley's 'Exodus' we realise that is exactly what he has done. Long may he reign.

Lee Scratch Perry in a fug of smoke

Superorganism, Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow

Superorganism are an international collective of eight musicians, fronted by 17 year old Orono Noguchi. Their self-titled debut album has just been released last week. They roll into Glasgow on the back of a lot of hype, but don't appear over-awed by it all. A lot of effort has gone into creating a lo-fi, homemade, psychedelic, indie pop sound that gives the album a happy, upbeat vibe full of technological references and hints of dozens of musical influences. 

Superorganism at the CCA
On stage everything has been carefully put together too, from the co-ordinated raincoats and video backdrops to the dance moves of backing singers Ruby, Soul and B. It's all a stark contrast to Lee Scratch Perry's shambolic fun the previous night. Orono's insouciant demeanour lets them get away with the contrived wackiness. As proper pop bands should, they batter through a set of 3 minute tunes, smile, wave and look happy. Orono tries to curry favour with the local crowd by glugging down a bottle of Irn Bru throughout the show. Where she got it right in choosing a glass bottle, she made the mistake of going for the sugar-free version, greeted by boos from the audience, much to her bewilderment (in one of the few countries in the world where the local fizzy drink outsells Coca-Cola, nobody seems to have pointed out to her that this teeth-coating, caffeine and sugar concoction is best known as a hangover cure, rather than as a late night thirst quencher). She saves the day by somehow finding a bottle of the full-fat Irn Bru to help with the encore.

Back on the Irn Bru
It is hard to tell how much of the music and backing vocals is played live, with various pre-recorded voices and electronic beeps going off left, right and centre, but it doesn't really matter. They look like they are having fun, and we don't want to put a dampener on it. 

Everybody Wants To Be Famous and Something For Your M.I.N.D. are the most memorable songs, but there are plenty of others that show there is variety across the album. The overall sound here is of Bis doing Kandy Pop, filtered through The Monkees whilst somebody nearby plays an 80s video game. As I quite like all of these things, that isn't a criticism.

Their album lasts little over 30 minutes, as does the concert. A couple more tunes wouldn't have hurt, but they don't seem like they are going to release anything upon the world until it has been finely honed and polished. I hope they have the stamina to keep that going.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Bert Dobbie

Bert Dobbie - engineer, mountaineer and Scottish Skiiing Pioneer, 1924 - 2018

Bert Dobbie

This is a fuller version of the obituary for Bert Dobbie, that appeared in the Glasgow Herald, 26 February 2018.

Robert Dobbie, known as Bert, was an engineer, mountaineer and skiing pioneer. He died last Saturday in St Margaret’s Hospice, after a short illness, aged 93. The last time I saw him he was watching the opening ceremony from South Korea, where the world’s best skiers were gathering for the Winter Olympics. In Scotland Bert was one of the people who built the early ski tows and ski huts for a fledgling sport, and for many years led the team that ensured the safety of skiers and evacuated the injured from Glencoe.

He was brought up in Maryhill, close to the Maryhill PublicBaths and Wash House, in a large family with nine brothers and sisters. He was born on 12th July 1924 to Robert, who worked as a leerie, and Margaret. As well as running the home she worked in a chip shop, out in the morning to peel potatoes, and again at night to sell fish and chips.

Bert Dobbie, skiing in Glencoe, 1945
He started his working life as a boy in Maryhill delivering newspapers to the soldiers in Maryhill Barracks, earning tips by discreetly smuggling in cigarettes amongst their more mundane supplies. After leaving North Kelvinside School, aged 14 he began working in a grocer’s shop in Cleveden. He played the bugle in the local Boys Brigade, and early climbing experience for Maryhill boys could be found on the high dykes or on the rough walls of a local stable, the dung midden at the bottom providing a soft, if unappealing landing if you fell.

Bert Dobbie as a young man
It was in the 1930s that working-class men and women from the cities of Scotland started to take to the hills for recreation and Bert was part of that unofficial movement. Their pioneering spirit established the rights to roam in the Scottish countryside that we take for granted now. The ethos of these people was encapsulated by those that sat around the Craigallian fire, on the Carbeth estate. Discussions around the fire would range from walking and climbing tips, to debates on Socialism and the Spanish Civil War. Bert would sit as a teenager with these older men and listen to their stories and songs whilst a “drum” of tea was kept going on the fire. He was recently delighted to attend the unveiling of a memorial to these people near Strathblane. It was around the fire that the Lomond and Creagh Dhu Mountaineering Clubs were formed.

Hillwalking in Scotland, always big groups of men and women out in the hills together
As a young man he started walking in the Campsies andKilpatrick Hills, where in 1938 he met his lifelong friend Tom McGuinness. Together they would cut their teeth as rock climbers on the walls of The Whangie. Other favourite walks were around Balmaha where, as a strong swimmer, Bert would often head out into Loch Lomond to retrieve a boat to take him and his companions out to the islands. Ever practical, he and his friends would later build their own kayaks to spend weekends out on Loch Lomond. He was a great lover of sleeping out in the open air and told me of numerous dry nooks and crannies to doss down in on many a Scottish mountainside.

At the top of The Cobbler, early 1940s
Later he became a member of the Lomond Mountaineering Club and on Saturday mornings, with members of the Creagh Dhu Club, they would often clamber onto the back of a Bryson’s milk lorry at Anniesland Cross, as it headed towards Campbeltown. Getting off near the Rest and Be Thankful, TheCobbler and the Arrochar Alps were soon within their reach. Sleeping out overnight, they would catch the lorry on the road back on Sunday night. The driver would get a shilling for his trouble and in the back of the lorry they could dip their tea cans into the tanks for some fresh milk.
During the war Bert worked as a boilermaker on the Clyde, at the Clan Line Steamers Repairing Workshops. Occasionally this would involve passage on the ships as they went up and down to Liverpool or further afield. At weekends he was always back in the hills. Whilst his friend Tom could discreetly cut and fashion metal at his work in Barr and Stroud’s, to make nails for their climbing boots or create his own version of a carabiner, Bert would fashion ice axes and crampons in his workplace as their climbing abilities grew.

Dressed in tweeds and clambering up a rockface
On the night of the Clydebank Blitz, Bert and Tom were staying in a caravan at Halfway and became aware of the extent of what was happening the next morning as they came across families fleeing their homes. They gave up their caravan to some of them and spent a week off work helping the Scouts organisation set up tents and fires for those made homeless and forced to live under canvas for the first time in their lives.

Skiing in Glencoe
Preparing the equipment
En route to Skye, 1945. Left to right this is Ian Martn, Grace Morris, Bill Forrest, Margaret Morris, Rod Urquart, Willie Gordon, Anne Williams, Cath Simpson, Bert Dobbie and Tom McGuinness
When heavy falls of new snow made climbing unsafe, members of the mountaineering clubs became the first people to ski regularly in Glencoe. The favoured spot was on Meall a’Bhuridh, above Ba Cottage on RannochMoor. Ba Cottage was a substantial empty building over two floors, owned by the Black Mount Estate and it became a regular “doss” for the mountaineering clubs. After the Second World War ex-army skis, boots and other equipment meant that more working-class people from the cities took part in the climbing and skiing, and their popularity as recreation grew.
Climbers from the Ba Cottage were known to poach the occasional deer, and in 1948 the gamekeepers decided that they had had enough. Occasional poaching was not unusual, particularly as the war years had led to an increase in deer numbers. However, Bert remembered that things came to a head after one of his companions did some poaching with a German machine gun that he had brought back as a souvenir from the war. In response the estate gamekeepers felt a line had been crossed and burnt down the Ba Cottage.

The famous Ba Cottage, before it was burned down, skis at the ready
Camping in Glencoe, though to avoid carrying excess weight most nights were spent bivouacking, rather than under canvas
Undaunted, temporary camps of climbers grew up three miles further up into Glencoe. Using salvaged material from the Ba Cottage, and some tarpaulins from a railway yard in Tyndrum, Bert supervised his colleagues in building a new doss for the Lomond Mountaineering Club members from an old sheep fank, at White Corries near to where the Glencoe Ski Centre car park now sits.
Building the "sheep fank doss" in Glencoe, left to right Archie McFarlane, A.N.Other?, Bill Forrest, Andrew Wynd, Hugh Forrest, Ian Martin, Andrew Pryde, Tom McGuinness. Photo taken by Bert Dobbie
Bert Dobbie re-visiting the site of former doss of the Lomond Mountaineering Club in Glencoe last year
As an accomplished skier he travelled all over Scotland. He was spending a few days on Cairngorm with friends one time when famous hills man Tom Weir came clambering up the snow with his skis on. Amazed at the lack of polish on his wooden skis that had allowed him to do this, Bert lent him his expertise. After drying the skis by the fire, they were waxed up for him. Afterwards as Tom Weir whizzed down the hillside at a rate of knots, his red woollen hat and his gloves flew into the air as he disappeared over the horizon. Bert recalled that his immediate thought was "My God, I’ve killed Tom Weir."
Loaded up with climbing gear on the old Bergans backpacks and heading out on the motorbike
Looking towards the Hornli Ridge on the Matterhorn, 1949
After the war Bert started motorbiking on an old Triumph, and as well as giving him the freedom to go further afield in Scotland, he undertook some expeditions into Europe. One of my favourite photographs of his, from July 1949, shows him eyeing up the Hornli Ridge and the north face of the Matterhorn. As well as the Matterhorn, with the Lomond Club he also tackled Mont Blanc, the Eiger, and Picos de Europa in Spain. On one of his trips to Europe on the bike, he was refused entry to a restaurant for not wearing a tie. He went back outside and returned having ripped up an old cloth to fashion into a makeshift tie. When he found himself being admitted, he tore it off in disgust and walked out. This attitude of walking away from stuffiness and rules was a lifelong characteristic.

Skiing in the Campsies in the 1940s, past the Carbeth huts
Blackrock Cottage in Glencoe, which shows the extension they built here in the 1950s to store their ski equipment
Skiing at Ben Alder 1949
Whenever possible it was skiing he was returning to more and more often. When heavy snowfall meant the buses could not run to Glencoe, the Campsies sufficed. One highlight he remembered was in 1951 when a group of Norwegians set up a ski jump on Braid Hills in Edinburgh, though ski jumping did not seem to catch on. The Scottish Ski Club and Philip Rankin planned a ski tow at Glencoe to make the slopes there more accessible, and for this the engineering skills of Bert and several other members of the Creag Dhu and Lomond Clubs were exploited. Forming volunteer work parties and man-handling the equipment up the mountainside, the ski tows they constructed took their first passengers up Meall a’Bhuridh in 1956. His advice was later sought in the Aviemore developments.
First ski tow being built in Glencoe, 1956

In the 1960s he learned to become an accomplished seaman, sailing on a boat owned by his friend Glen Perry. Among his companions his excellent seamanship was greatly respected, whether in races or on trips to the islands. Later he was regularly deployed as coxswain on his cousin Jack Williamson’s boat. He developed an intimate knowledge of every rock, skerry and hazard on the treacherous waterways of the West coast and around the Sound of Mull. Years later in their 80s and 90s he still enjoyed an annual sailing trip up this way with old friends. One frustration in later years was that whenever they approached St Kilda, the weather turned against them and stopped them ever being able to disembark there.

Glencoe remained his true home from home, and for years he was a familiar face on the ski slopes there. When Tom McGuinness became manager of the ski resort in the late 1960s Bert was recruited to lead the Ski Rescue team at weekends. Alan Thomson’s book on Glencoe describes Bert as “the forceful leader” of the formative Glencoe Ski Rescue team, working there to ensure the safety of skiers and climbers over several decades. Their training came from years of personal experience on the hills and many of the casualties they dealt with over the years had suffered major trauma. In the early days friendly doctors would supply them with vials of morphine to give to any badly injured skiers or climbers, to help get them off the hills. The safety pin used on one occasion through an unconscious skier’s tongue to stop it slipping back and choking him as he was transported down the slope, is probably a technique that physicians no longer use.

Bert Dobbie, second on the left in the Glencoe Ski Rescue team
He married Jessie Thomson in 1950, and they shared their love of the Scottish hills, going away on many expeditions together, or further afield in the caravan he constructed for them. When her health was failing he spent many evenings up and down the roads to Ayrshire on his bike after work to visit her in hospital, and he was widowed in the early 1990s.

In his 70s he met my grandmother, Edna Climie, who was also widowed. Their friendship grew and led to them living happily together for over 20 years. The pair of them were never at home, and a morning run in the car was as likely to end up in Norwich as it was Drymen.

In later life he still took any opportunity to get into the great outdoors. A group of old friends met twice a year to stay in the GlenBrittle Hut in Skye and head to Coire Lagan in the Cuillins, or to go on sailing trips. When these outings started they called themselves the “500 Club”, the combined total of the ages of the seven men getting together, but as it got closer to becoming the “600 Club” they were still getting out to the hills together. Bert continued to keep his orthopaedic surgeon's busy, as he returned to ski again in Glencoe in his 80s after getting knee replacement surgery. 

Bert Dobbie 1924 - 2018
Latterly he became an attentive carer for my gran, after she developed dementia. Despite his own recent illness, he managed to continue looking after her in their own home until only a few days before he succumbed to the consequences of his exposure to asbestos in his early working life.
Bert is of the generation of Scottish men and women who felt that we all had a right to use the land around us. Self-taught and highly skilled, these early adventurers did not shout about their exploits, but are the people who made the outdoors great for us all. For us no family gathering will be the same now without Bert's songs, laughter and fantastic stories. 

Here are a couple of photos from February 2018 of the ruins of Ba Cottage, Glencoe Ski Centre and from Meall a'Bhuiridh. I went for a walk, taking Bert's old Bergan backpack to some familiar haunts. Funnily enough, the only deer that I spotted were above Ba Cottage, who obviously hadn't heard some of these old stories.