It’s carnival time

From the jitterbug to Bible John, the Barrowland has a history that is nothing if not colourful.

”l Louisa Pearson

When David Bowie, Nick Cave and Craig David were even less than a twinkle in their parents eyes, the Barrowland was jumping. Not as a rock venue, but as the ‘dancin” which nice girls would lie to their parents about going to and men would get spruced up for in search of the ultimate goal: getting a lumber. Here’s how it all began.

1934: Margaret Mclvor, the ‘Barras Queen’ had established the market back in 1921. As part of the modernising process, Mrs Mclvor decided to build a second floor. On Christmas Eve 1934 the Barrowland Ballroom opened (without the aid of an architect, surveyor or even a contract) and quickly became the best-known dancehall in Scotland. Initially the dancehall was let to Billy Blue and the Bluebirds, but when Mclvor saw the popularity of the venue she decided to run it herself, poaching the band’s drummer Billy McGregor who soon became renowned for creating a party atmosphere. At this time the illuminated sign was on the roof and depicted a man pushing a barrow.

Throughout the 305 and 403, the crowds danced to the big band showing off their skills at the foxtrot, tangos and when World War II came around, the Ballroom was one of the few places in Glasgow that allowed new dances like the jitterbug. The dancers’ antics were so lively that a section was cordoned off for the jivers, leaving the rest of the space free for traditional ballroom dancing.

In 1948 the venue’s capacity was increased by half. The Gaybirds kept up the tactics to keep the crowd entertained. Some nights hatches on the roof would open to pour out hundreds of balloons as McGregor yelled, ‘lt’s carnival time!’ On another famous

occasion one band member was performing the Indian Rope Trick when the rope-pulling mechanism snapped leaving him to hurtle down into the grand piano. Of course the crowd went wild.

It wasn’t all fun and games. In the 505 and 605 there were fights most nights as rival gangs came armed with knives and looking for trouble. Bouncers searched for weapons and drink (it wasn’t licensed at this time) but that didn’t stop the violence.

1958 was a bad year for the Barrowland. In June Maggie Mclver died, then in August the venue was burned to the ground. The family vowed to continue and by Christmas Eve 1960 the rebuilt, new improved Ballroom opened, with a capacity of 2000. The commemorative programme paints a grand picture: ‘On the Ballroom floor level, generous lounge and café areas are provided together with additional Ladies Toilets, Powder Room and Hang Bag depository. The ceiling is finished in Midnight Blue with applied stars finished Silver Glitter’ (one of these stars was later rumoured to have fallen down and been pocketed by David Bowie).

The 605 started off well for the Ballroom; Lulu was discovered here and Lena Martell started her career singing with the Gaybirds. Particularly popular were the competition dances where winners had to choose which box to open as a prize; it could contain anything from £100 to a rotten egg.

The notorious Bible John murders in the late 60$ dealt a blow to the venue. The three murder victims had been dancing at the Ballroom and the impact of the murders saw the venue’s popularity wane. In 1973 it became licensed for over 213 only and again attendance dropped to only a few hundred.

Who’d have thought the Simple Minds filming a video in 1983 could have reversed the Barrowland’s fortunes? It did and in the last eighteen years it’s become the venue of choice for the great and good of the rock world. But there are still plenty of people out there who remember it as the place to go


The all-new Barrowland in 1960 complete with Ladies Toilets, Powder Room and

Hand Bag depository


Hundreds of bands have trod those hallowed boards since 1984. Here is a selection of some of the more unusual highlights.

Beastie Boys: 29 May 1987 Long before they became the calm. eco-conscious Dalai Lama lovers we know today, they caused outrage

(as the Sunday Mail called it) wrth girls in cages, inflatable Bud cans and ‘Fight For Your Right To Party'. Changed days.

Jane’s Addiction: 8 March


Hardly the most understated band to begin wrth, Perry Farrell and his band of LA misfits arrived onto a stage scattered with rose petals and shrouded in ruby red drapes before launching into a set of their finest work and what fans regard as one of their best ever shows. Soundgarden: 11 April 1994 0" " ‘1' " "2 {1,41% ii'”) 52'

",1 (, a I .i'.,.; ',‘ ‘,

Daft Punk: 31 October 1998 Halloween has never been so freaky as the Gallic duo adorned the walls with projections of zombies. ghouls and Freddy Krueger and dished out a blistering set of their meaty disco junkfunk.

Alice Cooper: 16 July 2000 Never the most understaded of performers (see Jane's Addiction) ol' Coops proved he still had the magic that shot him to prominence in the 70s with a spectacularly theatrical performance containing an 88M dominatrix. a dodgy nurse and Alice being beheaded as a finale.



The Beastie Boys