Friday, 15 November 2013

The Barras. Barrowland.Argyll Street. River Clyde Walkway.

I certainly had a lot of mileage out of this years Doors Open Day in late September. After wandering around the city centre to visit all the new murals and buildings open to the public I then headed east along Argyll Street and through the Merchant City District.
Although the nearby Merchant City is a posh enclave of old warehouses and squares that have been transformed from near dereliction into upmarket apartments, bars, restaurants and shops this part of Argyll Street always has more of an edge to it and even tourists to the city must feel that they are leaving the more cosmopolitan shopping streets behind. The Kirk Steeple and Tron Theatre mark the boundary between east and west. The Steeple dates from the early 1630s making it one of the oldest buildings remaining in the city centre.
The sculpture outside the Tron theatre. Says it all really. X factor art for a modern generation.
More to my taste.. and not because of the half naked females either. It's just better quality combined with beauty of concept and design. I may lie in the gutter but I always stare up at the stars.
Passing Glasgow Cross, still heading east you enter the Calton and the world famous Barras Market.
That's what it says on the faded sign anyway. In reality I wonder how long this place can keep going
as pound shops, charity outlets, cheap discount supermarkets and a shrinking number of visitors  mean that profits must be slim and new ways of earning money are increasingly limited for the shrewd entrepreneur. I found myself wondering what a modern stall holder looked like and was surprised by the answer. A good link here. Well worth watching both videos inside. The Billy Connolly video has some great archive footage at the start filmed in the streets around the market.

I just happened to be passing by around closing time which is never a good time to see any market at its best, especially on a dull rainy day. It's fair to say its glory days are behind it for the moment though you can still get good deals here if you know where to look. Like most of his generation my dad used to love this place and dragged me round the various stalls and covered lanes on a Sunday looking for bargains, old books and household items many times during the swinging sixties. Then it was a thriving busy place, full of entertaining noisy traders making a decent living selling carpets, furniture, fancy goods, dishes, and anything else that could turn a coin. The popular seafood stall selling mussels soaked in vinegar, whelks, clappy doos ( a large black mussel.) and crabs always seemed to get a visit on our rounds. After a large bag of whelks aged around six I was violently sick for several days afterwards and never touched seafood again, probably due to stuffing myself with an oversized helping of an unfamiliar shell dwelling creature rather than anything sinister. They certainly got me back for stabbing them all in their shells with a pin.
Even looking at it today it still feels very Oliver twist and Fagin like with many old Dickensian buildings still standing, though in need of repair and restoration. Maybe this area has the potential to be redeveloped in some fashion, like the merchant city. There are many unique buildings in the Calton area and it is slowly transforming itself with new projects though this current recession certainly hasn't helped.
When you watch the news about the continued growth and investment in the nations capital and big banking sector its like messages from a different planet as in many parts of the UK, in its cities and towns, its always been austerity Britain.

The tall building above dates from the late 1800s and was originally used as White's Clay Pipe Factory and Tobacco works. It's currently a studio for art projects, mainly to keep it occupied. As a youngster wandering around the crowded lanes here in the 1960s I met more than a few Artful Dodgers my own age who called this place home and they always seemed to be wilder, harder, faster and more street wise than I was used to, living as a country bumpkin on the outskirts of the city. Maybe for that reason alone I always viewed this place with distrust and suspicion from the outset and had a slightly claustrophobic attitude towards the covered in lanes and maze of corridors between stalls where you could easily get separated from parental guidance and become a victim of fast feet and young hands. While the adults searched for bargains above our heads in the packed stalls the 'what's yours is mine' policy seemed to be popular among smaller mortals fending for themselves below and I always breathed a sigh of relief when we headed for the exit to brave the night time streets and the bus home. Union Street in winter, after dark, in those days hummed with  thousands of starlings crowded onto the street lights and wires above the bus stops and their whistles and calls were a highlight of any night-time trip to see the Christmas lights in George Square. Half a million birds huddled above our heads at their peak. Deemed a building fouling pest by the city authorities however they were driven out of the city centre many years ago.

A tranquil scene on the nearby River Clyde looking across the water at the Glasgow Central Mosque.
Built in 1983 on a four acre site this view could be anywhere in the world. Who needs the Taj Mahal
when you have autumn reflections as good as this on your doorstep in leafy Glasgow?
Suddenly the old familiar city doesn't seem so familiar anymore. Everywhere in large cities like Glasgow the strange and exotic wait to be found. A face appears from a wall.

Weird creatures settle on buildings.

Symbols appear. Be they signs of good or evil?
 Inside Barrowland. First opened in the 1930s. Burnt down in 1958. Rebuilt in 1960. Couldn't resist a visit to the old ballroom and music venue during Doors Open Day. Over the years I've seen a fair number of cracking bands and artists in here, folk , rock, punk, and indie bands mainly. Still an atmospheric place and repeatedly voted the best music venue in the UK by many international groups, not just home grown talent. With a capacity of only 2000 approx., great acoustics and a unique atmosphere it can generate a buzz many larger, more modern venues must envy which is why it features on numerous records by groups wanting to capture a great live sound in an intimate setting. People of my generation largely know it for its musical pedigree but it was once a popular and lively dance hall. When you stand in it alone you can feel that history seeping through the walls and almost hear that ballroom sound with ghostly feet sliding across the polished floor. Although it has enjoyed a long proud musical history I suppose it will always be partly remembered for the series of events that happened in the late nineteen sixties. The appearance of a polite young man named 'Bible John'.
The speculation involving the true identity of this notorious uncaught serial killer at the end of this link is  interesting.
A back lane near the old Paddy's Market site. Slide show of the market in here.
If the Barras were the place to visit for cheap bargains then Paddy's market was another level down again. In its heyday this was yet another treasure trove for my father to explore on a Sunday with a reluctant me in tow. Call me a snob but I disliked it intensely as the less perishable goods for sale were often just placed along the walls of the lane in the pouring rain if the tables were full. I remember being mortified when my dad, who was unemployed at that point after the factory he worked in closed down, bought a coat which had been placed flat on the ground and had acquired a few lumps of dog dirt on it thanks to a stray mutt with loose bowels. He haggled a bit and got it even cheaper due to this fact. 'That's nothing. It will wash off.' he explained when I complained.' Got a real bargain there.'
He had to wash it in the river then wring it out by hand, placing it in a bag before carrying it onto the bus. On the up side, with the money he saved on the coat, I did get a bike for Christmas. From the Barras of course. A bargain!
                                      And finally.....a wee stroll home along the River Clyde.


The Glebe Blog said...

You've some great memories Bob. I remember as a fairly young teenager, my elder cousins used to go off in the bus to see what they could pick up at the Barras. I also remember W.Alexander getting up a bus or two for the reopening of the ballroom. At 17 I'd started gaun tae the dancin, but I couldnae afford the price o' the bus on an apprentices pay. Those of my cousins who did get came back with stories of the unbelievable talent in the place. It's only in the last few years I've ever got near the place with a couple of visits the the Britannia Panopticon. I must make 2014 a visit Glasgow year!

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Jim.
It took a longer time than expected to put together as I tried to pack as much interesting info and good links as I could into it. The Billy Connolly video has some classic scenes of the old tenement lifestyle taken around the district.
I always just write these posts off the cuff and think its going to take a couple of hours and I'm still there typing away six hours later:)