Is the SSE Hydro any good?

The Hydro 2

May 2014: Want to know which seats to book or where to stand for the best acoustics, then click here for our opinion. Read on for our initial impressions of the venue.

October 2013: On Monday of this week Glasgow’s newest concert venue opened with ‘Scottish’ son, Rod Stewart.

As much as I really wanted to see the venue, I only like Rod when The Faces are behind him. So that was a no go. It did only take three days more for me to get my first visit to the SSE Hydro to watch Fleetwood Mac.

Having spent the past few years watching The Hydro rise out of the earth, wondering how it would be, hoping it would sound good, I have to admit it was extremely exciting getting to go through the doors (once I worked out where they are) for that first time.

From the outside The Hydro (or The SSE Hydro to give it its official name) looks like we’ve just been visited by aliens. A huge flying saucer landed on a mound of grass in the middle of the concrete Finneston area of Glasgow. (The building even has coloured glass sections on the side of the saucer which reminds me of “Close Encounters” further creating the flying saucer feeling). The entrance is under a “lip” of grass that saucer appears to have landed upon.

Once inside the building is modern polished concrete-style which immediately put me in mind of Ethiad Stadium which we visited in June to see Muse. Around the outer and inner rims are shops, eateries, bars and merchandise stalls. For this visit we were not in the floor area, rather the raised seating. Therefore we had to climb to get to our entrance door. There were many escalators and also staircases (with toilets cleverly secreted in the mezzanine levels between floors) around the outer edge making it easy, spacious, and quick to ascend to the correct doorways for entry.


Inside the Mothership

The Hydro themselves refer to the performance arena part of the building as “the bowl”, and as soon as I walked in to find my seat it became clear why. What an overwhelming and stunning creation this is. From the outside it seems smaller – not quite TARDIS smaller – but when inside the “bowl” seems huge, imposing, and rather beautiful in its own way. Of course, I was looking from up high at the back; it’ll be a few weeks before I see it from the floor level.

All the seats sit almost completely in a circle around the floor, at a perfectly steep angle meaning the audience view isn’t restricted by those in front, and all can look down – almost judicially – on the performance taking place on the stage. The audience envelop the performers on the stage and not stand in front and sit at the back.

Here’s the thing; I hate sitting at a gig. I feel disconnected, not part of the action, not involved with the crowd. Not here. Considering its size, capacity (~13,000) and height, I felt very much part of the show and would happily sit pretty much anywhere in here and know I’d get a great view.

Now here’s the most important part. We have all been to big shows in arenas, and stadiums and know that it often ends up being more about the spectacle than the sound. As much as I have affection for the dear old Hall 4 of the SECC, nobody will talk for hours about its supreme acoustics. Up and down the country the arenas in Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham, and pretty much everywhere else suffer the same fate; they don’t always sound that good.


Staring at the ceiling

I put my hand on my heart and say that from my seat, in Block 228, Row S, very high up, and pretty far back the acoustics were nothing short of immaculate. Really immaculate. Not a single thing to complain about. As we walked to the bathroom mid-show and came back to our seats the sound didn’t change in terms of quality.

Again, I would like to hear it from the floor, but I am pretty convinced by the shape that in any of the seats the sounds will be the same as where I sat last night. Thank you builders and designers of this venue! Seriously it is the most important thing for a concert venue, and often gets overlooked or corners cut. That does not yet seem to be the case here.

My last thoughts on the venue are this: I love The O2 in London, it is even more of an enormo-dome, but I love it. Not just because of the show itself, but the experience of going there always makes a concert feel like an event. In a similar way going to The Hydro felt the same. Sure it was a first time, and that may dissipate somewhat, but in all honestly watching the show from my perch, with such crystal clear acoustics and perfect view I got excited thinking about all the bands I’d love to see in there. Not just ones announced, you know, thinking through a list of bands who need to come to The Hydro and play in that bowl.

Well done The Hydro, a venue to further cement Glasgow as the go-to concert city for artists.

Gareth Fraser
Latest posts by Gareth Fraser (see all)

47 thoughts on “Is the SSE Hydro any good?

  1. Just paid £125 (x2) for Fleetwood Mac tickets. Bought best seats in The Hydro so I could get a good view. Only a dozen seats from the front. Great view, till the band came on, and everyone stood up. Couldn’t see an effing thing. Stayed for 45mts. People still standing, so we both left disgusted. Why pay that much for a seat, then stand all night. There is a standing area at front for people to stand if they wish. In the SECC the staff ask everyone to stay seated so people can all see. This does not appear to be the policy at the hydro. I’m not a kill joy. Stand at the end by all means, but not all night. WARNING. The ground level at the hydro is not tiered. So unless you are over 6ft, and are prepared to stand for 2 1/2 hours. Don’t go.

    • That’s a shame Mike.

      Personally – as I said in my review – I like to stand at a concert. I feel more engaged and – especially at a rock concert – I feel more atmosphere and am able to dance / jump around / whatever feels comfortable.

      Every large seating venue I’ve been in, people stand all the time. At The O2 at a Paul McCartney gig we watched stewards tell a guy complaining about people in front standing, that they paid for their ticket then they are free to do what ever they want in that space they paid for.

      Even in Hall 4 at the SECC I’ve never seen the stewards tell people to sit though – Rush and The Who come to mind immediately.

      A tricky one for sure, and I do feel for you, though as shame you wouldn’t want to stand yourself? I recommend the tiered seats in future, as the view was fantastic.

  2. Laurence Fraser October 14, 2013 at 14:13 -

    Saturday was my first visit to the Hydro for the Proclaimers. I thought they were great but the sound where we were sitting (second tier, about 4 o’clock to the stage) was truly dire. Not sure if it was the PA or the bulding but I suspect the latter. How could it be otherwise with all that unfinished concrete (it is just a concrete bowl with seats)and metal roof.

    • That’s really interesting Laurence. I was second tier about 7pm and the sound was immaculate.

      I wonder if it is the PA / sound engineer rather than the venue. There are venues, The O2 in London comes to mind immediately, which also sound pretty darned good yet are big concrete bowls.

      I am back in there next week and located in a different place. I wait with anticipation to find out how the sound is.

  3. Absolutely nothing to do with the sound engineers. At Peter Gabriel a truly spectacular production was ruined by the poorest acoustics ever heard in Glasgow. I sat one row in front if the sound desk and I can only imagine the echos I heard were as good as it got. Awful sound, awful car parking, another SECC cowshed. Poor Peter tried everything to get the crowd going but we just couldn’t hear properly.

    • That’s very interesting. I know people who were at that show and they said the acoustics were perfectly clear.

      Thanks for the comment; definitely getting mixed feedback though mostly positive.

      • 4 people have now commented on this article.
        One left the Fleetwood Mac gig because of people standing but didn’t comment on the sound.
        One saw The Proclaimers and described the sound as ‘dire’.
        One saw Peter Gabriel and described the sound as ‘awful’.
        I’ve added ‘truly awful’ and ‘appalled’.

        What’s mixed about that feedback and where’s the ‘mostly positive’?

        • Simple really. I wasn’t talking about the comments on here, rather the groups and groups of people I have spoken with who have shared their experience.

          People online tend to only comment if they have something negative to say or feel aggrieved. Sadly.

          Doesn’t mean their view isn’t true or accurate, but isn’t always representative of all.

          I’ve been to two gigs in the venue. One seating, one standing. The seating gig had immaculate sound and what this ‘first impression’ article was based upon.

          It’s a first impression. It can change, and Alter Bridge from the floor sounded not as clear as the previous gig, however it was nowhere near awful and still way better than Hall 4. Slight echo but total clarity is better then rumbling muffled noise in my opinion.

    • I was on the floor (Block A, Row K, Level 0) for Peter Gabriel and can confirm that the acoustics were truly awful. It was quickly apparent during the support act that any noise (such as a drumbeat) echoed off the back wall and gave the impression that the audience were clapping out of time. On quieter songs Peter’s voice was echoing off the back wall too.
      Truly appalled that a modern venue can sound this bad.

      • So at Alter Bridge, for the support band we experienced that too from floor level.

        For the headline act the ‘echo’ was not evident, but is definitely a concern. From the raised seats (Level 2 upward) that echo was not there – my Fleetwood Mac Experience.

  4. I attended Peter Gabriel too and was very, very disappointed with acoustics. The sound was “tinny” and the echo really off-putting. I am concerned that this venue is not an improvement on the SECC at all. It sure looks nice but if the sound is still bad it is a huge waste of time..

    • Oh that is a real worry.

      Thanks for taking the time to pass on your feedback. Out if interest where were you in the venue?

      A little more worried now.

      • I was on the floor facing the stage to the right as you look at the stage about 15/16 rows from the front. Good seats but I was definitely disappointed with the sound. It was cold and tinny as I mentioned. The echo was really noticeable. If I moved my head even slightly then I was hearing it all the time. You couldnt really hear what he was saying when he spoke either. I’m due to go back in a few weeks and hope its better-perhaps with a standing crowd on the floor it helps?

        • Thanks.

          On Monday when we were on the floor – after the first impressions article was written – I noticed the same sort of echo. But not as bad as you describe.

          That is a worry. Would be keen to hear what you think when you go back.

          • Will do. My son is going to see the Arctic Monkeys on 1st Nov and then I am back for Vampire Weekend couiple of weeks later. Let you know our views of these gigs. Cheers.Jim

  5. Pingback: Alter Bridge, Shinedown and Halestorm rocking out live at SSE Hydro Glasgow

  6. I was at depeche Mode concert last night, had been waiting for mths to see my fave band as I have NEVER seen them. i was standing 12 ft from stage and acoustics were too bassy. I am totally disappointed with this venue. It was pitch black, black concrete floors and the seating looked too steep to me. Also stage was so low, even though i was at front i couldnt see much. could have made stage bigger, taller so everyone could see…am really disappointed with Hydro. A real let down. DM did their best and were trying to get it sorted. Concrete is cheap!! i feel robbed!!

    • That’s a shame Wendy, I’ve been back a few times since (and excepting early on at Alter Bridge) have had no problems with the sound. The Stereophonics sounded pretty perfect – we were stood just in front of the sound desk.

      I don’t understand why having a venue black is a negative; it is meant to be dark when the show is on. Appreciate you taking the time to comment.

  7. Thanks gareth. It was the bleak atmosphere; the black added to the bleakness I think. The building is mostly concrete…still should have had bigger stage and better acoustics at all times. Was a bit echoey too. am not impressed with this venue!

    • I totally understand the echo thing. I got that at beginning of Alter Bridge but the sound engineer soon fixed it. It is a new venue and will have teething problems until a perfect setup is created. I guess even then sometimes the sound just doesn’t work on a certain night. I’ve seen that in almost every venue; be it the band, the equipment, the engineer or the venue itself.

      I wrote the article based on first impressions, I have been back a few times since, always standing. The first was seating. The seats aren’t as steep as you perhaps fear, and I would recommend giving them a try.

      It’s a shame your first impressions were negative, I hope over time that changes for you as I think that’ll be a the venue of choice for most acts in the coming years.

  8. I’m going here in a couple of week and was wondering if on level 2 tiered seats if you are allowed to stand??

    • Hi Nicole, I have seen people stand, yes. Of course I’ve also seen people behind complaining cause they then can’t see. I guess it depends on who you are going to see. What I will say is that, I’ve not seen anyone be told by staff to sit down on the seated area.

      It may be worth sending the Hydro a tweet or an email and getting the official position.

  9. Seen del amitri. Band were fantastic even thou disappointed sound echos and speech is awful. Sounds like your watching 2 bands at same time. Sort it for nine inch nails or I not be back

  10. I was at the Del Amitri gig too, in the “bowl” block 004, row S. Sound was awful. The Big Dish were virtually unlistenable due to the bounce back from the drums and the vocals were really harsh. I could hardly make out which song they were singing. Del Amitri were louder (and brilliant) which helped drown out the sound issues a little, but the bounce-back was still audible and the vocals although better, not particularly clear. I’ve been to another show there and sat in the circle, sound wasn’t quite so bad, but vocals weren’t clear.

    • That’s such a shame. I’ve only sat once (as per this original first impressions article), and the sound was great.

      Every other time I’ve stood and had virtually no problems. But from the description you’ve given 004 is on the floor is it not?

      Sound engineers should be able to mix and fix the sound to a greater extent, but that amount of echo is not tolerable. Have you fed back to the Hydro?

  11. I was at the Hydro for the first time on Friday to see Del Amitri. As others have said, the sound was truly appalling. Having now seen the inside of the venue, there is no way it could be anything else. There are miles of reflective surfaces – all that exposed concrete is only going to do one thing – bounce the sound around the arena. The bass boom was especially bad. There was a certain bass note which, when played, made the entire arena reverberate. Even with decent ear plugs in (as a musician I protect my hearing) the sound was simply terrible. Justin Currie was interviewed on the BBC before the gig saying the band was not looking forward to it as they knew how bad the acoustics were. Even so, both they and The Big Dish put on a great show which I enjoyed greatly. Just a shame that after all the hype, we now have a venue which sounds even worse than the SECC. They need to cover the concrete with a sound absorbing material. Getting rid of those reflections would make it 10 times better.

  12. Lorraine Andrrson February 1, 2014 at 19:56 -

    I have tickets at very back at hydro, just wondering if I will see anything on stage from block 330 row EE ?

    • Hi Lorraine, it’s a straight line view which is meant to be 65 feet at further at distance from stage.

      One of the other writers for the site has sat in 330 and said he had good view and sound there.

      Fingers crossed for you. What show is it?

  13. Lorraine Andrrson February 1, 2014 at 22:09 -

    Thanks Gareth, its for the fall out boy concert in march, i got tickets for my son for his 13th birthday, we have never been to the hydro, I didnt get chance to check seating plan until after checkout and when I did I was gutted to see how far back he was x

  14. Lorraine Andrrson February 1, 2014 at 22:18 -

    Thanks Gareth I feel reassured that he will see ok, its his first concert and didnt want him dissapointed x

    • So what he isn’t is right down in the middle of the action, but as a first concert at 13, it’s a gentle introduction approach. I was at my first aged 12, my next I was 14. I’ve never looked back since and hit 1,000 concerts in October.

      I hope he loves it and becomes as addicted to live music as I did with those first few shows.

  15. Lorraine Andrrson February 1, 2014 at 23:25 -

    Im sure he will love it, he has been nagging non stop to go, he doesn’t know I have tickets yet, will be a surprise, think this will be first of many for him, he loves his music

  16. I’m taking my mum to her first concert (Gary Barlow haha) in April and could only get seats in block 50. Are these restricted view seating or will we still see plenty?

    • Hi Sam, Block 50 are very side on to the stage, but due to the positioning of amps etc, it is unlikely you will have any restrictions to your view.

      Of course, each stage show is different but I would be surprised if it the seating was impacted in this way. Side on is often a great way to watch how a band perform live and adds to the experience than just the usual “straight on classic gig” view.

      We hope your Mum (and you) enjoy it!

  17. Pingback: Justin Timberlake – SSE Hydro, Glasgow – 05/04/14 | Musicscramble

  18. Hi I wonder if you could help me I am going to the hydro for the first time for the robbie Williams concert. We are sitting in the assesible seating area as my mum is in a wheelchair but I can’t seem to find any info on the view from this area is it any good? Will my mum be able to see ok? I will also be 7 months pregnant at the time so looking forward to sitting at a concert for the first time ever! Thank you 🙂

    • Gareth May 19, 2014 at 09:38 - Author

      Hi Amanda, congratulations! My wife and I were at the Hydro many times whilst pregnant and it was always an enjoyable experience.

      The accessible seating area has a fantastic view as it is slightly raised from the standing area, at the back of that same area. I suspect you will love where you are sat.

  19. Have now seen Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds, Nine Inch Nails at the hydro – all excellent live acts with notably meticulous arrangements and world class sound engineers…..VENUE ACOUSTICS ARE TERRIBLE, bottom end is muddy [bass & kick] and the top end has the most horrendous echo, sometimes you hear the hi-hats 3 times in random timing!
    There may be a sweet spot but i haven’t found it! – too expensive for such low quality all round.

    anyone who thinks the sound is good either doesn’t know or likes the ‘Emperors new clothes’

    ‘Tatties doon a chute!’ – avoid the Hydro if you want to ‘hear’ the music.

    • Gareth May 22, 2014 at 08:29 - Author

      Thanks for your comment. I must admit to disagreeing. OK so I’ve only been at one of those shows – NIN so can’t comment on the others.

      However having been at Fleetwood Mac, Alter Bridge, Stereophonics, 30STM, Nickelback, Black Sabbath, Beyoncé, Elbow, NIN in the venue I don’t hear what you hear.

      Maybe it is a sweet spot thing as I do tend to stand in similar spots (well apart from those shows I’ve sat at), but still.

      Emporer’s new clothes? Ha! I don’t go to certain venues due to my hatred of the acoustics, so I’d be quick to admit if I believed that to be the case.

  20. Pingback: What are the best seats in Glasgow’s SSE Hydro? | Musicscramble