A tour of the Glasgow Barrowland Ballroom

Barrowland Tour #1 (c) GF 2013 At first I wasn’t sure what to write about for the September write up. The incredible live return of Babyshambles, a new Arctic Monkeys album, Nirvana’s In Utero re-release. September was pretty rich in content. On the weekend of the 21st and 22nd my mind was made up for me.

I was fortunate enough to be a tour guide for this year’s Doors Open Days 2013 weekend at the world-famous Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow – and what an experience it was. As a live music fan The Barrowland is sacred ground and a place I’ve been in awe of since my teens (now sadly many, many years ago). The prospect itself was daunting – tour guides were tasked with being experts in the history of the building and the role came with the silent expectation that we would be able to field questions from fans who frequented it as a Ballroom, a roller disco and a concert venue. People would want to know about its beginnings, its architecture and anything else they decided they had to know at a moments notice.

Barrowland Tour #2 (c) GF 2013In the lead up to the event the tour guides spent time with Tom Joyes (Barrowland Manager) to learn about the history and partake in a walk-round of the venue. The feeling you get when you finally get through the doors of the main band dressing room and walk into over 50 years of history is something I’ll never forget. From the dressing rooms we done ‘the walk’, from the dressing room to the stage which is only a few metres, and the feeling was magical. As a regular punter you never think you’ll get the chance to do that

Before I go on its important I talk briefly about how The Barrowland got to its current status as an iconic music venue. The decision was made by Simple Minds way back in 1983 when they were looking for a venue to film a video for ‘Waterfront’, their latest single. The Barrowland threw their hat in the ring and in what has been described as an Emperor Nero moment, the thumbs up was given and history as we now know it was made.

Barrowland Tour #4 (c) GF 2013Come the Doors Open weekend the 6 tour guides were ready to go; we were all well prepared thanks to Tom Joyes putting together plentiful amounts of historical sound bites, documentation and floor plans for us to prepare with. I admittedly had some butterflies on the morning walking up to the venue, particularly when being met with balloons and posters at the main entrance but I was very much ready for the weekend. As we discussed last-minute tweaks to our material, gathered bottles of water and tried (unsuccessfully) to get the PA system working for the weekend playlist, the doors opened and in spilled the crowd. Small trickles at first but as the day went on it went from groups of 8 into groups of sometimes more than 30.

Barrowland Tour #3 (c) GF 2013

The original sound bites we had prepared were amended as the day went on and we learned and adjusted on our feet about history from the visitors and the tours got richer and richer as the weekend progressed. As a tour guide, my mind was focused on the route, not losing anyone (harder than you’d think) in the tour groups and making it a fun, enjoyable experience. Due to the volume of people wanting to go on the tour there were last minute route changes where my knowledge of fire exits and their end-points came in very handy when it came to the guides agreeing by just a few words or a nod that a route change was required.

Some visitors had stories so excellent that the prepared material was abandoned for parts and natural conversations spilled out among the groups. I had a couple who met at The Rolling Stones gig in ’64, couples who met in the 60’s when at the dancing and would point to the spot they met on the dance floor, a few guys who talked about scraps with rival gents and bouncers alike, friends of bands who had played there and people who only knew it as a roller disco venue! Amazing.

BUszy5WCAAAg1AC.jpg-largeMy big highlight of the weekend, visitor stories aside was seeing people react the way I did when I went backstage and on stage. The huge grins on their faces as they looked at the stars on the ceiling and their genuine happiness and surprise that they were stood on the hallowed stage was brilliant.

Every generation was represented on that stage over the weekend from more mature ex-ballroom dancing couples, gig-goers, the roller skaters of the 70’s, old Glasgow gang members, ex-bouncers and babies. Over the weekend we welcomed over 2,500 people through the doors.

There was also a cause for extra celebration over the weekend as we supported Nuala Naughton’s book launch for ‘Barrowland – A Glasgow Experience’ (which also manages to feature yours truly and Gareth) and also helped her celebrate her wedding – the first ever to be held in the venue. She got married in the dressing room like a rock star should and the after party was a great celebration of the event.

Roll on next year so I can do it all again!

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