WEEK FIFTY-SIX- The Glasgow Empire/ Glasgow Barrowland Ballroom

>> The Glasgow Empire

Glasgow Barrowland Ballroom <<

glasgow-empire                         OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We celebrate Glasgow nightlife past and present this week – when Scotland goes out on the town it often ends up in a place much like one of our two subjects. In years gone by, the Glasgow Empire was the leading music hall and variety venue in the city for nearly 70 years until its closure in 1963. Situated on Sauchiehall Street, it was one of the national chain of theatres owned by Sir Edward Moss, playing host to many of the top singers, comics and entertainers through the golden age of variety from 1930-1960. Despite aspiring to gentility in décor and high-class entertainment, it developed a fearsome reputation as being a difficult ‘house’ to win over, and proved to be the graveyard of many an act (particularly if they were English). By contrast, the Glasgow Barrowland ballroom (opening on Christmas Eve 1934) was a less genteel venue situated to the east of the city centre, adjacent to the ‘Barras’ market. Maggie McIver, ‘Queen of the Barras’ and founder of the ballroom, died in 1958 which was gutted by fire soon afterwards, but the rise of popular music which did for venues like the Empire proved to be the lifeblood of the Barrowland. In its time it has played host to acts as diverse as Lulu, The Clash and Oasis, despite achieving grisly notoriety as the haunt of murderer ‘Bible John’ in the late 1960s. Again, the contrast between venues is in aspiration – one a gilded palace of variety, the other a more rough-and-ready dancehall, but both made intimidating by the demanding Glaswegian audiences who frequented them.

Glasgow Empire
by Liz Niven

‘If they liked ye they let ye live’.
A luxury no afforded thae globe-trottin
Empire buildin sodgers.

Back hame fear-fillt shoes tread
the theatre’s widden boards.
Shoutin fae sherp-tongued audiences.

‘See ye at the Depot oan Monday morn,
Ya wee fat bastard’.
Tae the comic wi a bus drivin day joab.

‘Christ, there’s two o them’,
Bernie Winter’s fissog peerin
Throu the curtains efter Mike.

Bugger aff’, tae the Irishmen
who reversed aff stage singin,
Right ye are bejabbers’.

‘Goodnight all’,
on Des O Connor’s soles.
Carried aff efter a feigned faint.

Ice cream flung at a topless act.
A coin lobbed aff Bobby the Maestro’s heid.
Ten bob a week extra in danger money.

Victor Seaforth in a cold sweat kennin
he’d tae finish his Charles Laughton Quasimodo.
‘Away hame ya humpy-backed aul bastard’. 

Till nae turn was unstaned an the tide turnt.
Duncan Macrae an Albert Finney
strikin demolition’s first blows.

Thon tap-tappin echoed ower the globe,
no jist in this country, a wey o life chyngin
boays in tartan bunnets marchin hame.

Colonels packin in thir ain wee Empires,
fortunes made In far flung places.
Noo mair nor an Empire Theatre brekkin tae bits.



I Remember Your First Time
by Colin Begg


I took you there sight unseen
last winter touring season –
my South Belfast girl, mixed marriage.
Your blue eyes had never darkened the Gallowgate.

Out past the Sarrie Heid
hugging the north side of the road
your pupils narrowed
at lights blazing: Barrowland!!

Past the louts, through the touts,
frisked by stout bouncers,
through the metal detector
up the mirrored stair to the bar:

cheap lager, tacky lino,
ghostly Sixties gauds
and the stale Brut
of Bible John.


After a final sound check,
(one, two        two      p-pow!)
(because roadies can’t count to three…)
the bands always start
              with a darkness
              a stage of shadows
              a spreading cheer
              a press-forwards
              lights! anticipation! feedback!
We find a place, on the left.

The Jesus and Mary Chain play
Psychocandy Live is fuzz fuzz, whirling wires,
white persistence,
smoke, smoke and twisting ire,
melted-down vocals.

Time dilates and spreads–
through jumpsweat of crowd,
starry ceiling, bouncy floor, faint piss,
nose-tang of smoke machine smoke,
comes olfactory roll call of
              lovers lost
              bands seen
              friends missed
              old stubs in my scrapbook.
              sweet spill of beer.

You turned with a barbed wire kiss,
caught my mood:
moving up and still alive,
still like honey.




Liz Niven
is a poet writing in Scots and English. Her last collection, The Shard Box, was a Scottish Libraries Summer Read. Awards include McCash/Herald and, TESS/Saltire for her groundbreaking work for the Scots language in education. She is Poet-in-residence at Inverness Airport, has had poetry engraved in wood and stone in southwest Scotland and also on Temple Forest folly. She is an honorary Fellow of the Association of Scottish Literature and an executive member of Scottish PEN.




Colin Begg is a writer, editor & doctor from Ayrshire, currently working for the NHS in Glasgow. He is co-editor and co-founder of Gutter magazine. His poems have appeared in many periodicals, from Poetry Scotland to The British Journal of Psychiatry, as well as several small anthologies and four New Writing Scotland annuals. He is a previous recipient of a Hawthornden Fellowship and a Clydebuilt Poetry Apprenticeship. In 2013 he won the Basil Bunting Poetry Award.  He is currently working on his first poetry collection.




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