The Glasgow Barrowland

Barrowland Ballroom (in the days when we could go to gigs there)

When we read that a new mural had been unveiled on a wall of the Barrowland Ballroom, we decided to take a walk down to the East End to look at it. It celebrates the novel Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, who last year became only the second Scottish writer to win the prestigious Booker Prize. It’s a gritty tale of the eponymous Shuggie, growing up in and around Glasgow in the 1980s with an alcoholic mother and a sense that he is different from the other boys, with all the problems that brings with it. The mural was commissioned by the novel’s UK publisher, Picador, to celebrate the publication of the paperback edition.

Despite the harshness of his life, Shuggie ends the book on a dance step and the artists, Cobalt Collective, have chosen a bright moment for the mural in which Shuggie’s mother tells him: “You’ll not remember the city you were too wee, but there’s dancing. All kinds of dancing.” I love how the stars mimic the Barrowlands’ own iconic neon sign.

It wasn’t the easiest mural to photograph, being down a narrow lane and with vehicles parked in front. The third photograph in the gallery above looks down the lane to the mural from the loading bay, the signs of which almost look like ghost signs, so ancient are they.

There is much more street art / decoration around Barrowland. On the opposite side of the lane to Shuggie’s mural is a former wash house, which has served as a café in the past, but I think now contains creative spaces to rent. The inscription reads “We can evolve while staying true to who we are”.

Another piece of philosophy, “The perfect words never crossed my mind ’cause there was nothing in there but you”, and the Barras Pirate.

The Pirate was created by Rogue-One in 2017 and is based on an image by photographer Simon Murphy of his then six year-old daughter, Lola. A few more below that I know nothing about:

However, I do know the origin of the cartoon strip above Bill’s Tool Store. It comes from The Sheriff of Calton Creek by Bud Neill, Calton being the area of Glasgow in which Barrowland is situated. It’s a surreal world featuring a Glaswegian Sheriff called Lobey Dosser and his two-legged horse El Fidelio.

So what is the history of Barrowland, I hear you ask? And knowing Anabel’s fondness for women’s history, who is the heroine? Step forward Maggie McIver (1880-1958), who worked as a barrow girl selling fish and fruit. She  and her husband began renting barrows to other hawkers, then founded a static market in 1920 which became known as The Barras. Maggie put on a dinner dance for her hawkers each Christmas and, allegedly, when her usual venue was booked one year she built her own! The original ballroom burned down just after Maggie died – the current Barrowland dates from 1960 and is still a hugely popular gig venue. As well as the plaque on the building itself a gate into Glasgow Green commemorates its founder.

I’ve been to many gigs in the Barrowland and, in some ways, can’t wait to get back in there, though I’m not sure how I’ll feel about the heaving crowds. It’s a popular venue with musicians, as well as with audiences, and several have written and / or performed songs about it including Amy McDonald, Christy Moore and Simple Minds. The one I have chosen to end on, however, is Eddi Reader. The video quality’s not great, but you get some archive shots and a live view of that gorgeous neon starburst from the top of my post. I hope you enjoy it – and remember, ladies, never let a chancer an inch above your knee!

65 Comments »

  1. What a fascinating piece of history, and so glad the area is finding new life as a creative spot. Also love the many murals, if only Winchester would shake off its prim and proper and do something similar on those buildings that would benefit from street art.

    Loving by the way the new look for the site. No wonder you haven’t been taking part in squares you are far too busy recreating the blog. 😀

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    • It’s an interesting area! I’ve been meaning to change themes for ages but couldn’t see anything quite right. I spotted this one yesterday and just went for it! I like the home page, but not so keen on the posts. I thought the featured image would fill the post title box, and it doesn’t, leaving it looking blank. Maybe I’ll discover how to fill that. Or maybe I’ll keep looking.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is so tough isn’t it – finding one that works just right, and then you have to spend so much time sorting the widgets and menus.

        I do see what you mean about the posts – there is quite a bit of blank space. Hope you find a solution

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        • Amazingly, the widgets are still present and correct under the menu symbol. Last time I changed I had to redo them all which is partly why I haven’t done it for so long. That theme didn’t even have a featured image facility, so when I tried out other themes the home page appeared with titles only. This one chooses for another image to display if there’s no feature, which is what attracted me. I’ll have to see if I can fix that blank space.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. What great murals and I love the girl which looks so much like an actual photo and I love the snake one. This was interesting bout the place that burned down. History abounds everywhere. Hope you are doing well. We are heading into yet another lockdown, they should never have opened up.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Never went to the Barrowland but my dad took me to the Barras a few times and my fondest memory is my dad buying me hot roasted chestnuts. Still trying to come to terms with the difference with Graffiti and ” street art”..

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice selection there. Didn’t know about that main one either. Having worked in half the houses in every council estate in the Central Belt for many decades it’s amazing just how common having drink or drug addicted parents is.in society at large The real surprise is how many children manage to turn out semi normal, despite that start in life.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I like the story of the Barrowland and the artwork on the building, and I just love the neon starburst, it’s fabulous. Great street art too, especially the pirate with the cute knitted monkey 🙂 🙂

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