I went to a gig last Saturday night in the Glad Cafe on the south side of the city not too far from Villain Towers, but before I say a few things about it there needs to be a bit of context.
The Glasgow Garden Festival was held between 26 April and 26 September 1988. It was the first event of its type to be held in the city in 50 years, since the Empire Exhibition of 1938, and also marked the centenary of Glasgow’s first International Exhibition, the International Exhibition of Science, Art and Industry of 1888.
It attracted 4.3 million visitors over 152 days and was part of a sustained effort by the local politicians to use arts/culture/events as a way of providing a new meaning for a city that had been decimated by the collapse of its traditional industries and was something of a precursor to the year-long European City of Culture festival in 1990 which, quite honestly, was an astonishing and mind-blowing 12 months that just couldn’t be repeated nowadays.
The Garden Festival site covered 120 acres of land, much of it reclaimed from the filling in of disused docks that had long been closed and were a sad reminder of the decline of the River Clyde and its shipyards. There was a garden element to the festival but most folk were attracted by the likes of a 240-foot high tower, the then biggest rollercoaster ride in Scotland, the re-introduction of trams, a temporary rail line, the first new pedestrian bridge over the Clyde in a generation, boat trips, art installations and various music/dance performances which changed daily.
It was always intended as a temporary event with the site to be fully re-developed immediately afterwards, mostly for housing. It didn’t turn out that way and although a small amount of housing was built and the small Festival Park created, the vast majority of the site lay derelict for about 20 years although things have moved on a bit since then including it now being home to a media campus including the headquarters of BBC Scotland and Scottish Television along with a popular visitor attraction in the Glasgow Science Centre.
So…..what’s all this to do with last Saturday’s gig?
The answer is that the one-off gig paid tribute to and celebrated the 1988 event with the release of a new album by Jamie Scott.
Jamie first came to notice as on half of electronic duo Conquering Animal Sound whose debut album Kammerspiel was shortlisted for Scottish Album of the Year in 2012 and whose follow-up On Floating Bodies was released by Chemikal Underground in 2013. I don’t think the band have officially split up but they’ve been quiet for a few years in which time Jamie has moved to the forefront of Scottish rap/electronica – a genre which is quite unlike many other urban/ghetto scenes – under a number of guises and with other collaborators such as Jonnie Common, who is in fact his older brother.
Jamie has spent well over a year coming up with a concept of in which he wanted to write and record a series of songs which explored the heritage of the 1988 festival and to stage his one-off event because:-
The Garden Festival did so much for the soul of the city. Glasgow’s residents saw the best of their people, saw an enduring, open spirit, and they began to imagine how their city could be. It may have lasted only a few sun soaked weeks, but it changed the city forever.
Those words came from Jamie’s introductory comments in the specially produced 28-page programme given to everyone at the gig. His introduction also points out that very little, outside of people’s memories, remains of the 1988 festival and so it was his hope that the Glad Cafe event would explore its legacy and ensure the positivity, energy and inspiration from what is still a partially derelict pocket of land wouldn’t be forgotten.
The highlight of the event would be the launch of a new 10-track album, Glasgow Garden Festival ’18, to be played in its entirety by Jamie who was joined on stage throughout by drummer Roy Shearer and on occasions by backing singers.
In addition to the live music, there was also exclusive merchandise for sale, a specially brewed lager on tap at the venue and an array of free cakes and biscuits…oh and a replacement tower for Glasgow to replace the one that had been so popular at the 1988 festival.
Having been at the football in Kirkcaldy earlier in the day, I didn’t get back down the road in time for the 8pm Opening Ceremony of Glasgow Garden Festival 18, but it was clear from the packed crowd already in the venue that folk were enjoying themselves with a great buzz and vibe very much in evidence.
The night opened with a short set from Two Kings. It proved to be bonkers, bewildering and brilliant in varying measures. I can’t tell you too much about Two Kings – it was two men, dressed in capes and wearing crowns, who made all sorts of wonderful electronic sounds while recalling tales of ancient history from a long-forgotten and long-lost kingdom. They are undoubtedly from one or more of the many acts with whom Jamie Scott has worked with over the years and while I enjoyed what they were doing, I’m not sure if I could have taken much more than the 20 minutes or so they were on stage as the joke could well have worn off.
The mesmerizing Adam Stafford was next to take to the stage. As ever he delivered a blistering set, via his guitar, effects pedals and mics, made up of familiar favourites, one brand new song and spellbinding versions of tracks from his latest opus, Fire Behind The Curtain, a double album of instrumental music that was released in May this year and which, to my shame, I’ve never got round to reviewing….but regular readers will know that as far as I’m concerned, Adam can do no wrong, and this neo-classical effort contains some of the finest pieces of work he’s ever done:-
A short interval followed during which the soundtrack was Scottish pop/indie hits of the 80s…it was almost like being back at the Simply Thrilled night in The Admiral just two weeks ago….before the festival headliner took to the stage.
My comrade in arms for the night, Mike G, is a big fan of dance/hip-hop, rap and electronica music and has long enjoyed Jamie Scott’s work over the years. I’ve always been a bit less enthused, mostly as I’ve felt Scottish rapping to be a bit cringeworthy – there’s just something unconvincing about this style of music being delivered in such a broad and distinct accent.
But there was something on the night that made it click for me.
It is partly down to Jamie’s engaging personality and his ability to always seem to be enjoying himself on stage. This was a determined and genuine attempt to look back with fondness at 1988 for an audience who, with the exception of a handful of members, were all either born after it concluded or were so young that their memories would have been from a child’s perspective. He was passionate, reverent and caring about his subject matter, with the song titles and lyrics reflecting on the attractions of the original festival wrapped in love letters to the city and its citizens. The occasional slow song ensured it was a far from one-dimensional show but all the while the humour was never far away.
The show and album reflect on what is happening in the city and the country nowadays in this period of wider political upheaval and uncertainty but there’s also a number of nods to music of the era, including (Don’t You) Forget About Me in which Jamie reflects on what actually happened to the 88 site and the broken promises of an immediate regeneration. The show closed with a song that isn’t on the album, a beautifully conceived ballad version of Somewhere In My Heart with a co-vocal from Emma Carey, which seemed so apt given what had been recalled over the previous 45 minutes and also on a night when Roddy Frame himself was performing elsewhere in the city and no doubt getting his own audience on its feet with the same hit song. It was a moving end to a night with a difference.
mp3 : Jamie Scott – The Tower
Glasgow Garden Festival 18 is available to download from here.