The lights went up at the end of Bear’s Den’s Glasgow gig. Whistles and whoops and heartfelt applause filled the hall. The band looked momentarily overwhelmed. “It was one of those shows you didn’t want to end,’ said drummer and vocalist Kev Jones. “It was unbelievable.” Wanting to prolong their glorious moment, he and his bandmates stood in the middle of the stage and, for the first time on their tour, faced the crowd and took a bow.
“It was an honour and a privilege,” said lead singer and guitarist Andrew Davie of headlining the Barrowland Ballroom. “It was the venue we were most looking forward to playing.”
His sentiments are echoed by a long and distinguished line of artists who have played the Barrowland Ballroom. Simple Minds were first in 1983. Big Country came next, then The Clash who were followed soon after by The Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure and, in later years Blondie, Robbie Williams, Amy Winehouse and Ed Sheeran. With a reasonably small capacity of 1,900, it’s commonly acknowledged that a band hasn’t made it until it has played the Barrowland Ballroom.
What is it about this former dance hall in Glasgow’s East End that makes it so beloved of
bands and audiences?
There’s its history for starters. It was originally a venue for stallholders in the Barras market below to socialise. From the Thirties to the Sixties it was a popular dance hall. Band leader Billy, of Billy McGregor and the Gaybirds, famously requested the acoustic tiles on the ballroom ceiling which remain to this day, and are one of the reasons why the sound is so good. There’s a beautiful wooden, sprung dancefloor. The main band’s dressing room has 1960s basins and light bulbs around the mirrors. The building itself has a now-iconic neon sign stretched across its facade.
It wasn’t all foxtrots and fun: a fire destroyed the building in 1958. It reopened in 1960 but the murders in 1968 and 1969 of three women who were walked home by a man nicknamed ‘Bible John’ made its reputation so bad that its doors closed in the early 1970s. It had a spell as a roller disco in the 1970s and early 1980s but it wasn’t until 1983 when Simple Minds recorded the video for their Waterfront single and returned to perform three sell-out gigs that its current incarnation as a concert venue began.