Opinion

The difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh? Glasgow's beauty is not overt, but subtle and beguiling

A trip to Glasgow's Comedy Festival sees Robin Ince wowed by the city's unshowy allure

The Glasgow studio of the Duke of Wellington

Robin was at the Glasgow Comedy Festival. Pictured, the Duke of Wellington statue. Image: Liza Pooor on Unsplash

I was fortunate to board the wrong train at Glasgow Central. Instead of going to Pollokshields East, I was on my way to Pollokshaws West station. I didn’t mind as I wasn’t late and it wasn’t raining. This error would increase my opportunities to be a flaneur and observe the doors of Glasgow’s south side. There was an impressive selection. 

Glasgow demands you work a little harder than Edinburgh does. Edinburgh greets you with a castle and overtly says, “I am beautiful and historical, come ogle me.” 

Glasgow is a city that at first appears utilitarian, a practical city built for industrial purposes, but its beauty is soon evident when you look up. These are buildings that are not showy, more like magic eye pictures, the more you stare at them, the more you see the subtle patterns. 

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In the 48 hours I have in Glasgow, I also admire the University of Strathclyde’s wonderwall, celebrating telescopes, Doctor Who and Andrew Ure, who it is believed inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with his experiments on corpses. I am on my way to record a BBC Scotland panel show that is, impressively, being recorded in a brewery. The dreams of youth made real. 

I enjoy the pedestrian crossings that, when I go to press the button, I discover are decorated with stickers saying ‘Capitalism is unsustainable’, and the illuminated ‘Jesus died for our sins’ on Victoria Road that is suspended just above a national money lender (or bank) who I imagine have had to fix their tables to the ground to ensure they are not tipped over during anti-capitalist Christian fervour. The stained glass windows on the stairwell and doors of my friend’s apartment block would stagger William Morris.

I am staying in one of those areas which is on the precipice between traditional neighbourhood
and gentrification. 

You can still find ironmongers and budget grocers as well as shops that sell curios that would once have been viewed as tat, and an excellent LGBTQ+ shop – Category Is Books – where I buy a collection of poems about the filmmaker, artist and activist, Derek Jarman: A Finger in Derek Jarman’s Mouth

I am accompanied by my pal Jo, who used to tap-dance to semi-lurid passages from 1970s Mills and Boon romances that I would read out on stage. Jo was brought up around here and marvels at the changes without being overcome by them. 

She points to the bedroom window that she looked out from as a child when she dreamed of being Gregory Hines. 

The Glasgow Comedy Festival seems especially vibrant this year with an impressive number of Glaswegian acts. It does not feel, as other festivals can do, like a brief invasion by outsiders, but a place celebrating the city and its stories. I am here to take the stage with two Glasgow natives, my long time podcast partner Josie Long and Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch. I cannot hold back and tell him that I know his songs have saved the lives of some. 

Before we are on, the Luton poet John Hegley is performing a solo show. I have learned much from him since I first saw him singing Eddie Don’t Like Furniture when I was 17 years old. It does not matter which city I see him in, he is never parochial. His universal humanity shines through. 

I end the night drinking whisky and reminiscing about the time that one of my favourite Glaswegian bands, Mogwai, heckled me at an awards ceremony – once an annoyance, now a badge of honour. 

Robin Ince is a comedian, writer and broadcaster.

Bibliomaniac by Robin Ince

His book Bibliomaniac (Atlantic Books, £10.99) is out now. You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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