Glasgow is the UK's first UNESCO city of music and the Barrowland Ballroom is one of city’s most iconic music venues, with its glowing neon signage recognised the world over.
Tom Joyes is the general manager of the Barrowlands and has been for almost 35 years. He is staunchly passionate to retain the building's history and heritage, which has resulted in a venue with a unique character and spirit. It’s been said that bands love to play here, and it’s definitely one for the bucket list if you haven’t been before.
Here, Tom shares 6 things that you might not know about the Barrowlands, shining a light on some of the building's historic hidden gems and stories.
1. The original Barrowland Ballroom looked like this
Credit: Glasgow City Council, Libraries Information and Learning
A little different to today’s glowing facade, the Barrowland Ballroom looked like this when it first opened in 1934 by Margaret McIver. Margaret also pioneered the nearby Barras Market with her husband James, which remarkably celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2021. The original 2-storey building was tragically destroyed by a fire in 1958. A couple of years later, the Barrowlands was lovingly rebuilt and reopened on Christmas Eve 1960, and today, the business still remains under the ownership of the McIver family.
2. Ever spotted the cartwheel on the ceiling?
As a homage to the Barras Market, the original building had a man pushing a wheelbarrow on the roof (try and spot this in the picture above!). The only remaining part of this iconic figure was the cartwheel of the wheelbarrow. This was saved and placed on the roof of the main foyer when the building reopened in 1960, and it has been there ever since. So if you’ve not spotted it before, keep your eyes peeled when you next visit.
3. It was originally built as a ballroom
As its full title suggests, the Barrowlands was originally built as a ballroom and only came to be a concert venue from 1983, when going along to live rock and pop music concerts became more popular.
With its original purpose as a ballroom, the Barrowlands has an iconic sprung dancefloor, which is made of Canadian Maple wood. Around 1988, it became clear that the original sprung ballroom floor couldn’t take the weight of the almost 2,000 strong crowd bouncing along to their favourite bands. To support the floor, 18 steel pillars were installed to spread the weight of the passionate Glasgow crowd - by a company who designed oil rigs no less!
4. Even the flooring sings
Most of the flooring in the first floor foyer (near the cloakroom and merchandise stalls) is original and has been there since 1960, but sections of the flooring were replaced in 1988-89. A retro feel was maintained within the areas that were replaced, so vinyl sections which feature musical instruments and stars were chosen, and also a section of sheet music from the song cherished by Glaswegians - ‘I belong to Glasgow’ by Will Fyffe.
5. The Biffy Clyro lyrics on the stairs
In December 2014, Ayrshire band Biffy Clyro played 3 consecutive nights at the Barrowlands. Humbled by their roots and as a way of thanks to their fans, they wanted to play a selection of songs from all of their 6 albums. Songs from 2 albums were played each night, and fans were able to vote for which songs were played. In total, Biffy Clyro performed over 80 songs across the 3 nights. This astonishing achievement is now honoured with Biffy Clyro lyrics all the way up the Barrowlands interior stairs.
6. The lights
Ahead of their gig in January 1985, Simple Minds installed lighting support equipment to put on a spectacular show and left this rigging as a gift to the Barrowlands and future artists who played there. The band Big Country were the first to benefit. Simple Minds also used the iconic Barrowlands setting to record a music video for one of their hit singles, Waterfront.