Friday, April 28, 2006

Blast off . . . final mission (part 5)

They came, they saw, they conquered. And afterwards, more often than not, the bands always raved about one particular thing: the infamous bouncing balcony.

On the the Glasgow Apollo web site, Warren Cann of Ultravox recalled watching "in stricken fascination as the balcony waved up and down under the assault of the fans' enthusiasm." Howard Jones described the balcony's oscillations being as great as four feet.

Fans were also amazed at the balcony's ability to shift considerably during a particularly raucous show. One of my favorite recollections in the aforementioned site's fan forum features a concertgoer (who was an engineer, as well) describing his trepidation over the balcony’s movement and his desire to not "end up in a twisted pile of brick, worn carpet, metal, and human remains with Brian Johnson's 400-fags-a-day voice ringing in what's left of my head."

So, did the famous balcony at the Apollo really bounce as much as several feet? Or has the passage of time and the enthusiasm that comes with reminiscing about a building so cherished distorted the memories?

It could very well be the latter. According to this write-up, one of the universities in Glasgow sent members of its engineering department to the Apollo for a Status Quo concert. Status Quo were the perfect choice for such an experiment, seeing how the band were local favorites and known for their boisterous shows at the venue (the London outfit also recorded a live album there).

According to the engineering department afterwards, the balcony never shifted more than one inch. The pronounced movements so many talked about were just an optical illusion, the effect of having so many individuals moving in unison. It's like John Ford said, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

See it for yourself. "Riff Raff" by AC/DC. A peek inside the famous venue courtesy of a rawkin' number from AC/DC.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Blast off . . . final mission (part 4)

The tales of bouncer depravity at the the Glasgow Apollo have become legendary. Some placed drawing pins inside their jacket lapels to dissuade anyone from trying to land a Glasgow Kiss. Gerald Case of Devo recalled how a cadre of the goons lumped up a fan who had managed to scale the venue's unusually high stage; when Case complained, he was told he'd meet a similar fate.

There was the tale involving Animal, lead singer of The Anti-Nowhere League. The odious frontman tried to spit upon an unruly member of the audience -- only he missed, and the loogie nailed a bouncer instead. Naturally, word got 'round to the other surly guardsmen regarding the transgression, and only a planned escape spared The League from a post-show beatdown. And lastly, who could ever forget the now famous incident involving The Clash during their On Parole tour back in 1978.

As the 70s sped on, the Apollo increasingly attracted the era's top bands. The venue was certainly gaining a reputation; unfortunately, so were "the black-suited, red-necked Clydeside men" who served as the hall's bouncers. Go out of your head and you were tossed in the street on your head.

One can assume the chucker-outs weren't on their best behavior during the pair of shows The Rezillos did in late 1977. Over the span of two months, the Edinburgh punk band opened for The Stranglers and The Ramones, two incendiary acts known for getting their audiences to bare some teeth. Yes, on those evenings, the crunching guitar hooks were likely being complemented with right hooks.

Hear it for yourself. Download: “Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight” by The Rezillos.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Blast off . . . final mission (part 3)

When it was announced that plans were in the works to convert the Glasgow Apollo into a bingo hall, something unique happened. Glaswegians normally separated by things like politics, educational background, and income, came together to protest. It’s said that city councilors, band members, Radio 1 DJs –- even the Church of Scotland Presbytery –- joined the public campaign, which was led by a pair of local music fans named Christine Oliver and Valerie Paul.

Well, the show of solidarity paid off, as the Apollo’s ownership company, Mecca, eventually cancelled its plans. And after several months of being stuck in limbo and having closed up shop, the joint reopened Sept. 29 with a gig by The Tom Robinson Band. One night later, The Stranglers played, supported by a pair of Scottish acts: The Cuban Heels and The Valves.

The Cuban Heels featured John Milarkey, who was an ex-member of one of Glasgow's first punk groups, Johnny & The Self Abusers. As the stories go, Johnny & The Self Abusers split the day their lone single was released (November of 1977). One half went on to form Simple Minds; the other, headed by Milarkey, The Cuban Heels.

However, the Simple Mind's official web site is uncertain if this is how it went down. A gig advert on the site (left) from July of 1977 lists The Cuban Heels and The Self Abusers as performers. No one's sure why the members of the latter band were using their former moniker and not their new one, Simple Minds. A head-scratcher, indeed.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Downtown" by The Cuban Heels. The group released this single on Steve Mackie’s Housewive's Choice label in 1978. It’s a thorny version of Petula Clark's 1964 crossover hit of the same name. An album entitled, Work Our Way To Heaven followed soon after, before The Cuban Heels faded into obscurity.

Note: Stumbled upon this late last night on the Glasgow Apollo site and just had to add it. Ali MacKenzie, the drummer from The Cuban Heels, shares his thoughts on the night they supported The Stranglers:

"Hi guys, what a great site. I just wanted to correct one small thing. I was a member of The Cuban Heels and we supported The Stranglers in September 1978. Third on the bill was not The Exile, but a rotten band from Edinburgh called The Valves. They were managed by the promoters Regular Music and were extremely pissed off that Jean Jaques Burnel of The Stranglers moved us up the bill at the last minute, leaving the Valves playing at 7:30 p.m. to 8 people -- heh heh. Even though we had a pretty big following at the time, Regular Music never once put us on any of their bills after that. I am now inspired by your site and am determined to dispense with modesty and use the words, 'I played the Apollo' a lot more often! Good luck."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Blast off . . . final mission (part 2)

By the time Strawberry Switchblade made their debut at the Glasgow Apollo, the end was nigh. Avid concertgoers had rechristened it The Appalling, mainly on account of the venue's infamous smell, which came as a result of flooding in November of 1982. The interior was also becoming increasingly dilapidated -- plaster falling, paint chipping, "plush" seats breaking.

In 1984, Strawberry Switchblade opened for the spiky coiffed Howard Jones, who had emerged as one of the U.K.'s biggest stars that year thanks to his synth-pop debut, Human's Lib. Strawberry Switchblade were a logical choice to open for Jones. The ladies -- Jill Bryson and Rose McDowall -- hailed from Glasgow and were, sonically, mining much of the same keyboard-soaked, spoonful-of-sugar pop territory as Jones.

The date of the concert was Dec. 20. Six months later, the Apollo officially closed its doors. There was talk of a movement to save the venue, much like the one in 1978 (which will be covered later this week), but it never materialized. The building was torn down in 1989.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Trees and Flowers" by Strawberry Switchblade. The song, which was released on Zoo Records in 1983, was the band's first single. Bryson and McDowell had a bit of help with it -- and it came from a pair of already established artists. Ian McCulloch paid for the manufacturing costs of the single, while fellow Scot Roddy Frame played guitar. The version here is the extended mix from the enhanced version of their debut album.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Blast off . . . final mission (part 1)

There’s now a Walkabout at the corner of Renfield and Renfrew Streets in Glasgow. One of those kitschy, eatery-slash-drinkery venues that are ubiquitous here in the States. This particular one is Australian-themed and promises to deliver unto its patrons -- hold onto your Aussie bush hats! -- the "awesome spirit of Australia." That, and kangaroo and crocodile fillets cooked to your liking.

One of the most famous concert venues in all of Europe once stood at this location. From 1973 to 1985, the Glasgow Apollo played host to some of the biggest names in rock and pop music: The Who, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Roxy Music, Neil Young, Lou Reed.

The concerts at the Apollo were often described as life-altering -- for both music-maker and muso alike. Of course, it's easy to heap much of the credit for the atmosphere upon the artists who performed there, but time and again, the fans were the ones being lauded afterwards. Warm, inviting, and one-of-a-kind the Glasgow audiences were called. And in the same breath: demanding, crazed, and discerning. According to legend, one band had the words "I played the Apollo and survived" printed up on T-shirts.

The bouncing balcony, the unusual stage (it checked in at 20 feet high), the "It's good – it's Green's" slogans upon the custom carpeting, hiding booze in the ceiling above the tea-room’s toilets, the grime and the gigs -- it will all be relived this week, as I write about some of the lesser known bands who played there, the Scottish acts who opened up for the more eminent English acts.

Bands such as TV21, who hailed from Edinburgh. The group played twice at the Apollo: April 25, 1981, while opening for The Undertones; and May 27, 1982, while opening for The Rolling Stones during the warm-up portion of their Tattoo You European Tour. The second was more noteworthy, since it was one of the band's last shows. One night later, backstage at the Edinburgh Playhouse, the band shocked quite a few when its members officially called it quits. (Which is an interesting entry for another day.)

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Playing With Fire" by TV21.

Note: I can't recommend this Glasgow Apollo site enough. A must for anyone who attended a show there, as well as those who are all-around fans of the Scottish music scene.