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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

Lessons from the Barrowlands

My favourite live music venue is the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow. Many other people, both paying fans like me and travelling musicians the world over say the same. There's something magical about the place that's much more than the sum of its parts. As you ascend the narrow stairway, it brings back the memories of a hundred incredible nights spent watching musical heroes do what they do best, and there's an atmosphere that builds with every step.

Up the second flight to the main floor, and you're greeted with the sight and smell that's like nowhere else. The small step down onto the sprung dancefloor feels like stepping into a ring where special things happen. The bar area that looks like it's been frozen in time. The curved roof with the unusual and old fashioned panelling. The disco ball. The somewhat ramshackle looking stage and lighting rig. It's an amazing place!

But the Barras, as we know it today, didn't exist until some chance happenings in the early 1980s breathed new life back into it. Originally opened in 1934, the ballroom was a hugely popular dance venue until fire destroyed it in 1958. It was rebuilt and reopened in 1960, hosting more dances and gigs, as well as becoming a roller disco, but it became infamous as the place where Bible John had stalked his victims in the late 60s and had closed by the early 1980s, lying empty. In 1983, upcoming Glasgow band Simple Minds were about to record a live video to their hit Waterfront and needed a suitable venue. The director suggested the Barras, and the young band, having heard stories from their parents and grandparents about the place but never having had the chance to go there, jumped at it!

A stage was built for Simple Minds to play on and the video was filmed. The band loved the place so much, they decided to follow the recording with two gigs there in late November 1983, followed by three more on 21-23 December, ultimately returning for another four-night-stand at the end of Feb 1984! These gigs introduced the venue to a whole new audience and breathed life back into a Glasgow institution and the rest, as they say, is history! Anyone who is anyone in rock over the past four decades has graced the hallowed venue and the very stage that bands play on today is the same one built for (and, rumour has it, signed by) Simple Minds! If you're in a young upcoming band and happen to be rehearsing in the practice rooms at the rear of the venue, perhaps the man in the booth will occasionally be feeling 'under the weather' and not paying attention, allowing you to sneak out onto the stage of the empty venue and live out your boyhood rock'n'roll dreams...allegedly...

What fascinates me about this story is the idea of repurposing something that's right in front of your eyes and giving it a new lease of life. Concert venues are amazing places full of history and magic, but what's right in front of you that you're overlooking? A skill you haven't practiced or demonstrated in a while? An idea you started on but shelved? A colleague or direct report with the potential to add huge value but whom you're not allowing to flourish? How can you be the catalyst for something great to happen? Maybe it's time to channel your inner Simple Mind!

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