The story of Glasgow’s legendary venue The Arches

Any city worth its salt knows that its cultural offering is vital in many ways – for its ability to attract tourists and their wallets, to define the spirit of the place, to shape stories about the people who live there and elsewhere, and to give a platform to those who will tell these stories, whether through folk songs or by spray painting startling pictures on the walls. More information on Banksy later.

The overground is important – concert halls, galleries, theaters and cinemas – but so is the underground. This is where you’ll find the club’s impresarios, agitprop theater makers, DJs, punk garage outfits and, yes, graffiti artists. This is also where you will find their audience: young, seeking, restless, energetic. And for nearly 25 years, from its founding in 1991 until its closure in 2015, nowhere in Glasgow has it been known as a metro like The Arches, a multi-purpose venue set in a series of vaulted rooms under the Central Station of the city. It was the perfect location in the perfect era for a city bursting with talent and noise.

David Bratchpiece was 21 when he responded to a job offer on The List for a locker room attendant. That was in 1998. He stayed for 15 years, going from the locker room to the box office and finally becoming room manager. Today, together with the former head of press and publicity for The Arches, Kirstin Innes, he co-wrote Brickwork, a biography of the legendary place.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about the Manchester Haçienda,” he says. “There have been books, films, everything about the Hacienda. The people of Manchester loved it so much that they didn’t want to let it fade away, and I felt the same had to happen for The Arches.

The Haçienda, a legendary player from Madchester UK and rave scenes in the late 1980s, was primarily a nightclub and music venue. The Arches were certainly famous for their club nights – 5,000 people lined up around the block when super-club Cream hosted a party there – but it was more than just a DJ booth, bar and track. of dance.

“It was such a versatile, multi-functional, yet inclusive place for everyone. There was a kind of chemistry that no other place quite matched. It is best known for the big club nights, which in themselves were varied – there was no elitism – but there was also theater, festivals, exhibitions. He was successful in achieving these things, often multiple events on the same day. You could be at the box office and there could be a Morningside theater critic in line alongside a guy from Blackhill getting his tickets to the club.

Brickyard authors Kirstin Innes and David Bratchpiece

Appropriately for a city that prides itself on its model, Brickwork is essentially oral history. Among those featured in memorabilia are DJs Orde Meikle, Stuart McMillan and Carl Cox, actors Colin McCredie and Stephen McCole, playwright Kieran Hurley, Herald critics Joyce McMillan, Mark Fisher and Keith Bruce, and directors. Cora Bissett and Andy Arnold, the man who started it all 30 years ago when he took over the site following Glasgow’s reign as a European City of Culture in 1990.

At the time, it housed an exhibition of the City of Culture which was to be called The Words and the Stones until someone pointed out the unfortunate acronym. It was renamed Glasgow’s Glasgow and was still an almighty flop, but Arnold persuaded the organizers to leave for the theater seats, then approached British Rail for permission to hold an event there during Mayfest 1991. The Arnold production won a Herald award and then received a much needed financial lifeline in the form of a gift from Jimmy Boyle’s Gateway Trust (Boyle was no stranger to the vaulted rooms that became The Arches , although that’s another story). The board mistakenly provided a license for 12 months instead of three weeks and the rest, as they say, is history.

Since then, the list of artists who have crossed the Arches to reach the top is too long to tell, but there are some highlights worth mentioning. French duo Daft Punk, originally signed to Glasgow’s Soma label, went there as a punter before giving their first UK show in 1997. Chuck D of Public Enemy read a book, Massive Attack a chose the location to launch their album Protection in 1994, DJs and dance Bands such as Richie Hawtin and The Chemical Brothers have performed, as have Damon Albarn, The White Stripes, The Jesus And Mary Chain and pretty much any Scottish band you can think of the past 20 years. Leigh Bowery gave his infamous ‘live birth’ performance at the Love Boutique club night in 1994, groundbreaking performance artist Taylor Mac appeared in 2013, and a young Robert Carlyle starred in The Conquest Of The South Pole with the Rain Dog company. Take a close look at an image in Brickwork – the Pan Pan Theater Company performing in 2007 – and you can see future Oscar nominee Ruth Negga, currently starring in Rebecca Hall’s Netflix film The Passing.


Taylor Mac at the Studio Theater, 2013

And then there was Banksy. As always, The Arches was ahead of the game, including the then-unknown graffiti artist in a larger 2001 exhibition which was headlined by Jamie Reid, designer of the iconic Never Mind The Bollocks album cover of the Sex Pistols. Did Bratchpiece meet the elusive art superstar?

“It was strange, the Banksy, because to do the exhibition, they just closed the space for one night and the next morning he was there. It was as if talented Ninjas had been involved in setting it up. It was a team of them and no one could ever really know who was who, which was quite deliberate on their part. I still have a t-shirt that one of them gave me, so I might have met Banksy without realizing it.

And the Banksy frescoes? They got repainted, a fact that Tamsin Austin, Arches music programmer, found herself pondering with regret at the South By Southwest festival a few years later, as she watched Brad Pitt line up for an exhibition of the work. of the Bristolian.


The famous Banksy exhibition in 2001

Brickwork is published by Salamander Street, a new Scottish publishing house specializing in art, music and theater. Its opening lines are “Were you there? To which tens of thousands of Scots can answer “Hell, yeah” – at the Love Boutique or Death Disco, or one of the many other club nights held there. At Alien War, the legendary and immersive recreation of scenes from the Alien films. At Mogwai’s first Scottish title. At a club night, dance to Daft Punk or the Chemical Brothers.

But as the book illustrates, you would receive the same enthusiastic response from former employees. Both a proving ground and a nursery, The Arches has helped launch the careers of many now at the peak of their profession in the creative industries. Jackie Wylie, for example, who started out as a fundraiser and now runs the National Theater of Scotland, or former project assistant Barry Esson, who went on to found the famous political arts organization Arika. And let’s not forget Andy Arnold himself, artistic director of the Tron Theater in Glasgow since 2008.

“It was a place that moved so fast,” Bratchpiece says. “There was wonderful chaos, and I think as a programmer or as a technician, if you can handle that and master that, you can handle anything. ”


Clubbers at Death Disco

Arches’ story ends in 2015 when the venue finally closed, although the beginning of the end came with the drug-related death of 17-year-old Regane MacColl after a night out there on February 1, 2014. The following year, police dismay at the mounting unrest and drug use resulted in a mandatory midnight shutdown, depriving the venue of its main source of funding. In June 2015, The Arches took office. The Scottish arts community rallied and a support petition with 40,000 signatures was raised, but amid dark murmurs about politics, land deals and cultural vandalism, the place last closed on June 15. There is a photo of the closed entrance in the book.

Last word therefore to actor Stephen McCole. “I played there, I partied there, I made DJs, I met the mother of my children there, I made friendships for life… The Arches are part of me and I am a small part of his story. It was more than one of the best clubs in the world, it was the beating heart of a huge artistic community.

Brickwork: A Biography Of The Arches by David Bratchpiece and Kirstin Innes is out now (Salamander Street, £ 12.99)

James C. Tibbs