I boarded the train at Nottingham station, to travel towards Scotland – only the fourth visit in my life, and my first to Glasgow.
My initial impressions of Glasgow were disappointing. As I stepped out of central station, every other person appeared to be homeless, drunk and asking for change. Many of the buildings around the station were derelict and rundown, too. My expectations that this was a city reborn were somewhat dampened.
However, I marched on as it began to lightly rain – the purely white sky and drizzly rain remained companions throughout my stay, as friends from Nottingham and London told me how hot and sunny it was. I came across three cool street art murals down the small Mitchell Street – a woman blowing a dandelion, the seeds turning into wind turbines by Rogue One and Art Pistol; a huge one of a woman with a magnifying glass by Smug; and one of a taxi floating with balloons, another from Rogue One. A good start to the graffiti hunting.
I passed through George Square on my way to catch the bus to my Airbnb location. I heard bagpipe music, which was too stereotypically Scottish to miss. A circle of kilted men and women, armed with bagpipes and drums, did their thing to excellent effect. Though, to my surprise, they were not actually Scottish, but a bagpipe group from the USA. Well, I never.
The next day, I ventured out and headed for the People’s Palace in Glasgow Green. A wonderful old building opened in 1898. Upon the opening ceremony, the Earl of Rosebury declared it “open to the people for ever and ever.” A bold statement, especially since the Winter Gardens within its attached conservatory were closed when I visited. Nevertheless, there were interesting exhibitions in the building about Glasgow life – including Billy Connolly’s banana boots from the seventies, a window overlooking where public executions were once held (most of which were for theft in the 1800s), as well as sections on Glasgow resident’s coastal holidays (‘Doon the watter’), alcoholism, WWII bombings, and disco. There was also an interesting plaque outside honouring those Glaswegians who opposed WWI.
I went from there to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. An insanely grand building, full of various delights. A lot did not grab me – old Dutch paintings and such that were technically great, of course, but mainly blended into one another. One of the most striking things there, were the multiple bald white heads hanging from the ceiling of one of the big rooms. One of the place’s main draws was Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross, the idea for which came from a suitably bonkers place – one of his ‘cosmic dreams’ – and was as mesmerising as most of the artist’s work. Also, a couple of John Lavery paintings – one of the Glasgow Boys, he painted a striking beautiful portrait of Anna Pavlova dancing and another of Queen Victoria’s visit to Glasgow International Exhibition in 1888, in which he sketched and painted all 253 people in attendance. Also, strangely impressed by the actual Spitfire on display there – looking at it, hanging above the models of giraffes and elephants below, I found it hard to believe it was actually flown.
On the third day, I hopped onto the third ever underground railway to be built (after London and Budapest). A very compact circuit when compared to London, it is just one circular line, which runs both ways. I jumped off at Ibrox and walked past Rangers’ football stadium to Pollock Country Park. The park was not easy to navigate on foot, as I tried to reach the Burrell Collection, but I got there eventually. The place holds Sir William Burrell’s eclectic (paintings, medieval stained glass, weapons armour and tapestries, artefacts from ancient China and Egypt, Islamic art, modern sculpture and so on), and massive (over 8000 objects), collection of art which he donated to the Glasgow council in 1944. Unfortunately, my taste in art did not often correlate with his. It was certainly interesting as an overall collection but only one thing stood out for me – the Jack clock, as pictured below which has been in action (with alterations and repairs) for about 450 years. Very average sandwich in the cafe, too.
I moved on to the Hunterian gallery and then museum, walking past Kelvingrove Park, where I could hear what sounded like Primal Scream sound checking for their set at Summer Nights later that evening. The museum is made up of a varied collection of curiosities from William Hunter (a Scottish anatomist and physician) and is housed at the University of Glasgow. Standout things here are huge, and reasonably accurate, Chinese map of the whole world from 1674 and the small High Possil meteorite that travelled from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter to land on the northern outskirts of Glasgow in 1804. There were also lots of jars full of body parts, and even one of a cute little Starling brain. Interesting that the preserved testicle was labelled with the letter Y. Why indeed.
The gallery across the road had some really great paintings in. A large section is devoted to James Abbott McNeill Whistler, the nineteenth century American artist; his smaller pieces of the sea, the Thames and building fronts were particularly nice. Other standouts were The Entombment by Rembrandt, Panoramic Landscape by Philip de Koninck, Interior of Antwerp Cathedral by Pieter Neefs the Younger, Misty Morning Rouen by Camille Pissarro, A French Harbour by Eugene Boudin and John Knox’s The Nelson Monument Struck by Lightning (mainly for the fact that the lightning bolt looks added as an afterthought by a lesser artist). I also enjoyed a strangely placed door at the gallery, which was some way up the side of the building.
In the evening, I trotted off to 103 Trongate (near a plaque advising of Stan Laurel’s old living space) to see Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre. Here’s their sales pitch: ‘Hundreds of carved figures and pieces of old scrap perform an incredible choreography to haunting music and synchronised light, telling the funny and tragic stories of the human spirit as it struggles against the relentless cycles of life and death.’ Kinetic sculptures from Russian Eduard Bersudsky who has lived in Scotland since 1993. Cute and mesmerising, the 70 minute show was certainly unique – not sure if the themes (Communism etc) would have been obvious without the explanations beforehand, but it was great, nonetheless, and well worth a visit if you’re ever in Glasgow.
On my final, and drizzliest day, I headed up to the 800 year old Cathedral – which was nice enough, but all the cathedrals I see are starting to blend into each other (bar Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia, of course). Behind it, I climbed the slope to the top of The Necropolis to looks over at the rest of Glasgow along with the 50,000 dead people buried there. I walked back down and sheltered from the rain in Provand’s Lordship, the oldest house in Glasgow built in 1471, with some great history inside including an interesting section about Glasgow’s old street characters, homeless performers including Hawkie, Wee Jamie Wallace, and Rab Ha (who used to make his money from eating as much as possible for his audience).
My final stop before the train station was the Gallery of Modern Art. I literally enjoyed nothing in there. Wolfgang Tillman’s photos were dull and uninspiring; the Please Turn Us On section, which ‘places Glasgow at the centre of a dialogue between early video art and international counterculture’ had a few videos, none of which I (or anyone else, it seemed) could engage with; and Deep in the Heart of Your Brain by Jacqueline Donachie which mainly consisted of industrial objects arranged in a way that would test even the biggest fan of modern art.
So, that was that. Thankfully, my initial impressions of the city did not stick and it was a great visit, mainly consisting of eclectic art and lots of walking (and subsequent achy achy legs). Also worth a mention; the several TARDISes dotted throughout the city, in which various things are sold from. Not because the current doctor is Glaswegian, oh no, but Glasgow just happened to preserve what once was a common feature in all cities, the police box – and they are now listed buildings. Also, a high five for a cool little vegan bar on Renfield Street called The Flying Duck – I had a great ‘tofu sizzler’ there and it looked like a good gig venue too. There was a lot of awesome street art found throughout the week – nearly exclusively massive murals and mostly from artists Rogue One, Smug and Klingatron, with some Commonwealth Games 2014 pieces dotted throughout the city. Look out for the photo gallery on this blog.