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The Glasgow Apollo Theatre : Stories of the Bands and the Fans
The Glasgow Apollo Theatre : Stories of the Bands and the Fans
The photograph above is a spray painting depicting the neon sign of the famous Glasgow Barrowland music venue. A popular venue for musicians from around the world and for audiences around the local area.
However it is another place which is rightly regarded as the most legendary venue for music in Glasgow. It was the famous Apollo Theatre, home to many wonderful nights and memories for those lucky enough to have walked through its doors.
Music promoter and writer Robert Fields said recently on TV that “The Apollo was special, it wasn’t just a venue, it was a way of life” as that was how it felt to the fans who gathered there.
Here is a history of the venue along with anecdotes from the rockstars who performed there from Martin Kielty's book 'Apollo Memories' and the website links below.
I can also recommend 'You Don't Have to be in Harlem' by Russell Leadbetter. But as well as material gleaned from these books there are also included some of my own fond memories of great concerts I attended.
The launch of Apollo II
The venue was named after the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, New York.
“We’d never heard of the space missions” said Eddie Tobin of the management team back then in 1972 which was actually 3 years after Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon.
It perhaps implies that they weren’t that up to speed on current affairs.
Tina Turner even said her welcome by the Glasgow audiences matched that of the Harlem original. Although at a gig in the 1980s she had to contend with an unusually rich atmosphere after a sewage pipe burst.
Incredibly, Progressive Rock legends ‘Yes’ wrote a famous song in tribute to the Glasgow Choir, only played for one night exclusively for the Glaswegians and Canadian band Rush loved to hear the crowd sing their rendition of 'Closer to the Heart' their wonderful song from the 'Farewell to Kings' album. In fact they included some songs recorded at the Apollo on their live album 'Exit Stage Left' in 1981.
Prior to all this the building was known as the Green’s Playhouse, opened in 1927 and was the biggest cinema in Europe with a capacity of 4,000 in the auditorium and 10,000 in the whole complex. During its Apollo years the capacity was around 3,000 although in the late 70's around 7,000 were reckoned to have somehow crammed in for an Eagles concert. That led to a court appearance for the venue.
But on 12th June 1967 things changed when a package tour featuring Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, The Move, Amen Corner and The Nice played at the Playhouse and within a few years the projectors were gone.
But not forever though as I remember back in the eighties there were occasional film shows. I went along a couple of times and saw ‘Pink Floyd at Pompei’ and ‘The Song Remains the Same’ with of course Led Zeppelin. People in the audience even shouted out during John Bonham’s ‘Moby Dick’ solo during the movie as if we were at the concert itself.
However the first show under the Apollo name was the ‘Man in Black’ Johnny Cash who was honoured with an Apollo Oscar, a small trophy that led Cash to say “I’ll cherish it for ever” before chucking it in the bin. It became a tradition that artistes who sold out the hall were given a trophy to commemorate the occasion and many did indeed treasure them including David Coverdale of Whitesnake.
The Apollo was a dump, no mistake, and it smelled into the bargain. Russell Leadbetter poetically described it as "Cavernous and chilly, run-down, rickety" But we didn’t care as it was a truly magical venue and that’s not just nostalgia on my part.
Any musicians who performed there on stage and even any punters who stood or sat in the audience would testify to that. We all remember the huge stage which was about 16 feet high, leading Robert Plant to comment on the opening night of his first ever solo tour in 1983 “I’ve never performed this high up.....if you know what I mean” accompanied with a knowing smile.
Not so knowing was Chris Rea who didn't realise he was so high up when he first played there. At the end of his set he jumped off the stage and damaged his ankle. Freddie Mercury of Queen had a little more help for one of his mishaps. He was actually dragged off the stage in 1974 by over-enthusiastic fans
Gary Numan played there in the early 1980’s and was struck by the sight of fans walking backwards away from the performance. The stage was so high that those at the front couldn’t see anything above and had to retreat a few yards.
Ozzy Osbourne also launched his solo career at the Apollo “I knew if I could get the crowd there to like me I could get anyone to like me” he declared. Words echoed by Bernie Torme, the lead guitarist with Gillan in the 1980’s, who compared the sight of the audience as like the last days of the Roman Empire.
A "micro-police state" evolves
Despite the fact that the hall didn’t have an alcohol licence it could be an intimidating place.
Especially so in the days before security and stewarding became so professionalised.
Writer Martin Kielty described it as a “micro-police state”.
The bouncers, who are often nostalgically called 'psychopathic' by many wistful fan memories were infamous.
At one gig they went to war with The Stranglers and their fans after preventing the crowd going down into the pit area.
Hugh Cornwell shone a spotlight to illuminate some staff who were being rough with the crowd:
“After the show the band needed protection from the protectors, with karate black-belt bassist JJ Burnel inviting the bouncers outside one by one”.
Gerald Casale of Devo had similar problems when he saw the bouncers beating up a fan at the side. He screamed through the microphone for them to stop and because of this they later threatened to beat him up too.
In 1978 a performance of The Clash was disrupted as a full-scale battle between staff and patrons ensued below the band. Worse was to follow for lead singer Joe Strummer and bassist Paul Simonon who ended up tangling with the Glasgow Police outside and spent a night in the cells for their trouble.
As the venue was all seated and the punters insisted on standing, conflict was never ending with the bouncers literally forcing people to sit down. I felt quite chuffed once at getting a UFO ticket in 1983 for Row G in the stalls thinking “That’s a great seat, I’m surprised I got it” as I hadn’t bought the ticket that early after they went on sale.
I found out why when I got there as I hadn’t known that Rows A to F didn’t actually exist anymore, having been permanently removed. I was right on the front row and among the madness of the hordes in a morass of a pit. It was bloody brilliant. I had a fantastic night joining in the bedlam and fun.
The stars are barred
There are other tales of a drunken girl taking off her shoes, then being thrown out for not wearing footwear and a young worried punk rocker asking to look in the ladies toilet for his girlfiend only to be jettisoned through the front door, which wasn’t actually open at the time.
But this heavy attitude wasn’t just restricted to the audience as a famous incident involving Dave Lee Roth will attest. He is quoted as saying that "The whole place was a self-contained ecosystem".
Well it certainly had some kind of system as he found out about the infamous bouncers to his cost one night. During a solo in a Van Halen set he walked off to the side of the stage and through a door. He wound up in the lane outside the venue and the security staff wouldn’t let him back in. They refused to believe he was the singer in the band. Same thing happened to Bon Scott of ACDC apparently.
But the security weren’t all bad all of the time. One bouncer agreed not to kick out a troublesome girl if she promised to go on a date with him. They ended up getting married. So it could be a truly romantic venue evidenced by the various sightings of couples copulating in the aisles and rows during concerts by the likes of Yes and David Bowie among other exotic inspirations.
The crowd hormones were at an even higher fever pitch when American beauties The Runaways came to town. Outside the venue the staff had to turn firehoses on the young hot blooded Scots fans to let the girls make their escape.
On another occasion the security showed mercy when an illegal photographer Bryan Herdman was finally nabbed after years of sneaking in with “cameras, two lenses and all manner of accesssories”. The security team were so impressed by his intrepid exploits that they let him back in.
The Glasgow crowds
The crowd weren’t always exactly angels either, they could literally turn their back on bands they didn’t like.
When the band ‘America’ played a set back in the 70’s the crowd were grumbling as they waited impatiently for the hit song ‘A Horse With No Name’.
A plea by one of the band that “We’ve got a programme here, we’re professional musicians” was met by a riposte of “Who telt ye that?” from an acerbic punter.
When rock legend Ian Hunter was presented with his coveted statuette by the theatre manager, he described the moment;
“He had a bandage around his head through which copious amounts of blood were dripping. I asked him what happened, and he said quite matter-of-factly that they hadn't opened the doors on time (glass panelled as I recall) so they'd used him as a battering ram!”
The Glasgow crowd had their favourite tunes and wanted to hear them. When Richard Jobson of The Skids refused to play ‘TV Stars’ with it’s memorable chorus of ‘Albert Tatlock’ the crowd put forward it’s own nominee by helping a guy called Jim Wyper on to the stage who sang it for them. The crowd, and even the band joined in.
When Noddy Holder of Slade refused to sing ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ on the not unreasonable assertion that it was January the crowd sang it anyway, and he conducted the Choir. Slade also fondly remembered Jimmy the Fish, a fan who always came to their gigs and presented them with a real fish for some reason.
One of my great regrets was that I never saw Slade live on stage. They were the first band I got into and way back in 1971 the first vinyl record I ever bought was the 7” single ‘Mamma Weer All Crazee Now’. Other great favourites of the Apollo audience that I missed out on were Bon Scott, Rory Gallagher, Sammy Hagar and the local heroes, the legendary Sensational Alex Harvey Band. The last named held momentous Christmas concerts at the Apollo in the mid-70's.
Their bassist Chris Glen came back years later with the Michael Schenker Group and during a radio interview recalled a SAHB gig. During their blues classic 'Framed' Alex Harvey said the lines “Ah didn't do nothing” when a voice from the crowd shouted “You shagged ma sister”. Chris said the band could hardly play on for laughing so much.
The support bands
The Apollo punters could be hard on support bands they didn’t like.
Especially notorious were the Hawkwind faithful who were infamous in their disparagement of the opening acts.
It reminded me of a concert I once attended where Great White flopped on stage.
However they didn’t help matters by including their song ‘Stick it’ on the setlist.
It was the only tune the fans joined in with as they gleefully gave the band the middle finger.
I also saw Queensryche in an unmemorable support slot although they went on to become a superb band.
But a smashing exception was in 1984 on the Kiss 'Animalize' tour when a band fronted by a young man called Jon Bon Jovi provided a great show on the back of the debut album. Less fortunate was David Sylvian of Japan, who left the stage in tears after the band were heckled by the crowd waiting to see the Blue Oyster Cult.
The Glasgow punters would use all kinds of tricks to get into the Apollo for free including the ‘matchbox out the window’ trick. A fan would gain entry legitimately, go into the toilet, put the ticket in a matchbox and throw it out the window to his pals below.
Fans would even try to scale the walls outside to reach the windows high up and one night a guy came down to earth with a bump as the drainpipe gave way. But before he went down he remembered to say “Cheerio lads” to his mates who were still clinging on. Thankfully he wasn’t badly hurt by the plummet.
Andy Powell of Wishbone Ash even saw a fan leaping off the circle balcony during their show. Of course, due to the lack of an alcohol licence there was regular sneaking of booze into the venue. One of the most imaginative strategies being to visit the tearoom during the day and stashing your drink above the toilets ready for collection that night at the gig. Also a useful dodge to hide a tape recorder for the evening show.
Famous albums at the Apollo
Several famous gigs were officially recorded at the Apollo and released on live recordings.
The most celebrated being the classic ‘If You Want Blood(You Got It)’ album by ACDC
The chants of “Angus!!, Angus!!” from the Choir during the opening riffs of ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ are immortalised forever on record.
You can also hear Bon Scott saying “Any virgins in Glasgow?” during the bump n’ grind of ‘The Jack’ on the album.
There is footage of that legendary gig on the ‘Family Jewels’ DVD set where the band play their encore dressed in the full Scotland Football Team strip celebrating the Scots participation in the upcoming World Cup Finals in Argentina in 1978.
On another occasion Angus Young had to clamber out the window during a late-night house party after the parents of the 14-year old host returned unexpectedly. Angus found himself wandering the streets of the notorious Drumchapel estate without a clue where he was.
Prior to that in 1976 Status Quo recorded a live show at the Apollo which became the terrific album ‘Quo Live!’. They even gave the audience memorial badges proclaiming ‘I’m on the album’ which was released the following year. Gary Moore’s live album from 1984 ‘We Want Moore’ was partly recorded in the venue from an original broadcast by Radio Clyde.
Roxy Music recorded there and The Stranglers also brought out 'Live at the Apollo' in 2003 from a recording by Radio Clyde at their 1981 concert. Even Paul McCartney hit the top of the US charts in 1980 with a live version of his single 'Coming Up' performed at the venue.
Shake your foundations
Of course the venue attracted different styles of music such as The Osmonds, Dionne Warwick and Frankie Goes to Hollywood among many.
The Swedish pop superstars Abba even gave the city a mention in the song ‘Super Trouper’.
However the Apollo was always primarily a Rock venue.
ACDC were one of the best live acts of course and by far one of the most popular.
Brian Johnson believed that the spirit of Bon Scott remained in the Apollo and is perhaps the reason why a chunk of plaster fell on his head from the roof the first time he played there.
When they returned for the ‘Cannon and Bell’ Tour promoting the ‘For Those About to Rock’ album I remember Brian commenting on Radio Clyde in 1982 about that decrepit roof.
He said he was worried that their massive bell would be too much for the fixtures and fittings of the old theatre.
He admitted thinking to himself during the show “One creak and Ah’m oot” in case they literally brought the house down. Not an unrealistic concern as you could see the sky through a hole in the roof. The dressing rooms were shabby too and leaked water which mingled with the luminous rat poison.
It wasn’t just the roof that could cause concern as many bands would testify since the stage was so high they could almost get an eye-level view of the balcony. On a busy and boisterous night the bounce on the balcony was “Truly terrifying” according to Joe Elliott of Def Leppard and Francis Rossi of Status Quo said “I swear I saw it rise six feet”.
As I was usually down with the maniacs in the stalls I never really experienced the oscillations of the infamous ‘balcony bounce’. I think I was only up there twice when it was fairly empty. Once for the Michael Schenker Group and again for Saxon on their ‘Crusader’ tour. That was the night I was at the front row of the circle and Biff Byford pointed at up at me. I gave him a smile and he smiled back at me. A great little moment for me as young 19 year old.
Phil Lynott was another hero to the Apollo hordes and also wore a Scotland Football top in 1978, putting his hand on his heart and saying ‘Champions’, “...whether he meant the hopes of the Scotland World Cup team or the Glasgow choir was irrelevant; for the rest of the night you could hardly hear the music for cheering”.
I have a great memory of the iconic Phil Lynott during their last ever gig at the Apollo on the ‘Thunder and Lightning’ Tour of 1983. Again the bouncers had blocked the aisles preventing fans gathering down in the pit area. But after a couple of numbers Phil, cool as you like, encouraged the crowd forward with the gentle invite “You wanna come a little closer Glasgow, you come a little closer”. And indeed we did as we all surged forward and the bouncers gave way.
The sad demise
The Apollo was actually closed in 1978 but after a petition signed by 100,000 people it re-opened under a new management.
Sadly it was only marking time as it finally closed for ever on 16th June 1985 with The Style Council bringing down the curtain on a legendary venue.
Ironically one of the songs in their set 'Walls Come Tumbling Down' was entirely fitting for the occasion. But I always felt that this was an inglorious end as it should have been a Rock band to play the last show.
Bob Geldof had proclaimed that "The only thing that should happen to the Apollo is that it be torn down by rock fans brick by brick while a rock band play 'Scotland the Brave' at 50,000 watts".
It didn't quite happen that way although fans did begin unscrewing radiators from the walls or removing anything else for souvenirs. Some left with sections of the seat rows under their arms.
In this they outdid Keith Moon of The Who as he had only managed to wreck the dressing room after a gig in the 1970s. Not that it mattered as Jan Tomasik, the Manager at the time just billed the band for the redecoration that had been planned anyway .
As it was, Uriah Heep were the last rockers to play the Apollo at "the last supper of rock for the mighty Apollo" wrote Robert Fields on the appearance of one of his favourite bands. After 13 glorious years the building was sadly left to rot and fall into a real state of disrepair.
An outbreak of fire destroyed parts of it and eventually it was pulled down. Many of the Apollo punters broke into the site to grab chairs or even just bricks to keep as mementoes of the glory days.
Such is the high regard that Ozzy Osbourne felt for the place that when he agreed to an interview on Scottish Television with Billy Sloan he asked that the interview be held in the empty disused sight of the old building.
Life has almost come full circle as the location of the old Green’s Playhouse, once the largest cinema in Europe, is now occupied by a multi-plex cinema which happens to be the tallest in Europe.
But as Martin Kielty concludes;....“The Apollo may have been laid to rest, but it’s still alive in so many people’s hearts and memories, and on live albums resonating with the voices of the Choir”.
Read more about the Apollo and the Scottish music scene at these great websites
- Glasgow Apollo
The Glasgow Apollo was Scotland's premier rock venue. Welcome to the only website dedicated to the memory of the world famous rock and pop venue, The Glasgow Apollo.
- Apollo Memories by Martin Kielty | The 2012 Edition
Daily Record Book of the Year. Daily Mail Critics’ Choice. WH Smith Scottish Book of the Year shortlister. Updated with over 100 new stories, exclusive new interviews and dozens of new pictures
- Minstrels, Poets and Vagabonds
Minstrels Poets & Vagabonds will at no time claim to be the definitive book on the history of the rock scene in Glasgow over the last half century, but what it does claim to do is sit nicely on the shelves alongside such fine tomes by others.
- You Don't Have to be in Harlem: Story of the Glasgow Apollo by Russell Leadbetter
With anecdotes and photographs, this book sets out to reveal the magic that was the Glasgow Apollo.
- Are Ye Dancin?
Welcome to the website for Are Ye Dancin'? the 2010 book about the history of Scottish dance halls, the rock'n'roll era, and how yer da met yer maw. It's written by Eddie Tobin, a 50-year veteran of the industry
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This was it! This was what we had all been waiting for after more than 8 years of starvation as the boys were back in town. The Young brothers were back in the city of their birth. What a night! What a momentous occasion!
- Download Festival 2010 Review : Friday On My Mind
Erecting a two-person tent when you're drunk is much akin to folding custard with boxing gloves. We arrived at the Donington campsite around 7am after travelling overnight on a hired mini-bus full of anticipation and full of beer.
- Top 20 Scottish Singers and Solo Artists
For your consideration a list of what I regard as the most important 20 singers/solo artists to have come out of Scotland in the past 50 years. It's a personal take on who the people I think would be at the top of my list.
- The Top Scottish Bands of All Time : 15 of the Best
I often get the response "I never knew they were Scottish" when I mention some of these bands. So it's time to set the record straight. Many great Scottish bands have contributed to the history of contemporary music over the past 40 years.