Glasgow's Third Eye Centre had huge influence over the city's arts scene.

It has perhaps taken the death of two of the people whose memories were crucial to the story of Glasgow’s Third Eye Centre to precipitate a proper look at the legacy of institution that brought the best modern art into the lives of people in the city, and was critical to what is now described as “The Glasgow Miracle” and the city’s global status as a breeding ground for prize-winning artists.

In April 2009 the first director of the Third Eye, poet, playwright and musician, Tom McGrath, died, and at the end of the same year so did critic Cordelia Oliver, who was working on a never-completed history of the centre.

Now the Arts and Humanities Research Council has made a substantial grant to Glasgow School of Art (GSA) for a research project into Glasgow’s artistic renaissance, and the archives of the Third Eye Centre and Cordelia Oliver and her photographer husband George.

Leading the project will be the director of the Third Eye’s successor, the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA), Francis McKee, and visual artist Ross Sinclair.

Faced with a vast amount of unsorted material, including video and audio tapes as well as programmes, photographs, correspondence and accounts, currently in storage across the city, including boxes held at Tramway and the Mitchell Library, they need to hear from people whose memories of attending or taking part in Third Eye Centre events may help make sense of it all.

With the CCA marking its own 20th anniversary in December this year, the research will delve into the 20 years previous to that. The original Glasgow Arts Centre, at 5 Blythswood Square, was purchased by the Scottish Arts Council from the Society of Lady Artists specifically to create a home for the arts in Glasgow, from which McGrath, the Glaswegian former editor of the radical magazine, International Times, ran a great many “off-site” events in other venues. When the Alexander “Greek” Thomson warehouse space at 350 Sauchiehall Street became available, the arts council was persuaded to purchase that building as one place where much more could happen the Third Eye Centre was born in May 1975.

The arts venue enjoyed a high-profile launch thanks to Glasgow’s Lord Provost of the day, Sir William Gray, who became chairman of the organisation. He was at the head of a parade on Sauchiehall Street marking the 800th anniversary of the granting of the Royal Charter to the City of Glasgow, when he brought the procession to a halt and cut a ribbon at the front door, making sure the opening received huge media coverage.

The Third Eye Centre soon won a place in the hearts of the people of Glasgow. Ideally situated just down the hill from Glasgow School of Art, it provided a link between students and citizens.

For many events, the way in was not through the front door, but via the box office entrance around the side in Scott Street, which led up to a popular nightclub (whose space is not incorporated into the CCA) as well as the art school.

It also had a very popular cafe that was packed at lunchtimes and often hosted live music events at night. The large gallery spaces housed shows by Joan Eardley, John Byrne (including a performance by Billy Connolly), Jimmy Boyle and the “New Glasgow Boys”, Adrian Wiszniewski, Ken Currie, Steven Campbell and Peter Howson among many others.

A small studio theatre space with bench seating was used for a range of performances including theatre, poetry readings and music.

It was there that the National Review of Live Art found its first home in Glasgow, with performers putting their bodies on the line in its intimate space. It was also a regular home for jazz concerts by Scottish musicians or visiting international artists.
Like much of what happened at the Third Eye, these were programmed and promoted by an outside agency, in this case Platform Jazz, which had a touring network across Scotland.

For a time during the 1980s I was part of the Platform Glasgow team and if you can remember any of the posters for the jazz gigs in those pre-desktop publishing days, it may well be my best efforts with Letraset that you recall.

In 1986 I even got to perform there myself when the term “Glasgow Style” was first coined in modern times as the title for a week-long showcase of music, fashion and design that included frocks by GSA graduates such as Spencer Railton and Lex McFadyen and music by The Pastels and BMX Bandits, as well as my own Beat Poets.

In the years before the Iron Curtain fell, the then director of Third Eye, Chris Carrell, mounted important seasons of contemporary art from Poland and Russia, which included a night of music from Russian bands when The Beat Poets again managed to sneak on to the bill as the token local attraction.

It is the recollection of events like these that are helping to knock the history of the Third Eye Centre into shape, so if Herald readers have stories of memorable events, the research team at the GSA/CCA want to hear them. Among the treasures already uncovered are tapes of poets Allen Ginsberg and Sorley MacLean, guru Sri Chinmoy (possibly linked to a concert by John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra), and the man behind this weekend’s Celtic Connections’ Gerry Rafferty tribute concerts, Rab Noakes.

The correspondence includes letters from a very well-known, dynamic Young British Artist from Goldsmiths College in the late 1980s seeking a Glasgow exhibition for his work.

McKee hopes that some of the Third Eye connections being re-established through the archive research will bring about new events and shows at the CCA, so that a thread of collective Glasgow memory that was in danger of being lost can be re-established.

If you feel you can help, email or write to him at the CCA.