Blondie live at the Glasgow Apollo

WALK down a certain part of Glasgow's Renfrew Lane today – the part behind the cinema, the hotel and the Aussie pub – and you'll quickly realise it is nothing special. Just like any other lane, in fact. Recycling bins and puddles.
But wait. Thirty, forty years ago, this lane was famous. Sort of. This was where the Glasgow Apollo’s stage-door stood. The lane echoed to the footsteps of thousands of musicians and their stage crews. Where that puddle is today, Mick Jagger once walked. David Bowie. Lou Reed. The Who. Those nice girls from Abba, too.
According to legend, David Lee Roth, singer with Van Halen, once sprinted off stage mid-song, went the wrong way and ended up in the lane. In desperation he ran to the main door but was not allowed back in. The same thing reputedly happened to Bon Scott, singer with AC/DC. There should be a plaque here.
For 12 years to 1985, the Apollo was one of the best-known music venues in Britain. Such was its outlaw appeal, its earth-shaking nightly roar, that many groups came to regard it as a proving ground. Get the Apollo on its feet and you could get any audience on its feet. Many musicians, however, approached the place with trepidation. What, they almost thought, if the crowd doesn't like us?
The Apollo opened in September 1973, in what until then had been known as Green's Playhouse. Its opening acts were a statement of intent: Johnny Cash, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, Lou Reed and Diana Ross.
The final gig, in June 1985, was headlined by the Style Council. By then, the venue really was on its last legs. It was costing a fortune to run. In any event, the music world was moving on. The shiny new SECC was about to open, down on the waterfront. In 1987, the Apollo was demolished, and that was that.
Here's the odd thing, though. It still lives today. A dedicated website has had nearly eight million hits and nearly 10 million page views. A linked Facebook page has 5791 members. Two books, one of them later updated, have been written about the Apollo (I should declare an interest here). A musical, too.
That Facebook page is fun to read. Indelible memories, communal experiences. One fan has submitted a photo of an Apollo seat, acquired at the final show. “This is the back,” she adds. “I think an ex-boyfriend has the bit you sit on.”
And now – well, now the old place has inspired an academic thesis. It took Kenny Forbes four years to research and write. It will lead shortly to his getting a doctorate. Doctor Forbes, we presume.
On the one hand, you could argue that all of this Apollo worship is quaint and provincial: music fans in their 40s and 50s lamenting the absence of a Scottish venue that hosted its final act in the same year as Live Aid. But something is at work here.
We all know the power of music to evoke strong memories of specific times in our lives. I remember going to see Blondie and Television, two top US acts, in May 1977. My schooldays were coming to an end. I was about to start my first job. I was even, God help me, in the habit of wearing flares. The memory of that gleeful sense of anticipation as I walked into the cavernous Apollo, the pounding of my heart as I took my seat, will never fade. Music was life and death to me at that age. The bittersweet memories from that era are so overwhelming that I'm reminded of James Earl Jones' great line in Field of Dreams: "The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces."
Plus, to be part of that deafening Apollo Roar was really something. But that was then and this is now.
Sipping a coffee in a hotel across the road from the old place is Kenny Forbes. He has mined the Apollo legend extremely thoroughly for his thesis at the University of Glasgow.
"There's this idea,” he begins, “that industrial cities have a concept of heavy manual work. There is what is known as oppositional leisure. Work defines leisure. Without work, we don't have leisure.
"The harder you work, the more punishing it is, then the more you want to relax. The greater the distance you want to put between you and the job. You go to the pub, the pictures, the bookies, the dancing. Think about the amazing numbers of people who went to the dance-halls in Glasgow, the cinemas.
"All industrialised cities have this sort of thing, but the level of industrialisation in Glasgow was so intense that it mirrored the leisure activities.
"It's the same with rock music. It is meant to be enjoyed in leisure time, and the more industrial the city, the heavier the rock music it likes. Plus, rock is like a continuing soundtrack of noisy environments, such as heavy machinery and shipbuilding." Indeed, two of the most popular acts at the Apollo (even bearing in mind that it catered for almost every genre of popular music) were, indisputably, Status Quo and AC/DC, both renowned for their heavy, driving sound.
Forbes, a lecturer in Commercial Music at the University of the West of Scotland, believes that the period 1973-1975/76 was when the Apollo was at its most intense. Dozens of gigs in that timeframe reflected the musical spirit of the times, as reflected by radio jocks such as John Peel, by TV's Old Grey Whistle Test and by such magazines as NME, Sounds, Melody Maker, Rolling Stone – which was pretty much all the discerning rock fan had to go on, back then. Look at the Apollo website for these years and you’ll see lots of established and newer rock acts: the peak-era Stones; Wishbone Ash, Van der Graff Generator, Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Peter Frampton. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Frank Zappa. The Damned.
Therein lies part of the problem, though. “One of the main issues with the Apollo,” muses Forbes, “was that it was perhaps too closely aligned with rock music. Later, rock fragmented within the post-punk environment. Music embraced a more varied range of aesthetics, leading to a wider range of genre audiences, who engaged with music via newer media, like Smash Hits, Top of the Pops and MTV, and in different types of live venues. As a result, the old, run-down Apollo became dated almost overnight.”
The industry, he said, "wanted more professional venues" than this dank if vibrant place. Harvey Goldsmith, one of Britain’s most experienced promoters, stopped using the Apollo regularly from 1980 onwards. In short, the venue simply failed to keep pace with changing trends.
By the end, in the summer of 1985, it was also falling to bits. Not for nothing did David Belcher, The Herald's music writer, write, shortly before the final show, that the theatre was suffering from "burst sewers, bits falling of walls and rain pouring into dressing-rooms four floors below the roof."
It was a sad end to what had been a vivid part of many people's education in live music. Gratifyingly, however, video footage and audio recordings of many Apollo acts can today be found online, and we've put a selection on
One interesting project is Rescued Recordings, which is run by Jack McCafferty, who has his own Facebook page on the Apollo.
"After starting it up," he says in an email, "many people came on to tell me they had recordings of shows and asking if I wanted them. As we went on, people continued to send in lots of shows, some of them recorded by the audience, others by radio."
He has some 230 Apollo shows so far, and more continue to come in. The list includes everyone from Free to Black Sabbath, King Crimson, Neil Young, Bowie and The Who. He even has a tape of a 1974 by the Dutch band Focus, which was recorded by a nine-year-old boy.
Group members send him money to cover the cost of the concert discs and postage and packing. McCafferty is at pains to emphasise that he does not make any money; in fact, it costs him money to run the page.
McCafferty says his best memory of the Apollo was a Genesis concert in 1976. "It was my first time in the building, and I was so close to my favourite band at the time. It was really hot, and the band put on a great show. Sadly now it's gone, but I enjoy this Apollo project, and I won't stop until I have every show at the great venue."
Not every Apollo show, of course, led to happy memories. Singer Rab Noakes remembers seeing Chuck Berry there in 1975. It wasn’t one of Chuck's finest hours.
"I’d seen Chuck before on at least one of the package tours at the Odeon [in Glasgow] in 1964," Noakes says. "These tours invariably had an American special guest and Chuck of course had great currency during the beat group era. He was terrific in a short, tight exciting set.
"The Apollo show wasn’t Chuck at his best, though. He had a young, under-rehearsed pick-up band with him and the whole thing was rather perfunctory, with little regard for the audience or for the quality of his art. A low point was his medley section where he said, 'We’ll play a bit of each one, and we’ll get more done.' It was a shambles. He’d move from Roll over Beethoven to Oh Carol.
"Overall he showed little respect for either himself, his reputation or the people there. I lost respect for him that night and haven’t ever recovered it. I recall there was quite a lot of unrest in the Apollo as he played."
Andy Muir, who lives in Australia, is delighted with the success of his website and Facebook page. What, I asked him by email, accounts for the lasting memory of the Apollo?
“It was a formative time in a lot of people’s lives,” he says. “A lot of the music was good, for me there was a limited access to music and music news, so maybe a going to a gig was more eventful with anticipation building and it felt more concentrated.
“I mean, now, with the internet, you can find out almost anything and everything a band is doing and you can watch gigs on YouTube with fan uploads. In those days it was an advert in the NME, Sounds or Kerrang, or maybe a passing mention of a tour on Radio One's Tommy Vance or Tom Russell's Rock Show, and by then it was probably too late to get tickets anyway.”
Muir was about 11 when he saw Wings play in December 1979. “I still remember it very clearly. It was fantastic - the crowd, the height of stage, the theatre, the mad people, and the fact that that was a Beatle on stage, singing Let It Be, or Mull of Kintyre and the pipe band... for goodness sake, a pipe band on stage with a rock band!
“So maybe my view and memories are massively rose-tinted. I was 11 and it was great, I was out in Glasgow at night with thousands of people all in the same place, listening to the same thing and singing the same thing.”
In his relentless research Kenny Forbes came up with all sorts of intriguing facts about the Apollo. Status Quo and AC/DC were among the many acts who recorded live albums there. The New York punk quartet, the Ramones, released an acclaimed album, It’s Alive, in 1979.
"It's listed as being recorded live at London's Rainbow Theatre on December 31, 1977," Forbes says, “but closer scrutiny reveals that only the drums remain from that performance – the other instruments were added later in the studio. The audience noise came from the band's Apollo gig a few days earlier.” He quotes the band’s late drummer, Tommy Ramone. who said the Glasgow audience was “one of the best we ever had … the whole building seemed to shake with the excitement.”

AC/DC live at the Apollo in Glasgow in 1978
Forbes has also observed that some people became exasperated when he asked them what was "legendary" about the Apollo. It's a good point; and he goes on to say there is such a thing as "restorative nostalgia", whereby "we block out lots of inconsistencies and want things to be the way he used to be."
No argument from me. The Apollo was far from perfect and, yes, maybe I remember some concerts as being better than they actually were. But I’m with Tommy Ramone on this one: to my dying day I’ll remember what it was like to have been in that raucous, edgy, ecstatic place at its very peak, when for a couple of hours the world seemed absolutely perfect, and you found yourself part of a communal experience, which was vivid enough to propel you homewards as if in a dream.
Life has moved on a lot since then, of course. But even now, almost four decades later, as I walk past the Apollo site on my way to my desk and computer screen, closer to retirement with each passing December, I cannot help but think of all the nights I spent in there, of all those blissed-out teenage years, giddy with optimism and limitless possibilities.


HOW well do you remember the Glasgow Apollo?

1. Who was the opening act, on September 5, 1973? a) Johnny Cash b) Bob Dylan c) Johnny Winter.

2. Which singer-songwriter told the Apollo website, re a late-night show he did at the venue: "I remember one of the road crew that night being so stoned that he couldn't have changed a plug"? a) Loudon Wainwright III b) Ralph McTell c) Elton John.

3. And on roughly the same theme, who once said: "We arrived for a sound check at about 10pm to find the sound man a bit worse for wear. A glimpse at his gear was not reassuring; it looked like it had been pried from the instrument panel of a Lancaster bomber"? a) Cat Stevens b) Tom Paxton c) Jackson Browne.

4. Which hugely popular group of Mormon teenyboppers played the Apollo in October 1973? a) The Osmonds b) The Jackson Five c) Black Sabbath.

5. Which rowdy group made it part of its stage act for the frequently bare-chested guitarist to climb on the shoulders of his charismatic lead singer? a) Duke Ellington and his Orchestra b) Yes c) AC/DC

6. "The bands and crews waited daily on the edge of our tour bus seats hoping he would pass the stones so we could get on with it." A slightly enigmatic quote from which female singer? a) Martha Johnson, of Martha and the Muffins; Chrissie Hynde, of the Pretenders c) Anni-Frid Lyngstad, of Abba. In case you were wondering, the band was supporting Bryan Ferry, who was apparently ill with kidney-stones.

7. Who told the Apollo website: "It was magic, okay it was smelly and a bit rough and ready but that was part of the magic"? a) An un-named toilet attendant b) Frank Lynch, who turned Green's Playhouse into the Apollo c) Agnetha Fältskog of Abba.

8. Researcher and lecturer Kenny Forbes came across one enthusiast who has a tattoo replicating the tickets of his three favourite Apollo gigs. Two of them are Rory Gallagher and Rush. Who might the third conceivably be? a) Kajagoogoo  b) Buck's Fizz c) Peter Gabriel.

9) Which 79-year-old, piano-pounding, US-born singer, who coincidentally plays the Armadillo this Thursday, played one of the final gigs at the Apollo, in 1985? a) Nina Simone b) Diana Ross c) Jerry Lee Lewis.

10) And who had the honour of headlining the Apollo's very last concert? a) The Style Council b) The Osmonds c) Culture Club.

* Quotes borrowed, with grateful acknowledgements, from Kenny Forbes' website is



1. a)

2. b)

3. b)

4. a)

5. c)

6. a)

7. b)

8. c)

9. c)

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