HE wasn’t born when Charles and Diana took a tram along the Broomielaw to open the Glasgow Garden Festival 30 years ago.

Yet later this month, Jamie Scott will sound a lament to the event’s lost legacy by restaging the much-loved festival with a concert at which audience members can climb the Clydesdale Bank Tower and promenade along the floral borders of the Clyde one again.

The musician, better known for his indie band moniker Conquering Animal Sound, has recorded an album of songs inspired by the events around, and since, the city’s feelgood summer of 1988.

The five-month jamboree of arts and horticulture drew five million folk to a 100-acre patch of post-industrial brownfield on the south bank of the Clyde that had been repurposed as a verdant playground blooming with optimism.


Jamie Scott   Photograph by Colin Mearns

Trams ran the length of the cobbled promenade, a beach and a forest were created at the Govan basin, and the docks became a playground for musicians and artists.

A Japanese garden, miniature railway, Art Deco milk bar and a huge floral crest celebrating the centenary of Celtic FC feature in many a photo album of those who visited the site in a summer when the riverside thrilled with screams from the Coca-Cola rollercoaster.

The festival, which was the third of its kind in the UK and lasted just 153 days, is fondly held in the collective memory of the city’s people, thousands of whom would consider the £15 forked out for a season ticket to be among the best money they ever spent.

Yet the physical evidence that it even happened is scant.

The Bell’s Bridge, the uninspiring Festival Park and a now-obscured mural on the gable end of a block of flats are the only nods to an event which generated millions for the city.

It was while delivering mail as a postman on the streets of Govan that 30-year-old Scott was inspired to examine the cultural memory of the expo.

“I went into a block of flats on the former site of the festival and up the stairs there’s the logo from the Garden Festival,” says Scott. “My initial thought was that it would look good on a T-shirt, because it was really colourful and inspiring. Then I had the idea for an album about it and the more the whole thing went on the more we started to do, so we decided to recreate the festival at the Glad Cafe.

“It’s a marker of its 30th anniversary, but it felt like there was an intrinsic link to it, because of the way I stumbled across this thing that happened in the summer I was born.”

Despite being born in Inverness midway through the festival’s run, and raised in the Trossachs, Glasgow-based Scott has come to understand the significance of the part it played in recovering some of the pride the city lost as the industries that made its name were dismantled in the 1980s.

“There’s a line you can draw from the Garden Festival to the European City of Culture in 1990, through to the Glasgow Miracle [a term coined by German art curator Hans Ulrich Obrist in response to the number of Turner Prize nominated artists in the city] and the explosion of the indie music scene,” he says.

“I was living in Govan when I first had the idea, and there aren’t really any markers to the festival in the area. There’s the Festival Business Park which has a logo on the wall which has been obscured, and festival park.”

Working with a collective of artists and designers, Scott has conceived Glasgow Garden Festival '18, a live time-portal which will include designer Roy Shearer’s accessible scale model of the Clydesdale Bank 150 Anniversary Tower, one of the festival’s most popular attractions, as well as replica T-shirts, merchandise and immersive tours using virtual reality headsets to turn the clock back three decades.

Yet the purpose is more than providing the mere novelty of nostalgia.

He says: “From what I’ve read about the Garden Festival, people were overwhelmingly positive about it. People talked about never having seen anything like it in Glasgow before, they spoke about how it felt like the city had come together. Glaswegians were on the same page, seeing their city in a different light, which I think is really important.”

The event, to be held on August 11, will feature the work of visual artist David Lemm who will contribute a series of illustrations based on some of the artwork around the site in contrast to its current appearance as an avenue of grey boxes, described recently by artist Lachlan Goudie as “bits of space junk”.

Virtual reality artist James Houston will use archive footage shot during the festival to create an immersive experience enabling people to stroll through the site’s walkways wearing virtual reality headsets. Independent clothing label 2 Stripe, which specialises in reviving forgotten Scottish corporate iconography of the 1980s and 90s, will sell the T-shirts featuring the flower spray logo, which was the brainchild of Shona Maciver, of Glasgow design firm Locofoco.

“Apparently they sold something like 25,000 of those T-shirts,” says Scott. “Who knows how many of them are still out there.”

He added: “We’ve taken a few of the markers of the festival. The tower was removed almost as soon as it was over, and now stands in Rhyl, in Wales. There was no tower in Glasgow for many years until the tower at the Science Centre, and that was shut for a long time.

“I think being able to go up and see a city from above is actually really important for its people – to see your own space, but also being able to see beyond it. It’s part of defining what your city is.

“So we decided to build a tower in the Glad Cafe and project archive footage of what people saw when they went up there, a skyline of Glasgow which doesn’t exist anymore, and this incredible festival going on below them.

“One of the things people remember about it most is that it was a nice summer, and we’re having the same kind of summer again 30 years later.”

The gig will also feature Scott debuting the songs on the album Glasgow Garden Festival '18, which include references to the city’s ascendant music scene of the late 1980s.

He said: “There’s a song on the album called (Don’t You) Forget About Me, which is a totally different song from the Simple Minds one, and is really about the fact that the Garden Festival should be remembered. There’s also a reference to Tinseltown In The Rain by The Blue Nile. I think it’s important to recall what was going on with the music coming out of the city at the time.”

One of the key themes behind the project is encapsulated in the song The Paper Boat, a reference to the art installation of the late Inverclyde artist George Wyllie, famed for his sculptures and artworks inspired by heavy industry along the Clyde. Both the river’s industry, and its garden festival, are now virtually gone.

“It’s a song about the decline of shipbuilding on the river, and a reference to George Wyllie’s Paper Boat,” says the singer. “Some of his artworks were at the festival, and though the Paper Boat wasn’t part of that, the song is a link to the fact that they worked with some of the former shipbuilders in the creative design of the festival.

“Wyllie’s take on the shipbuilding industry wasn’t just about people losing their jobs and their livelihoods, it was about the creative energies and the skills they had which gave them a sense of wellbeing. Losing the shipyards was about those people losing their creative energies.”

It’s a desire to reflect the toils of the city’s forefathers which have led Jamie Scott to employ his own creative energies in tribute to theirs.

“They discovered the Floating Head from the festival sitting in a yard down the Clyde a few years ago,” he says of another memorable installation, a head the size of a boat designed by Richard Groom, which floated on the river. “It’s crazy to think there’s really nothing to mark it. Some of the artwork could still be accommodated on the site.

“It’s something which has completely disappeared and yet is so fondly remembered. This is our way of doing that, and maybe others will, too.”

Glasgow Garden Festival '18, The Glad Cafe, August 11. For tickets visit: www.thegladcafe.co.uk/events


IT drew almost five million people to the south bank of the Clyde, and led to a reported injection of £100 million for the local economy with the council pledging a further £170 million in the five years after.

The Glasgow Garden Festival was the first international expo to be held in Scotland’s biggest city since the Empire Exhibition in 1938.

Visitors were 40 per cent higher than expected at the 1988 celebration on the Prince’s Dock, living up to its slogan, “A day out of this world.”

And while little of it remains by way of physical touchstone, its impact on the city’s cultural confidence and reputation is unmistakable.

Within two years of being awarded the Garden Festival in 1984, Glasgow was named as the European Capital of Culture for 1990.

Some would argue that a line can be drawn from the Garden Festival through to this summer’s European Championships, with 1999’s City of Architecture and Design and 2014’s Commonwealth Games maintaining the momentum.

This year, the RSPB launched a Glasgow Wildlife Garden Festival to mark the 30th anniversary, with pop-up gardening events planned on Glasgow Green as part of next month’s Festival 2018 cultural accompaniment to the European Championships. A conference aimed at fifth and sixth year school pupils on the future of Glasgow’s green spaces is also due to be held at the city’s Science Centre on the former festival site. Today, the Science Centre is the only public attraction on the 120-acre footprint.

Initial plans for an ambitious housing development fell through after a downturn in the housing market in the late 1980s, and most of the site lay derelict for years.

In 2001, the Glasgow Tower opened, hailed as the tallest free-standing fully rotational structure in the world. It suffered from a series of malfunctions in the years after its completion.

The festival site is now home to a row of colourless offices and hotels, with the premises of broadcasters STV and BBC Scotland occupying the area.

Some of its attractions and installations were broken up and distributed near and far. The Clydesdale Bank Tower was sold for £400,000 and now stands in Rhyl.

The Big Yellow Kettle became a tourist information office in Gourock, Inverclyde, before being dismantled. Nearby Cardwell Garden Centre is home to a variety of structures and plants from the festival, bought up by then owner Eric Gallagher. Malcolm Robertson’s Giant Irises stand in Glenrothes, Fife.

• For more information on the Glasgow Wildlife Festival '18, visit glasgowwildfest.org