“MAYFEST springs into action on a shoestring”, read a headline on the front page of this newspaper on Friday, April 29, 1983.

The new, fortnight-long celebration of popular theatre and music got underway that Sunday. Star attractions included the renowned bass-player Jack Bruce at the Mitchell Theatre, John Byrne’s Slab Boys plays at the Citizens, a Scottish Opera open day at the Theatre Royal, the Telemann Ensemble at the Botanic Gardens, and the world premiere of Wildcat’s Welcome to Paradise.

There was a strong international contingent, too, from Czechoslovakia, Italy, Greece, Jamaica and South Africa. Our critic, Mary Brennan, was hugely impressed by a retelling of Hamlet by means of puppets held and manipulated by white-robed actors from a company based in Zagreb. The venue was the Third Eye Centre, in Sauchiehall Street.

The man who had inspired Mayfest was Alex Clark, Scottish organiser of the actors’ union, Equity. “For years I’ve wanted Glasgow to have a festival of this kind, as different as night from day from the one on the other side of the country,” he said. “It has been done on a shoestring. When you consider how little money has been involved, huge enthusiasm has been generated ... If we can pull this off it could easily become an outstanding annual event in Glasgow”.

Mayfest lasted until 1997. That year, it was reported that some 1.5 million people had attended Mayfest events over the years, with more than 12,000 artists taking part – among them, London’s radical drag theatre company, Bloolips, in 1985. Even now, enthusiasts fondly recall jazz gigs on the Ferry, the Maly theatre group from Leningrad, or an astonishing performance at the Mitchell by a Soweto theatre group.

Read more: Herald Diary