Donald MacLeod: Magical summer nights at the Kelvingrove Bandstand

·3-min read
Donald MacLeod: Magical summer nights at the Kelvingrove Bandstand
Donald MacLeod: Magical summer nights at the Kelvingrove Bandstand

GLASGOW, UNESCO City of Music, has many world-famous indoor live music venues, The Barrowlands, OVO Hydro, The Garage, King Tut’s, Cathouse and SWG3, to name but a very few, but I doubt there is a more intimate and ideal outdoor city centre venue in Scotland than the 2000-capacity Kelvingrove Bandstand.

Nestled between Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Glasgow University, besides the long leafy stretch of Kelvin Way, this historic venue was built in 1924. Lovingly restored in 2014, has become the perfect annual mid-summer setting for the brilliant series of live shows featuring major acts and global artists – Summer Nights at The Bandstand.

Now in its seventh year – a “lucky seven”, given that the past two years were wiped out by government Covid restrictions – Summer Nights has gone from strength to strength, which at a time of great uncertainty has been no mean feat in no mean city.

With 14 sell-out shows over three weeks, it has seen big-name acts, including The Pixies, Happy Mondays, Peat and Diesel, Van Morrison, Suzanne Vega, Altered Images and the legendary Rick Astley (who assured fans that he was Never Gonna Give ‘them’ Up), all selling out as soon as they were announced.

Proof, if any were needed, that big doesn’t always mean better, and that quality, not quantity, is still preferred. At the Waterboys concert I met Mark Mackie, head honcho of promoters Regular Music, whose inspired idea it was to host the Summer Nights at the Bandstand.

“In the early eighties”, he told me, “I studied at Glasgow University and was the social secretary of the students’ union, in charge of music and events. On my way home I’d usually pass the bandstand, which would be lying derelict and in a terrible state of disrepair, and I always thought what a brilliant venue it could be, if only it was given a little bit of TLC.

“In 2012 Glasgow Preservation Buildings Trust and Glasgow Life obviously thought so as well and managed to raise the £2.1 million funds required for a full restoration, which was completed in 2014.

It was then, along with my colleague Gerry White, a bright spark who was a former electrician, that we decided to tentatively launch our first series of Summer Nights – six sell-out shows featuring Steve Earle, Alison Moyet, Capercaillie, Teenage Fanclub, Squeeze, and one of this year’s headliners, The Waterboys”.

Not a bad start, and over the years Mark and his dedicated team along with Glasgow Life have managed to carefully grow the event into what I regard as one the best live music events in the country. It has hosted such names as Human League, Brian Wilson, Texas, Patti Smith, Burt Bacharach and, twice, Tom Jones (twice).

It’s a local success story which has provided much-needed employment for around 100 people as well as stable contracts for a range of production companies and suppliers.

I asked Mark (who along with his pal, singer Ken McCluskey of The Bluebells, likes to fish on the cool languid waters of the river Kelvin inbetween shows), what the reasons were behind Summer Nights’ growing popularity and success.

“I put it down to creating an event where your bigger acts want to play no matter what the size of the auditorium is. One where they end up calling you, not the other way about. An event where the punters are treated with respect, and one where tickets are reasonably priced.

“I decided from the offset to ban dirty smelly Portaloos and instead install clean toilet blocks with hot and cold running water. There would be no greasy burger and chip vans. Instead, we have caterers like the celebrated chef John Quigley, of The Red Onion providing the fare, as well as a quality bar service, selling only premium products, which has been provided by my good friend Bobsie, owner of Rab Ha’s.”

Well, if this year’s successful catch of shows is anything to go by, there will be no Fisherman’s Blues for the bandstand or Summer Nights in the future.