One Love

 

From one music legend to another, as we neatly segue from recently-departed Chuck Berry to long-gone Bob Marley, who came to fame with a juxtaposing rivalry during the rise of punk in the mid-1970s here in the UK. And Top of the Pops often took on a surreal feeling on a Thursday evening during this period as Marley, with his poetic words and rhythmic melodies, was often pitted against the mayhem, nihilism, and constantly gobbing Sex Pistols.

 

And last week, the reggae legend’s life was set to his own soundtrack, as ‘One Love: The Bob Marley Musical‘, written and directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah, opened to good reviews at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, and now looks set for a London West End run and talks of it being turned into a movie.  This is the first musical of Marley’s life and features his greatest songs, including No Woman No Cry, Exodus, One Love, Jamming etc. 

 

The musical tells the story of a man propelled from rising reggae star to global icon, and is mostly set around the time when Marley’s beloved homeland of Jamaica is on the brink of civil war, and he’s called to unite his people as only he can with his music and his message of love and peace – and, as you do, he almost ends up being assassinated in the process!

 

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That wily, irascible old bugger Chuck Berry has passed away at the ripe old age of 90. His contribution to the music we all love in its myriad forms is incalculable. And as they would say in Corrie, “Ta-ra, Chuck!”

 

Berry was the true sound and spirit of rock ‘n’ roll who put more into his songs than many a Hollywood director has put into film. It’s said that he wrote the soundtrack for American teen rebellion in the mid-to-late 1950s – and indeed, such was his influence, that he even got a nod from the cult movie Back to the Future, as Marty McFly parodied how he got his trademark sound and famous duck walk. 

 

I was lucky enough to see Chuck Berry perform in Seattle in 2002 alongside Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard as part of a legends’ farewell tour. He played ‘My Ding A Ling’. I really wish he hadn’t. But he also played ‘Johnny B Goode’ and ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, and it was outstanding.  He was 76 then but easily outshone the other two.

 

And amazingly, unlike Motor City, Seattle’s funky and bohemian Capital Hill neighbourhood has a bronze statue of Chuck Berry (in mid duck-walk), created by local artist Daryl Smith, which is one of a group of three he was commissioned to do, the others being Elvis and Jimi Hendrix that I’ve written about in blogs passim.

 

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The lads on manoeuvres at the top of Buchanan Street quickly jump into the armoured car when offered the chance, as the army used one of its vehicles to encourage them to sign on “for a life of adventure.” But there was no fear of them taking the Queen’s shilling, as it were, as they were only playing “a game of sodjers”.

 

Yet I wonder if they realised that nearly 100 years ago, and just a few hundred yards away, another game of sodjers was being played out during an infamous incident in Glasgow’s history? It happened on January 31, 1919 in what became known as ‘The Battle of George Square‘, when the army was called in to deal with 60,000 Red Clydeside workers who had taken to the streets in protest at working conditions in the shipyards, and after they had been read the Riot Act, one of the strike leaders briefly managed to raise The Red Flag of Bolshevism over the city chambers.

 

Fears within Government of a workers’ revolution starting in Glasgow led to Winston Churchill – who had no qualms about using troops in armoured cars to quell strikers  – sending in 10,000 troops, tanks and machine guns to restore order. Yet despite a full battalion of Scottish soldiers billeted nearby at Maryhill barracks, the Minister for War and Air controversially sent in only English troops.

 

Churchill first put the local Maryhill barracks on a lockdown, refused to use any other Scottish regiments or Scottish troops, the fear being in government circles was that fellow Scots, soldiers or otherwise, would go over to the workers’ side if a revolutionary situation developed in Glasgow.

 

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Kelvinside Parish Church was designed and built in 1862 by architect JJ Stevenson to serve the fashionable new residential development of Glasgow’s west end. And after standing derelict for four years, a consortium led by Colin Beattie turned the vacant building into what’s now become a vibrant arts and leisure center.

 

It was rechristened ‘Òran Mór’ – which for those hard of Gaelic means ‘great melody of life’ or ‘big song’ – and opened its doors once again in 2004 to a new congregation. It’s since become the beating heart of the trendy west end, playing host to new musical talents, comedy nights, club nights and the hugely successful A Play, A Pie & A Pint series.

 

And happily, it still retains a sense of its former spiritual guise with many couples choosing to marry here – and not only marry, but also handy for the quick dash downstairs for the reception!

 

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Lunchtime on Great Western Road, just off Byres Road in Glasgow’s trendy West End; outside three young  ladies rush from their place of employ to join students and theatre-goers as they head for the Òran Mór nightclub space, where there’s barely bum space to be found, as yet another packed audience, having picked up said sustenance of pies and pints, squeeze into their seats to watch the opening performance of this week’s new play, the fourth of 13 in the current 26th season.

 

It’s thirteen years now since the Wildcat theater veteran, the late David MacLennan launched his stunningly simple concept of A Play, a Pie & a Pint in the converted church at the heart of Glasgow’s West End, that’s been hailed as ‘one of the most magical theater initiatives of the last decade.’

 

Sadly, MacLennan died in 2013, but he left his legacy to the city and the arts’ world with his legendary lunchtime activity, where workers could spend their break-time with a cheap pint and a pie along with a fix of culture in the form of a short afternoon play – and the Play, Pie & Pint phenomenon has now taken off in different cities around the world.

 

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Here in Glasgow, mention “Tron” and it’s not so much the Disney futuristic sci-fi movie starring Jeff Bridges you’ll get for the answer, but one of the city’s oldest and most famous landmarks; a very eclectic place richly steeped – or should that be steepled? – in history.

 

Since a church was first built on the site in 1529, the eye-catching Tron Steeple has marked both Catholic and Protestant churches, a place of execution, a meeting hall, a police station…and, of course, nowadays, the Tron Theatre, one of Glasgow’s best-loved theaters.

 

But the steeple is the only remnants left from a club night of drunken bravado you would have thought had come straight from a Blackadder script.  In 1793, Glasgow’s notorious Hellfire Club more than lived up to its name by setting the Tron building on fire in an effort to see which members could – literally – best stand the heat!  

 

All was destroyed save for the steeple, which was incorporated into a replacement structure by the architects, James and Robert Adam that stands on the corner of Trongate and Chisholm Street, in the Merchant City – and still the basis for the beloved Tron as it exists today.

 

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The Skull is the companion piece to the Cherub mentioned in the previous blog, and the pair of bronze sculptures, powder-coated with gold, designed by Kenny Hunter, can be seen on opposite corners of Glasgow’s Tron Theatre. They form a single work: Cherub/Skull – and the skull is the one not so well known, as its hidden in its little niche on the much quieter Parnie Street.

 

But for me, this is the one I always go out of my way to walk past when I’m in town, as looking up to this image brings back memories of being a kid in the early 1970s and that wonderful ’Don’t Watch Alone’ series, the title created by Scottish Television that covered all those horror movies shown on a Friday night, starting at 11pm. It was my first introduction to those atmospheric old black and white Universal, RKO and also colour-infused Hammer Horror classics that still to this day have remained my favourites.

 

And the reason I always look out for it is my fondness for the underrated and relatively unknown gem I first saw as a 10-year-old, The Skull (adapted from a short story by Robert Bloch, author of Psycho), a wonderful 1965 movie from Amicus, the British horror studio that attempted to rival Hammer Horror.  And The Skull (streaming on Netflix) is a fearsome, finely acted and moody tale of Gothic horror and demonology with a solid cast of British thespians. 

 

The premise is that the skull of the Marquis de Sade has been taken from its grave, bringing terror to those who own it, and it stars those two legendary masters of the macabre, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who team up for the umpteenth time together as occult collectors in this doom-laden shocker – but with the twist being that this is the only movie featuring the gruesome twosome where Cushing plays the bad guy to Lee’s good guy. 

 

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The Tron Theatre is steeped in Glaswegian history. Having stood in the heart of the Merchant City for almost five centuries, it has been a Christian place of worship, a meeting hall, a market, a store house, a police station and a theatre. And walking towards the Trongate, you can’t but help look up and be transfixed by the evil lurks from the cherub that sits on the corner of the main entrance.

 

Cherubs are supposed to be angelic, representing innocent little children singing the praises of God. Not this little guy, he has a distinctly menacing and impish look about him. According to the website of the Merchant City Public Art Trail “the cherub steps confidently forward from an already existing ornate niche in the screen wall, as if about to fly or jump into the bustle below”.

 

This is one of a pair of bronze sculptures – the Cherub and the Skull – powder-coated with gold, installed in 1998 and designed by Kenny Hunter, that sit on opposite corners of the new-build Tron Theatre that refer to the span between childhood and death, suggesting that all human endeavour is reflected within the walls of the theatre.

 

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Standing equally proud as they share the same plinth in Springfield Court, which you’ll find located at the rear entrance (no pun intended) of Princes Square, are a man and a peacock, whose tail feathers lie flat, wrapping around the side of the column both stand upon.

 

The piece, titled “As Proud As….”, is newish to Glasgow. It was erected in 2000 and is one of many new public art installations by local Glasgow sculptor Shona Kinloch that you’ll now find dotted around the city. All her work is figurative (birds, animals, and chunky people) and often come with a hint of humour attached to them.

 

The elusive title stems, of course, from the phrase “as proud as a peacock.” It has been suggested that the small bronze bird mirrors the giant metal peacock that adorns the front of the Princes Square building. Yet here it is the man who stands tall, hands clasped, staring north and very, very naked, who appears to be more of an exhibitionist than the peacock hiding behind him!

 

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Continuing much in the vein of Geometry Club from our previous blog entry, a recent addition to the ever-changing Glasgow landscape is the very striking, triangular-shaped Technology and Innovation Centre (TIC) at Strathclyde University, designed by BDP, the internationally acclaimed architects, designers, engineers and urbanists.

 

TIC opened in 2015 and tackles the mysteries of atoms, plasma, lasers, bio-nano-micrology and even street-lighting – and all a stone’s throw from the oldest buildings in the heart of Glasgow, it could barely be more downtown than this. The parallel of its locale is drawn with San Francisco, Boston, and New York, where run-down or neglected downtown areas have become the hubs for science/engineering innovation.

 

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