The Big Yin

 

Rachel Maclean’s Billy Connolly tribute, entitled “The Big Yin”, is now part of the Glasgow City Centre Mural Trail and can be found in the Gallowgate – and the young Edinburgh creative multi-media artist’s offering is the most outrageously outlandish and striking of the three official portraits commissioned for the comic’s recent 75th birthday. 

 

Her digital print of Connolly in a specially created outfit features references to many of his fabled jokes from throughout his career, such as ‘mini bike parked in bum’ epaulettes, a sporran with an ‘aged’ nose sprouting hair and makeup reflecting his famous ‘pale blue Scotsman’ joke. The crowning piece though, literally, is his tea cosy crown of one of my favourite Connolly stand-up jokes: “Never trust a man, who when left alone with a tea cosy, doesn’t try it on.”

 

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This is the second of two commemorative Billy Connolly 50ft high murals – based on a series of three portraits by leading Scottish artists to celebrate the Big Yin’s recent 75th birthday – installed by street artist Rogue One, and can be found located on the gable wall in the beer garden of the Glasgow Hootenanny Pub in Dixon Street.

 

It is a reproduction of the Jack Vettriano painting taken from a scene from the comedian’s much-vaunted World Tour of Scotland series for the BBC in 1994, which – for reasons only fathomable to the artist himself – he titled “Dr. Connolly I Presume”, and features a very windswept and somewhat drookit Billy on a storm-lashed coast near John O’Groats at the very tip of mainland Scotland. (And thanks to one blog reader commenting below, there’s also a time-lapse video of this mural being done that you can watch by clicking here.)

 

The portraits, by leading Scottish artists Jack Vettriano, Rachel Maclean and John Byrne, all now hang with pride of place in the People’s Palace, the Big Yin’s favourite Glasgow Museum. The journey of the artists and the comedian, from first sitting to final portrait, was captured recently in a BBC documentary, Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime.

 

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Billy Connolly has always stood tall in Scotland – but the Big Yin has just got even bigger.  Bigger by 50ft in height, to be precise, as three new murals recently went up across his home city of Glasgow, and based on official portraits commissioned by BBC Scotland to celebrate the comedian’s 75th birthday.

 

The portraits, by leading Scottish artists Jack Vettriano, Rachel Maclean and John Byrne, all now hang with pride of place in the People’s Palace, the Big Yin’s favourite Glasgow Museum.  Not only that, but the journey of the artists and the comedian, from first sitting to final portrait, was captured in a recent BBC documentary, Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime.

 

But there was a further twist to the story for Connolly, when the City Council surprised the comedian by replicating – with the permission of the artists – the portraits on murals erected at Osborne Street, Dixon Street and the Gallowgate.

 

Two of the murals were done by legendary Glasgow street artist, Rogue One; and this is the first, located on Osborne Street – behind the Trongate, and just across from the St. Enoch’s Centre – and based on John Byrne’s portrait “Billy Connolly”.

 

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Before the rise of the Internet, cockney rhyming slang was once a quintessential part of the British culture.  But sadly experts now say the changing face of society has made the phrases that almost took up half the dialogue in Only Fools and Horses are now obsolete – with the new social media generation popularising their own phrases instead.

 

One popular cockney rhyming slang was “Brown Bread”, meaning to be dead, passed on, ceased to be, kicked the bucket, shuffle off your mortal coil, as the Monty Python parrot sketch would have it.  Which I always found slightly ironic when I was growing up as a kid, because health-wise, brown bread, all full of wheatgerm and fibre, was supposed to be nothing but good for you – and the most identifiable brand being Hovis.

 

And for those of a certain age, the very mention of Hovis should brings back fond memories of 1970s television, as a small boy struggled to climb a steep cobbled hill in his early 1930s delivery bike (replete with big wicker basket laden with loaves of bread) to the strains of Dvorak’s New World Symphony – and it turned out to be an instant advertising classic. The iconic 1973 Hovis ad, voted Britain’s all-time favourite, was directed by a promising young filmmaker by the name of Ridley Scott – I wonder whatever happened to him, eh? – and was meant to depict an industrial northern town, but was actually shot at the other end of the country on Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, Dorset, now known as ‘Hovis Hill’.

 

And as this photo from a recent Hovis street campaign shows, where the company gave away hundreds of loafs to the public on Argyle Street, that indelible image of the delivery bike still resonates for us all – but my, hasn’t the little lad grown? But this is Glasgow, and let’s admit it, we’re not all that health conscious, are we? When handed the free offering by this rep, a wee Glesga wifie looked a little puzzled at the hue of the offering, and then I overheard her asking in the local vernacular “Hiv ya naw got any white breid, son?”

 

And that, in a nutshell, might well explain why this dear and much-beloved City of Glasgow finds itself right at the top of just about every European-wide bad health league for all the self-inflicted, nasty dietary and lifestyle things that end up making many of its citizens Brown Bread in the first place!

 

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In the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London, many protests took place across the country to demonstrate that Britain’s social housing is in crisis – a crisis that was the direct result of the legacy left to us by Maggie Thatcher’s right-to-buy policy back in the early 1980s.

 

And, as witness this photo from Buchanan Gallery steps from a day of action in support of the victims of the Grenfell disaster and against landlords and social housing, Glasgow played a vocal part in its support that was attended by a few dedicated hundred or so, as many ask and wonder whether our country’s postwar housing ideal can possibly be revived.

 

I couldn’t but help think that the numbers though had to have been a far cry from another era in the city when Glasgow was at its most vocal and Socialist best over a lack of social housing and bad landlords, as just over 100 years ago housewife Mary Barbour emerged as a very unlikely local hero as she organised the 1915 Rent Strike that one leading academic believed “could well have been the most successful example of direct action ever undertaken by the Scottish working class.”

 

Today, we need the spirit of Mary Barbour and more direct action because our social housing crisis has been the long-term lasting effects of Thatcher’s right-to-buy policy – and the irony here, of course, is that this policy was probably the most popular ever introduced by a Conservative government. It was wonderful for many who benefited from it – even if some found that property ownership was not the promised land they had expected – but very destructive of local authorities’ ability to respond to housing needs.

 

The selling off of publicly owned housing – and not allowing councils to use those funds to replenish their dwindling housing stock – has directly contributed to the ever more immense bill for housing benefits and created the absurd and wasteful situation whereby local authorities have to pay high rents to house people in homes the councils once owned, but have now been bought by private landlords.

 

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June 21 marked the Summer Solstice in 2017. And as well as being the longest day of the year, the Solstice is also a time for great Druid revelry and naked shenanigans at Stonehenge (where not everything stops when the music does!), as apparently a crowd of 13,000 watched and welcomed the sunrise strike up across the Neolithic landmark.

 

So “Hello Summer” then as most of England baked in a near tropical heatwave with a 41-year record temperature high – but here in Glasgow, the temperature was somewhat subdued with the traditional solstice celebrations of pouring rain, interrupted only by the occasional thunderstorm as everyone dived for cover.

 

And that also looks to be the case for WALL-E, Pixar’s small waste-collecting robot, who as I took this photo looked not so much as he was covering himself from the rain, but somewhat sheepishly as if he had perhaps been on the razzle and recovering from a rough night in Glasgow.    

 

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Ross Sinclair’s photo “Real Life” was the beginning of a life-long project after he got the words “Real Life” tattooed on his back in 1994, turning his body into a tool for his art practice. Sinclair had the tattoo done in Terry’s Tattoo Parlour in Glasgow, since then “Real Life” has featured in all of his works.

 

And one of his latest installations, We Love Real Life Glasgow, is a Commission for Centrum Building, Queen St, Glasgow that opened in early May of this year. This is a sculptural neon work (3m x 2m) in the foyer of the city center office building. The architects and owner had seen Sinclair’s large scale 13 part neon work, We Love Real Life Scotland, in the Glasgow School of Art exhibition ‘Devils in the Making’ that exhibited through 2015/16.

 

And when this neon work was then installed for 6 months on the exterior façade of Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), the artist was asked to use that neon display on the GOMA as his starting point to develop a new project for the Centrum Building.

 

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For those of a certain age and a different generation, you’ll remember the BBC comedy It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, where, in deepest India, amongst the British Artillery Concert army camp of ‘raving poofters’, there would be a small contingent of local idealistic chai wallahs (or char wallahs, as they were called in the show) who, in the traditional role, would carry around an urn of hot tea to keep everyone refreshed.

 

But there’s something a bit different about this Chaiwallah in Glasgow’s trendy West End. Maybe this is down to the fact that it occupies what used to be public toilets that I talked about in the previous blog. Located on Eldon Street right beside the Gibson Street gate of Kelvingrove Park, you can now enjoy a nice latte and light lunch from the comfort of a glorified loo. 

 

Chaiwallah West End opened its doors (which, by the way, are complete with a ‘ladies’ and ‘gents’ entrance) in early May. Yet prior to this most recent success, this late Edwardian public convenience had been left derelict for nearly 25 years. It was only in 2015 that the Glasgow City Council granted a planning application for the refurbishment of the site, thus proving that a shine can be found even in the dirtiest of situations. 

 

The disused building has been wonderfully restored and refurbished, and the best part is that the new owners, BeanYet Ltd., not only transformed it into a modern functioning community hub but, in doing so, they managed to retain most of the original Edwardian fabric of the building, including its impressive green and white marble tiles universally used in public conveniences of the period. 

 

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Of all the technological feats and wondrous designs to come out of The Great Exhibition of 1851, there is one invention that we still use regularly today without even thinking about its ingenuity; and to many, this will, at some stage or other, have been a life-saver – particularly after a lunch time drink…

 

The designers, architects, and engineers of the Victorian era built public conveniences to a very high standard – and they soon spread across the country for health reasons. A great majority of them were underground, but when conveniences were to be above ground, they were built to be aesthetically pleasing, to blend in, and built with high-quality materials such as marble and copper, and furnished with fine ceramics and tiles.

 

Not many original Victorian public toilets survive today. In most big cities across the country, they are recognizable by the fine and fancy railing work above ground, with steps leading under street-level.  In London, many have become Grade II listed buildings – some were even converted into flats and small pubs.

 

Here in Glasgow, just about all of these wonderful Victorian relics were underground, but now all closed, concreted over, with only a few remaining that still show its Victorian railing works. One of the last to close in the city – and the only one I can ever remember spending a penny in as a kid – is on St.Vincent Street beside Buchanan Street, that was known as “The Palace of Light” because the sun would shine down through the heavy glass translucent pavement tiles.

 

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See modern art?  See Glasgow?

 

An empty gallery has been unveiled as the latest work by an artist who “cancelled” her exhibition at one of Glasgow’s leading venues.  Marlie Mul asked for no exhibition be held in the city’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) on Royal Exchange Square. Instead, Gallery 1 at GoMA will lie empty. 

 

The massive billboards outside the gallery advertising the exhibition states “Cancelled” – and the sign has caused much infuriation for the staff at the GoMA, who since the banner went up, have had to patiently explain to the public that the show is indeed going ahead, and unfortunately for the staff, it is called “Cancelled”.

 

The show opened on Friday and runs through until the end of October.  People are being invited to “visit and interact with the space – and suggest alternative uses for the gallery during the five months set aside for the show. Apparently, the Dutch artists’ “conceptual gesture” was to act as an “implicit critique of what is displayed within museums and galleries”. 

 

GoMA curator Will Cooper adds: “By removing what would traditionally be considered an art object we are instead presenting the gallery as an empty space, giving us a moment to question the value in turning over exhibition after exhibition after exhibition.”

 

Yes, but is it art?

 

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