Return Of The Blob

 

Here’s a blast from the past, a controversial Glasgow bronze statue, ‘The Spirit Of Kentigern’, which perched for more than two decades outside the House of Fraser store in Buchanan Street, baffling shoppers and dividing critics into those who loathed it and those who simply tried to forget it.

 

Arguably it was the most reviled piece of public sculpture in Scotland, even although the abstract statue of the bird depicted the story of Glasgow founder St Mungo – also known as St Kentigern – who is said to have brought back to life a wild robin. It was the first modern art installation in the city, and all the more controversial because it didn’t represent imperialism, and nor did it have Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns or John Knox atop it.  

 

More often than not, it was referred to by Glaswegians as “The Blob”, and usually mistaken for a ship’s propeller, a whale, or something glimpsed on a bad acid trip. It was part of city life from 1977 till 2001 and then put in storage because it didn’t fit in with Buchanan Street’s snazzy new streetscaping. But now Glasgow City Council has brought it back to life by loaning the Spirit of Kentigern to the City of Glasgow College, and its new resting place can be found close to the Allan Glen’s entrance of the City campus, just off Cathedral Street. 

 

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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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It’s impossible to swing a guitar in the Glasgow streets without knocking over a busker or two! Buskers have become as much a staple of the High Street on a Saturday as over-spending with performers of all shapes, sizes and styles delighting shopping crowds with their own acoustic efforts or their unique take on classic pop and rock songs.

 

And perhaps paying homage to the city’s busking scene, there now comes “The Glasgow Busker”, one of the latest top-notch permanent murals located on Sauchiehall Lane from Rogue One, the Glasgow-based aerosol artist who’s forever brightening the streets of our city with his wonderful work, and features in today’s photo.

 

In recent years, though, there’s a trend for even famous singers going undercover as buskers and performing to the public. And I can tell you where this trend is first thought to have originated from – right here in Glasgow, back in 1976, and by no less a figure than the fabled Canadian singer/songwriter that is Neil Percival Young!

 

Young and his backing group Crazy Horse were playing the last gig of their European tour at the Glasgow Apollo – never forgotten, but alas sadly now long, long gone – and his record company had hired a local camera crew to film his arrival in Glasgow from London and to cover the last gig of their hugely successful tour.  But with hours to kill before the gig, and not to mention being ever so heavily stoned out of his mind (Hey man, it was the ’70s…), Young came up with the wheeze of going incognito onto the streets with a long scarf and a deerstalker with the intention of just flopping down outside the entrance to Glasgow’s Central Station to strum away with his banjo and harmonica, just to see if anyone would recognise him.

 

Understandably, David Peat’s footage and his story behind Neil Young surreptitiously busking in Glasgow has since gone into rock folklore; and it also became something of a sensation when the footage resurfaced for the first time a few years back, as it went viral after it was posted on YouTube.

 

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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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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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As well as helping to brighten up unloved buildings, the Glasgow Mural Trail – part of the Style Mile city centre strategy – is also helping to support young artists.  But it has a very serious side to it, helping to rejuvenating streets and revitalise buildings and vacant sites that are looking a bit tired and reincarnating them as beautiful pieces of public street art.

 

And taking influence from the Beastie Boys and Run DMC, Rogue-One’s Hip Hop Marionettes graces the side of this Strathclyde University building on John Street, adding more than just a splash of colour, life and humour to what was an otherwise drab, plain brickwork to brighten up our streets.

 

And as one reader eloquently put it in his comment in our previous entry, it certainly beats a time and era in Glasgow when the only thing we would see daubed with paint on the side of buildings would be the once ubiquitous gangland catchphrase of “Tongs ya bass”!

 

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Since my somewhat extended, and almost a decade-long Seattle sojourn, returning home I have been very pleasantly surprised to discover all the wonderful street art that I encountered in different parts of the city; and these uplifting and playful works undoubtedly contribute much to enhancing the streets of old Glesga’.

 

A majority of these prodigious wall murals were commissioned by the City Council from 2008 and is ongoing; and many renowned local artists took part in the project including Smug and Rogue One. And today’s photo, by Smug, is entitled ’The Lecture’, and can be found on the now-extended University of Strathclyde campus on North Portland Street, which in 1964 received its Royal Charter as the UK’s first technological university. 

 

The Belfast murals however these ain’t – and I recently watched an enlightening new documentary on Netflix, Art of Conflict, from the unlikely figure of Hollywood star Vince Vaughn, on all those controversial murals on both sides of the sectarian divide during the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, that’s well worth adding to your watch list.

 

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‘The greatest Victorian city in the world.’ That was how the late Sir John Benjeman, Poet Laureate and expert on all things Victoriana, saw central Glasgow – and nowhere is this Victoriana more evident than at the Kibble Palace, where even today, when you begin to walk around it, the first impression you have is to half expect meeting some Victorian gent ambling towards you and tipping his top hat en passant.

 

And as you exit the Kibble, the last marble statue you will see is this very Victorian-like ‘long fellow’ in the corner, namely King Robert of Sicily sculpted by George Henry Paulin (1888-1962), the character based on “The Sicilian Tale” in Tales of a Wayside Inn by the American poet of the period, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His poem refers to an arrogant king who is deposed by an “angelic” emissary, stripped of his robes, and forced to assume the role of a king’s jester, with only a monkey as a friend.

 

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Originally used as a Winter Garden for concerts and important events, the Kibble Palace was the venue for the inaugural meeting of that august body, the British Association of Science, during its visit to Glasgow in 1876, and for both Disraeli and Gladstone’s Addresses as Rectors of Glasgow University.

 

The Botanical Collection was started in 1881 when the Royal Botanic Institution bought out the lease. Today the Kibble houses flora from the Temperate Zones, including Southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, South America, North America, China, Japan, the Mediterranean, the Canaries and Madeira.

 

But it isn’t just exotic plant there, because it also houses some wonderful Victorian statues – and the first you encounter is a startled nymph inside the glass dome: the magnificent marble statue of Eve, c.1880 by the Italian sculptor Scipione Tadolini, that’s the centrepiece of the Kibble. This is one of eight white marble pieces which were moved from Kelvingrove Museum to the Kibble in the 1930s.

 

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Two maquettes of The Kelpies, one of Scotland’s best-loved new tourist attractions, could be found throughout the month of June outside the Kibble Palace in the Botanic Gardens. They went on display at the start of the recent West End Festival in Glasgow, the opening day of which saw a record 125,000 people crammed into a pedestrianised, traffic-free Byres Road.

 

The scale models of the landmark Clydesdale horses’ heads at the Helix Park in Falkirk (which we’ll get to in our travels of the homeland) are being dsiplayed as part of the G20 Heritage Exhibition to highlight the Friends of Queen Margaret Drive fundraiser to conserve a footpath in the street where BBC Scotland once used to reside.

 

The original Kelpies, by sculpture Andy Scott, made a very big impact when they were installed in 2013, and are already among the country’s most popular visitor attractions. The two towering equine structures stand at 100ft tall; and have now been officially recognised as the largest horse-head sculptures in the world.  So definitely not the sort of thing any film director would like to find at the bottom of his bed when he wakes in the morning!

 

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