When fire swept through Glasgow School of Art and the nearby ABC venue it caused colossal damage to Glasgow’s music scene, and to creativity across the UK.
Full details on the extent of the damage are still being ascertained, with fire services currently tracing and dealing with hotspots in the School Of Art. However photographs of the damage are absolutely devastating, robbing Glasgow of two cultural landmarks, two spaces uses for incubating a wide range of creative endeavours.
For the Art School the fire is doubly cruel. Work was still ongoing in dealing with 2014’s fire, and this has affected a completely different part of the building. Early estimates are that rebuilding the shell could cost more than £100 million, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon labelling the blaze “heartbreaking”.
As with 2014’s fire, the Scottish music community have voiced their sorrow and their support for such an iconic building. Built by the renowned Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Art School is almost a by-word in social engineering, using arts and creativity as a means to foster community – not only that, but a community that resolutely sits outside the norm.
Despite the removal of the grants system Scottish students are able to study for free at the Glasgow School of Art, a four year system that guarantees a fair amount of what could charitably be termed ‘arsing around’. Yet this freedom gives the Art School its flavour, an open platform for self-discovery that helped turn Peter Capaldi into an actor, Liz Lochead into a poet, and David Shrigley into a cartoonist.
Its musical pedigree should be self-evident. Amid the petri dish of Glasgow creativity the arts are allowed to roam free, meaning that many a would-be painter has exited the Art School with a pair of drum sticks in hand.
Everyone from Travis to Franz Ferdinand to Veronica Falls to Sharleen Spiteri passed through its corridors, and the school’s free-thinking ethos helped slacken the boundaries of the everyday, affording them a space to call their own.
The examples are near-endless. In 2008 Glasgow group Correcto released their pretty-damn-fine debut album, laced with spiky, off kilter indie songwriting. The very next year guitarist Richard Wright won the Turner Prize, part of a flurry of Art School alumni who have claimed one of the art world’s top prizes.
- - -
- - -
But the Art School was far from the only victim of the weekend’s blaze. The renowned O2 ABC venue developed a reputation as one of Glasgow’s best venues, housing in a Victorian building with a historic roof (and a nigh-on legendary disco ball).
Operating in a different facet of culture, the ABC is still a vital part of Glasgow’s cultural identity. Drawing in acts of an international calibre, it was able to match big chart players with icons of the left field, producing something truly special in the process.
Not for nothing did Mogwai guitarist Stuart Braithwaite comment on Twitter: “my real concern is that we are likely to lose one of the best venues in the country that brought some of the worlds best musicians to our city. Scotland and Glasgow will be culturally impoverished without it. Like the Art School, it is more than a building.”
Concert promoter Paul Cardow revealed to the Daily Record he wept in the street when approaching the inferno, with the full scale of the damage becoming evident. “I am assuming it is going to be pretty horrific,” he told the tabloid. “I was there a few hours ago and they are still pouring water into the ABC. Nobody knows what happened but I don’t know many buildings that can survive having a roof falling in and 24 hours of high pressure water poured into it.”
- - -
- - -
With fears being raised over two cornerstones of Glasgow’s cultural identity, city council leader Susan Aitken has moved to support a wide-ranging proposal, including utilising the re-build of the Art School as the foundation for a wider arts and culture plan in that area of the city.
It comes as an important juncture for music within Glasgow. The loss of the Arches remains a grievous blow for the city, an enormous venue with an international reputation snuffed out amid controversial hearings with authorities and police.
On the opposite coast Edinburgh’s often stifled music scene faces yet more challenges, with the well-respected Leith Depot battling for its very survival; the inertia that follows the loss of another key venue is something Glasgow must surely aim to avoid.
In the end we’re discussing much more than bricks and mortar, much more than safety measures, or ignition temperatures. The structural integrity of Glasgow’s creative communities are of vital importance to the way in which the city views itself, and through its close conduits across the nation the way in which Scotland also presents itself to the world.
The city’s ability to continually shift and regenerate is dependant upon having spaces for such ideas to occur, to be debated, and put into practice. What Glasgow could lose is something far greater than award-winning buildings; it’s the means to fully express its own whims, quirks, and eccentricities, to tell its own stories, on its own terms.
- - -
Join us on Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.