Home to institutions like the City Halls and the Old Fruitmarket, the Gallery of Modern Art, Street Level Photoworks and the Tron Theatre, countless great bars and restaurants including Gandolfi’s, Mono, Dakhin, Hutchesons and Blackfriar’s and a whole host of fine public spaces, The Merchant City stakes a strong claim to be Glasgow’s cultural quarter. It’s only fitting, then, that the area should be home to such a diverse and carnivalesque annual summer festival, which takes over all kinds of spaces both inside and out every late July in a colourful blur of music, dance, theatre, fashion, art, design and family events, and so much more. We scanned the densely-packed programme for some of the standout highlights so you don’t have to.
1. Witness the ballet of the JCB
Whoever knew that earthmoving machinery could be beautiful? A brand new large-scale outdoor show by Motionhouse Productions, 'Fragile' will see dancers interact with dazzling strength and agility with three big yellow diggers, in a show exploring “the architecture of the modern urban environment” which is described as a “poignant celebration of the relationship between movement and emotion.” Tell that to the guy stuck digging a hole the road with a shovel.
2. Walk in the footsteps of rock’n’roll giants
There’s music history in the very bricks and mortar of the Merchant City, as a tour around venues past and present in association with Glasgow Music City Tours will prove. From Britain’s oldest surviving music hall (the Britannia Panopticon) to one of its most famous (the Barrowland Ballroom), visit the old stomping grounds of stars from Stan Laurel to Franz Ferdinand, Billy Connolly and Simple Minds. Better still each tour ends with a concert at Mono by an up and coming Glasgow artist.
3. Eat, drink and be merry on Tontine Lane
An address so obscure it doesn’t even show up on Google Maps, Tontine Lane (found behind Commonwealth House between Bell Street, Albion Street and Trongate) is a pocket of hidden Glasgow history that’s home to a piece of landmark public art in the form of Douglas Gordon’s Hitchcockian Empire sign. Both the sign and the lane itself will be re-illuminated, as Tontine is transformed into a pop-up market for the duration of the Merchant City Festival, featuring Scottish food and drink, art installations, cinematic projections, music, performances and more, with support from partners including Sub Club and Heverlee beer.
4. Take a comedy crawl around the Merchant City
An institution at the Glasgow Comedy Festival, the Merchant City Comedy Crawl is like a race to see which will cause your knees to buckle quicker: all the jokes or all the booze (drink responsibly now people). “Rock’n’roll comedian” Raymond Mearns leads the trek around several Merchant City venues, in which will be waiting a surprise array of skilled laugh-makers to tickle your funny bones. Them and some well stocked bars.
5. Watch out for roving street performers
You don’t necessarily even have to find the good stuff at the Merchant City Festival, as some of it might well find you in the form of participants in the SURGE Festival of Street Arts, Physical Theatre and Circus (effectively the MCF’s festival-within-a-festival). Performers will roam the streets (specifically around Candleriggs), proffering all kinds of weird and wacky acts from the 'Aristo Cats' (two aristocrats with feline tendencies sniffing out the Weegie riff-raff) to 'Fame Factory' (a pair of shyster ex-PR consultants who promise to make anyone famous in three minutes, provided you can help them stay out of jail).