Like its clubbing scene, Glasgow has a pretty impressive reputation when it comes to showcasing the finest live music. Whether you're looking for the next big thing performing to a crowd of ten at the back of some dingy bar, to catching the biggest in the business taking over the city's best arenas, the venues below should have you well covered. See you down the front.
Glasgow live music venues
Initially called the plain-old ABC when it opened as a music and club venue in 2005 after a £2 million conversion (it’s been a cinema, hippodrome and ice-rink since being built in the 1920s) the potential for this Sauchiehall Street art deco building was recognised by Regular Music. In 2009, the Academy Music Group, owners of the O2 Academy and many other venues nationwide, bought a majority stake in the business, bringing in corporate-sponsored rebranding, and solidifying the O2’s status as Scotland’s key mid-level music venue.
Effectively the next rung up on the touring ladder from the smaller O2 ABC across town the O2 Academy is often the last stop for bands on the road to arenas. Quite literally in one well-storied instance, when The Killers sold-out a show here in 2006 in a record three-minutes, they booked another at the much larger SECC for the following night. The Academy opened in 2002 after a £3 million refit, and, like the ABC, is situated in an old art deco cinema. While it retains a few grand period features, this is, for the most part, a sternly functional space, situated in a slightly bleak out-of-town location.
The massive, flying saucer-like SSE Hydro is the latest unmissable architectural landmark to be added to the now vast arena precinct by the banks of the Clyde. Opened in 2013 with a capacity of 13,000, it joined the 1980s-built SECC (Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, max capacity 10,000) and 1990s-built Clyde Auditorium (or ‘the Armadillo’ as its known, capacity 3,000), and immediately plugged a big, sub-stadium gap in live music and entertainment in Glasgow. Beyoncé, Miley Cyrus, Black Sabbath and Prince all played The Hydro within its first year while major events there have included the MOBO Awards, MTV Europe Music Awards and Ryder Cup gala concert.
Situated in the impressive Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed former Daily Record building down Renfield Lane, Stereo has become one of the vibiest alternative café-bars and gig venues in the city since moving into town from the West End in 2007. A central location together with great food and drink and a diverse programme of events keeps the place buzzing from noon until night (3am at weekends), seven days a week. It’s one of the best gig venues in Glasgow for catching new, up-and-coming and cult local bands – members of which often double as bar staff.
Mono is an independent music, arts, drinking and dining hotspot, with a vegan café-bar, record store, concert venue and gallery all under one big domed roof. If there’s a criticism it’s perhaps that when there isn’t a gig or some kind of event on (DJs play every weekend), it can feel a little quiet come the evening. As a concert venue it can be found a little wanting at times – lacking an in-house PA system, sound-quality is inconsistent. But the calibre of artists booked here – often cult and left field bands and singer-songwriters or experimental noise artists – keeps Mono at the very heart and soul of the Glasgow music scene.
It's a café-bar, arts space and music venue down on the Southside, only open since 2012, but the Glad Café has established a winning reputation for its eclectic range of intimate gigs. In any given month you could see a touring jazz quartet, a local singer-songwriter with backing band showcasing a new album, a Casiotone dreampop combo or a solo bloke with an acoustic guitar. Bite to eat beforehand, beer after, sorted.
It’ll forever be known as the place where Alan McGee discovered Oasis. But King Tut’s, which opened in 1990, remains one of the world’s most famous small music venues for much more everyday reasons. With multi-band bills almost every night of the week, 52 weeks of the year, this two-story St Vincent Street gem has the highest turnover of live music anywhere in the city, maybe even in the UK. Much of that music comes from new and up-and-coming artists. Since playing early shows here, several groups have gone on to superstardom – including Radiohead, The Verve, Coldplay and The Strokes.
After more than two decades of dereliction, near-complete disuse, and loud calls and campaigns for its restoration by locals with support from prominent Scottish groups including Belle and Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub and Franz Ferdinand, the Kelvingrove Bandstand has finally been given a major facelift. It reopened in 2014, in time for the Commonwealth Games. The rebirth of this iconic structure, built in 1924 and designed by Glasgow architectural godfather James Miller, has been warmly welcomed.
Incorporating an art gallery, performance space, café, cinema and offices, this multipurpose creative hub can host everything from exhibitions and film screenings to concerts and DJ sets all in the course of the same day. As a concert space, the CCA has also begun to really come into its own. Its 300-capacity main venue having played host to the likes of Camera Obscura, PAWS, Veronica Falls and Oneohtrix Point Never in the last few years, and been used as a hub for festivals such as experimental music weekender Counterflows and indie all-dayer Stag and Dagger.
Reclaimed from the dank, dark, rat-infested old archways beneath Central Station and the tracks of the West Coast Mainline, this is one of the biggest, best and most respected multi-arts complexes in Europe. It was the vision of founding artistic director Andy Arnold to fund a programme of plays with revenue from clubbing, at a time when the acid house movement was sweeping the world. A remarkable symbiotic relationship began. Long-running house and techno night Pressure has been going strong since 2008. Daft Punk played their first ever British show here in 1997, and all from Metronomy to M83 have visited in recent years.
It’s Glasgow’s oldest purpose-built performance and meeting space, and today home to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. It tends to be used for classical, jazz and folk concerts in the main – particularly during the annual Celtic Connections roots music festival in January, and the Glasgow Jazz Festival In June. But the Old Fruitmarket’s versatility has seen it used for a vast range of other events over the years, including rock, pop and R ’n’ B concerts (by everyone from P Diddy to Glasvegas), theatre performances, comedy sets (especially during March’s annual Glasgow Comedy Festival), banquets, fashion parties and club nights.
The place where Glasgow’s art, clubbing and live music scenes meet: Since 2009 SWG3, aka Studio Warehouse, and the adjoining Poetry Club have become established as among the most vital independent multifunctional creative spaces in the city. The Poetry Club hosts regular music and spoken-word happenings, including intimate encounters with the likes of Primal Scream and Patti Smith, and regular club nights such as queer electro dance party Hot Mess and reggae sound system Argonaut Sounds. The much larger SWG3 has the feel of a hip blank canvas, and can host upwards of 1,000 people.
In the housing scheme of Easterhouse, way out in the east of Glasgow, you find Platform. It's part of a community resource complex that includes a college, swimming pool and library, collectively known as the Bridge. Platform is the performance venue however and hosts music nights that can range from jazz or experimental electronica to folk and more. The good people at Monorail Music, in the same building as the esteemed Mono café-bar, sometimes run a bus out to Platform gigs – ask in the shop. The round trip is 20km or so.
From its very prominent position at the meeting point of Glasgow’s two main shopping thoroughfares, the Royal Concert Hall is one of the city’s most instantly recognisable buildings. A mixed-use venue owned by the council’s cultural arm, Glasgow Life, GRCH hosts hundreds of events annually from across the genre spectrum – classical, jazz, rock and pop, spoken-word, and so on. Surrounded by a multitude of smaller performance spaces as well as extensive bar, café, shop and box office facilities, the main auditorium seats 2,475 people. Characterised by heavy geometrical wood panelling, it isn’t the prettiest concert hall in the world, but sound and sight lines are excellent.
Steadfastly doing its thing at the Charing Cross end of Sauchiehall Street since 1991, in recent years the famous Nice’n’Sleazy has transcended its status as an indie dive-bar and musicians’ haunt to become many things to all kinds of people – a place for great food, drinks, DJs, live music, dancing and just general hanging out from noon until 3am seven days a week. Downstairs, in the red interiored basement is, where the real action is. Gigs are slightly less common here than they once were, and pillars and low ceilings mean sight lines aren’t great. Even so, it remains a uniquely cool and atmospheric place to see a band.
The glowing ring artfully adorning the steeple guides in punters to Oran Mor from miles around, to eat, drink, dance and generally carouse from morning until late seven days a week. It’s one of the few places in the West End with a proper late licence – until 2am weekdays and 3am at weekends. The 500-capacity basement Venue hosts all kinds of events – from the popular and prolific A Play, A Pie & A Pint lunchtime theatre series, to all kinds of concerts by major Scottish promoters and Oran Mor’s own in-house bookers, to clubnights at weekends (generally catering for an over 30s crowd).
With a reasonable claim to the title of Glasgow's most iconic gig venue, a sprung dancefloor thanks to its previous life as an actual ballroom, its striking neon frontage and a capacity of 1,900 – all standing – the atmosphere at Barrowlands can be one of the best. The legend goes that Metallica and Oasis have both namechecked it as among their favourites anywhere, never mind the British Isles, while the A-Z of acts to have graced the stage runs from Ryan Adams to the Zutons. When the Jesus and Mary Chain decided to go out on the road in 2014 and play Psychocandy in its entirety which Glasgow venue did they choose? Exactly.