Style: Chicago Blues
K: I’m interested in the Glasgow Blues Club George. Can you tell me a wee bit about that? Who’s idea was that?
G: That was mine. I had no idea initially what I wanted to do with it, whether just to have it for us to play (George Lindsay Blues) or local bands to play or International bands to play. I had no idea, I just knew that that I wanted to get a place in Glasgow that was different. I’d played in various venues where the audiences were diminishing. People were refusing to pay a tenner to go and see a band on a Sunday afternoon when they could go to another venue to see another band at night for nothing. I just started thinking “This is not the way to go” you know what I mean?
Having been to and played in Chicago so many times and having seen what was happening in the clubs over there I thought “How hard can it be?” I spoke to Nick Hamilton and I spoke to Dunc about the Edinburgh Blues Club to see how they’ve done it and I tried to get the best of both those different approaches. Dunc has gone down the road of getting a subscription of £10 a month. Sometimes we struggle to get people to pay £3 at the door so I wasn’t sure of that was the best approach. I knew that in Falkirk they had the model of paying at the door to see local bands only and that seemed to work okay. So I thought “Why not pitch it in the middle?”. (Pay at the door for local bands but also have a subcribing membership that contributes to funding national/international artists)
K: I saw on Facebook that you had to go for a bigger venue for the first gig you’re putting on. Marcus Malone?
G: It was quite phenomenal really! I think it was within a period of 2 days that over 800 people had subscribed (liked) that Facebook page and had requested to be on the mailing list. If that turns into ticket sales I’d be delighted!
If half of that turned into ticket sales I’d be delighted.
The venue we had originally was part of the Brunswick Hotel and we had the basement bar at the Basura Blanca which was a great venue and we had a good deal on that and we had to provide a stage and a PA system, which wasn’t an issue. I have both but the more I looked at the capacity the more I started thinking that it may not be big enough. At that very time, Paul from the Record Factory contacted me with a view to us using their venue.
Now, the idea that I wanted was that I wanted it to be a basement. You know? A kinda “Smokey Vibe”. I wanted a proper stage, a proper bar away from the stage. I knew exactly what I wanted but I knew there was no way I was going to find it. Now this place was like Ronnie Scott’s meets the 100 Club! As soon as I walked into it I knew that this was the place. You walk into the entrance corridor of the Record Factory and the walls are plastered with memorabilia and all sorts of music stuff. Before I even saw inside I knew…”This is the place!” It’s even got a ticket booth!
When I did see inside it was tremendous. Big square leather couches all over the place…it’s enormous. It’s got a “Green Room” with a big wide screen telly so the bands can actually watch the telly or they can watch the band that’s already on stage! It’s got a purpose built stage area, it’s got changing facilities. It’s phenomenal!
K: So , from an initial idea of “I want a Blues club in Glasgow with maybe some local bands but not sure” to where you are now which is… You have the experience of your time playing in Chicago, France, the UK, you have an idea of how the Edinburgh model works and you have a purpose built venue with exactly the facilities you were looking for. Where does it go from here? Are you going to hang back and see how it works or do you push to get this place recognised on the international Blues touring circuit of the UK? Can you use your contacts in Chicago to push this forward?
G: Well I was talking to Lurrie Bell. Lurrie is probably about as big as it gets in Chicago Blues at the moment and we can get him in if we want him. Whether we can afford him or not at this stage is another question!
I’ve also spoken to Shirley King (BB King’s daughter) but we need to set up another couple of gigs to make that worthwhile so we’re talking to Movin Music at the moment to see if they can help with that.
K: How did you open up the communication with Shirley King?
G: I played with her in Chicago a few times. So it’s really just about sending emails out to everybody I know and seeing if there is in any interest. I need to be careful though. What I don’t want to get involved in is the cost of bringing these artists here. I don’t mind paying for them to appear but I don’t want involved in any of the other costs.
K: So basically you’re looking to raise the profile to a level that anyone on a UK tour sees this as another quality gig on the circuit.
G: Yes. But the real aim was to promote Glasgow and Blues players in Glasgow. What I can’t do is ask people to pay £10 at the door to see Glasgow Blues acts that they can see in other venues for nothing. But what I can do is to put these acts in as support for the big international and national bands. This gives them a great experience to see and speak to other established bands and get an insight into how it all works and at the same time raise their profile by being able to associate themselves promotionally with the bigger acts. The people whose albums they buy, basically!
K: You’re over in Chicago quite a bit. Tell me a bit more about the vibe over there and some of the differences you see between here and there.
G: I remember being in Buddy Guy’s club one Monday lunchtime and there were about 40 to 50 people in there. There was this guy on stage and I said to my wife “That’s Lurrie Bell! I buy all of his albums!”… and he heard me saying it and he just kind of nodded across and kept playing and then after an hour and a half he came over and sat beside us. And he said that he plays for tips! And I was thinking, wow times must be hard. “How the mighty have fallen” kind of thing. And then I looked at the tip jar and it was the size of a Chinese Ming vase…it was massive. By the end of the gig (he played for 3 hours), I reckon a couple of hundred people had come and gone and I was trying to work out how much was in it and it looked like maybe $1,500 – $1,600 in there! And he does this 3 days out of 5 and then I thought “Mighty fallen my a**e!!” (laughs)
K: So this tip jar. That would never happen here. Let’s talk about where the BIG differences are. Chicago…synonymous with the Blues…
It’s even a style of Blues. Chicago Blues! So, is there anything we can do here to start moving towards more recognition and getting more respect for the huge talent that exists in the city?
G: I think there is obviously a cultural thing there, almost to the point of it being a religious thing in Chicago. It’s a different feel in Texas and in Memphis but they still seem to embrace whatever roots there are in the Blues.
Over here our musical roots seem to be pub rock bands playing covers and that’s what we seem to embrace. The landlords and bar and club owners are only really interested about what they can get through the till. They’re running a business and they have to make the figures add up. If playing Whitesnake with the volume knob turned up to 12 brings the money in then that’s what you’re going to hear. If we can’t break that down then there will always be a problem.
K: So what’s the next step for you now then George? Is the Blues Club you’re focus or are there other irons in the fire?
G: The Blues Club wasn’t meant to be the focus. It was only meant to be an aside but it’s grown arms and legs so it’s taking up quite a bit of time. The thing I would really like to do next is a French tour with the band and take in a bit of Germany on the way back up. Looking to get that organised for next year. The kids have almost flown the nest and when that happens, within the next 2 years my plan is really to move over to France permanently.
K: You’ve mentioned a few folk over the last hour while we’ve been chatting away and I know you’ve said your style, not surprisingly, leans towards Chicago Blues but what made you pick up a guitar for the first time? Who were your first influences?
G: Eric Clapton & John Mayall
K: Both British guys. What was it about them?
G: They were accessible and it made me want to learn more about the other players out there.
K: Thanks very much for your time today George
G: No, not at all. Really appreciate being asked to get involved. Thank you.
K: Oh! By the way. I never asked what your connection was to The Barras.
G: My dad would take me every week as a kid and especially on Christmas Eve. Reminds me of him ….
We leave “The Rumbling Tum” and walk over to the cars. When I was getting the camera gear out the car earlier a workman had wandered up and asked if I was press. I got talking to him and asked what he was working on. “We’re converting that church there into a music venue”. He said I could have a look round after I was finished with the photoshoot so George and I wandered over for a peek. Not much of the church remained inside, which was a disappointment as I was wanting to get a few shots of ruined stonework, old pews and pulpit etc. but it was well past that and was looking very clean and modern even though it was still under construction. Stevey (the workman) said it would have a capacity of 900! Another big venue for live music. This can only be a good thing for the city and the aspiring musicians of all genres.
I get back to the car and look at some of today’s shots and see the year 1921 on the writing above the stalls in the photos and it gets me thinking. I Google Robert Johnson and see that his birthday was May 8th (5 days ago at the time of writing) and the year of his birth was 1911. He was 10 when the Barras opened. Just sayin.
Camera: Nikon D7000
Lens: Nikon 18-105 Kit
Focal length: 18mm
Exposure: 1/100 sec at f/7.1
Time of day: 11:09
Conditions: Scattered cloud cover
Lighting: Keylight at 45 degrees at about 10 feet elevation with 24″ softbox