Mike MacEacheran | I belong to Glasgow, Scotland, Holland Herald
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I belong to Glasgow, Scotland, Holland Herald

“I belong to Glasgow, dear old Glasgow town,” sang the jovial Will Fyffe in 1927. “But what’s the matter wi’ Glasgow, for it’s goin’ roun’ and roun’! I’m only a common old working chap, as anyone here can see; but when I get a couple o’ drinks on a Saturday, Glasgow belongs to me!”

This is the inebriated music hall melody that Glasgow’s working class once aspired to; from the booming Victorian tobacco factories to the beating heart of the city’s WW2 shipyards they sang in unison. But following years of industrial decline, the outlook changed: workers trudged past crumbling tenements, ailing industrial shipyards, dogged by rusting cranes, and closed factory gates.

From Govan to the Gorbals riverbank, Glasgow was self-consciously rebranded “No Mean City”. The city of the stare and Glasgow kiss (head butt), it was the kind of place you wouldn’t want to pick a fight. “The great thing about Glasgow,” famous Glaswegian comic Billy Connolly once said, “is that if there’s a nuclear attack it’ll look exactly the same afterwards.”

How times have changed. While Glasgow remains rightly famous for its hard-as-nails image – the average Maryhill housewife still has a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp – it has long shrugged off its drink, drugs and dirty living reputation. Etched across the bell of the Tron Tower on Argyle Street, “Let Glasgow Flourish” is the city’s optimistic aphorism, a message the city’s style advocates preach to the masses. Glasgow has undergone a cosmetic makeover and, like the city’s famous musical sons Franz Ferdinand, comes dressed to impress sporting a pencil moustache and a skinny orange tie.

Winner of the European City of Culture, UK City of Architecture and Design and Intelligent Community of the Year and rebranded Glasgow: Scotland with Style, the city has become an expert at forging its fiscal future out of its less lucrative past. Post-industrial sites have been pressed into creative service. A stroll down Scotland’s shopping style mile Buchanan Street to the south bank presents the Tramway theatre, one of the most extraordinary theatre spaces in Europe, which began life in 1893 as the Coplawhill tram shed. In the early 20th Century, it served as the city’s main tram terminus, depot and factory.

In some cases even religion has been forsaken in the name of regeneration. A saunter through the leafy West End offers up Òran Mór, a converted church turned bar, with a ceiling mural by celebrated home-grown artist and author Alasdair Gray. Every lunchtime its popular series, “A Play, a Pie and a Pint,’ combines the city’s holy trinity of flavours.  Around the corner – via the bohemian Left Bank vibe of Byres Road and the odd Belle and Sebastian art pop poster – is the city’s premiere creative space SWG3. And like the raw art warehouse factories of Berlin or New York, Glasgow has its very own Andy Warhol.

Surrounded by an urban jungle of prints and lithographs, Mutley is in his element. “Every day is something new in this city – there’s a really healthy arts scene. Glasgow and Glaswegians will embrace anything that shows a DIY ethos and entrepreneurial spirit and this is our launching pad.”

Home to a multi-discipline arts facility, crafted out of the city’s defunct railway arches, Mutley provides studio space to a community of 120 creative practitioners including visual artists, curators, photographers, performance artists, musicians and dancers.  There’s a waiting list of more than 200 to join the cosmopolitan collective. In the rehearsal dance studio, while German break dancer Storm teaches Glaswegian youngsters the art of teutonic  body-popping, London artist Giles Round is in relaxed mood setting up a new art installation in the +44 141 gallery. “We’re very good at getting on with things without any fuss,” smiles Mutley. “Or without big pots of cash.”

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Historically, Glasgow owes much of its existence to the River Clyde, which flows through the city centre like a blocked cholesterol artery. While prestigious investment banking companies like JP Morgan, Barclays Wealth and Morgan Stanley now line the Broomielaw riverfront – Wall Street for Scots with short arms and deep pockets – its most instantly recognisable symbols fringe the old docks. The landmark Finnieston Crane towers over the River Clyde and “Squinty” Bridge as a symbol of the city’s engineering heritage. As a sign of Glasgow’s big deep fried heart, it’s regularly used for charity abseils. Then there is the Riverside Museum, a £74 million tribute to the city’s maritime past. Scheduled to open in spring next year, it is very much in keeping with the style stakes:  it’s being designed by “starchitect” of the moment Zaha Hadid.

Close by, entertaining the city’s new found taste for bravura, Brian Maule is a specialist of the Glesga patter (local slang) as much as French pate. Having trained under the famed Roux Brothers, he has brought a slice of classic haute cuisine to the new found appetite on Glasgow’s inner city streets.

“We use a lot of locally sourced produce to make it classically French with a local twist,” says Brian with a distinctly gruff West Coast twang. “Michael Caines (two star Michelin chef) has come to town and Gordon Ramsay (three star Michelin chef) has been and gone so it shows there’s a hunger for quality cooking in the city. The key is attracting people from Glasgow first and then everything else falls into place. We’re popular with Scandinavians and they’re certainly a stylish bunch, so that’s a pretty good start.” Glasgow’s come a long way since urban legends of deep fried Mars bars lurking on backstreets after dark.

Ultimately, Glasgow has retained its distinct identity because of its people and their perennially upbeat attitude but downbeat banter. “Weegies” (Glaswegians) have invented a colloquial language all of their own.  There’s “Sanoffy” as in “Sanoffy cold day”, (it’s an awfully cold day), “Glaikit eejit” (stupid idiot), “Dreich” (miserable wet weather), “Skelpit erse” (smacked bottom) and a million other quips.  King of the friendly put down, don’t be offended if a waitress or cashier says you’ve got “a face like a camel eatin’ sherbet”. “Parliamo Glesga ya radge bampot?” can take years to decipher.

As Katalin Thomann, a Swiss tourist from Zurich, says: “Sometimes it’s really hard for me to understand people here – they have really thick accents. But everyone is so friendly.” Having travelled across from Edinburgh to see the other side of Scottish city life she’s thinking of prolonging her stay. “If you look up, it’s one of the most architecturally stunning cities in Europe. And I even like the taste of Irn Bru.” An electric orange coloured soft drink, Irn Bru is Scotland’s ubiquitous national drink, favoured hangover cure and the number one enemy to Dentist’s across the country: a super sweet enamel-scraper, it is rumoured to be triple-filtered through a nuclear sock. It’s the fuel that keeps the whole city partying hard around the clock.

Glasvegas, Glasgae, Glesga, or just simple Glasgow: call it what you will, the city is a reformer and its sandstone arcades and rain splattered arches symbolise many things to many people. Will Fyffe would have to change the record: today, Glasgow belongs to everyone.