Music by VICE

A Night Out In Glasgow With Mogwai

An evening spent with the Scottish post rock legends involves record stores, vegan venues and yes, public houses.

by Kate Hennessy
07 June 2017, 1:14am

Anthony Crook

Ahead of their exclusive show at Dark Mofo in Hobart, Kate Hennessy recalls her night out on Mogwai's home turf.

"Meet them at Castle of Doom on Friday at five," Mogwai's Glasgow-based PR instructs. Stuart (Braithwaite, Mogwai's guitarist) will take it from there, she says.

I've been in Glasgow for a week. I was told it was a music city before I came – a UNESCO City of Music, even – but this means different things to everyone. To David Laing, head of arts and music at Glasgow Life, it's best expressed financially, with Glasgow in the top three UK cities for concert sales, along with Manchester and London. "Tour promoters love Glasgow," he says. "Artists ask to come back here more often than other cities."

If this is true perhaps Glasgow's claim to have "the best audiences in the world" is true too. I hear variations on the theme from the managers of iconic venues, Barrowlands and King Tut's. Then, there is SSE Hydro, a puffy-looking dome close to the River Clyde with a capacity of 13,000. It's the third-largest venue in Europe and apparently, Glasgow's pride and joy.

I find confirmation of the city's musical soul in the little things. Such as the reaction from an audience of grey-haired Glaswegians at a lunchtime play when the actor begins to sing: like someone's flipped their "on" switch. Every band I see seems startled by the crowd's response. "Wow, OK," says Jordan Lee of Mutual Benefit at a gig at The Hug and Pint. "It's going to be one of those shows."

Glasgow is a city that wraps around you at night, unlike Sydney, which tries to spit you like a splinter from its skin.

I'm too early for the folk music at whisky bar, The Ben Nevis, but I'm told it goes off after 9pm. It's a single, stone-walled room, yet 30 players from the Royal Conservatoire cram in here some nights. The stage is a cleared area to the right of the ladies. "Sometimes you have to crawl over gear to get in there," says the bartender.

Glasgow is a city that wraps around you at night, unlike Sydney, which tries to spit you like a splinter from its skin. I was lucky enough to experience it with one of its best-loved bands, Mogwai.

Prince. Instagram. the_smallest_room

Stop 1: Castle of Doom

I buzz at Castle Of Doom's main door. The studio is in Finnieston, the neighbourhood listed by The Times as the "hippest" place to live in Britain.
"Are you here Keet?"

Stuart comes out: huge grin, Sub Pop beanie. Inside, Mogwai is wrapping up a day rehearsing songs for the new album. Bass player Dominic Aitchison is coiling cables in front of an amp. He's going home to his young family. Martin Bulloch is behind his drum kit: Mudhoney tee, sticks in hand. He's got a cold. "I'm shite at interviews," he says when I ask if he's coming out.

"Have you seen the Iggy Pop documentary?" says Stuart.
"Do you want to come to that?"

Behind a glass wall sits record producer and studio co-owner Tony Doogan. Tony recorded Mogwai albums Happy Songs For Happy People, Les Revenants and Atomic as well as early Belle and Sebastian records and The Delgados.

"Are you working tonight?"
"Aye," he says. "And Saturday. Saturday night and Sunday too."

Mogwai's fourth member Barry Burns is based in Berlin now but the others live in or around Glasgow. "London wasn't for me at all," says Stuart of his time there. "It didn't seem anyone had any time for each other. This is totally broad brush-strokes but a lot of music from London will change its sound to adapt to the zeitgeist."

Martin lived in London for three years. "I didn't like it," he says. "Everyone's too concerned about how they look."

Stuart met Dominic at a Ned's Atomic Dustbin gig. "We'd bump into each other at gigs. We were into indie music, Jesus and Mary Chain, The Cure," Stuart says.

His dog Prince growls when I stop patting him. "Ohhh, he's been ignored all day," he says, heart visibly melting when he looks at him. Prince is a rescue dog Stuart got after the real Prince died. "My girlfriend had to call to break it to me, like gently. He was a far better guitar player than a singer - and he's one of the best singers in the world."

"I was so sad about Leonard Cohen. I know he was old, but –"
"Aye. I hate grief shaming."

Monorail. Instagram. the_smallest_room

Stop 2: Monorail

Martin's had a change of heart. We pile into a cab – Prince, Stuart, me. Knowing Martin has to jump in too, I sidle over until I'm basically sitting in Stuart's lap. Martin gets in and flips down a seat, facing us. I slide back.

"Sorry! Cabs don't do that in Australia!"

They laugh. They're clearly very nice people. If any part of me suspected Mogwai's members would be different to any other joke-cracking, good-humoured, down-to-earth Glaswegian I've met this week, it's dissolved.

"How do you feel about the new record?"
"Nervous. We think it's good but … "
"I loved Rave Tapes."
"Really? We were really unprepared for that one."

We're heading to Monorail Music, a hub for Glasgow's independent music scene. It shares a building with a venue and a vegan restaurant called Mono. "It's probably the best record shop in Glasgow - for guitar records, anyway," says Stuart. A lot of musicians work there: Stephen McRobbie of The Pastels, Eilidh Rodgers of Sacred Paws and Michael Kasparis of Nightschool Records, for starters.

"The Big Day Out doesn't happen anymore does it?" says Stuart.
"You know about that?"
"Our friend Brendan from Teenage Fanclub used to tell us all about it." Brendan O'Hare was in Mogwai early on. I'm starting to get the feeling Glasgow's music scene is pretty tight.

Beer isn't usually allowed in Monorail but exceptions are made. Stephen McRobbie is indeed behind the counter, oozing fey cool. Prince pads back out to the restaurant but we're too busy flipping records to notice.

"Your dog's behind the bar," the bartender pops in to say. Everyone laughs. We head out to fetch Prince and eat pizza. Stuart's bought Adam Wiltzie's solo record, Salero, Manuel Göttsching and Twin Peaks. Martin's got a Human League album, Papa M and a few more.

They ask what I've been up to – curious in the way you are when newcomers hang in your city. I've been seeing bands, I say. Three venues I've been to double as vegan restaurants. Mono makes four.

"What's with all the vegan venues?"
"A lot of that's due to Craig Tannock," says Stuart. "He's a big vegan guy and is involved in the music scene in Glasgow."

There's always a lot happening here, they say. "My friend Mark, he's coming to see the film, he'll go to a show then stay out and see someone play at 1am," says Stuart. "People in Glasgow have a reputation for being a bit wild but they're warm and I like that."

"Has being from Glasgow shaped your sound?"
"I'm not sure about our sound but it's shaped our attitude," says Stuart. "It doesn't go down very well if people get too big for their boots. We've always got that in our psyche to stay grounded."

"What was it like here when you formed in the 90s?"
"No-one was giving a shit about bands from Glasgow then so it was a very self-contained scene. It sounds romantic but it's true - people didn't think anything was going to happen. We were just doing 7-inches and playing with our friends and then we made an album."

The Clutha. Instagram. the_smallest_room

Stop 3: The Clutha

Back into the freezing night. Stuart splits to take Prince home and watch the first half of a Celtics game before the movie. We're close to two bars I've heard have traditional folk music.

"I'd not have you going on your tod," Martin says.
"On my what?"
"On your own."

On the way to The Clutha he tells me about the accident in 2013. Mogwai was at All Tomorrow's Parties when they heard a helicopter crashed onto the pub's roof while a band was playing, killing ten people.

"It's awful when these things happen when you're away."

Perhaps because it's been rebuilt, The Clutha is a little sparse. A tree grows in the middle of the bar. "That tree's dead," Martin observes. "There's a tree in Barry's bar in Berlin. It's dead too."

He grew up in East Kilbride, half an hour from Glasgow; he's known Stuart since school. "When I met him he was a proper goth," he says. "He had a long black coat and black hair down to here. I was into all that Madchester stuff, acid house."
"Did you have a smiley face tee?"
"No but I probably wanted one. All the fashion mistakes I ever made were because of music. I wore baggy clothes and had a bowl cut. I got into flannies and army fatigues when grunge came along."

Turns out Martin is not "shite" at interviews at all. He talks, unprompted, while I drink Clutha IPA. He tells me about the time, in 2004, when Mogwai joined The Cure's six-week Curiosa tour of America with Interpol and The Rapture.

"Stuart, he sat on the side of the stage every night to watch The Cure. The only time we saw him was when he'd come back for a beer and start raving about some B-side they'd just played."

On tour, he says, Dominic drinks for the first three days and then not at all. "All this hilarious stuff comes out of him." Most of Mogwai's song titles, for a start, which are not the chin-stroking existentialisms they may seem but in fact, pissed jokes. Both Martin (and later, Stuart) show me a list on their phone where potential song names are jotted down.

One is Then The Shite Blinked. Another is Demented Panther. You get the drift.

The Scotia. Instagram. the_smallest_room

Stop 4: Scotia

We nip over to The Scotia – a ruddy wood bar that feels old as time. Men in twill jackets and hunting caps sit in companionable silence. A guy in a kilt scrolls his iPhone and lets out a resplendent fart. Alas, no live folk – just Radiohead on the jukebox.

"Do you know Savages?" Martin asks.
"Yeah – amazing."
"The power of them as a band, the force. I was in Athens and saw just their soundcheck and was blown away. There I was with Mark Arm" – he points at his Mudhoney tee – "and some flatbread, in the sun, watching Savages. I felt like a kid again."

He feels lucky, in general. Mogwai have run Rock Action Records for years and are about to lease Castle of Doom's spare rooms to other music businesses. "We get paid to do what we love, hang out with our friends on tour. We're all full-time now. It's someone's dream job."

Image: Eoin Carey

Stop 5: Glasgow Film Theatre

I'm late but so are Stuart and Mark. They get tickets for Jim Jarmusch's Gimme Danger while I pee; I get drinks while they do. "This is going to be a two-beer movie," Mark declares. I'd thought the movie might be a beer breather but I do as the locals do.

The art-deco cinema is a Glasgow institution. Stuart and Mark come each year for a horror film festival, FrightFest, which they admit "does weird things to your head".

"I got a bit teary at the end there," says Stuart after the movie. "All those dead Stooges!" We laugh at Iggy's definition of socialism, which he seems to think is about sharing food. Adorable, we agree.

Saramago. Instagram: the_smallest_room

Stop 6: Saramago

We walk down the hill to Saramago – a bar Stuart and Mark DJ at once a month. It's at the top of a steep street. "I've seen women in heels get into big trouble here," Stuart says. "On icy nights, people just slip and slide."

Saramago has a very good Shiraz. It's busy and takes a while to get a drink so we opt for the large size. Mark keeps talking about Mogwai like he's been on tour too. I'm confused.

"Mark sells our merch," Stuart explains.
"I love it!" says Mark. "I love talking with the fans!"
Stuart shrugs and laughs. He's clearly the guy for the job. More Shiraz.
"It's depressing there are so few docos made about women."
"There should be docos made about bands like The Slits" (I can't recall who says it but we all agree).
"And Siouxie And The Banshees."

Stuart says the band was playing at 105 decibels today.
"What does that mean?"
"Well, 120 decibels is a plane taking off. It's Martin's new Led Zeppelin drums."
"How many guitars do you have?"
"About 20?"

I try to guess their star signs; fuck it up totally. Make a terrible joke about Mogwai song "I Know You Are But What Am I?" The bar closes down around us.

"They'll have to play Reign in Blood to get rid of us," says Stuart.
"I'd stay. I love Slayer."

Nice N Sleazy

Stop 7: Nice n Sleazy

We walk – slip? slide? can't recall… - down the hill to bar, venue and late night hang Nice n' Sleazy on Sauchiehall Street. This legendary strip has nine venues of varying sizes on it; Scots spill from every doorway. Mogwai played at Nice n' Sleazy a lot back in the day, which is presumably why we skip the queue and walk straight in.

I lose Stuart and Mark for a while. Find them again. We part ways at about 3am. As I fall sleep I regret I didn't ask Stuart about the connection between Mogwai album Rock Action (also the name of their label) and Stooges drummer Scott Asheton. Next time. Glasgow, I'll be back.

Mogwai perform an exclusive Australian show June 10 in Hobart at MAC2 as part of Dark Mofo. Tickets available here.

Kate Hennessy is a Sydney based music writer. Follow her at @smallestroom