Our recent review of the new book on The Arches by Bratchpiece and Innes noted the great achievement of the work in showing how that institution was at the heart of a grassroots creativity in Glasgow. But before the internationally famed club came the prelude -the Theatre company that kept the Arches open and made it all possible. Raymond Burke has set the record right on this, collecting and introducing the story of the Arches Theatre through the words of the actors themselves. We publish in two parts: here is PART 2
SUBSEQUENT ARCHES SHOWS
Ballad of the Sad Cafe
I had first heard of Arches Theatre through a pal who invited me along to the Alice panto. My first job was in The Ballad of the Sad Cafe – they needed a tall actress. I’d been writing to Andy for a while and had no idea what he looked like. I was performing in a visiting show (Fablevision) and had lost my zone card in the club afterwards. I went round sore headed to Midland St on the Saturday morning. Andy answered the door. I thought he must’ve been a janitor or technician and we had a good chat about how pissed I’d been the night before and how bad I thought the show was that I was in. He called me in on the Monday and I had an audition with Grant Smeaton, the director, that week. I got the part – alongside a bunch of the students I was teaching at Langside, one of whom was Stephen McCole.
One of the best things about being in Ballad of the Sad Cafe was getting to meet actor/director Grant Smeaton. I have a lot of respect for the guy; he was the one that got me started in my career.
I also did The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, I don’t have great memories of that because I was terrible in it, Grant, the cast and students were great, but I had too much on and made the mistake of not concentrating on it enough and was shit. But learned a hard lesson.
I had appeared in Ballad of the Sad Cafe in 1983 at Washington Arts Centre and having recently finished my degree at RSAMD, was overjoyed when Grant invited me to play the same part, Marvin Macy, in the Arches production. I was to meet many great actors that I would get to work alongside in subsequent years. I also began a life long friendship with Stevie McCole, who I went on to work with in films and TV. Many years later he invited me to join his comedy improvisation troupe – The Improv Dogs. Although I appeared in many shows at the Arches over the years, Sad Cafe was the only one with Arches Theatre Company – and they forgot to put my name in the programme.
Toward the end of the first festival run, Andy invited me to be involved in a surrealist French play Rhinoceros. I jumped at the opportunity and I can remember not understanding it very well – after all it was in French – but having the best time. From that moment I was well and truly in love with the Arches Theatre, and I worked there regularly as an actor and stage manager for ten years. I loved putting the stage lights on and bringing it to life, I loved painting the stage floor after each production left, I loved the perfect way that the seating bank cosied into the arch, I loved the musty smell, I loved the way that the space became an integral part of every play performed in it.
Richard’s Cork Leg
I had a meeting with Andy about a play called Richard’s Cork Leg – it was at a time when nobody seemed to be interested in working with me. After about five minutes Andy offered me a part and I was so astonished and happy, I knew that even if he never offered me anything again I would forever be grateful. And I am. But he did. Richard’s Cork Leg was chaotic and funny and unfettered by accurate Irish accents or costumes that fitted. The corridor behind the theatre was filled with piss and needles and the piss often trickled under the doors. I wondered if the audience would sit there, horrified. But they loved it and the atmosphere of that show was one of the most joyous I have ever experienced.
My first appearance at the Arches was actually my first professional engagement. I had just left working at Glasgow Libraries and Andy invited me to audition for the lead role of Berenger in Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. He’d seen me in Fringe productions and obviously thought I’d fit in. I loved it and that was my first meeting with Andrew Dallmeyer with whom I formed a firm friendship.
Partick Thistle Football Crazy
One of the most colourful and wackiest shows was David Belcher’s Partick Thistle Football Crazy. The cast were all taken to Firhill in Partick Thistle strips to warm up with the actual Jags! The real Partick Thistle squad were warming up for an important cup game against Hibs, but John Lambie, the manager, told his players to get off the pitch for ten minutes to let the actors get their photos done for the Herald. They then lost the game.
On the opening night, when the show had moved up to the Pavilion Theatre, the Arches office staff had forgotten to bring the programmes with them. Therefore, when an excellent review appeared the next day in the Herald, the journalist could only congratulate the cast as A.N.Others. Surely such a thing would never happen again?
I was Stage Manager for the first run of Partick Thistle Football Crazy. I remember there was another acting troupe who came in very seriously and did their physical and vocal warm ups and were horrified at the cast of PTFC just turning up smoking fags and relaxing fifteen minutes before showtime and “just doing it”.
The Partick Thistle thing was also a great joy. I had the glorious job of reciting the names of the team that beat Celtic to win the Scottish Cup. My every word was met with a roof-ripping roar from the audience. An actor’s dream come true.
Accidental Death of an Anarchist
In 1993 the Citizen’s Theatre commissioned the Arches to perform Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Andy managed to get comedian Craig Ferguson to play the main character, The Maniac, with the rest of the Noise and Smoky Breath cast playing the supporting roles. Andy also took the part of Inspector Bertozzo.
We were at the dress rehearsal of Accidental Death of an Anarchist and had gathered a few punters in from some exhibition out in the main arches, with the promise of a free show starring the reasonably well known, Craig Ferguson. At the end of act one I’d been directed to throw a punch at Andy’s character and the blackout would come mid swing so that the audience would only hear the ‘oof’ as the punch connected. We’d done this dozens of times in rehearsals without incident. Of course this time, with the nerves that comes with an audience, as I swung the punch I felt it connect with something soft yet bony – Andy’s nose. When the lights came up we could see that his nose was pouring with blood. He was all right about it at first until he got in front of a mirror where he could see that the blood was not issuing from his nostrils but, rather gruesomely, from the bridge of his nose where a bit of cartilage had popped out from the force of the punch. Suddenly vanity kicked in and he became furious, as his looks were now at risk. There were a lot of ‘for fucks sakes’. Luckily I’d only connected with the edge of my pinkie knuckle and not the full fist. I must have swung with quite some force as I ended up with a painful bruise on my knuckle. Magnanimously, I did not put in a claim for this injury.
I was asked to give Craig Ferguson Italian pronunciation coaching for ADA –let’s just say he had an idiosyncratic way with the Italian language which ended up appropriately cynical and menacing! In the end it wasn’t really Italian at all – more a kind of R D Laing on cocaine selling poky hats from a Italian café in Bearsden -but he knew how to get great laughs so…
It was great to be commissioned by a big theatre because that meant we were getting a real wage. However, when the Citz run finished, we had to take it to the Fringe as a profit share since the Arches couldn’t afford our wages. This was fair enough, just in case it was a flop and didn’t sell any tickets. The actors all agreed and the show went ahead. After about a week at the Fringe, it was obvious that the show would sell out for the entire run. One night, after the performance, I said to Andy that I was quite glad we had opted for the profit share since we were making quite a profit. He said that the Arches had decided just to pay us a wage instead. This was like going into the bookies and betting on a horse that wins only to be told by the bookie that he was giving you your money back and not to be greedy. I said as much to Andy using some choice adjectives. Someone said that he was the Arthur Daley of Scottish Theatre. By an amazing coincidence, it was the last Arches show I was ever cast in.
The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari
On the first night of Caligari, myself, Pauline Goldsmith and another actor, whose name I can’t remember, were waiting nervously at one of the fire exits which opened onto the lane off Midland Street. We had to enter running excitedly down the side of the seating bank onto the stage. This was in the space next to the theatre so the seating bank was facing the opposite way. As we were waiting in the small fire door alcove we heard the splashing of running water and a few satisfied grunts. When we looked down we could see what was obviously pee running under the fire door from someone gratefully relieving themselves of many pints of beer about 3 inches away. The small puddle became a rivulet, then a stream which quickly channelled itself down the side of the seating bank towards the stage. Just then the lights dimmed and we gaily tripped towards the waiting audience. In the blackout we couldn’t see the trail of pish and one of us slipped and fell into it.
I can still see Derek McLuckie’s prodigiously long white hands in Caligari -here was Nosferatu stepped into the wrong play -it was all your German Expressionist nightmares come to haunt you in a dark damp tunnel with trains rumbling overhead!
I played several roles for the Arches. I enjoyed the psychotic brother Jonathan in Arsenic and Old Lace, with Jill Riddiford, Morag Stark and Callum Cuthbertson. We performed at the Citizen’s but rehearsed it in the Arches. When we took it to the Citz, I remember thinking that although the Arches was far poorer in terms of set and costume – we had much more rawness and heart.
The first play that I did at the Arches was Edmond by David Mamet. I then had an audition with Andy, but I was terrible. Thankfully, Derek McLuckie recommended that Andy should come and see me in another play I was doing called Blood Birds and after that I was cast in Caligari.
A Taste of Honey
The bricks became a 1980s office in Glengarry Glenross. The bricks made a nuclear bunker. The bricks made a New York warehouse apartment. The bricks made the cluttered workshop in The Caretaker, the hotel room in The Dumb Waiter, the Welsh village in Under Milk Wood, and the working class tenement in A Taste of Honey; the first time I had a big part.
The variety of SFX from the back lane (I believe Andy heard shagging once) were often an unwelcome addition to shows in the theatre. Though the rumbling of trains overhead often contributed to the atmosphere. I was in a run of The Caretaker with Paul Riley and the late-lamented Andrew Dallmeyer. Paul and I were never in the same scene until the final one but Andrew was onstage all the time. We had had trouble with lorries reversing up the lane and, worst of all, bands sound-checking in the club across the lane. Every night, as the lights dimmed and I went into my quiet, but deeply moving speech about spending time in a mental hospital and having pincers put on my head, we were treated to the sound of a bin lorry bleeping loudly as it reversed up the lane. Every time. We all hated this and Andy had even spoken to the owner of the club who promised there would be no sound checking during show times. Paul was particularly enraged by it and one night, just as the truck stopped bleeping, the band started up across the lane. Drums, bass, guitar, vocals. The works. Just as the pincers were applied. So Paul took action. I knew nothing of this as I just passed him in the wings at the end of the scene as he went on, and all seemed normal. However, he’d become so incensed during the previous scene that he took a full Basil Fawlty, battered through the Arches fire door and started hammering on the club fire door. After a minutes banging the door burst open and two bouncers dragged him into the club and were ready to give him a square go. Paul gave as good as he got on the shouting front and eventually the manager was summoned. Paul explained in no uncertain terms that the manager had promised no sound-checks during performances. I think the manager explained that he could fuck off whenever he liked. He was escorted to the door by the bouncers, crossed the lane and got back into the Arches at exactly the right moment for his cue. Andrew and I had not an inkling of it till after the show. I can’t remember if the music stopped.
Andy had a knack for finding funny and warm and talented and independent people to work with. Some of my bestest friends to this day. And every show provided more and more stories to shine up and tell and retell. Grant and Ross having to rip the head off a dummy hanged man to get it off stage. Racing between theatre spaces when Andy reckoned the cast of one show could pad out the wedding scene of another playing at the same time. Andy giving me and Morag a venue to perform a play that lasted only fifteen minutes, then checking his watch halfway through like we were going on a bit.
Speed the Plow
I remember me and Vince Friell rehearsing Speed the Plow, pausing in the middle of a scene and hearing snoring from Andy in the front row. We fucked off to the bar and left him to wake up in an empty theatre.
Doing Speed the Plow, dressed to the nines in LA beige and linen. Going over my lines at the fire door. Just before I enter the stage, I hear outside… “I’m going to dae a pish then tell her am no the da.” Then a sweep of urine swept under fire door and nearly ruined my LA loafers. But it was part of being at Arches; you were in a beating breathing city and you took that with you on stage. It was a special place.
I have appeared in countless Arches productions, from a dodgy devised piece called Joy of the Worm which we took to Sweden and the audience just sat open-mouthed throughout, to Beckett’s Not I. It is an extremely challenging piece for any actress: the entire stage is in darkness apart from a small light on the actress’s lips. You are strapped to a high chair, have your skin blacked out and are blindfolded. Performing it was a horrible experience – but it won me the best actress award for the Edinburgh Fringe.
I don’t think I could count the number of shows, acts and special events I participated in at the Arches from its beginning to its end. There were so many. Always anarchic, irreverent, passionate. We practically lived in the place at one time. Big shows like The Devils. Tiny shows like Spend a Penny.
Glengarry Glen Ross was the first time that Andy went through a costume and prop list with me and uttered the words that were to become so familiar, “Oh and there’s no budget.” At that point there was no funding coming our way and everything had to be begged, borrowed or stolen for every show. Slater Menswear sponsored the brilliant play providing every actor with the perfect suit for the character. I’ll never forget the designer blue pinstripe suit that turned Vince into Ricky Roma.
The second Arches Christmas show was Noise and Smoky Breath 2. We actually put in a couple of tongue-in-cheek adverts to help pay for the production: the PetShop in Pollokshaws and Harry Ramsdens. So at least we all got a free fish tea!
As well as producing plays, the Arches would also be very welcoming to other new, upcoming and diverse theatre makers. Companies as diverse as the Edinburgh Grassmarket Project for the homeless to young professional companies like WiseGuise, Raindog and Tangerine were always given space in the programme.
When Damaged Goods happened, it was Andy who gave us the chance. The play was quite controversial for its time. The tagline was ‘a Scotsman kidnaps an Englishman to prove how much of an Irishman he is’. After the first night a guy from the audience asked who wrote the play, because he was nothing but a Fenian bastard, closely followed by someone else calling me a traitor to Ireland for taking the piss out of the cause. I was a bit taken aback, but Andy was delighted and said that meant it would be a hit. Our set was all stuff that had been dumped around the theatre and the play started off Wiseguise. Within a year it was on at the Citz.
The Arches was where I directed my first play – Hughie on the Wires, by Donal O’Kelly for WiseGuise Theatre Company. The Arches was a great wee space and they were so open and keen to help anyone wanting to mount a play no matter what your experience.
The best play I ever saw in my life was at the Arches – KYBO’s curiously powerful staging of Raymond Burke’s new version of Gogol’s Diary of a Madman with the brilliant Gordon Munro in an absolute tour-de-force as main character Poprishchin. It was a privilege to see this stuff, and that’s how the Arches made you feel, privileged to be in the presence of such things.
One of my favourite shows at the Arches was Conquest of the South Pole with Raindog. It had a fantastic cast: Robert Carlisle, David MacKay, Caroline Paterson, Gavin Mitchell, Stuart Davids and Gary Lewis. Unfortunately Gavin suffered a serious injury when he fell from the back wall of the theatre.
After the success of my own one-woman show, Bright Colours Only which premiered at the Tramway, the Arches kept it alive by taking it on board for a run at the Arches and the Fringe. It has been touring ever since.
The one story that will never leave me began with the necessity of a fire alarm system in the Arches and ended with me being surrounded by police officers outside and being arrested for robbing a bank.
Obviously, before the Arches could be given a licence, it needed a working fire-alarm system. A deal was made with Thorn Security to give us a bit of a discount and we had £500 from the Paper Boat Award, but we would still have to raise a bit more ourselves. In order to do this, we ran Noise and Smoky Breath for a week in the Tron Theatre and the takings would then help pay for the installation. The guys from Thorn became very supportive of the company and a few months later when they were having a conference in the Moat House Hotel (now the Crowne Plaza), they needed a couple of actors to perform a little sketch between speeches. As we still had the grubby top hat and tails costumes from Burke and Hare, Shug Larkin and I were commissioned to perform a short comedy piece that would show the death of one corporate logo and the unveiling of another.
We spent a few days rehearsing the sketch in the Arches and the night before the conference we went along to meet the Thorn people to explain what we were planning. They loved the idea and said they would send one of their van drivers to pick us up at the Arches door on Midland Street the next morning at 10am. The guy who was presenting the conference told us, “At 11am on the dot, I will say, ‘Thorn Security is dead!’ and you guys burst through the door and do you stuff.” “No problem.” “Don’t let me down, now.” Then, since they wouldn’t see us before or after the event, we were given £75 each and made to promise not to go and spend it all on drink. They had obviously met actors before.
Shug and I then made our way home, faithfully avoiding pubs. On the way, we remembered that Grant Smeaton was appearing in Paddy’s Market at the Tron and this was his opening night, so we thought we’d pop in and say hello. We went into the theatre to meet the cast but kept our word and didn’t spend a single penny on drink. However, there was a free bar for the cast, so we ended up stocious anyway.
Next thing I remember is Shug picking me up in a taxi the next morning and heading for the town with a couple of hangovers and some blurry recollections of the previous night. Although we were running late, we arrived before the Thorn driver and ran through our sketch a couple of times whilst we waited. When he arrived, ten minutes later, we quickly grabbed our costumes and props: top hats, tails, some stands and a full size coffin, shoved it into the back of the van and headed off to the Moat House. Being a Friday morning, the traffic was busy but something had obviously happened to bring it almost to a standstill and it took us about ten minutes just to turn into Jamaica Street and then on to Clyde Street. It was then that I realised that we had left the stage weights at the door of the Arches.
The driver offered to take us back round the one-way system, but it was now about half past ten and the traffic was so tight that I decided that I could just run up Oswald Street, grab the weights and get back to the van in a couple of minutes. So the driver bumped up on the kerb and I leapt out and ran full-pelt up Oswald Street towards the Arches.
As I sprinted up the street, I noticed that several pedestrians were paying me a bit more attention than usual. However, I just thought that was because I was having difficulty running so quickly in a three-quarter length black leather coat. A few people in front even jumped out of my way. As I reached the junction with Midland Street and was turning towards the Arches, I heard a loud clumping behind me and turned to see a mounted policeman reaching down to grab me. I jumped away from him and saw two police motorbikes coming up Oswald Street behind him, one on the pavement. Then three squad cars appeared with sirens blaring; two officers jumped out of each, and I was surrounded.
“Right, that’s far enough. Don’t move!”
At this point, I began to get a bit nervous and, as most asthmatics would do in stressful situations and having just sprinted a hundred yards, I decided to have a wee skoosh of my inhaler. Since my inhaler was in the inside left pocket of my long leather jacket, I had to reach in with my right hand and immediately all of Glasgow’s finest disappeared behind their cars, bikes and the horse.
They slowly emerged.
Thankfully, in those days, there were no firearms officers about.
“Er… is there a problem, officer?”
“Where were you running from?”
“The white van at the bottom of the street.”
“Are you the driver?”
“Who’s driving it?”
“I don’t know.”
Handcuffs on and I was bundled into the back of one of the squad cars.
The three cars then made their way, sirens blaring again, down to Clyde Street and surrounded the van. As I watched from the back seat, two officers, whose car had blocked the front of the van, got out to question the driver. Another two ripped open the back doors only to find Shug getting into his top hat and tails costume and sitting on top of a coffin.
“What’s in the coffin?”
Apparently a bank near Central Station had been robbed about ten minutes earlier by someone wearing a long black leather coat. They must have thought we had based our getaway on the plot of some old Ealing comedy. Of course, unlike on television, the police don’t actually tell you why they have taken you to the station and hope that you will blurt out, “It wisnae me that robbed the bank, honest.” Thus giving yourself away. Nonetheless, I was beginning to have some worrying thoughts about what we had been up to the night before.
I could see it was something serious when a couple of officers at Stuart Street Police Station gave my equestrian friend high fives. As he had made the arrest, I was stuck in an interview room with him whilst my criminal record was checked. (To be honest, that wasn’t going to help my case.) As we sat in silence, and with my hangover now beginning to kick in, I tried to break the ice and start a conversation. Earlier questions like, “Why am I here?” had only met with, “You know.” So I ventured, “Do you get the same horse every day?”
He then started to tell me the horse’s name, how long he had it, how he looked after it. I was about to find out that he was Glasgow’s top authority on boring horse trivia.
Meanwhile, in the Moat House Hotel, a businessman was standing in front of a hundred colleagues saying, “Thorn Security is dead!” expecting a couple of actors to appear, only to be met with an eerie silence.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Glasgow, a bank robber was making a much easier escape than he expected.
Back at the station, after about fifteen minutes of equine facts, I was ready to confess to JFK and the Great Train Robbery. Fortunately, another officer came in and told us they had contacted Lori Frater at the Arches and she could confirm my alibi.
We were free go.
The police drove us to the Moat House and we performed our sketch slightly later than planned. The guy from Thorn then had a nice little anecdote when he introduced us.
Slam and Café Loco
Glasgow’s Glasgow had several evening events during its short reign. Usually quite simple affairs with maybe a live band or some comedians followed by a DJ. In 1991, with the bar up and running, the venue was ready for more of the same. The idea being that the late night events would then subsidise the theatre shows.
The first big night we had after re-opening in 1991 was an African/World Music night. Andy asked if we should get some bouncers, but, since we were still short of money, I volunteered to do it. So I was the first bouncer. It was a lovely, peaceful night, great music, everybody happy, no hassle at all. Then a week or two later we were booked for a club night and I said that I’d do it by myself again. I don’t remember if it was Slam or someone else, but it was definitely a rave and the place was mobbed. About 500 people ‘eckied’ out of their nuts going bonkers to the music. Thankfully, they were just wild and loud and there was no real trouble or I would have been flattened. It was nonetheless a scary experience and I decided to retire from the stewarding business. From then on, the Arches hired professional bouncers. The next club night had thirteen stewards. I would often say to them, “Thirteen? I did it myself!” Slam then started a weekly club and I became the duty manager every Friday for about a year.
The Arches was a temple of ‘e’ and dancing joy. I earned the name Vogue, and spent about four years dressing up in glitter, furs and UV paint, off my tits and dancing at the Arches.
It was so hot and sweaty at one of the nights, brick-coloured rain fell from the ceiling and all of our clothes were ruined.
Big drips of moisture would drop on you as you danced at the height of the rave like you were being anointed by the very bricks.
We also started Café Loco on Saturday nights which targeted an older audience. We would all perform sketches and wander around dressed as weird characters to entertain the crowd. The amazing Ian Smith and Mischief la Bas were also booked for every club, running about with chainsaws to confuse and terrify the crowd.
One of the most exciting of Andy’s innovations was Café Loco, a bizarre mix of cabaret, art installation and night club. All of Glasgow’s glitterati could be seen there. I recall performing with Gerry McHugh as The Dead Corries soon after the demise of one of them. Tastelessness was a byword for these events.
At Café Loco, the actors came up with little scenarios and performed them among the customers. Ross and I were too believable as a couple having a big fight and people stepped in. We had to break character to explain!
One night in Café Loco, I noticed a strange looking long-haired bespectacled man perched atop a fifteen foot high miniature mountain. He would slowly remove carrots one at a time from a large sack and roll them down the mountain to a peasant woman who would forlornly peel them and place them in a bucket. I found this a very intriguing sight to behold in a nightclub so I approached the peasant woman and asked what she was doing. As she kept peeling she replied dolefully in what sounded like a foreign tongue so I was none the wiser. I thought this was wonderful. In fact, the surrealism blew my mind as I’d never seen anything like it before and I never forgot it. Many years later I discovered the man on the mountain and the woman below were Ian Smith and his wife Angie Dight who had recently formed Mischief la Bas which would soon become the UK’s leading interactive performance company. I went on to work with Mischief la Bas as a performer for many years to come but it was that night in the Arches that sparked my lifelong love of the weirder side of public performance.
A couple of times we were employed to creep amongst the tables of Café Loco in our Burke and Hare costumes taking measurements for people’s coffins.
Many drunken nights at Café Loco playing characters like Harry Lauder or a drunken waiter, improvising scenes, corpsing and recovering.
I remember wandering around Café Loco with a glove puppet cat – I don’t know what I was supposed to be doing
The atmosphere of the Arches building was unique. Finishing the play and getting out – or not – before the club was ready.
One night, after finishing a performance in the theatre, I walked into the bar area where a book was being launched and was handed a copy of the book by Johnny Rodger and immediately sent on stage to do a reading.
The publishing cooperative ‘dualchas’ was also heavily associated with The Arches and we organised great launches of the books there with performances from the actors and live music too. A few of the plays we published were also performed in the Arches. Martin McCardie’s Damaged Goods was launched there, also Raymond Burke’s Burke & Hare, and Mary Mooney’s sfalick as well as my own Redundant which featured a sketch where poor Wullie Brennan had cold porridge repeatedly poured over his head.
I was sitting enjoying a beer at Café Loco one night when Tony Curran dragged me out of the audience to ‘volunteer’ to be disembowelled on stage by Ross Stenhouse. As anaesthetic before the operation, he would pretend to knock the victim out with an axe. But that night he missed – or rather – hit. I had to lay there with real blood gushing out of my head.
I have memories of Ian Smith (Mischief la Bas) with his sideburns in a leopard skin caveman outfit and a top hat and Roseana the cleaner knitting in a rocking chair.
One of the characters I played was an over-zealous bouncer, with boxing gloves, a baseball bat and a variety of comedy chibs. I would explain in gory detail the consequences of misbehaving in the club. One night, I went through this routine with an older guy and his wife. He put his hands up saying, “No hassle, mate. You’ll get no trouble from me.” As I wandered through the tables looking for my next victim, Andy came up and whispered into my ear, “That was Jimmy Boyle.”
Then at midnight the dance music would start and the actors could all have a couple of beers.
The Final Curtain
By the mid-nineties, with the support of clubs and exhibitions, the Arches had become a viable business. The venue now had a future and was getting funding from various bodies. It went on to do some magnificent and groundbreaking work as a theatre and an arts venue. Andy Arnold left in 2008 and Jackie Wylie took over as Artistic Director. The Arches had given opportunities to several, now very successful, artists and directors such as Kenny Glenaan, Martin McCardie and Cora Bisset, and it could have continued producing great works and developing talent for many years. However, after the tragic drug-related deaths at the club of 19 year-old, Russell Johnston, in 2007 and 17 year-old schoolgirl, Regane MacColl, in 2014, the licences were restricted and the place ultimately went into administration.
A recurring trope in Brickwork is the affirmation that the clubs were only there to support the theatre. Consequently, one would surely expect its appendix to list significant theatrical productions and installations rather than, as it does, a playlist of favourite dance anthems. Having said that, Brickwork is undoubtedly a well presented and valuable history of the Glasgow dance scene around the turn of the century, but it could be argued that also symbolises the extent to which the club suffocated and ultimately led to the closure of the theatre. There are still many conspiracy theories circulating about the exact motivation of those behind the closure and why at least the theatre could not be saved.
When the guys from Alien War came in for the first meeting Andy and Lori asked me to join the initial meeting with them in the office. They explained their stuff and, after they left, Lori asked what I thought. “The stupidest idea I’ve ever heard in my life,” was my answer. Thankfully, they didn’t listen to me.
There was one story about the builders who opened the place up were so spooked that they downed tools and never came back. Or the tale of the policeman who came to investigate the burly club night and got more than he bargained for in a maze. I loved these hazy stories so much. Maybe a bit true, maybe not. But shiny with re-telling. It was a big cold gothic playground that we were let loose to run around mad in.
I was star struck when I met Pete Tong in the office. I had Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire director) come and watch me in a play before he flew back to London while he was casting a new movie. .. I didn’t get the part. Best times, best people, fantastic creative experiences.
The Arches gave some very promising Scottish actors great opportunities and was a platform for large ensemble productions. It is a real tragedy that it closed.
We did other productions there: Hughie on the Wires, set in Nicaragua by Donal O’Kelly. The Prophet was another. I did a one man play called The Beautiful Gemme as an actor.
The Arches had an energy and anarchy that came from punk and fed into rave; a DIY ethos that could only ever last in that form for a certain time. When grassroots enterprises become too corporate, they necessarily lose the energy that propelled them at the start. While we mourn its passing, perhaps it had really had its day. I think its spirit infected Scottish theatre, and maybe loosened its stays a little. It made me the actor I am, and I’m forever glad I was a part of that adventure.
The magic of the Arches Theatre lay in the fact that it attracted brilliant, weird and wonderful people and I always thought that Andy’s genius lay in the fact that he knew who to bring together to make these works of art come to life. He would find performers, some were professional actors, some were musicians, some were neither but he saw something in them and he would put them together in this dark, dingy, smelly and wonderful place and give them the space to create.
I went on to perform in another four productions at the Arches throughout the 1990s and every time was a genuinely thrilling experience.
The place always had a romantic aura: every time we visited we were like, “Wow, the Arches!”
Andy and the Arches gave lots of people opportunities, left them to their own devices and trusted them to get on with it.
It was so good to work with Andy and Calum and Grant and Ross… they were class.
So, thanks Arches and Andy and brilliant Grant Smeaton too, for letting me do my stuff there and sorry for bootin’ the big metal doors in a flying jump and getting subsequently barred.
Grant was a real maverick too. And not only with regard to his performances. He was always coming up with great ideas for music and future shows that the Arches should do.
It was an amazing place to work with some amazing people. Couple that with Andy Arnold’s brilliant take on ‘rough theatre’ and you had the perfect combination. I’ll always cherish the memories of the building and the people and the productions.
It was where I learned just about everything I know about stagecraft. A university. And we were the students – and the teachers. We did it for the love of it. Certainly not for the money – there never was very much of that. The love of the building, the love of the fact the place existed at all and for the love of each other.
Throughout the three or four years I was involved getting the Arches up and running, I worked as an actor, wrote, devised, and performed shows and sketches, wrote and played music, stage-managed, operated lights and sound, built sets, built the box office, built the vestibule, built the rostra for the DJs, built the original ‘original’ sign, helped build Alien War, played countless gigs in bands, was the very first bouncer, worked as duty manager every Friday for nearly a year, went to the Soviet Union to represent Glasgow and nearly got the jail for robbing a bank. But that’s what live theatre’s all about. So thanks, Andy, for the wonderful opportunity. I would gladly do it all again. (I hear there are a few empty arches under Central Station.)
Were we there?
Yes, we fuckin’ were.