Nights when people, places and stars align to create an unforgettable experience very rarely happen. A few weeks ago I attended a unique event in The Revelator in the historic Barclay Curle Shipyard. In this extraordinary space – a handmade Wall of Death – I watched a live gig from the band The Tenementals and listened to a rectoral speech from RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch. Nights like this are never to be repeated.
Tucked in the back of one of the huge indoor yards inside the Barclay Curle shipyard sits the Revelator – a beautiful hand-made wooden structure conceived by the artist Stephen Skrynka. Built with no drawings, no plans, no nails (and no money) only hand tools and carpentry, it measures 16ft high and 29ft across. It was a project that began in lockdown by Skrynka and then with the help of a team of volunteers, it was finally constructed in 2021.
Make no mistake, The Revelator is an actual Wall of Death and Skrynka has driven a motorbike inside it, circling it 109 times to raise thousands of pounds in support of Ukraine. For the most part, though, it is used as an art gallery, a music venue, and a 16mm cinema theatre.
Locating The Revelator became the first part of the adventure of the evening and one for Google Maps. It was a twenty-five-minute walk from Partick train station along the desert lands of South Street until I arrived at the Barclay Curle Complex – a former shipbuilding and engineering complex on the north bank of the River Clyde, now divided into makeshift offices and warehouses.
At the invitation of The Tenementals, I took along my camera and arrived early to photograph the space and shoot the band’s sound check. The band is a unique fusion of academics and musicians whose raison d’être is to teach Glasgow’s history of social protest through song – a history of fragments, one which focuses on dissidents and dissenters, celebrates the city’s culture of pleasure and excess, interrogates its entanglements with empire and slavery, and ponders what and where hope might lie in the city.
The Tenementals may be described as experimental and indeed the gig could be classed as a history lesson, but one that was deceptively hidden by a proper gig with talented musicians and great songs sharing snippets about the city and hidden places you might never have heard before.
Taking centre stage that night was their song Universal Alienation (We’re Not Rats) which addresses Jimmy Reid’s celebrated 1972 University of Glasgow rectoral address and which ends with echoes of Reid’s original speech:
‘Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement . . . A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings.’
After the gig Mick Lynch took to the stage with a fifteen-minute rectoral address referencing Reid’s 1972 speech, the current strike action across the country, and the alienation that has gotten worse under Tory rule –
‘Whether you are a capitalist or not, there is no doubt that capitalism crushes people…’
Listening to this speech in a freezing cold defunct shipyard made his words all the more relevant and depressing. But then came the realisation and reminder that we were standing witnessing the evening’s events on a raised platform on The Revelator: an ingenious man-made structure built with collective action that took 13,000 hours of labour to build. As the night ended, the small crowd of one hundred or so lucky (but freezing) witnesses dispersed elated with feelings of optimism and possibility. It made you think about what this city could make us proud of once again, long after the shipbuilding has gone.