Barrowland Legends – Book Excerpt

The Barrowland Ballroom Christmas party: a long-awaited night, postponed until January because there were so many gigs in the run up to Christmas. It’s Tom Joyce the manager’s thank you to the staff for their hard work and the staff have worked hard. He’s pleased with them all, thankful for them all. The rules: Dress Like a Rock Star. Fancy dress is optional but anyone on the Margaret McIver Limited payroll can enter the competition and have the chance of winning a Barrowland Legends Hall of Fame Trophy. The competitors are to be judged on likeness, effort made and a ten second performance in front of the microphone.

And we, Recollective, are the judges.

It is an eclectic jumble of wigs and sequins and face paint. There is Prince in a purple velvet suit, Kate Bush in red, wafting around the dance floor. One of the barmen from the main bar in the ballroom is Annie Lennox. There are women dressed up as Slash, Gene Simmons and David Bowie (in fact there were several Bowies). The Review Bar is transformed. A gold curtain cascades down the walls beside the stage. To the left of the stage there is an actual golden doorway through which participants will make their costumed entrance.

 

Michael, who does maintenance during the day and works in the main bar at night, has created the Barrowland Legends set – he sourced the flowing gold and he decorated the bar. When we find him he isn’t dressed up. He’s in his usual black T-shirt and jeans.

‘Where’s your costume?’ I ask him.

‘I don’t want to sound like a bore,’ he says, ‘But I was here from six this morning. Last night I left at eleven, went home, got up at five and was here for six this morning. So I don’t care that I’m not dressed up. I’m going to wait till I get the word from Tom and then I’m – ’He makes a gesture as if he is going to leave.

‘You’re leaving?’

‘No, I’m going to get something to eat.’

I see him later with a take-out polystyrene tray of pakora and chips. He sits at a booth, eating fast while the rest of the table get on with the business of drink and chat. Later still in the evening I see that he’s dancing – or at least he is on the dance floor, playing some kind of chasing game pursued by two women. He appears to be having fun at last.

Back to the fancy dress competition. Donald MacLeod the celebrated music promoter is MC for the night. He welcomes the rowdy crowd and pitches his jokes over the rummel of chat at the back of the booths. ‘This is the first free bar Tom has allowed since the place opened in 1934,’ he says. Then he pulls Stan, the other manager, onto the stage. ‘Tom and Stan have been here since 1934,’ he says. He’s pulling the crowd in, getting some laughs.

 

And the competition starts. The first contestant is the first of two Bowies. Then it’s Prince and Slash. Gene Simmons sets the bar high with a ten second performance at the microphone and from then on we have bursts of Dolly Parton, Agnetha and Cindy Lauper. Pete Docherty stumbles on and recites a poem. Annie Lennox sings a few lines of Sweet Dreams. Hank Williams AKA John Swift, Review Bar Manager, in a rhinestone jacket, jeans and cowboy boots, Stetson hat and guitar is up next and takes more that his allotted ten seconds – he has about sixty seconds with his guitar and his crowd pleasing country ballad. Amy Winehouse, Bjork, David Bowie the second, George and Andrew of Wham, Britney Spears and Ozzy Osbourne who does a good performance crying out ‘Sharon! Sharon! I’m at the Barras!’ Madonna who is joined for a snog by Britney Spears who has run back onto the stage to play her part, a cool Siouxsie Sioux and a jaw dropping Tom Joyce who is dressed as Colonel Mustard, having borrowed the gold jacket, hat and trousers from the lead singer of the Dijon 5 band. It’s a riot. Donald rounds off the competition by telling the audience we’ll be back with the winners. The DJ puts a record on.

 

And how they dance! It’s the first song and a good number of dancers are on the floor already. Colin the front door security supervisor tells me he’s a civil servant by day and this is his fun job. His colleague who normally wears a beanie and shouts in her strong voice, ‘Keep moving up the stairs please people!’ – is without her beanie tonight and dancing with her colleagues, black hair long down her back. The stewards usually in yellow T-shirts are either in costume or in their glad rags. Bar staff, stewards, security staff, cleaning staff, first aiders, cloakroom attendants are there, drinking up the free bar and getting stuck into the party. Billy Coyle, of the Glasgow crew, is dressed as Boy George and is nearly unrecognisable. Friends and special guests of the Barrowland family are invited too. And the support band dressing room is turned into a green room for more senior members of staff who want to escape the mayhem.

Donald calls the Review Bar to order and announces the winner – it’s Ozzy Osbourne. His combination of costume, likeness and onstage stagger towards the mic where he nails his ‘Sharon! I’m at the Barras!’ pips him past Pete Docherty, Siouxsie Sioux and the others.

Then Colonel Mustard and the Dijon 5 whip the party-goers into a happy frenzy. The whole dance floor is full of Barrowland legends now, pumping the air, joining in with the actions and singing along. We sing the chorus of Love is all the Drug you need over and over and by the end of it all I felt was: Hell yeah! Love is the only drug you need! They got me. David Blair, Dijon dancer and crowd organiser holding a Lollipop Stop sign has us standing on one side of the dance floor for the song which begins ‘I’m gonna teach you how to cross the road…’ and at David’s command, we cross the road. ‘Don’t be an amber gambler granny, don’t be an amber gambler grandad’ goes the reggae refrain. It’s the most perfectly bonkers band for a perfectly bonkers Barrowland crowd.

Tom Joyce is pleased with the night. The staff are clearly pleased and although it’s a one o’clock finish, I sense the night could go on and on. Mitch sketches furiously, Chris, captures the joy and the madness on camera, and I make a few notes in my notebook, content to observe these Barrowland legends on their night off and soak up the atmosphere on this most special of evenings.