Gemma Brown pays tribute to MacSorleys and mourns the passing of a venue which brought heart, soul and much good reggae to the city centre. Now read on…

For more than a century MacSorleys has stood tall on Jamaica Street, a renowned public house, restaurant and live music venue. Sadly on Valentines Day the doors closed for the last time. As we danced our final waltz to reggae legend Dawn Penn I felt we were saying goodbye to a true Glasgow patriarch.

Since Victorian times MacSorleys has been at the centre of city life, serving locals and weary passersby the finest drink, food and entertainment. It gained respect and inspired affection because it sought out the best Scottish produce as well as making a dedicated commitment to supporting local music. So much so that the venue features strongly on our newly expanded  Walking Heads Glasgow Music Tour.

A large sign outside the bar saying Music, Drink, Food

The best of times

When the venue announced at the end of January on their Facebook page that it would be closing its doors on 14 February, there was an immediate outburst of sorrow from the pub’s locals. There have been no real explanations. Without knowing reasons behind the closure, we face another void in this area of Glasgow – after The Arches closed last year it left a gaping hole in the city’s programme of live music and arts events that were established there. These fatal blows to two of Glasgow’s most notable music venues are a harsh reminder that nothing lasts forever especially in the entertainment and arts industries.

There was no way I was going to miss The Last Waltz. Apart from anything else, another opportunity to see Dawn Penn in MacSorleys was well worth a case of the Monday blues. After skanking to her performance there back in 2012 it was the perfect way to end a dear friendship.  For the last 10 years MacSorleys has been a heavyweight contender of live music in Glasgow.

Dawn Penn signs into the microphone in front of MacSorleys etched windows

Dawn Penn

Hosting regular open mic nights, allowing local musicians the opportunity to showcase their talents it has been a platform for many acts to develop their work. The venue has also had its fair share of famous and well-established performers both nationally and internationally. With no bias towards any musical style, MacSorleys is the pinnacle of diversity. On any given night you could walk in and hear reggae, jazz, blues, folk, ska and bluegrass…to name but a few. More varied than the music were the people. All classes, all ages and races merge into one happy audience; it’s only in a good pub that you find this combination of groups.

I started going to MacSorleys in 2011 to enjoy the reggae and Jamaican influenced events that were showcasing some of the most highly regarded artists in these scenes. Every event was better than the last, right up till the end. Responsible for bringing acts like Dawn Penn, Tippa Irie, Cornell Campbell and Errol Dunkley to the venue was Craig Griffin (aka Hectorrr).  I first met him years ago in the African Caribbean Centre on Osborne street when he was putting on events in there. He’s quite an elusive and very humble chap. For a long time he has been responsible for a large portion of the live reggae music scene in Glasgow. He hosts the Sunny Govan Reggae Show on a Tuesday night as well as the Och Aye ‘n’ Aye Reggae Burns Night which has been running for the last seven years. His pioneering attitude towards promoting live reggae music is what keeps such a big fan base in the city.

Speaking to Craig on Sunday night for the first time in a long time I managed to find out what he is at now. I’d been away from Glasgow for a while so I missed the birth of The Rum Shack on Pollockshaws Road and I’m glad to discover this Southside pub and restaurant has been making waves since it opened late 2014. Craig told me he has been putting on events in there since it opened: “Hectorrr he is one of the Friday Reggae Shack resident Djs” (Every Friday at The Rum Shack to be precise).

The Southside venue has played host to high grade acts such as Little Roy, Earl Gateshead, Raging Fyah, Earl Dunkley and Vibronics. Receiving recognition for its Jamaican influenced food and vast variety of Rum, the Rum Shack seems to be the next alternative to a great night like the ones in MacSorleys. Upcoming events at the Rum Shack can be found on their Facebook Page and you can tune in to the Sunny Govan Reggae Show every Tuesday from 9pm.

I’ll be looking out for what happens to MacSorleys too.

Download Glasgow Music Tour to hear more of the history of MacSorleys: a story that stretches from the Hebrides to the Caribbean via Jamaica Street, Glasgow.

Outside MacSorleys, lights shining from the inside

Shining a light in the city