McChuills team reminisce on being at the heart of Glasgow’s music and subculture scene for over 30 years
”A big part of the ethos behind our mentality and our attitude is to promote not just the people we work with, we’re so focused on building people’s skills here, but also how can we help the community around us.”
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Within a one-storey sandstone on the centre of High Street, where the city centre grazes the east end is McChuills. It has operated as a bar and venue in this location for over thirty years, catering to local music fans and beer enthusiasts. Beneath the arched ceiling on any average weekend, the T-shaped room in which it operates will be full of faces, roaring with voices. Some with knitted brows over the pool table, others fiercely animated delving deep in conversation.
The pub was founded by Nicky Stewart in the early 90s seeking to establish a community hub for Glasgow’s niche subcultures - a space for the mods, the rockers, the punks - emulating a formula utilised more commonly down south. While the custom and interior has naturally evolved its character and identity remains true to the original intention.
Now ran by Nicky’s son Nick, McChuills is an epicentre for Glasgow’s rich and thriving music scene. Bands have travelled from all corners of the world to play inside the intimate soundproof side room. We spoke to the team behind the bar on how it fairs today.
Nick Stewart said: “It was started by my dad. It was actually started round the corner in Candleriggs and it ran from 1993 until about 94 when it moved here. Originally this was a restaurant and it was in an area that wasn’t particularly busy.
“Back then there was a lot of bands playing but it wasn’t a venue set up for promotors to hire. There was bands on every Friday Saturday night - punk, mod, rock n roll bands. Always focusing on musical subcultures.
“It ran like that really up until lockdown and then we looked at what we had as the venue and decided to turn it into something proper as in getting doors on it, soundproofing, bringing up the PA to a professional standard, and really expanding on the bands and the people that came into it which was a very wide range of musical tastes. We’ve never been toed down by what type of music. It’s driven by two things which is music and selling beer.
“My dad’s a huge music lover with a great deal of knowledge. He was a mod in the 60s, an original mod, and travelled down to the early mod clubs in London. He saw all the bands from the Rolling Stones to Small Faces; he was heavily involved in that scene.
“When the mod scene finished, because it only really lasted a few years, he progressed on and started listening to the likes of Prince, Craftwork, Velvet Underground. Definitely within a very eclectic musical taste and that affected myself as well.
“There’s been a mixture of subcultures in McChuills since…”
Jennifer said: “Since the dawn of time. But it’s morphed and grown as different genres and people come into the place and we breed with it. So McChuills has grown because of the people that come into it.”
Nick: “It’s interesting just watching over such a long period of time how music tastes change, different styles of music come in, but also how things remain the same. You know, when you look back at stuff 30 years ago you can parallel it to stuff from bands that are coming out and you’re seeing play in the venue. It’s ever changing and exciting to be involved in that.
Jennifer: “Keeps you on your toes.”
Speaking about music trends in Glasgow today, Lindsay said: “I’ve noticed there’s a lot of punkier and heavier bands coming through and for a while, in the mainstream, it was very indie orientated, very placid. There’s been an injection of some fire with heavier riffs and the grunge is coming back.
“My brother-in-law said to me that music trends come in waves where sometimes it’s really happy and then it’s really sad, and working here I’ve noticed that, there’s a wave of heavier stuff coming through now.”
Nick: “You see things getting popular. Certainly at the moment, rock n roll, dance music, where in certain times over a 30 year period, for a younger generation they can become more popular as in they’re more dance orientated or they’re more guitar orientated. Guitar seems to be what’s driving now.
“You can see the same type of crowd that just say ten years ago would have been drawn more to dance, but they’re in bands and it’s interesting to watch how that progresses. Ultimately something else comes.
“What we had was an 120 capacity venue. I think we looked at it and said how can we make this small venue the absolute best we can make it. First of all brining up the lighting and the sound system, we’ve used every part of the building we possibly can.
“Out office is behind us, we halved it in size so we could put in a green room and we put in a small bar at the bottom because we think it’s important that people don’t have to leave the venue to get a drink if they want to watch a band.”
Jennifer: “It’s making it somewhere people want to play.”
Jennifer: “A big part of the ethos behind our mentality and our attitude is to promote not just the people we work with, we’re so focused on building people’s skills here, but also how can we help the community around us and through that the Dirty Laundry concept was born. That’s where bands can play, completely for free - we provide the stage, tech, back lightning for them and they make 100 percent of their ticket sales.
“That has bred into the future of McChuills and also bred very much into the future of the music scene in Glasgow. That’s been pivotal in our development and also for everyone around us too.”
Nick: “It’s essentially a new bands night. We know how much of a struggle it is starting out and remaining in a band, you need to be passionate because certainly in the early days, if you’re going to make it there’s not much money. We felt it was important to lend a helping hand.
“We’re already half way through 2024 in our bookings so we’re always thinking about the future. It’s striking a balance between traditionally what McChuills was, keeping the people happy that have always drank here - of which there’s many - but also, for a new influx of customers and performers as such, giving them a platform where they feel appreciated and hopefully one day if they make it massive they’ll come back and play for us.”
Nick: “Another thing that’s important to us is the social aspect. We’ve focused on helping one charity in particular which is Homeless Project Scotland. Throughout the year we raise money for them and in 2022 they asked us if they could host a Christmas party, so that was for people that are on the streets, people that have nobody else to go to. We open the doors and provide a free dinner, free soft drinks (there’s no alcohol), sweets, and there’s presents for kids.
“The charity do a fantastic job and we’ve found working with them to be fantastic and we did that again in 2023.”
Jennifer: “The most important thing behind McChuills is that we’ve got such an amazing team that work for us and do everything in their power to make it the right place for people to come. It’s a friendly face you see when you come in here and it’s been like that for 30 years and it’s the same today.”