Talking Heads: David Byrne, Dumbarton and his connection to Glasgow

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Talking Heads are one of the best known bands of all time and lead singer David Byrne has strong Scottish roots.

David Byrne’s story begins in Dumbarton in May 1952, the West Dunbartonshire town on the north bank of the River Clyde, just under 15 miles from Glasgow. Byrne was born as the elder of two children to Tom and Emma Byrne, both with Glaswegian roots.

Tom was born and raised in Lambhill. Byrne’s mother Emma was a pupil at Hillhead after she scored first in Glasgow in her eleven-plus exam which meant she was rewarded with a scholarship to study at the then private school. Further achievements would follow for Emma as she also received the academic “Dux” award.

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The couple met each other at a dance after the Second World War when the young former Navy officer Tom asked Emma to dance and a few years afterwards they were married. It was not all plain sailing for the couple with Byrne saying: “Some family members (on both sides) didn’t approve of the marriage, and boycotted the ceremony. Others threatened to sever their relationships to the young couple... Emma was able to take a few courses at the Glasgow Institute of Art and they soon set up home in nearby Dumbarton, where Tom found work as an electrical engineer.”

After David came along, it wouldn’t be too long before the young family relocated to Canada after Tom was offered a job by Westinghouse Electric in Hamilton, Ontario. It was an opportunity for them to explore North America as they planned to then return to Scotland a few years later.

David Byrne, backstage at the University of Strathclyde before a gig with Television and Blondie, May 1977David Byrne, backstage at the University of Strathclyde before a gig with Television and Blondie, May 1977
David Byrne, backstage at the University of Strathclyde before a gig with Television and Blondie, May 1977

In Canada, David Byrne’s sister Celia was born which put the plans to return to Scotland on hold but they still continued to visit relatives every couple of summers. Around the beginning of the sixties, the Byrne family would once again relocate when they then moved to Arbutus, Maryland where David would attend high school.

After starting his musical career with a high school band Revelation, Byrne became half of the duo called Bizadi with Marc Kehoe before forming the band the Artistics with fellow Rhode Island School of Design student Chris Frantz who would go on to become the Talking Heads drummer. When the Artistics dissolved in 1974, Byrne moved to New York City with Frantz, with his girlfriend Tina Weymouth following suit a few months later.

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Talking Heads would eventually be formed in 1975 after Weymouth was encouraged to learn bass. The band had their first gig, opening for the Ramones at the CBGB club in the East Village, Manhattan, on June 5 of that year. Both bands would appear in Glasgow on the same weekend in May 1977 along with Television and Blondie.

Debbie Harry watched on from the back of the hall with about 100 in attendance as Talking Heads and Ramones took to the stage at Strathclyde University. David Byrne’s band playing a tight rhythmic set while Ramones sped through songs from their debut album in around 30 minutes

Byrne has appeared in Glasgow many times since then and was most recently in the city in October 2018 when he brought his American Utopia tour here for a homecoming gig of sorts.

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