City Halls and the Old Fruitmarket: two wildly different music venues which stand next to each other in Glasgow’s Merchant City neighborhood. They share an entrance, in fact, as well as a pavement outside inscribed with thought provoking quotes about music, creativity, and Glasgow.
They share something else, too: a history in music, art, and commerce that has kept both places vibrant parts of the neighborhood, and indeed the wider world of Scotland and beyond, across changing times.
City Halls is well into its second century now. Writer Charles Dickens, explorer David Livingstone, circus performer Tom Thumb, and in more recent years the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Gaelic singer Karen Matheson, Americana songwriter Rosanne Cash, Scotland’s well loved folk duo Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain, and classical violinist Nicola Benedetti are among those who have taken to its stage. As Glasgow grew and prospered during Victorian times, City Halls was constructed in 1841 as a performance hall and place for city gatherings. The neighborhood then was a thriving place of merchants’ dwellings, markets, and businesses — the perfect place, people decided, to have a place to which all could come. It soon became, and is still, a center for music performances as well as more informal recitals, workshops, and music rehearsals.
It was a time in English architecture when a love for classical motifs was beginning to give way to interest in Italianate styles. Architect George Murray planned the original work on the building. In 1882 a design for the front of the building, one which still stands, reflected tht then current interest in the Italianate style. That is the front which still stands.
The entrance to Glasgow’s City Halls is on Candleriggs Street, a place which takes its name from the days when those who worked in wax and fire plied their trade in the area.
Serving the residents of the area, Saint David’s Church, of Gothic revival design, stood at the north end of the street. Alongside the newly built City Halls in its early days were thriving markets for, among other flowers, fish, cheese, and fruit. In the early 1850s permanent stalls for at least part of this trade were constructed, in a building whose cast iron structure took inspiration from the popular Crystal Palace in London.
Much of that cast iron structure still stands as part of the Old Fruitmarket, and many of the signs from the sellers of fruit and flowers may been seen high up among those cast iron ribs in the ceiling as the building lives out its current use as a performance venue.
Both City Halls and the Old Fruitmarket are excellent places to hear and see music The Fruitmarket is informal and flexible, with space for cabaret style table seating as well as rows of chairs and standing room in the back and up in the balcony, cheery colored lights decking the ceiling and balcony rails, and a bar off to one side as well as one outside the performance space.
City Halls main auditorium, by contrast, is rather more formal in appearance, with white and blue and gold colors and light wood flooring, as well as light and sky visible through windows which were uncovered during renovation of the hall in 2003 — windows which had been blocked off for more than fifty years. It too has a balcony, although you’ll likely prefer to stay seated if you choose a seat there. City Halls has a recital room, too, which works well for chamber music ensembles, talks, and other gatherings suited to a smaller space than the larger halls permit. here is a bar available within the building, easily accessible from both halls.
City Halls and the Old Fruitmarket offer performance schedules all year around. They are especially lively during Glasgow’s many festivals; I have been fortunate to see Solas, Danu, and Luka Bloom, for instance, in different years in the Fruitmarket at Celtic Connections. At other times I have had the chance to see Kathy Mattea, Karen Matheson, and Cara Dillon in the Grand Hall of City Halls.
Whether you turn to your right to head up the staircase for City Halls Grand Hall and recital room, or head the left along the corridor to the entrance to the Fruitmarket, you will be well rewarded with welcoming atmosphere, helpful staff, great acoustics, and fine sight lines whether your evening of music is classical or Celtic or jazz or something in between.
In those quiet moments which occur at times when the music is done, you might also catch a ghost of the voice of someone selling flowers in the 1870s or a singer of the 1920s. Whether that happens or not, you will have added your own presence to the history of Glasgow’s City Halls and Old Fruitmarket.
entrance to City Halls and pavement inscription by Thomas Nugent
looking north on Candleriggs Street towards Saint David’s (which is now used at a theatre) by wfmillar
Karen Matheson at City Halls, Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh and Julie Fowlis at the Old Fruitmarket, the Hanneke Cassel Trio at the Wayfaring Strangers concert at City Halls, Eamon Doorley at the Old Fruitmarket, and Rosanne Cash at City Halls by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.
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