Glasgow: Merchant City Festival
The Merchant City Festival is renowned for its diverse programme of cutting-edge Scottish arts, music and live performance. David Pollock meets the organisers
The Merchant City is all of Glasgow in a few square blocks. At its most north-westerly point, as it merges into the city centre around George Square, it’s all about opulent buildings, trendy boutique shops and a range of desirable restaurants and delis. At its south-easterly tip, however, down towards the Clyde and Glasgow Green, it starts to blend into the earthier, more working class East End. Where the two worlds meet is a fertile soil in which artistic ventures flourish.
Highlights of the area include vegetarian bar-cafes and gig venues Mono and the 13th Note (the former also contains acclaimed underground record shop Monorail); busy music bars like Blackfriars and Maggie May’s; small but respected art galleries such as Sorcha Dallas, Q! and Transmission (the latter is perhaps most famous for having appeared in the lyric of Franz Ferdinand’s hit song ‘Do You Want To?’) and larger arts venues like the City Hall and Old Fruitmarket complex, the Tron and the Ramshorn Theatres.
‘That’s the beauty of the Merchant City,’ says Gillian McCarrey, programmer of the annual Merchant City Festival alongside artistic director Neil Butler, ‘we have lots of different audiences and we don’t like to pigeonhole them in terms of who they are or what they like. So we work with national companies like the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, or with Scottish Opera to produce ‘Aria Adventures’, which is a programme of outdoors opera on Merchant Square. What’s nice about putting this on is that members of our audience who would never go to the opera can still be exposed in a public forum to something that they don’t think is meant for them, or that they wouldn’t necessarily enjoy.’
McCarrey points out that the Merchant City’s boundaries are ill-defined, although a rough definition would have it as the area north of the River Clyde, south of George Square, east of Queen Street and west of Glasgow Cross on the High Street.
‘It’s a cultural quarter of the city,’ she says. ‘There are lots of artists’ spaces and arts organisations at work in the area, and they’ve been established around the King Street and Parnie Street area for a long time. There’s a nice community feeling, a grassroots level of support for creative people, and a continuing programme of regeneration.’ The Merchant City Festival, in other words, will just get bigger and better – and this year looks set to be a cracker.
The Merchant City Festival runs from Thu 24- Sun 27 Sep. See www.merchantcityfestival.com for full details.
Best of the Fest
Programmer Gillian McCarrey chooses her best bits from the Merchant City Festival 2009’s programme
‘We’ll be working with Rachel Jury of the arts organisation Confab, who’ll be doing a secret poetry trail on the Sunday in which an audience will be taken to four secret locations, where they’ll meet poets who will perform a specially-commissioned poem for each location. There will be between six and eight poets at each stop – 32 in total – and they’ll be reading poems which might be inspired by the historical aspect of the location, or just how it makes them feel.
It’s also a great privilege to work with Cornwall’s Wildworks, a ‘landscape theatre’ company who are bringing a theatrical installation called Memory Projector. That’s happening below the Merchant Square, which is a space the audience won’t have been in before. I don’t want to say too much about that show – it’s an experience, let’s put it that way.
Then there will be the British premiere of a French street theatre group called Acid Caustic, who perform a very funny show based around a spoof religion. We also work with local bars like Lauries, the Brunswick Hotel and Blackfriars on our live music programme, which includes Brighton’s Carnival Collective and The Kings of Macumba at our Saturday parade.
I’m really proud of what we’ve managed to achieve for this year’s festival. It’s important to introduce patrons to shows and performers they won’t have encountered before and vice versa, and in Glasgow audiences we have some of the most open-minded you’ll find.’