In recent years, the city of Glasgow has undergone many transformations: a brand new bridge, magnificent regeneration, the new central library and the Fountain of Rhapsody. However, the one magnificent building that has become sadly irrelevant to contemporary Glasgow has been Massey Hall, site of the Scottish choral festival and the local haven for social and musical life.
I remember walking through the Spink Street end of the old underground to the former women’s prison on a wet and windy day many years ago to see the female inmates being released into the crowd and chorus from Massey Hall. I was overwhelmed by what I saw, one of which was that spirit. This shows you how well we need our theatres, halls and cultural facilities. They can be in short supply these days in Glasgow. But then that’s what great cultural lives are like – it sometimes seems like it comes and goes.
To live in these buildings is to step back in time. The striking building rises up out of the bustle of the city; pictures, images and memory are layered onto its sparse, Victorian-style pared-down exterior. It is possible to see, in this structure, the “soft sepulchral” that ought to be the character of a venue.
The interior, although in some respects surprisingly original, is in part a sanitised and sanestedd wing of the Titanic. Most of the important work of the 20th century was done at two later stages of Massey Hall’s life. In 1988, new stained glass was added and the sound system was turned up, while a new concert hall opened to bring the UK’s first recital room dedicated to music free to public. When this renovation of the hall was completed, I remember seeing the people in the process of touring around the building and listening to what they were saying. One said, “He hasn’t aged a day”. Another exclaimed, “Look at this, it’s fantastic!” But this was a formidable achievement for the renovated hall and it was a turning point for Massey Hall. For many, it was worth the wait, and I think we did what we had to do.
The battle to retain Massey Hall has therefore been on for some time. With the addition of stadia and new performing facilities being built in recent years, Massey Hall has become less of a centre for culture. Currently, the chorus is looking for new host venues for their summer-long festival. Some of us feel that if we are to continue with this staging, we need a new home for the future.