A Taste Of Divine: Remembering The Legendary Glasgow Club
, June 17th, 2011 05:08
David Peschek remembers recently-deceased Glasgow club Divine as he speaks to the likes of founder Andrew Divine, JD Twitch from Optimo, Stephen Pastel and Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian, who recalls the time he wore a dress... Oh, and there's a mix too.
A long time ago, in a city far, far away (if you live in London), in the downstairs bar of Glasgow Art School ('The Vic'), a club called Divine began. Two weeks ago the Vic saw what was then very possibly the last night of Divine and, as you read this, the Vic itself (situated opposite the famous Rennie Mackintosh-designed main building of the Art School) is being demolished.
Over 21 years, Divine became a unique hub for a generation of Glasgow musicians and artists – as well, of course, as a crowd of devoted regulars. Pretty much anyone who was in a band in Glasgow went to Divine once, and many went all the time. Pretty much anyone (Evan Dando, Courtney Love, Pete Shelley - among many others) who was playing in Glasgow went too.
In part, this is a story about a dark time before the internet, before Facebook, before illegal file-sharing, before everyone had a mobile phone. It's also a story from a time before endless reissue campaigns and, latterly, the 'digital revolution', had made almost everything available to everyone everywhere, all the time.
Finally – it's a story from a time before everyone was a DJ. Despite what you will read below, Andrew Divine – whose day job is as a graphic designer based in the music industry (he designed the sleeves for all Belle & Sebastian's Jeepster releases) – sees his DJing as simply a function of his love of music, as a way of enthusing about whatever he might be listening to, of not letting his vast collection of vinyl gather dust. Self-effacing to the point of shyness, he almost had a seizure when I turned on the recorder for the interview.
He's a DJ's DJ (though he'd no doubt balk at that). There's a track on DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist's Product Placement sourced from Andrew, and when Erol Alkan was looking for a copy of Nancy Sinatra's 'Kinky Love' the only place in the country he could find one was on Andrew's shelves.
This might not, in broad terms, be a unique story. But it's the kind of story that often goes unrecorded, woven as it is from ephemeral things: going out, and bright lights, and dancing, and choosing an outfit, and sharing your new favourite record with a friend. Ephemeral things that, looking back over more than twenty years, we realise have become the fabric of our lives.
Stephen Pastel (The Pastels, Geographic): The Glasgow club scene in the early 1980s was as far as I could see, pretty hopeless. Most clubs and bars seemed to be owned and run by gangsters or philistine aspirationals. Not surprisingly, most of the influential, good things came from outside of this - naive kids running their own nights in odd, unusual places, and expanding out from their own contact lists.
Duglas T Stewart (BMX Bandits): Before Divine there was an era when people didn't really DJ as much at the clubs we were going to. Records weren't used and the organisers would make up mixtapes and they would be played to dance to. That really started with Splash One.
Stephen Pastel: The timing of Splash One was important - it coincided with good music being made in Glasgow and a need for participants and fans to meet up. Splash One ran in a fairly generic 1980s style club called Daddy Warbucks, but it started out from a core of enthusiastic, passionate music fans (including Bobby Gillespie) and its audience reflected that kind of crazed-for-music mentality. The music was run from compiled cassettes, which is strange, but it worked. Eventually it came to an end but it left a legacy of similarly styled clubs playing 1960s punk, pop, soul, independent stuff. Some of the people who ran these nights had been too young for Splash One but had similar tastes, at least as a starting point, and I'm sure Andrew would agree he fell into that category. He was a resourceful, driven, enthusiastic kid.
JD Twitch (Optimo): I first met Andrew at a club called 46 West George Street (which no longer exists). I was doing a weekly club called 1992 (this was 1988 or 89; can't remember exactly) but I was struggling to fill it each week and this guy (Andrew) who I had seen around and was friends with some mutual friends - and who I only knew as Lampshade as his haircut looked like it was modelled on a lampshade - came along and suggested that he did one week and I did the other. That was perfect for me as but as it transpired I knocked it on the head a few weeks later due to lack of interest in my night and decided running clubs/DJing wasn't for me (this obviously didn't pan out in the long run!). Andrew's night was the prototype for Divine but all I really remember about it was that he had a strobe light which he was unwilling to lend to me.
At this time there wasn't much of interest (for me) happening club-wise in Glasgow. House music had yet to kick off here and most of the dance clubs were playing Soul II Soul and had strict dress codes. I was trying to do a night that combined my love of the new house and techno sounds with new beat, EBM, hardcore (as in Swans, Butthole Surfers etc), On-U Sound, dub, a bit of hip hop and whatever else I liked. This was way too ambitious for the time and apart from anything, I didn't really have much of a clue about promoting or how to programme diverse music into a coherent whole.
Andrew Divine: I started going out to clubs when I was about 15. The first club I started was Magic Roundabout, which was monthly, on a Wednesday at Bennets. I was 17 at the time, and I went round quite diligently all the clubs in the whole of Glasgow, chapped on the door and asked to see the manager, just to see what they had and whether they'd hire them out. Bennets was one of the few places that would consider it. There wasn't much on. There was student unions, with alternative nights that'd play half an hour of goth and half an hour of rock and half an hour of ska and everyone'd sit there patiently twiddling their thumbs until their half hour came on. It seems infuriating but looking back maybe it wasn't such a bad thing. At that time, it was the Glasgow white soul boy scene, Hipsway and Love & Money.
Alan 'Hushpuppy' Miller (DJ/Promoter – Abnormals Anonymous, R-P-Z, Divine: The trendy people were all like that. Places that were 'cool' to go like Nico's were all guys in cut jackets, white t-shirts and slicked-back hair. Girls with quiffs and exotic scarfs. Splash One had died away. People were still listening to that music but no one was running nights like that. Andrew Divine: The first night I went to was Texas Fever. That was definitely a musical education – they'd play things like The Birthday Party and Suicide and the Velvet Undergound. It's hard to remember that it was really very hard to find out about music back then – unless someone had a big brother who had a record collection… you'd read an interview with a band you liked – at the time like Primal Scream and JAMC - and they were always talking about The Byrds and The Stooges and Suicide and The Seeds and you'd make a note of things and try and find out about them by going to record fairs. I was gonna say now you get a copy of the 1st VU album free with the Guardian on a Saturday, but actually you don't need to do that, you just go online. Information passes hands very quickly.
Hushpuppy: You went to clubs to find out about music, cos you wouldn't hear it on the radio...
Andrew Divine: …and you'd meet like-minded people. Half my life then seemed to revolve around making tapes for people. At Magic Roundabout I'd play mostly 60s garage punk and contemporary bands mixed in – The Pastels, Shop Assistants, Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, and odd punk things and Violent Femmes. Back then I wasn't totally focused on the dancefloor, just playing records, and it takes a while to know what works and what doesn't. I look back now with horror at some of the things that got played, but probably that's why some people liked it, because you'd hear things you wouldn't hear elsewhere.
Magic Roundabout ran for only five or six nights. Andrew then started Hallucination Generation at 46 West (previously home to Texas Fever), which ran (on alternate weeks with Twitch's night) for a couple of years until the venue closed.
Andrew Divine: Then I did a few nights in Royal Exchange Square - the Chocolate Factory. In my mind it was a scene from Barbarella - zebra skin seats and extruded aluminium and video screens. I think it was considered quite tacky at the time.
Hushpuppy: It was fab.
Andrew Divine: I don't think I was consciously thinking about styles of music; just playing music that I liked. I would play Public Enemy alongside the 13th Floor Elevators, and people would say you can't do that. I thought Public Enemy were just the 13th Floor Elevators of the day. As far as I was concerned it was psychedelic and dealing with contemporary issues and had mad squeaky noises going through it and a good groove. I don't think there were any other nights doing anything similar.
There wasn't very much on. At the moment the club scene's at saturation, and everyone's got their own tiny wee niche and sub-genres, which is maybe great. I just had a pile of records I'd play all the time. I feel quite nostalgic for the days when you would get an album and really play it and know it.
Stuart Murdoch (Belle & Sebastian): Andy was my friend and rival. I remember The Hallucination Generation and Swirl, his warm-ups for Divine. By 1990 I was burnt out as a DJ, so happy just to dance. By the end of the 80s, with the Mondays and the Roses coming through, it was ok to dance again. Everyone was much more relaxed. Indie went to the high street and got mixed up with the whole rave thing. Then Andy created his own little pocket up at the Art School, thank God! All the freaks came out of the woodwork.
Andrew Divine: I was studying product design at the Art School in '89. There was a student union newsletter all about Badminton Clubs and buses going to London for protests, and a tiny wee thing in the back asking for a DJ for the student union. So I made up a mixtape and a pack of my flyers and gave it in. A week later, they said, 'We looked at your application, we love the music and we're impressed, we gonna give you a trial. Plus… no one else applied.'
At that time no one was interested in being a DJ. They went to clubs to dance, to drink, take drugs and get laid. No one wanted to be the saddo behind the decks. It wasn't something to aspire to. Now, when a bar opens… I remember asking about playing in a new bar and they said, 'Well, hand in your DJ CV'. That's the whole reason I started DJing – that you didn't have to have a CV!
Anyway, on Friday nights they had a DJ in the student union and about ten people were coming, and they were losing money.
The first night [we ran] there were queues around the block, I think it was the night King Tut's opened and Pale Saints were playing and I thought no one would come, but it was early and they came after. It was a huge success.
Duglas T Stewart: We went to Divine nearly every Saturday for years. We'd only miss it if we had a gig to play somewhere else. Some how Divine felt less precious, less exclusive than Splash One.
Stephen Pastel: I think I attended most of the nights he ran until he eventually hit his stride with Divine. The location of Divine was extremely important - the Vic Bar, despite various makeovers, was always slightly frayed, cheap and bohemian. Andrew's music worked well there and I think he brought a lot to the Vic bar/Art School in terms of identity and promotion.
Andrew Divine: The Art School occupies this weird territory – it's not a student union, it's cooler than that; it's not a club, it's less cool than that.
Zoë Strachan (author): Around the early '90s, the art scene was really taking off.
Hushpuppy: There was an outsider thing to the Art School, and that drew people – but Divine created that really, the idea that it was a venue where interesting things were happening. Divine started that spirit of experimentation, it wasn't just the building, and I think a lot of the spirit the building has now is down to you, Andrew. The club created new expectations for what a club night could be.
JD Twitch: When Andrew launched Divine at the Art School, I was DJing every Friday in Edinburgh at Pure and Saturday night would be the night for going out in Glasgow. I'd go out raving to the various house and techno nights but I'd also go to the Art School as a lot of my friends went there, it was a guaranteed good night out and it was super cheap and I was very poor. I remember not knowing what 95% of the music was but totally relating to the energy of it, and there was always a fantastic atmosphere. One memory that stays with me is from around 1992 when Andrew used to play 'Acperience' by Hardfloor every week right in the middle of all this Northern Soul and the whole place would go nuts. In hindsight that seems very strange that he would play that record but at that time it seemed to make perfect sense and even the mods would be freaking out to it. Aside from that, almost every Northern Soul record that I now love, and several of which became hugely popular at Optimo, I first heard at Divine. But of course, as anyone who went to Divine knows, it was a lot more than a Northern Soul night.
Stephen Pastel: His DJing became very good and he'd a really good core group of friends, including Alan, which is of course always important in terms of getting a night going. In a way what he was doing with Divine wasn't new, and it wasn't meant to be, but it was perfectly realised and it became absolutely the place to go on a Saturday night in Glasgow.
Andrew Divine: When it began it was just music I liked, a big melting pot. I remember making a poster for Swirl and listing bands that started with an s: Swell Maps, S'Express, Shop Assistants, Soul II Soul. The well known disco artistes Swell Maps! Sometimes people would dance and sometimes they wouldn't. It was a steep learning curve. There were no genres. I'd collect music and the music I was excited about I'd play. As the club progressed and my musical education continued it became a big mix of everything - it was 60s psych and rock'n'roll and techno and drum'n'bass, and northern soul and punk…
Hushpuppy: …and Moog and krautrock…
Andrew Divine: By that point I'd worked out what worked on a dancefloor and how to sequence. Eclectic can be a byword for shit DJing, chucking things together. In my mind a good DJ is someone who can get from garage punk to drum 'n' bass by joining the dots.
Hushpuppy: You mixed a lot. You were forging these joins between old music and new, between music that was organic and music that was sampled. So you could see the links between, say, some old funk record and hip hop. Some house records would fit perfectly into krautrock, or Moog into electronica, so it was almost like one piece of music. No one was doing that, certainly in Scotland. Genre lines were quite distinct. But in Divine they kinda meant nothing. It just seemed to happen as you accrued things you liked. You weren't thinking, 'I'm being really clever'. Things were piling up you enjoyed. In that way, we were all discovering things and you didn't reach a point where you thought, 'I've got everything I like now': every step created three more steps in another direction and it just seemed to go on.
Andrew Divine: I do remember mixing [Pink Floyd's] 'Interstellar Overdrive' into Josh Wink's 'Higher State Of Consciousness' because to me they sounded the same.
Hushpuppy: It was quite pragmatic. You went to D for a night out, but also you'd invariably would go away having heard something new that'd be your favourite record for years to come.
Andrew Divine: That's always the highpoint of a night for me when someone asks what something is. I'll always write it down. I think that's what it's all about. At the risk of using a cliché: the role of the DJ is to educate and entertain. Pete Shelley came over and said, 'I've never heard Neu! in a club before.' To me it made perfect sense, it was just techno played with guitars.
Duglas T Stewart: There was always lots of people in bands there. Even at the start people like Norman Blake and Eugene Kelly and I were among the older band people there. Although James Kirk from Orange Juice was there a lot and he was older. I remember seeing Belle & Sebastian and Franz Ferdinand members before they were in those bands. And there were kids who were really great dancers who you would look forward to seeing on the floor.
Andrew Divine: I remember meeting people who'd come from other places but ended up at Divine because there was something going on that wasn't happening anywhere else. Fashion kids, mods, hip hop and b-boy types, all the fashion tribes, people from a pure techno background. There wasn't anywhere else like it. People were very friendly, this sort of outsider community dancing to these mad records.
Chris 'Beans' Geddes (Belle & Sebastian): I first started going to Divine in 1994, in my second year at Glasgow University. The other nights my friends and I would have been going to around then would have included Tam Coyle's indie night at rooftops, the Attic in the garage, maybe the occasional Slam thing at the Arches.
Divine was special for a lot of reasons; most importantly the music of course (I'd often be up pestering Andrew to know what records were and be off to try and buy them the next day) but also the visuals, the chequered dancefloor, the crowd, the clothes people wore. It was the centre of a scene, and it was exciting to become part of that. A lot my best mates are people I know primarily through going to the club, not least Andrew and Alan themselves. When Belle & Sebastian first got together going to the club regularly was definitely something most of us had in common.
Zoë Strachan: I must have started going in 1994.
Hushpuppy: That feels right, that's when I started DJing. Zoë Strachan: The gay clubs in Glasgow were horrendous at that point, and there were no women there! It was really awful. One of the things that really appealed about Divine – and I don't think it was stated particularly obviously, but it was very clear from the graphics, the clientele and so on - was that it was a very mixed club.
Hushpuppy: It was a proper bohemian mix. It was a beacon, but it repulsed people as well, because they'd come and not get it.
Zoë Strachan: But it wasn't exclusive. It sounds cliquey, but it wasn't. There was a mix of ages too. And through it, I found other nights, northern soul nights like Good Foot and Uptight I wouldn't have found had I not already been going to Divine. At the time Andrew was working in the record shop at John Smith's in Byres Road – so it was an amazing way of getting to know music. It wasn't just a hedonistic night out. You could go in the next day and buy [it], or ask Andrew, 'What's this like?' He had a scale of weirdness: pretty weird, very weird, really really weird – you want to listen to that before you buy it. So there was an educational aspect that you don't necessarily associate with night clubs.
Hushpuppy: I remember you had great outfits.
Zoë Strachan: I remember I had a dress that fell to bits because I danced in it so much. It was a really fine silk shift dress, and I remember thinking, 'if this keeps unravelling, I'm going to have to home early!' And that seemed the worst thing. It got to the point where the skirt [makes ripping noise], but I had opaque tights so I just kept dancing.
Hushpuppy: Didn't we pin it together with badges? We couldn't have the going-home-early thing…
Zoë Strachan: I think Divine is the one place where I've never gone home early.
JD Twitch: I first guested at Divine around 2004 and played a handful of times after that. It was always one of my favourite gigs as I didn't have to think about mixing and while everything I played I could have played at Optimo, I would never have played a whole set of music like that at Optimo, or perhaps have been able to delve so deep into exotica, tropicalia, psyche, kraut, reggae or garage rock as I did when I played there. The first time I played I used my laptop and had done edits of, for example, 'How Does It Feel?' by The Creation, which would horrify some of the mod purists (a laptop - sacrilege!). I LOVE winding up purists. But every time I played I think it worked, and I had a ball. I have to confess to always being pretty nervous when I played there but not as nervous as when he asked me to DJ at his wedding.
Hushpuppy: There was one mix you use to do between 'Girls & Boys' and some other record that was really amazing.
Andrew Divine: Oh, the Blur mix - it's bizarre, a couple of years back another guy was banging on about it too, must have made an impression. I sadly don't even own the 'other' record anymore. But I am now tempted to hunt for it. It was from Chez Damier & Ron Trent - Hip To Be Disillusioned Vol.1 [actually 'I Feel The Rhythm']. [Frenzied Googling ensues.] Bollocks, looks like if I want one, it's gonna set me back £40 plus!
Initially, people would dance to one record then sit down, and keep doing that – sitting down and getting up to dance. Gradually a level of trust seemed to develop and they'd stay dancing. Like house clubs where people go to dance!
Chris 'Beans' Geddes: I think it was 1999 I first guested. I was good mates with Andrew and Alan by then, and they knew I was into pretty similar music to what they played at the club, and had been doing a bit of digging while the band was touring. I still quite often see the tin of beans they made as a flyer for my first guest slot in various friends' houses. That meant a lot. In terms of choosing tunes to play it was a really just a case of trying to play stuff that fit in with what Andrew and Alan were playing without playing too many tunes I'd directly copped off them. I suppose I'd also try to slip in a bit more hard rock than they usually played, a bit of AC/DC or Led Zep. Later, when Bob [Kildea] and I would sometimes cover for Andrew if he was away, it was a bit easier in that respect - if he wasn't there you could play the tunes he'd done the work of turning into anthems at the club and bask in the reflected glory!
Stuart Murdoch: I think I only ever played one record at Divine. Andy went for a whiz and asked me to cover the decks. I think I had this Deep Purple 7" with me, 'Black Night'. I put it on, and he was pretty steamed by the time he came back from the toilet. I think it was out with the Divine remit at the time.
Stephen Pastel: I more remember hanging out on the stairs, planning stuff, conspiring, making friends. The dancefloor was always good but so was the incidental stuff.
Stuart Murdoch: It was certainly a hub, just like [Nice'N']Sleazy's was a hub, and the old 13th Note. Think the main factor was Andy's taste. He picked the sounds and he stuck by them. He introduced me to a lot of stuff like he did for a lot of people. He opened up a lot of the hidden 60s and 70s for me. He definitely got me into The Left Banke, which became a big touchstone for the band later on.
You'd go home from the club, desperate to make a record as good as any of the records that got played that night. I don't think we ever succeeded, but we had a lot of fun trying.
Chris 'Beans' Geddes: For me the club really opened my ears, that there was a whole load of amazing music that existed outside of the acknowledged rock/soul canon that was in many ways more exciting: sitar and Moog cover versions, funky soundtrack cuts, library stuff etc.
JD Twitch: When I was formulating my ideas for Optimo, I seriously thought about asking Andrew to be my partner in the night (I have often wondered how things would have turned out if that had panned out!). Andrew designed the very first poster and flyer for Optimo and played a few times at the beginning. I think there is a relation musically and aesthetically between the two nights. Aesthetically as the design of the artwork was very important to both, as were the look of the nights lighting-wise as well as the use of video/projections, and musically in that they were diverse and not musically purist. One would hear all sorts of other music at Divine as, of course, Andrew has one of the best collections of 45s on the planet. Andrew is one of very, very, few DJs whose taste in music has been an influence on me.
Stuart Murdoch: I didn't miss many nights. For a while it got rough. There was a bit of a backlash against the more effeminate attendees around 1994. Got a bit laddish. There were these two arseholes who were always waiting for me there, trying to beat me up. So I actually worked behind the bar for a year just so I could get away from them. And I never used to serve them. They were really ugly bastards. I don't know how they got in.
I used to usually go on my own, get there early to dance. I think I leered at the girls a lot, I'm afraid. I was hot for this girl for a while. Her sister was really good looking as well. I would've taken either of them! But they always turned up in a massive group, about 40 people. I bet they all came from fucking Cambuslang or something.
The boyfriends would always make a point of snogging the girls right in front of me. I mean, they would actually try to find me before they started necking and groping, just to rub it in. But then Andy would stick something on like 'Do You Believe In Magic?' or some Julie Driscoll, and you'd forget about it.
One night I wore a dress. I changed in the girls' toilets. My friend Joanne stood at the door. Then she put my make up on. But she wouldn't let me out of the toilets. She just said: 'You'll get killed. Your shoulders are too big!'
JD Twitch: Divine had a massive impact on Glasgow clubbing, one that is, perhaps, sadly a little underappreciated. Whatever was hip and happening, Divine was there doing its own thing with a fanatically loyal and up-for-it crowd. It was a real social scene and a big, big part of the Glasgow community. Andrew is one of the true greats - unassuming, without ego, fanatically devoted to finding new (old) records, a wonderful programmer and mood setter - just everything that a truly great DJ should be, and has left behind a phenomenal legacy with what must surely be the longest running residency in the country. I really hope this isn't the end of Divine and that, even if he does irregular nights, Andrew continues to play out in Glasgow for many years to come.
Alan 'Hushpuppy' Miller': [On the final night,] after the point when the club should have ended at 3pm, Andrew was playing records like 'Thinking of You' by Sister Sledge, 'Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now' by Ashford and Simpson and 'Just Lovin' You' by Ruby Andrews, which are pretty well known records, but in that unique emotional atmosphere they were suddenly transcendent, amazing in a way they hadn't been before. I must have heard 'Thinking Of You' a million times, but when it came on my whole body tingled. I thought: 'I know now, I know why this record is amazing.'
After the fourth encore (there were several more), Andrew was persuaded to come out of the booth and onto the floor, where he was presented with a bottle of champagne and a bouquet of flowers, at which point the audience erupted.
A few days after what would well have been Divine's final night, I had an email from Andrew. It had been, he said, "an intense, emotional, pretty crazy" night that had gone by "in a haze." With characteristic understatement, he said the end had been "somewhat overwhelming". He also said: "I think after speaking to you, I realised that I really WOULD be an emotional wreck if I didn't have anything to look forward to. So, a new venue has been secured to the relief of the devotees! It's going to re-start a new last Saturday of the month slot in The Admiral on Waterloo Street (in September after a suitable period of mourning!). It'll be strange starting somewhere fresh, and obviously it's going to feel really different - but I'm pretty excited about it. It'll take me and the regulars a while to get used to the new surroundings, it'll be like wearing in a new pair of shoes! It'll just take a wee while to feel comfortable..."
Huge thanks to the redoubtable Alan Miller, without whom this article wouldn't have been written.