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So a piper, a princess and two Krankies walk into an Armadillo… Glasgow’s Clyde Auditorium celebrates 20th birthday

The Clyde Auditorium
The Clyde Auditorium

ONE of Scotland’s most distinctive buildings turns 20 this week.

When the then-Clyde Auditorium first graced the skyline at Glasgow’s waterfront in September 1997, it was dubbed the “Armadillo” by locals because of its unusual design.

Renamed the SEC Armadillo this year, the landmark 3000-seat concert and events’ venue sits alongside the SEC and the 12,000-capacity Hydro arena as part of the country’s biggest entertainment hub.

In the past two decades the Armadillo has charmed thousands of concert-goers and conference delegates alike.

PR head Kirsten McAlonan has been there since the day it opened. She looks back on 20 years of hosting everyone from royalty to rock stars – including when Princess Anne got stuck in a lift…


Smarty pants

Actor John Barrowman and The Krankies

Jools Holland holds the record for the most performances here – having played 34 times since 1999. And the longest-running musical is Mama Mia, with 68 performances over two runs.

In recent times, the Armadillo has become known for its Christmas pantomimes.

“When the Krankies appeared in a run of pantos, Janette Krankie always brought along her High School Musical child’s blow-up bed which she would use for sleeping on the floor of their dressing room between shows,” Kirsten said.

 

Brian pipes up

Beach Boys singer-songwriter Brian Wilson (Yui Mok/PA Wire)

When Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys first performed there in 2004, he asked for pipers to play backstage while he got ready for the show.

“He assumed that all Scottish people can play the pipes,” Kirsten recalls. He soon lost interest when he realised how noisy it would be.

Tom Jones always creates extra work for staff when he plays at the Armadillo.

Hundreds of new bras and knickers – most still with labels on – usually have to be picked up after his shows because so many have been being thrown by excited female fans!

 

Talent spot

Susan Boyle’s audition

The venue is also where Susan Boyle was discovered during auditions for Britain’s Got Talent.

Many comparisons have been made with the Sydney Opera House but this was not the inspiration for the design. It is in fact an interlocking series of ship’s hulls, in reference to the river Clyde’s shipbuilding past.

It is a tradition for artists to acknowledge the stage manager when exiting the stage at the Armadillo.

Billy Connolly has staged 31 shows at the venue since it opened.

“At the end of a run of gigs, Billy remarked to our stage manager that it had been lovely nodding to him every night,” Kirsten said.

 

Royal gaffe

Princess Anne will visit the Harris Tweed Hebrides mill at Shawbost on the Isle of Lewis (Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)
Princess Anne (Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)

Princess Anne was attending a conference here when she was asked to use the lift as the Chair of the event couldn’t manage the stairs.

“She got into the lift then the doors shut but it stuck fast and wasn’t moving,” Kirsten said.

“Our event planner had to shout through the doors, ‘Can you push the button ma’am’, to which HRH yelled back, ‘I am trying!’.

“When the doors finally opened, Princess Anne was laughing about it.”

 

Stars’ tales

Natalie Cole (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

American singer the late Natalie Cole was the first artist to perform there – as part of a conference – but it was blues legend BB King who played the first full concert, on October 31, 1997.

“We had the American band Foreigner here and the concert start was delayed massively when the lead singer was driving around Glasgow and got lost,” Kirsten said.

“Our manager had to give him directions over the phone and he just made it in the nick of time – but by that time fans were at the back of the building waiting for him.”

 

Design

The building was designed by architects Foster + Partners and heralded a new era for Glasgow’s waterfront.

It was an ambitious project – over 4000 drawings were produced for the steelwork package alone.
The massive stage curtain weighed 12 tonnes and 9600 square metres of carpeting were laid… total construction cost was £30 million.

 

Laughs

One of the most memorable incidents came during a midwifery conference in 2008…

“During this, our boys had to quietly move a grand piano off stage,” Kirsten recalled.

“The venue was in darkness and there was silence other than the squeaky brass wheels … soon there were giggles, then the audience erupted when the piano lid fell off!”