Into Music: Save Carlton Studios

When Covid initially upturned the world and the U.K. went into lockdown, the arts industry has been in a state of flux, perhaps more than any sector. Concert halls, music venues, theatres, studios and other entertainment spaces have been badly affected and sadly some have had to close for good, never to return.

There has of course been some innovation with venues changing their modus operandi to adapt and change in order to survive while the pandemic continues. Online gigs, remote recording, take away food offerings and fundraisers have been the order of the day and the public has stepped up to support the industry where they can.

But as we go into another full lockdown, the support needed for these venues and spaces to survive will not abate and this is no more evident than in the case of Carlton Studios in the heart of Glasgow. The Studio supported the early careers of the likes of Biffy Clyro, The Fratellis and Franz Ferdinand as well as countless others, whilst also being the heartbeat and focal point for the local community for over 30 years now.

Into Music caught up with manager Barny Taplin to get the low-down on the challenges facing the studio and the Crowdfunder event (supported by musicians such as Larry Love (Alabama 3), Mince (The Fratellis), Mary Kiani (TTF), Kenny Hyslop (ex Simple Minds), comedian Garry Little, actor Scott Peden and local community activist Marion Nisbet) set up to try and ensure its survival.

John: Can you tell us a bit about the background to Carlton Studios? what/who set it up?

Barny: 3 of us set it up as a co-operative, in 1990 by myself, Barny (aka Michael) Taplin, Jake McKechan, and Mick Price (who left in 2000 to become a Social Worker) with help of a small start-up grant and support from The Scottish Cooperative Development Company, who also provided a mentor, (John Cummings) and a small grant  from ICOF (The Industrial Common Ownership Fund).   

We set up at 54 Carlton Place, just by the suspension bridge on the south side of the banks of the River Clyde. It’s a beautiful old Georgian building, part of it used to be a Jaaps Health salts factory about a hundred years ago. Over the last thirty years, we’ve gradually taken over the whole of the ground floor plus the basement. It’s a bit of a Tardis, folks that come into the café think it’s just a wee basement café, until we offer to show them round and their usually amazed at the size of it and the hub of creativity that’s going on behind the café door.

What’s your involvement?

I’m the manger. I manage the café, the rehearsal rooms, recordings, tuition, equipment hire, events, Tom Sutherland’s drum room and a new addition to Carlton Studios is Peter Byrne, a luthier who recently opened his workshop in one of our rooms. I also play in the Carlton Jug band, mouthie and sing.

How does the studio support the local community?

We have worked with: 

  • Quarriers Homes, providing drum and vocal couching tuition with people struggling with issues around mental health.
  • Theatre Nemo, who had their first office base at Carlton Studios and are now a multi award winning organisation supporting people with mental health issues. 
  • MOJO (Miscarriage of Justice Organisation).  We have been involved with MOJO for the best part of 20 years, in fact they used to rent the offices that’s now one of our tuition rooms. We’ve hosted lots of fundraisers at the studio for MOJO.  The Alabama 3, whenever they play a gig in Glasgow usually support MOJO by coming along and playing at an after show party. 

    Imagine a world without the joy of music. For our clients it is a refuge from their pain. A world without music is unimaginable. MOJO urges you to support Carlton Studio’s. Cathy Berry Molloy, Director of Mojo.

  • GAMH music group – a weekly group that used to meet every week for support and music, and a blether in the café.  
  • WACS- Women At Carlton Studios – A group that met monthly at Carlton.  ‘An open invitation for women to share their musical creative talents, to show appreciation, inspire and learn from each other’.  Women, men and trans inclusive.
  • The Princes Trust – One to one support and group work, with various music tutors encouraging skills useful for employment, team work and helping to develop an interest in music, basically doing our best to turn a spark into a flame.  
  • Many school children from across Glasgow and the surrounding areas and young people from organisations such as The Princes Trust and the Social Work Department have been given work placements providing useful work experience in the café and in the rehearsal space and recording studio, including free music lessons and recording sessions.  Some have went on to be employed within the Studio. 
  •  The Hub – an organisation promoting recovery from Drug and Alcohol Addiction. 
  • Numerous other charitable ventures including working with local youth groups such The Calton Heritage Centre, as well as fundraising/hosting events  with bands, for the anti- Fracking movement and the Anti-bedroom tax etc.

Can you give us an idea as to the impact of Covid/lockdown has had on Carlton Studios?

A severe impact. Our client base has shrunk by at least 75 percent.  There’s been a huge drop in bands coming in to rehearse and record, it’s mostly solos who come at the moment. The usual hustle and bustle of bands chatting in the corridor, having a coffee or a soup in the café, sharing a joke, a song, a worry, forming new bands, writing a song, planning to meet for a drink in the pub, attend each others gigs etc… is no more.  The beating heart of the studio has gone and without people a studio is nothing. 

The virus and its impact is unprecedented. At an industry level, what views are you hearing with other studios/hubs as this has evolved over the past few months?

Despair, when is it ever going to end and how much has it damaged the notion of getting back to normal, will we ever get back to normal?  Are the days of busy pubs a thing of the past, will we ever have gigs again as we knew them?

The music industry has been crushed.  Musicians no longer have an income, their profession, their livelihood, their life-style has vanished.  As a musician in lockdown, it’s hard to keep motivated when there are no gigs on the horizon to aim for. Usually you meet up with band members and rehearse, or do a gig and that buzz of making music with others, the banter from the audience, is the thrill, the feel good hormones that makes you want to do it all again. Online gigs have been a life-line for some but as we all know its just not the same as the real deal.

The other studios I have spoken with have also registered a sharp drop in service users. It’s the same for all studios.

Do you think the government support for the arts sector has been enough? 

No.

Carlton Studios has  launched a petition with Change.org in an attempt to persuade Glasgow City Council to Include Music Studios in Glasgow in the 100% Covid Business Rates Relief awarded to others’

Retail, hospitality and leisure have all been awarded 100% Covid business rates relief, whilst music studios have fallen through the net.  The petition is gathering momentum with over 600 signatures at present. You can support the petition here

The Music Producers guild support this call to include music studios in the Covid rates relief and The Musicians Union are fully behind it and have included a feature in their next coronavirus newsletter, calling on members to sign the petition which you can read/support here

What more would you like to see done to support?  

  • A realistic wage for the unemployed caused by Covid (or otherwise).  
  • An increase in funding for mental health organisations as the demand for their services is clearly rising, many musicians are experiencing poor mental health caused by the pandemic, as is the general population.
  • 100% Covid rates relief for music studios across Scotland.  
  • Support to music venues and musicians via serious discussion with the music industry to open them up again safely as soon as possible for the benefit of everyone’s mental health and general well being.
  • Respect from politicians that employment in music and the arts is a ‘real’ job!

You’ve got a Crowdfunder appeal to help Carlton Studios survive which will run to 27 Feb 21. Can you tell us about it and how people can support it?

It launches this Saturday 9th January. There will be a live Facebook stream every Saturday during this period with a different band every week. Kicking off on Saturday 9th January will be James King & The Lone Wolves.

People can support by telling friends and family and sharing the links on Social Media (see bottom of article) and by clicking on this link and making a donation at the link below: 

crowdfunder.co.uk/save-carlton-studios

Carlton Studios Crowdfunder is offering some great rewards: for donating £20 you can get specially designed ceramic wall art or T-shirt designed by musician and graphic designer Kenny Hyslop (ex Simple Minds, Slik, Skids drummer) or for the same price you can get your name on the Carlton Studios wall of fame. A track will also be launched on Bandcamp with music and production by Kenny Hyslop featuring Mary Kiani, lyrics and lead vocals by Lesley O’Brien – launch date to be confirmed. 

Into Music would like to thank Barny for taking the time to do the interview and we wish Carlton Studios every success.

John Welsh

Links:

Twitter: @GlasgowCarlton

Facebook: CarltonStudios

Website: CarltonStudios

YouTube channel: CarltonSessions

Instagram: carlton_studios_glasgow

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