Garage still in top gear after 20 years

As Glasgow club clocks up two decades, owner Donald MacLeod talks parties, Prince and plans for the future. Gillian McKenzie reports

• Here’s to the next 20 years: Donald MacLeod opened The Garage on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street in 1994. The club continues to evolve in 2014.
• Here’s to the next 20 years: Donald MacLeod opened The Garage on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street in 1994. The club continues to evolve in 2014.

IT has welcomed an estimated ten million customers through its doors and played host to some of the biggest names in music, with Prince, Kasabian and Biffy Clyro just some of the acts to have graced the stage.

Since it opened in 1994, The Garage has established itself as a firm favourite with students and carved out a reputation for live music and comedy.
Local MSP Sandra White even lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament earlier this month to celebrate the club’s 20th birthday.
But, as owner Donald MacLeod told SLTN last week, The Garage didn’t even figure in the original plan for the unit at 490 Sauchiehall Street.
In fact, he and his then business partner Michele Pagliocca were looking for new premises to relocate their rock club Cathouse, which operated on Brown Street at the time.
The Sauchiehall Street unit, which had previously traded as Shuffles and The Mayfair, was vacant; and so, in late 1993, they went to check it out.
“Then things changed and Cathouse was staying where it was but we decided not to lose the opportunity in Sauchiehall Street,” Donald told SLTN.
“At the time the universities were getting less funding and we had this idea to do a student nightclub. We just thought ‘let’s do a student nightclub and let’s make it the biggest and best student nightclub there is’.
“The deal was done quickly at the back end of 1993. We had no money; I think we spent about £25,000 on it. We just thought if we can get 600 people in a night it will be fine.
“Yes, I think I probably was a bit more gallus then. Back then you didn’t sit and analyse figures as much, you went with your gut and it just felt right.”
Looking back, Donald admits that the stakes were high.
There was no ‘circuit’ to speak of in Sauchiehall Street, with just a couple of bars trading there at the time, and a city centre curfew was in operation.
But he trusted his instincts.
They had a clear and straightforward plan for The Garage from the outset – to play the music students were in to.
And so the club opened its doors in 1994, with the focus very much on music.
“We planned to get a Friday and Saturday night busy first and play what the students were listening to at the time,” Donald explained.
“It worked and it was mobbed.
“We weren’t just playing music, though; we were playing the right music to get the right bands in, to get the right PR. It’s all about joining the threads together.”
The foundations for what is now one of Scotland’s most enduring nightclubs were laid.
And acts ranging from Kasabian, Pulp, Travis, Maroon 5, Fall Out Boy, Razorlight and Tinchy Stryder to Ian Dury, The Pretenders, The Proclaimers and Roger Taylor followed; there was also an impromptu performance by Prince (or ‘the artist formerly known as’ at that time), which Donald cites as one of his favourite Garage moments.
The 1800-capacity club has also attracted plenty of big-name DJs and hosted after-show parties for acts including The Strokes, The Darkness, Queens of the Stone Age and Nickleback.
And it’s not all been about music over the last 20 years.
Comedians like Frankie Boyle, Rhod Gilbert, Russell Kane, Andy Parsons and John Bishop have all taken to the stage at The Garage; the club has also hosted a range of other events, including the Scottish Alternative Music Awards and ICW Wrestling.
Keeping “ahead of the game” has been key to The Garage’s success – and not just when it comes to the entertainment.
Donald and the 70-strong team have forged strong links with drinks suppliers and brands, including Rekorderlig, Jack Daniel’s, Smirnoff and Foster’s, whose parent company Heineken joined forces with The Garage to give away a Renault Twingo car at its recent 20th birthday party.
The club has evolved too, with areas such as the Balcony, Attic, G2 and a cocktail bar added over the years, as well as new audio visual equipment. And there’s more to come – the club’s lounge area is being transformed into a Jagermeister Ice Cold Shot Bar and Coca-Cola is set to fit out the back of the stage area with vinyls in the coming weeks.
It’s a strategy which Donald reckons has been vital to the longevity of The Garage, and helped the club weather increased competition, the recession, the smoking ban and increased legislation and regulation.
“There’s more competition now,” he said.
“There are more gigs in the city and that was to be expected – we just expected it a lot earlier.
“There’s been real change but we’ve always been one step ahead.
“We’ve always been big on marketing and we still are – the difference is now so much of it is social media.
“And the bottom line is, there’s a security about The Garage – people know they will have a great night.
“The Garage can do another 20 years. We’ve got a great team and great ideas.
“And we might go to other cities; never say never. The Garage is the only nightclub I’ve physically taken out of Glasgow; and it’s a real success in Aberdeen but it’s Aberdeen’s Garage, it’s not a replica.”
As for the Glasgow club, which is still going strong, seven nights a week, it seems it will always have a special place in Donald’s heart.
“It’s personal to me,” he added.
“I’m not just doing this for a fast buck; the secret is to have the passion and still want to do it.
“I can’t believe it’s been 20 years; it’s a lot to take in and it’s been a massive team effort over the years.
“I went up on stage at the 20th birthday party to say a few words and looking out at the crowd was amazing.
“I’m very, very proud of it.”
I can’t believe it’s been 20 years. It’s a lot to take in but I’m very proud of it.
We just thought ‘let’s do a student club and make it the biggest and best there is’.