Golden Years – A look back at Paisley’s Nightlife
With some help from friends of the magazine, we delve into the halcyon days of Paisley’s spell as an epicentre for nightlife while keeping one eye on its future.
For many years, saying that you were heading to Paisley for a night out would be met with scrutinising looks. Seen as an area that’d bypassed its prime, there was an internalised stigma that many had attached to spending an evening at Borgia or sinking £1 drinks at Skittles Fridays in Fury’s. Yet with the arrival of a slew of new, more bohemian bars in the area, there’s a sense that the town’s pubs and clubs may be catching up to the cultural overhaul that the area has undergone in recent years.
However, what some younger residents might know and its middle-aged ones will recall through hazy memories is that Paisley was once a bustling hub of activity when nightfall arrived.
Now commonly heard on Pulse FM, at clubs around Scotland at the weekend or keeping the crowds buoyant at Renfrewshire’s Christmas lights switch-ons, veteran DJ Gus Michael has fond memories of this immensely prosperous era for our bars and discotheques.
“My first memory of Paisley is working in a club called Shuttles in ’87 or ‘88,” Gus recalled. “I actually started in a place called The Bistro, a wine bar that was beside it that’s now The Bungalow. I was just a rookie DJ then.”
“Across the road, you had The Latin Quarter,” he continued. “I worked there as well. Down from there, you had the Earl of Cranby. These were all great places. In those days, they had 2am licenses. A Monday in Shuttles used to be jumping! The reason being that Toledo Junction used to do a thing called ‘Funkin’ Monday’. There was a guy, who was a god as far as I was concerned, Dave C L Young, and another DJ called Mike Costa. The two of them used to work the Monday and you couldn’t get moving for people.”
Operated by the “Two-Bit Company”, some of Gus’ fondest memories of Paisley’s nightlife zenith come from his time behind the decks of one famed Back Sneddon haunt.
“Carnegies on a Wednesday was a big night with 60s/70s music, we used to have 1700 people through the doors. It got so big that Carnegies opened a place called Mannequins. It was jumping on a Thursday and then I’d be in on the Friday, 1200 people strong. They made salubrious amounts of money (laughs).
“For people living in Cardonald, Penilee or Hillington, Glasgow city centre was further away,” he theorised. “Coming to Paisley was easier for them. Probably cheaper too.”
“It was like a community and you could tell who belonged to it by the way they dressed”
If second-hand stories are to be believed, many famous faces including footballers and musicians would make the pilgrimage to Paisley’s thriving network of pubs and clubs. Generally speaking, the lion’s share of these celebrity sightings emanated from one location. Now left in a ruinous state, The Cotton Club, as Gus recalls, came with a real sense of grandeur to it.
“It was all your ‘cooler people’ who liked to be seen. Jimmy [Laverty, owner] liked all that, they were on until four in the morning. You felt special when you walked in there”, he remembered, “as though you were hanging about with some serious dudes. They were probably just as skint as you and I, but they looked the part (laughs).”
That said, the town didn’t solely cater to those interested in feigning opulence or aligning with mainstream trends. In fact, young people that felt an affinity for the incendiary subcultural movements of punk and new-wave were accommodated for in spades. Co-owner of our leading independent art studio Made In Paisley, Caroline Gormley saw things from both sides of the coin and was on the peripheral of both scenes in terms of aesthetics and music taste.
“You had the likes of all these local dance places—Carnegies, The Cotton Club, things like that—and people who were into the alternative scene didn’t identify with that,” she revealed. “Those places were all about the white heels and padded shoulders. The ethos was different, as was the music. Not for me though, I was listening to that stuff during the week and then at the weekend, I was off (laughs). Visually, some people think that the punk thing can be seen as frightening. Personally, I felt more comfortable in that environment.
“We had pubs like Windy’s In Rowan Street where you’d start off,” Caroline continued. “My sister’s boyfriend at the time promoted bands there. Then, we’d head to Paris on Silk Street, which was split across different levels with a variety of music. A lot of the alternative folk headed to that. The Weavers Club had a lot of great DJ’s and bands on, but we were normally so drunk that we can’t remember where it was!”
“Everybody came together,” Caroline remarked. “It was like a community and you could tell who belonged to it by the way they dressed. I remember my sister getting ready to go out, she’d still be making her outfit as the taxi was sitting there!
“The Clubhouse on Back Sneddon was my personal favourite,” Caroline said fondly. “I’d say that’s one that I had a real sense of identity with. The music was punk, alternative music. They played U2 but they mostly steered away from chart music. We just missed the original punk scene but we were still listening to it.”
“Glasgow had banned the punk scene, so they all headed through to Paisley”
Unbeknownst to her, Caroline’s roots in Paisley’s punk fraternity actually go deeper than her or her sister. As she was informed in unlikely circumstances, their late father also played a crucial role in making it the near-mythical period of unity and self-expression that it became.
“The Silver Thread [Hotel] was the first place where bands played [including Elvis Costello & The Attractions, The Rezillos and Generation X]. Glasgow had banned the punk scene, so they all headed through to Paisley. My dad was the head chef in there and he used to let them in the backdoor for free. A lot of them had no money, but they just loved the bands and he’d get them in. My dad died five years ago and it was a taxi driver who told me that he’d let him in. He’d never mentioned it and I was in the back of the car greetin’ (laughs).”
Integral as it may have been to the heyday of that iconic scene, Gus is quick to recall that revellers in Shuttles and Toledo deviated from the norm in their own way.
“They liked their soul and jazz funk, stuff like that. You’d play George Benson and Luther Vandross. Back in those days, you’d be buying imports to try and stay ahead. The people of Paisley loved their music. One of the big tracks in the town was Tullio De Piscipo’s Primavera, it was massive. As was Adriano Solintano’s Prisencolinensinainciusol. The Language Of Love was an old Italian song from 1972 that Dave ‘C L’ Young brought back and created a phenomenon. Sometimes, they’d try and catch you out too.
Paisley, at one time, was cooler than Glasgow,” Gus asserted. “Folk from Dumbarton, Clydebank and North Lanarkshire would all come through because they knew what it was about, we were spoiled back in those days. Where do you know bars to be busy until 2 in the morning during the week? Times weren’t easy, so going out was a release. What I couldn’t understand at Shuttles on a Monday was ‘what do you people all do for a living? Are you going in or are you taking Tuesday’s off?’ (laughs). I’m sure there’s been many marriages that came out of it too.”
As someone who’s seen it all in the industry, Gus echoes the sentiment that, much like the perception of the town has greatly altered in recent years, its nightlife is another facet that’s in the process of being reawakened.
“Everything comes full-circle,” Gus proclaimed. “If you wear something like Adidas, it’d be uncool ten years ago and then it’s in again. Fashion, clubs, bars – it all changes and then they reinvent themselves again. We had that boom time of 3-5 years, but there’s only one place you can go when you’re at the top. I think now, it’s starting to creep up again. There’s lots of lovely bars.”