Who’s Been Talking? Focus Groups

As highlighted above, much of my recent research activity has focused on interviews with Apollo audience members, Apollo staff and artists who performed at the venue. Following appeals for contributors on this site and within sections of the media, a series of audience Focus Groups in Glasgow were held over the course of a month. The input received from those who attended was both informative and insightful to say the least, and, due to the wealth and depth of contributions, the events could have lasted for much, much longer than the two hours allocated. What emerged from these events served to highlight several of the main themes that I’m exploring as part of the study, and they include some of the following:

• For those travelling to Glasgow for live events at the venue, the bus and train journeys to and from the venue formed a key part of the Apollo ritual. There were frequent references to the sense of community that emanated from alighting at Queen Street or Central Station among others who wore similar T Shirts depicting the artist due to perform at the venue. Underage drinking, either on the train/bus, or in one of the many pubs surrounding the venue, also formed part of the Apollo ritual for many, and, in a way, served to counteract the Apollo’s lack of drinks licence. The ‘mad dash’ for the last train, either cutting across to Queen Street, or running the length of Renfield Street towards Central station, still resonates with many. If missed, this have been underpinned by the consequences of facing concerned (as in angry) parents to arrange lifts, especially if this was a ‘school night.’ One Focus Group member recalled that he had arranged for his Dad to collect him outside the venue ‘at the end of the Rory Gallagher concert’ that he was attending. On this occasion Rory’s concert had been delayed by several hours due to a missed flight, and he eventually appeared on stage just before midnight. Meanwhile, the increasingly irritated Dad continued to circle the block around the venue in his car, in the hope that his son would appear at some point. Such activity brought him to the attention of Strathclyde Police, who stopped and questioned him on the suspicion that he was in the process of soliciting a local prostitute. Suffice to say, the matter was resolved, but the son still faced a rather angry Dad when the concert eventually ended.

• The question of the venue’s unique atmosphere proved to be a major topic of discussion within the Focus Group, and debate ensued at to whether it emanated from the venue or the audience. Many were aware of the ‘Glasgow audience’ tradition and expressed the view that the Apollo was the subsequent-generation equivalent of the city’s infamous Empire theatre, with the characteristics of that audience manifesting at the Apollo. Others thought that Apollo’s run-down condition made them feel at ‘home’ and, as a result, led them to fully engage with the live events at the venue with little, or no restrictions. An alternative view was that the bulk of the Apollo’s period of operation happened to coincide with a key stage in popular music when many major artists were performing at their creative peak in a period before arena and stadium concerts became a regular feature of the live music sector. Perhaps it was a combination of all these factors?

• Many Focus Group members were keen to highlight that the social activities that surrounded their Apollo attendance formed a major part of the overall Apollo experience. A key part of the Apollo pre-gig ritual was the chance to engage with fellow audience members in the surrounding pubs, with Lauders and the Burns Howff being favourite venues. On a number of occasions artists including Rory Gallagher, David Bowie and Alex Harvey could be seen in these establishments having a quick drink prior to their Apollo performances. Others spoke of hanging around the foyer after buying tickets at the venue box office on a Saturday afternoon, chatting to others in the queues, and, as part of this process, ‘taking a chance’ on an artist that they were unfamiliar with and buying a ticket for a concert at the venue that evening. A fairly large sub-Apollo community appears to have existed with the weekend visitors to the then large number of record shops in the city, with Listen Records and Bloggs, being among the main attractions. Apollo audience members were drawn by news of upcoming gigs, the opportunity to buy local fanzines, the chance to hear records from the new bands that would be appearing at the venue, the chance to view and buy pictures from previous Apollo concerts and artist badges, as well the chance to meet up with fellow fans, all proved to contributory factors in the forming of this community.

• Again, many, many thanks to all those who attended these Focus Groups. If you would like to contribute to the study and share some reflections on your Apollo experiences, then please contact me at k.forbes.1@research.gla.ac.uk or click on the ‘Feedback’ tab on this page.

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