The Retro perspective from Glasgow’s longest running club night
‘Twenty years ago I was a student at the Art School,’ recalls Andrew ‘Divine’ Symington. ‘One day a newsletter went round all the departments saying that the students’ union was looking for a DJ. I’d run a few clubs and I could design posters, so I handed in a mixtape. A week went by, and I popped back in to ask about my application. They were really impressed, they said, and they were going to give me a trial. Fantastic! And also, they told me, no-one else had applied for it anyway.’
It’s hardly an auspicious start. Yet here we are 20 years later celebrating the anniversary of Glasgow’s longest running club night, a student- and scenester-friendly blend of ‘60s and ‘70s northern soul, heavyweight funk, dynamite ska, psychedelic freakbeats and obscure rock’n’roll.’ Generations have now set foot upon the Divine dancefloor. ‘There are people who first came when the club started then disappeared for years,’ says Symington, fresh back from a weekend digging for Polish psychedelia 7”s at a record fair in Utrecht, ‘and now they’re back with their kids. It’s funny how the term ‘retro’ evolves – when I started it meant the 60s and 70s, now it’s the 90s.’
These old-timers aren’t the night’s only esteemed guests, as many of Glasgow’s best bands of the last two decades have been regulars at some point or other. ‘Belle & Sebastian still come to the club,’ says Symington (who runs Singles Night at the Flying Duck with the group’s Chris Geddes), ‘but I knew most of them from the club before they were even in bands, so they don’t exactly feel like celebrities.’ Other big names have also passed though the doors – Jarvis Cocker used to come along before Pulp made the big time and The White Stripes even dropped by a couple of times. ‘I remember one of my mates was chatting to Jack White outside in the smoking bit and he had absolutely no idea who he was. “Who do your band sound like?” my mate asked. “Take a look at me,” said Jack, “who do you think we sound like?” “Hmm,” said my mate, “maybe like a cross between Goldfrapp and Can?” Jack creased up at that, apparently.’
There will be another band to add to the list after this special birthday party, with The Privates Hammond Orchestra playing a live set. ‘They’re a proper 60s group,’ says Symington, ‘with a vintage Hammond sound played through an old valve PA system, so they’ll suit Divine perfectly. Like most of my friends, I know them through the club.’ So what will he do when the GSA’s union closes shortly for a planned programme of demolition and redevelopment? ‘That’s the million dollar question,’ he muses. ‘After this length of time, would I be able to uproot it and hold it somewhere other than the Vic? Should I just end it and start something completely fresh?
‘I don’t know, I should probably be more clued-up about what’s happening with things like the venue, but really all I like to do is look for records, talk about records and play those records one Saturday every month, that’s what it’s all about for me. And if any of the people who come along are hearing great music for the first time, then great, as that’s what Divine’s all about.’
Divine’s 20th Birthday Party is at the Art School’s Vic Bar, Glasgow, Sat 4 Dec.