Venturing up the renowned stairs from the bar to the stage in King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, you read the names of the celebrated artists who have played there over the years. Oasis, Paolo Nutini, Florence and the Machine, The Strokes and Lewis Capaldi are a few names you may glance through the 300 pairs of feet making the same journey upstairs. You can almost feel the presence of these artists, the history which has been made in this venue.
However, it is likely that most people in Glasgow have not heard of the band you are here to see tonight. In fact, in 1993 when Oasis played at King Tut’s, only a handful of the audience had heard of the band. That did not stop Alan McGee deciding to sign the band to his record label, Creation, launching their career, and giving birth to one of the most repeated and embellished tropes / myths surrounding the Glasgow music scene. Indeed, the number of people (actually around 20) who claim to be there could probably fill Hampden many times over.
For all you know, the same thing could happen tonight…
The wish to feel part of history is part of the durability and appeal of King Tut’s. Kenny Forbes refers to this as ‘I was thereism.’ To be there would be to hold something intangible, yet hugely valuable. However, there are several other reasons why this venue is so inviting to visitors – musicians and audiences alike.
The audience can also contribute to the success of the musician. The nature of King Tut’s and other small music venues means that they are intimate and the experience is intense. Sam Whiting describes the experience of small music venues as an ‘intensified leisure in the form of creating and performing music, and the pleasure derived from the communal nature of the scene.’
Live music is an enveloping experience between the audience and musician, where the audience play an important role in creating this atmosphere for the musician. This unique experience could inspire the artist. Being able to say ‘I was there when…’ is more than just boasting. It was taking part in the artist’s musical development. As John Connell and Chris Gibson put it, ‘music shapes spaces, and spaces shape music.’
The artist is also attracted to the venue by a form of ‘I was thereism.’ For example, the Kurt Cobain sofa (on which he slept overnight after a Nirvana concert) in The Duchess of York in Leeds could only be signed and sat on by the musicians who were performing there. To have this privilege would be an aim of artists, as though being in proximity to this sofa would allow them to follow in the footsteps of Nirvana. There is similar appeal to King Tut’s. Standing on the same stage as the Arctic Monkeys, PJ Harvey, Radiohead Biffy Clyro and the Fratellis once did is to get a glimpse into what the future for the budding artist could be. They too buy into the myth, neglecting the extremely low percentage of acts playing King Tut’s that go on to enjoy global success and headline festivals.
In this sense, King Tut’s is a launch pad for ‘up-and-coming’ bands. Venues like it are essential to popular music, as the artist needs a space to gain fans, find their style and experience performing live. Geoff Ellis, director of DF Concerts, the owner of King Tut’s emphasises that ‘it’s not about making money out of King Tut’s it’s about giving that platform to the next Oasis, the next Coldplay, the next Radiohead, the next Muse.’ For the promoter, short-term loss can be made up for by long-term profit.
The famously friendly Glasgow audience also give the artist an effective way to gain fans. Behr et al. refer to this as a ‘delayed reward.’ By providing support acts to boost numbers, King Tut’s gives these new artists the chance to build their fan base, though this often puts the onus on the supports to provide audiences for the headliners rather than vice-versa. Nevertheless, the incentive to sell tickets should, in theory help sustain both artist and the venue in the future.
For a few artists, these support opportunities might lead to playing in large venues and touring the world. The nature of this is that in successfully cultivating the talent, King Tut’s loses the artist to such venues which can house their crowd of fans. This could be why King Tut’s displays the famous artists on the stairs and centres their website on their ‘story,’ to remind audiences of their connections. Fortunately, this is cyclic, as the fame of the bands who have played there will lure more visitors, which in turn will boost a fan base for the new artists. And in turn, DF Concerts, will be able to forge relationships with artists that they can keep working with throughout their careers.
On occasion, bands do return to King Tut’s at the pinnacle of their careers. In 2018, after The Killers performed at the TRNSMT festival in Glasgow to 50,000 people, they performed at King Tut’s. They were not the only ones fond of the venue. Paolo Nutini has noted his love of the venue and returned to do a charity show in 2014, despite having the fan base more suited to a large venue.
So despite their success, many musicians still crave the atmosphere of King Tut’s and small music venues. Miller and Schofield note that arenas lack the audience-to-musician relationship, so vital in these artist’s earlier careers. Playing at an arena does not have the same historical significance and can be very impersonal. It is just a functional space large enough for the artist, rather than being appropriate to the their music. For the likes of Nutini, such small shows allow a brief return to the atmosphere where his music career developed and may offer a chance to reward their most devoted fans.
Manic Street Preachers spoke highly of King Tut’s for being ‘the first venue to treat us properly and give us hot food on tour’ in 1991. This benefits the venue with more widespread attention. Consequently, it is likely to gain more visitors who have not only heard of it but associate it with the fond memories of famous musicians.
The connections famous artists feel with certain small venues such as King Tut’s make them feel strongly about supporting them. Premiered in May 2021, Sky Arts’ The Live Revival has artists returning to small venues which they played at early in their life as a musician. One of these venues is King Tut’s. The artists repay small venues for their support in the form of publicity. If a viewer had not heard of the venue before, they do now, so there is more appeal to visit.
King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut has undoubtedly got something right in its now thirty-odd years. By balancing development of new artists with a legacy of those who have played before, it will always be able to lure a range of new visitors to both its stage and bar. In doing so, it contributes to Glasgow’s status as a music city by encapsulating the city’s friendliness, creativity and success and projecting it to the wider music community.