Image of a white mand and woman smiling, the woman has long curly ginger hair and the man is tall with short ginger hair and a beard.

Not only did the two authors of The Arches’ biography Brickwork used to work at this one-of-a-kind art space (David Bratchpiece and Kirstin Innes), but so did the other two joining them on the stage for this Paisley Book Festival event! Their host, broadcaster and writer Nicola Meighan, actually showed Kirstin around the building when she began there, and even the BSL interpreter for this event, Yvonne, was part of The Arches. The whole hour was crammed with both beautiful and beautifully filthy reminiscences of The Arches itself and the creation of this book which celebrates its ‘beautiful chaos’.

David and Kirstin began and completed this book entirely virtually, from their ‘lockdown cells’. They had not seen each other in person for a decade – the first time being at a photoshoot for the promotion of the book. ‘Brickwork’ is a culmination of the words of over sixty people who each provide another thread woven together by the two authors to create an ethnography of such an iconic time and place in Glasgow.

Originally, it was Kirstin who was tasked with creating this book, but at a Zoom reunion with David and others involved in one of The Arches’ regular club nights they fortuitously reconnected and Kirstin could tap into David’s ‘long-term hard drive memory’ of the place.

David recalled his first encounter when he was still a teen – an installation that helped put The Arches on the map and seemed to be remembered fondly by much of the audience (from the loving murmurs that accompanied his retelling) – the Alien Wars immersive reality show. Basically, the rights to create and display a set with actors in costumes based on the Alien movies came about from a coupla guys from Glasgow chancing their arms and happening to connect with the actual heid yin of 20th Century Fox. Apparently, plants in the audience were hauled dramatically and screaming from amongst the terrified ticket-payers. One person in the Alien costumes was none other than Alex Kapranos from Franz Ferdinand!

Later in his life, David answered an ad to work in the cloakroom because ‘why not’ and there he stayed for the next 15 years, working in a variety of roles. Kirstin herself came on as a (she said this herself) inexperienced press manager. Nicola said that their beginnings at The Arches summed up a huge part of its ethos:

“Why not?”

Over the course of the hour, tales upon tales built up the layers of this space that was used for all sorts of arts, all of which had to be tidied away by the long-suffering but ever-cheerful and story-weaving cleaners – including art pieces using actual bodily fluids… They are a part of the book too as just one of the myriad voices of the cross-section of people who were part of this space over its close to a quarter of a century legacy.

Andy Arnold is central to this legacy – someone mentioned with great admiration repeatedly throughout the talk and it was he, a punk through and through, who saw this space for what it could be and ‘allowed worlds to overlap’. One day you could be part of one-on-one theatre smushed together in a toilet cubicle, the next day you could witness plants being sweetly braided into people’s hair, and the next day you could be sharing sweat with a stranger at one of the many club nights, or perhaps this sort of thing could happen all in the space of a single day. Funds from these activities were poured back into the community and as well as being a space for everything it was a space for everyone. It was cemented as a real socialist endeavour.

The Arches has a special place in Scotland’s cultural landscape, not least because key figures from its time have gone on to be integral parts of other creative spaces and projects across the country.

Perhaps The Arches cannot be replicated again. Its weird huge spaces and funky corridors cause one’s brain to enlarge and follow strange rivulets in parallel to it. Its punk spirit is hard to emulate in these more regulated times. Its ‘beautiful chaos’ is something of that particular time and space and has been distilled into their book ‘Brickwork: A Biography of The Arches’ which can be bought from the Paisley Book Festival’s online bookshop.

By Natalie Jayne Clark