One of my hopes for Discover Glasgow was that we would get to hear more from the people of Glasgow about their insights into the city. As the pink banners all over the city say, People Make Glasgow. One of the ways we now do this is through our IN CONVERSATION section, where we ask some locals and those in the know a few questions. Due to some technical issues, we haven't updated it in a while, but with the recent blog launch, it seemed like the ideal opportunity to return a focus to the people of Glasgow. We got in contact with Fay Young, R&D Director at Walking Heads, a great wee app that lets you take audio tours of the city just by using your phone.
DG: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
FY: My background is in old media – newspaper journalism and magazines – where I always enjoyed discovering unexpected things about so-called ‘ordinary people’. I like to think new media gives us the chance to discover and celebrate more of those untold stories of extraordinary people. I have also written conventional guidebooks, especially for the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, which taught me that there are fascinating stories lurking behind every tree.
DG: You are in charge of R & D at Walking Heads. Tell us a bit about how the company came to be, and what you do in your role. What inspired the company to create tours around Glasgow?
Like a lot of good ideas, I think it began over a drink or two in the pub, with two other founders of Walking Heads, Dougal Perman and Alan Gibson. We were talking about what makes a good holiday and how you find the real sense of place in any city. Dougal and Alan had recently discovered the Soundmap tour of Brick Lane in London, one of a series of fantastic, evocative audio tours, leading explorers into unlikely places. I particularly remember Irma Kurtz opening a door into a Jewish tailor shop in Soho; you could hear the scissors snipping as she teased out stories. Brilliant stuff. We began to play around with ideas for self-guided interactive tours taking visitors, or locals, off the beaten track. As a result we won a Tourism Innovation Fund Award which meant we had to come up with a fully finished product pretty quickly.
Glasgow’s music scene seemed an obvious choice – Dougal is also founder of the Glasgow-based internet music station Radio Magnetic where Jim Gellatly just happens to have a regular weekly spot. In January 2012, we launched the marathon Glasgow Music Tour at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut. Since then, my role as R&D director lets me wander around looking for new ideas and meeting lots of lovely folk in all sorts of places.
DG: You have some famous names narrating the Walking Heads tours, such as radio presenter Jim Gellatly. What was it like working with such big, bold characters and experts in their field?
Jim is really great to work with, an absolute professional with a great sense of humour, very helpful and quick to respond to a new idea or review an old one – he is one of those rare busy people who answers an email almost immediately. Short, sweet and always to the point! Of course Jim already knew so much about Glasgow’s music scene and that gave us a head start. Though like the rest of us he was amazed at how much there was still to learn (and go on learning). I think we began with the Barrowland which is where Jim experienced his first gigs (Pogues, Cramps, Beastie Boys) when he came to Glasgow from Dundee – he remembers his amazement at seeing the Barras crowd throwing pints at the bands as a sign of appreciation, wondering why anyone in Glasgow would want to throw a pint away. Vic Galloway, Tam Coyle and Billy Sloan were other very knowledgeable contributors. All great to work with and passionate about Glasgow music.
DG: Walking Heads ran a Cinema City Treasure Hunt to coincide with the Glasgow Film Festival. Are there any similar events in the pipeline that you can share?
We had a lot of fun experimenting with the Cinema City treasure hunt – gaming is a new function on the GuidiGO app platform which enables us to try out lots of new tricks – and we are really keen to play around with some more new ideas soon. New treasure hunts, and maybe an adventure where people have to solve a mystery in order to meet up at some hidden venue for a celebration. We like the idea of creating digital games leading to a live gathering at the end. Can’t say too much more at the moment.
DG: We have our own City Walks section, with a small selection of themed walks. Have you tried any yet? Or do any take your fancy?
Sorry to say I haven’t had time to try out any of your walks yet (Walking Heads needs a screen break!) but they all look really enticing. Fresh from Cinema City and Glasgow Film Festival, I’m particularly drawn by the Ken Loach Sixteen Films tour, coming soon I see. I love the look of the quirky Police Box Tour and the Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson Tour sounds like one of those eye-opening experiences where you rediscover the city with completely fresh eyes. In fact, Walking Heads will just have to do them all!
DG: If you could only recommend one sight to a tourist visiting for the first time, what would it be?
That’s a tough question! It could be so many different places, but everyone should go to the Barrowland, for the sheer, emotional rock history joy of it – and the, so-far, unspoilt surroundings! (A Spanish tourist who road-tested our pilot version of the Glasgow Music Tour identified that as his favourite spot on the tour, “it has a special kind of charm” he said.)
DG: What’s your hidden pleasure in Glasgow?
Another tough one! Maybe the discovery I personally enjoyed most: Stereo Bar, in a beautiful Charles Rennie MacIntosh building, hidden away up Renfield Lane, a dim alley so narrow you can’t stand far enough back to get a good photo of the building (glad to see the Discover Glasgow CRM Tour includes the old Daily Record building which is what it used to be). I love the bar too.
Finally, if you could change one aspect of Glasgow, what would it be?
Entering the realm of fantasy here, I would magic away the motorway – it cuts a divisive chasm through a great human city. It sounds impossible but cities can do it, Seoul, the capital of South Korea, transformed an urban motorway back into a river and parkland running through the city. Maybe I could simply wish for more pedestrian space? People make Glasgow, cars take it apart.
Our thanks to Fay and the entire team at Walking Heads for their time and the excellent app. If you think you have something to say about our great city and want to be features IN CONVERSATION, drop us an email.