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Sunday, 11 October 2015

An Era That Refuses To End

The Red Road flats spent over 40 years standing tall as an integral, if sometimes forlorn, part of the Glasgow skyline. A definitive landmark in the city and recognised further afield too. At one point they were the highest tower blocks not just in Glasgow but also Europe. Now, for me personally, they were never the prettiest set of buildings to look at but then again not all landmarks have to be. The importance of them leans more towards what they initially provided, their history and the memories that were set to go down, to an extent, with them. They were built after the Second World War as part of a plan to drastically improve Glasgows housing. Around 5000 people called them home when they were first erected. In the years prior to their arrival, families in the area lived in some of the worst "slum" conditions imaginable in Europe at the time. The construction of the flats was seen as a beacon of hope and a chance of better post-war living conditions for 1000's of locals. And at first they did just that but as the years passed the reputation of the flats deteriorated due to violence, drug dealing and crime in general. Regular occurrences of the aforementioned activities culminated in vandals starting a blaze in 1977 that spread through the 23rd floor and caused the evacuation of many, many families and the tragic death of a 12 year old boy. In turn, the fire also drew attention to the asbestos problems within the structure that would plague the image of the Red Road flats right up until their final days. In the 1980s, despite a glimmer of optimism due to the YMCA and student housing, the crime in the area continued to rise. By now the buildings had an unwanted, but probably warranted, tag as "The Towers of Terror". It should be noted that through all of this that most families in the blocks still continued to live their lives and life went on, as it always does in Glasgow.

Towards the end of the century, however, the buildings became slightly more refugee based as people fled from war and violence all over the world, Families from Africa, Asia and Kosovo and the world over came looking for solace and shelter. The subject of refugees is currently a hot topic the world over and I personally believe that the Red Road flats could have came in useful in the current situation but that's a discussion for another time. A few years after the turn of the new millennium the flats were given new ownership in the form of the GHA (Glasgow Housing Association). The next few years were filled with grand plans to repair and restructure certain aspects of the buildings but in the end these plans ultimately failed due to costs and in 2005 it was decided, amid protests, that two of the towers would be demolished. Within another 5 years (in spring 2010) it was confirmed that all eight of the towers would now be gone within a 10 year planned timescale (before 2020) which brings us to todays events.

The Red Road flats stand together before their demolition.
Today I was part of a well prepared and well rounded production team that set out to film the demolition with the idea of documenting it and piecing together a short on the matter. Well, when I say part of the team, what I really mean is that I was there watching, eating pizza, taking pictures on my phone to post on here, picking up and looking at expensive gear like I knew what it was for and just hanging around in general. See, my role in the team is to provide the music and soundtrack (under the Fragile X name) for the short film during and after production. So, this morning, I was there in attendance with them mainly to get a scope of the atmosphere and grasp the feeling of the "event" which will then allow me to transfer and channel that into my music. The rest of the team, of course, did their parts today. Tripods, quadcopter drones and the likes were set up in the back garden of a very kind local family who were more than happy to allow us usage of their premises. We got some good footage and some good sounds, all the while soaking up the tension that was looming due to the delay on the initial planned explosion schedule. Word had got around that there was to be a klaxon that would signal a 5 minute warning, giving us and others with the same intentions ample time to prepare equipment etc. The original demolition process was apparently penciled in for around 11am but, after a more than 4 hour wait caused by local protests and train traffic, it was around 3:18pm that the towers finally fell. There was a loud pop in the distance, almost like a firework (certainly nothing like a klaxon) and then bang 5 seconds (not 5 minutes like we were told) later the process began. The explosion could be felt from where we stood. Feet rooted to the ground about 400m away I felt my bones shudder. Looking up I saw it begin. Falling, crumbling, seemingly in slow motion, right in front of my eyes. And that was that. The flats were gone. No more.

The demolition process begins to take them down.
Or were they? As the dust spread skyward and calmly canvassed the afternoon clouds and slowly advanced on the surrounding houses and schemes, it became apparent that all had not gone to plan. By the time this biege fog had fully settled, and the view was clearer to the naked eye, there was two buildings still defiantly upright. Bruised and battered but still clinging to their foundations. A symbol if ever there was one.

The middle buildings are gone but the tower blocks flanking them remain in position. Damaged but not demolished.
The whole experience provided me with many musical ideas, they ebbed and flowed throughout the day, and I've now already got aspects for the track(s) in my head but I'm looking forward to sitting down in the studio and filtering through all the available footage we have before allowing my brain to process it more and hopefully providing a fitting musical arrangement for the production team. It may be the end of the year, it maybe early next year, it may be later than that but when it's done we'll be sure to share it.

UPDATE: 11pm

A bit of humour, in a relatively serious post, never goes a miss. I conjured up this earlier :)







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