Govan Music Festival, Interview with Paul MacAlindin, Artistic Director of The Glasgow Barons

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Words: Nina Halper (she/her)

On Wednesday the 15th of March, the second year of the Govan Music Festival will begin, running over six events until Sunday the 19th. The Govan Music festival is run by The Glasgow Barons, a music charity that operates in Govan. Whilst the charity has their own professional orchestra who perform in venues across Govan, they also provide the community with creative spaces to learn about and practice music.  

2023 will see the development of the new bridge over The River Clyde, between Water Row in Govan and Pointhouse Quay in Partick. Through his musical endeavours, Paul MacAlindin, the director of The Glasgow Barons, aims to help build ties between the two sides of the river, before the physical opening of the bridge in 2024. Govan Music Festival will showcase local talent, in collaboration with other Govan-based charities and projects, whilst attracting audiences from all over Glasgow.

I caught up with Paul, to hear more about the charity’s work, and what the festival has in store.

Tell me about your charity, Glasgow Barons. What work do you do?

I live and work as a musician here in Govan. When I arrived here in 2016, I decided to create The Glasgow Barons to help regenerate Central and East Govan. This particular area is classified as being in deep multiple deprivation, but Govan also has amazing assets, like this building we’re sitting in now, Govan and Linthouse Parish Church, and amazing people. I endeavour to put the right kind of event into the venues up and down Govan, to show them off at their best, and to get people coming out and coming together. One of our partners described it as ‘alternative social cohesion’. It’s not music that we do, we use music to bring people together in new forms of community spirit.

What are the more typical types of social cohesion in Govan?

There is strong underpinning of drugs and  alcohol to socialisation here. I’m not being puritanical about this, I like to go out for a drink, but when you add these elements to poverty, then the resilience to their effects decreases dramatically. This is where many of the complex problems here kick in, because some people may not have the social or financial resilience to absorb their impact.

Since 2016 when you started the charity, have you noticed an impact in what you do?

Yes. I think every charity around here knows how to evaluate their impact with the people that they directly work with. If I run a project in a school, for example, then I can see the journey the kids go through. We have a few weeks of practice and then we might have a wee performance at the end. You can measure that. But the real crunch is asking what effect it has on the larger community. That’s a very difficult thing to measure. At the same time, it’s really important because we have to know strategically where to place our limited resources to have the biggest impact on community cohesion and creativity.

Our projects deal with multiple levels of issues. For example, our singing group, which is for senior citizens, is about reducing social isolation. It’s also about providing a point where people can get clear, accurate information and signposting about what else is going on in the community.  Such groups can be a nexus point where people gather and exchange information about where the next food bank is open, or where the next free clothing for your kids is. All of these things interconnect very deeply. It’s really about the very complex and difficult job of understanding how to help people build their resilience. Not just the children, but the parents, the adults, the elderly, and the asylum seeker community.

As well as coming in at all angles, our projects like Musicians in Exile have been running for years now, every single week. And that is when you have the biggest impact, because then you’re not just saying, ‘we’re going to give you a music project and then stop in 10 weeks and kick you back out into the universe’. We try to make sure that people have the choice to enter our projects for as little or as long as they want, and then leave when they want to.

It’s the second year for Govan Music Festival. What sparked the idea to start the festival?

I got frustrated with all the lockdowns and restrictions. We had a number of events lined up last March, and I thought, ‘I’m going to jam them back-to-back, night after night and call it a festival’. I gave myself a lead time of six weeks to organise the whole thing. It was a five-night festival at the turn of Spring, where everybody was ready to reduce their heating bills and look forward to the summer. I felt it was good to do it a couple of weeks before the Easter holidays, before school’s out so we could get the pupils involved. It was a moment to intersect all aspects of the community and give ourselves a vitamin shot for spring.

Was the festival well received?

It was well received in that we had about 600 people in total turning up. We had a lot of artists, and a lot of the audience were also participants in the festival. We had five school choirs who were also listening to each other. The participatory audience divide is quite blurred in a festival like this, because community interaction has you doing stuff and being the audience for somebody else at the same time.

We had Vivaldi’s Four Seasons in this church with 120 folk. We also premiered two brand new Concertos by Janet Beat and Aileen Sweeney. I took one event out of Govan and had Norrie MacIver singing his songs about Govan in the Old Fruit Market in Candleriggs. That became the template; community, folk, classical, and rounded off with hip-hop.

What has the festival got in store this year?

In the second year of a festival, you’re still experimenting about how to do it. We are learning what this festival means for people,  seeing how they react to it and how they want to participate. We’re using the festival as a focus point for a reflection of what we do all year round at The Glasgow Barons.

On the 15th, we’ve got every single school in Govan bringing its choir along to sing in a project which the principal of music at Govan High, Jennifer Andrew, has created.

On the evening of the 15th, we are bringing together lots of different dance troupes from the schools. We also have adult amateur groups performing alongside Indepen-dance, a charity  rehearsing here in Govan for disabled dancers. They’ll all be coming together for a jamboree of their own dance shows interspersed with local musicians.

In the Pearce Institute on Thursday, we’ve got the Symphomania concert, playing Barber’s Adagio For Strings. We’re presenting the Scottish premiere of  Anna Clyne’s cello concerto, Dance, which Inbal Segev commissioned in 2019 for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, among others. We will finish with Sibelius 2, with a 45-piece orchestra. That’s big stuff. But it’s also about ambition. The Glasgow Barons is about putting Govan on the map.

Friday night is in collaboration with Freed Up, which is with the Scottish Recovery Consortium. They’re a network of NHS and third sector services for people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. Freed Up is their event arm. Donna Boyd, one of the DJs at Sunny Govan Community Radio, runs those drug and alcohol free events. So we’re putting on a night at Kinning Park Complex with an hour of local rappers and musicians, a free buffet and a rave.

On Saturday night we’re at the Govan & Linthouse Parish Church double billing Musicians in Exile with Ando Glaso, who work with us on Glasgow Life’s Artists in Communities programme. They promote Roma culture and music, particularly the Roma musicians around Govanhill. That will be a free event like most of the events of the festival.

And finally, Sunday night is going to be our big hip hop extravaganza. We’ve commissioned Steg G, the station head at Sunny Govan Radio, to create DEMONS, our fourth Scottish hip-hop album from him. We will be premiering that at the Grand Ole Opry to wrap up the festival.

 What kind of impact do you think showcasing local talent has for a community?

I think there are some very easy answers to that. With the school kids, for example, we have two schools that now have a choir where they didn’t have one before and we have various schools coming together and hearing each other’s choirs, which they wouldn’t otherwise do. It allows people to get excited about music and allows folk to listen to a whole diversity of music. We have Govan Gaelic Primary School, the Catholic schools, the non-denominational schools, Govan High and Hazelwood School for pupils with complex learning needs. It makes everybody aware of what everybody else is doing in the area and creates a different dimension of community cohesion which  didn’t exist before.

Of course, The Glasgow Barons also have a professional orchestra here. We are not in a position to say that we are going to create the next generation of classical players, and we’re not even trying to do that. But there are a lot of singer-songwriters here who we commission to produce work. For many, this is probably the first time they’ve ever received a fee to write a song. So, it’s really about saying we’re worth it. What’s more, for singer-songwriters and rappers, music can be a tool of self-expression to release and articulate difficult emotions. These are ways of communicating layers of emotion and intellectual reflection on what is happening here in Govan, which we can then present to the wider world.

To see more about the festival, and book tickets for the events, visit the website:


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