A Fan's A to Z of Glasgow


Ian Sorensen

A is for Albacon, Albany and Asprin

Albacon was the name given to most of the conventions held in Glasgow. Why call it Albacon? Well, the 1980 Eastercon (the British National Convention) was held in the Albany hotel, had an albatross for a logo and was the first Eastercon ever in Scotland, which was known long ago as Alba. Hence Albacon. I bet there are former Albacon committee members reading this who didn't know that.

The Albany hotel is currently called the Forte Crest, but could be called anything by 1995. It's a top notch hotel in terms of accommodation but has poor function space for convention purposes, so it has only ever hosted that one SF con. (Tip: the bar gives away free snacks, samosas, mini-pizzas etc. around 7pm if you want to freeload.)

There were 3 Eastercon Albacons, each having around 1000 members. In between them we ran many summer Albacons that were the largest regional conventions in Britain, attracting up to 800 attendees. Uniquely for British cons, many of the attendees were "walk-ins", probably attracted by the star guests and multi-stream programmes that became the hallmarks of Glasgow cons. There was a strong lobby group who wanted Intersection to be called Albacon, not just for sentimental reasons, but because it is a name recognised by the local media and potential members.

When the original team retired after Albacon 88, the lack of a convention led some of the younger Glasgow fans to create their own con which became known as Albacon 91 - TNG. It is not recorded if the con chair was bald and had trained as a Shakespearean actor.

Albacon 94 had Robert Asprin as its main guest. A laid-back gent from New Orleans, he held court on the convention bar most of the time, sipping bourbon and recounting anecdotes from conventions and publishing deals long gone. Though he was very popular with all who attended he did get the backs up a few of the locals by likening Glasgow's majestic river, the Clyde, to a drainage ditch on the Mississippi.


is for BOSH, Banks, Barker, Brin and Boyce

BOSH (Bob Shaw) was the Guest of Honour at Glasgow's second ever convention: Faircon 79. He has been back many times since and says he always feels at home in a city where there are pubs that stock over 180 different whiskies.

Iain M Banks is Scotland's top SF writer and has been at most of the conventions of the past few years, adding his own brand of dangerous fun to the proceedings. He would like it known that at Intersection, no matter how inebriated he becomes, he will not try to climb the 150 foot high crane outside the exhibition centre. It's too easy.

Clive Barker was thought by many to be a surprising choice of guest back in 1988 as he was a little known fantasy writer, but since attending an Albacon his career has really taken off with films like Hellraiser and his mega-selling books - cause and effect?

Another Barker, Jim, was Fan Guest of Honour at the first Albacon. Possibly the only man ever arrested because he wanted to enter a masquerade as a character from Harlan Ellison's Demon with a glass hand, Jim was renowned for his instant cartoons and prolific output. Now in semi-retirement as he concentrates on building up his graphic design business, but expect to see him at Intersection, doodling on any uncovered flesh.

Many of the ladies attending XIIcon in 1986 wished that David Brin would show them a little uncovered flesh, but he was too much of a gentleman for such tactics, preferring wit, charm and elegance to win great popularity. Sucker! Glasgow gals are pushovers for a nice body - ask any mortician.

Chris Boyce is a stalwart of Glasgow cons, being, in effect, our writer in residence. Chris has appeared on the programme at virtually every convention and was GoH at Invention in 83. Nowadays he runs a publishing company but is still very approachable, unless you are carrying a manuscript.


is for Central Hotel and C J Cherryh

From 1982 the Glasgow conventions became too large for the Ingram Hotel and moved into the Victorian splendour of the Central Hotel - a huge, rambling structure attached to the train station. It has corridors that are so long that people arriving late for breakfast claimed that their room was in a different time zone - and were believed. The staff have always been very friendly and looked forward to their annual weekend of madness almost as much as the members. If a worldcon could fit into it I'm sure the Intersection committee would have picked the Central out of all the hotels in the city.


J Cherryh was a very popular choice as guest at Albacon '87 where she added a new dimension to Guest of Honour speeches by bringing along her guitar. Two former worldcon programme designers, as un-starstruck a pair as could be imagined, came away from a two hour discussion with her declaring that they had just had the best conversation of their lives. What C J thought of it is not known.


is for Douglas Adams and Dr Who

The first ever Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy convention, Hitchercon 1, was held in Glasgow in 1980 with Douglas Adams as GoH - possibly leading to the definition given for Glasgow in his book The Meaning of Liff as "the feeling of infinite sadness engendered when walking through a place filled with happy people fifteen years younger than yourself".

Glasgow has a number of Dr Who groups who have contributed to local conventions but have yet to run one of their own, which is odd because Glasgow still has a number of old police boxes of the TARDIS variety scattered about its streets making it a natural mecca for Who-ies.


is for Ellison and Elfquest

The saga of Harlan Ellison coming to Glasgow could fill many volumes. Suffice it to say that he was due to come over to Albacon 84 but cancelled on 4 days notice, promising to come instead in 85 if we wanted him. We certainly did want him, if only to give him a doing for cancelling on us. Instead of wreaking violence on him ourselves, we took a more subtle approach and introduced him to Sue, who went home from the convention with him and is now Mrs Ellison.

An oddity among all the conventions held in Glasgow is the convention called Conquest. Held in the Ingram Hotel in 1984 it was a con devoted to the comic strip Elfquest and boasted a guest list including Richard and Wendy Pini, Bryan Talbot, James White, Peter Morwood and Dr Jack Cohen. Unfortunately, when they were not on the programme all that was scheduled was videos - unfortunate because early on in the convention someone accidentally spilled a pint of beer into the video projector causing it to explode; leaving the convention attendees with little to do but invent endless variations of I-Spy: "I spy with my little eye something beginning with N V." "No videos?"


is for FOKT, Faircon and Foster

FOKT are the Friends Of Kilgore Trout - the Glasgow fan group founded in 1974 and still going, which is amazing because the only rule that FOKT has is that it must have no rules. So people come along, sit and chat, then go away again, every Thursday night. In its heyday FOKT had over 50 regular attendees but now, without a FOKT organised convention to keep new faces coming, it is down to around 30.

The first convention in Glasgow was called Faircon 78 because it took place during the local summer holiday known as the Glasgow Fair Fortnight. It was run by some of the members of FOKT because two of them had been to an Eastercon and thought that conventions were pretty good, so Glasgow should have one. James White was GoH and the venue was the Ingram Hotel. Over 100 people attended, which was amazing considering the first Progress Report sent out to anyone inquiring about the event didn't say that it was a science fiction convention nor did it give the dates that it took place. The following year Faircon 79 had over 200 members, Faircon 81 over 300 - at which point the Ingram Hotel's single usable room became woefully inadequate and Faircon 82 was moved to the Central Hotel. After that Faircons became Albacons and just kept growing until even the Central couldn't really accommodate them.

Alan Dean Foster was the GoH at Albacon 91. The committee had problems contacting him to invite him to be a guest, and were just about to contact their second choice, when Mr Foster returned from an extensive holiday filming sharks in Australia. He had found their letters and phone calls that had piled up in his absence and instantly phoned to accept the invitation to come to Glasgow. His thinking was that anyone who can face sharks can cope with a Glasgow convention audience.


is for Glasgow

It is difficult for Glaswegians to write objectively about the city because they know too much about its rich diversity to attempt to capture the essence of the place in a few sentences. Glasgow from a convention goer's viewpoint is much easier to assess: it is simply the best city in which to hold a convention in Britain. The range of hotels and restaurants, the easy access by rail, road and air, the stunning countryside surrounding it - all make for a great convention site. Unfortunately, there is still the weather to contend with. In late August you can bake or freeze, but you will almost certainly get wet. Bring a brolly.


is for Harry Harrison and Hospitality Inn

Harry Harrison has been a Guest at two Glasgow cons and has attended many more - he even included a scene set in the Central Hotel in one of his novels. I'm told that he often mentions his experiences in Glasgow when making GoH appearances in other countries. What he says about me, while not exactly untrue, is definitely exaggerated.

The Hospitality Inn was the venue for Speculation, the 1991 Eastercon. Chosen because of the huge size of its function space it was disliked by many because it lacked the old world charm of the Central and because it had new world bar prices. The advantage to the con attendee is that the Hospitality sells rooms, not beds, making it cheaper for multiple occupants. It has also not changed its name for over 8 years.


is for Ingram Hotel, Invention, Io and Isocon4

The Ingram Hotel was the venue for the first two Glasgow conventions and has hosted five in total. Its manager at the time of the early conventions was a con man who always hosted the hotel group's Christmas staff parties and overcharged head office by many thousands of pounds, which kept his hotel in the black and boosted his promotion up the career ladder. When they got wise to his tricks they promoted him to a position where he toured the hotels looking for people on the fiddle and firing them. Set a thief .......

A tradition emerged of holding a small local convention in September whenever Glasgow hosted the national convention at Easter. So Albacon 1 was followed by Hitchercon 1 and Albacon 2 was followed by Invention. Run primarily by students from the university groups Io and S4 it marked the first time erstwhile worldcon chairman Vince Docherty and worldcon hotel liaison Mark Meenan got their hands dirty running a convention. They have not looked back since, but I trust they have washed their hands.

Io is the SF society of Glasgow University. It has a symbiotic relationship with the Strathclyde group S4. They decided to run a con together in 1991, so they cleverly rearranged the letters in their names and added con to produce Isocon4, making many people wonder how they missed the first three. It was a con with about 70 members but boasted five programme streams because they had only ever been to Albacons and thought that all cons had to have lots of programming. Ah, the benefits of higher education!


is for John Brunner and Joe Haldeman

John was the GoH at Faircon 81 where he was a big hit with the fans but his dogs which had accompanied him were a definite miss with the hotel staff. As the creator of many infamous rhymes he was naturally delighted to judge the Vogon poetry competition, his only regret being not allowed to enter it himself.

Joe Haldeman proved immensely popular when he attended Albacon 3 as Guest. He and his wife are still on regular contact with many Glasgow fans. They once agreed to attend another convention in Scotland assuming it would be like Albacon, but, sadly, it wasn't and they had a pretty awful time. The moral being: accept no substitute for a Glasgow con.


is for Kapp

Colin Kapp, author of the Unorthodox Engineers stories, was GoH at Albacon 1, but had never attended a con before. The committee were unaware of this and gave him no idea of what to expect, simply telling him he had to do a speech of around one hour. This led to him stunning the attendees by delivering his talk whilst wearing a spacesuit.


is for Lyon

Pete Lyon was Guest Artist at Albacon 3 but he stopped doing fan art and dropped out of conventions shortly afterward. Either we upset him or he considered that he had reached the pinnacle of his career and decided to quit at the top. Come back Pete, we miss you.


is for Moat House, Marriot, McCaffrey, MacNeil and Moore

The Moat House (as it is called this week) is the hotel attached to the Scottish Exhibition Centre (SEC), principal site for Intersection. It is a splendid building on the banks of the River Clyde and has comfortable public areas and bedrooms with luxurious fittings. It also charges a fortune for anything you take from the Minibar in your bedroom. On an early site visit one of the Intersection committee was overcome by midnight hunger and ate a Snickers bar, eventually being charged 5 times the price it would have been in a local shop.

The Marriot may still appear in some literature as the Holiday Inn, as it followed the fashion among Glasgow hotels for changing names only last year. It is the nearest off-site hotel to the SEC. Famous in Glasgow for its poolside restaurant; not for the food, but for the entertainment couples cavorting in the pool occasionally afford diners. Anne McCaffrey was a Guest at Albacon 85 along with Harlan Ellison. The piece Harlan wrote about her for the programme book is priceless: "She murdered her first husband to gain control of his steamship line. For three and a half years she ran the most infamous brothel in Calcutta; a charnel house in which a British MP met his demise at the hands of a pair of Eurasian houris notorious as the only practitioners of the dreaded "wolf trap" position. What no one knows till now is that she taught it to them!" And so on in the same vein for a couple of pages. Anne took it with her usual good grace and, in public, only threatened to kill him twice.

Alan Moore, Britain's top comics writer, was a guest at Albacon 84. He was instrumental in persuading many of the dyed-in-the-wool SF bookworms that there was some literary merit in comics, if only ones written by Alan Moore. Scottish artist Colin MacNeil draws Judge Dread among other strips and was a guest in 91.


is for Norman Spinrad and Naomi Mitchison

When Harlan cancelled on Albacon 84 on short notice he sent his apologies and his good friend Norman Spinrad in his place. Norman was a splendid guest, charming the fans who had come to see Harlan and who were upset at his non-appearance. After a while he got fed up explaining why Harlan wasn't there and resorted to telling people that he really was Harlan, but in disguise.

Naomi Mitchison, famous for her SF book "Memoirs of a Spacewoman", very nearly wasn't asked to be guest at Faircon 82. This was because when we looked up her address in Who's Who it said that she was dead! We thought it strange when she appeared on TV later that week so wrote to her anyway. She was thrilled to be asked and, although in her 80's, shamed us with her energy and drive. In particular she thought SF fans odd because all they did was sit and read: she wanted them to band together and become politically active. Today Glasgow, tomorrow the galaxy.


is for Old-timers

The conventions of the 80's were run by a core group of fans who retired from conrunning in 1988. Since then they have stopped going to FOKT but get together socially every couple of weeks. In keeping with the traditions of FOKT they call themselves The Monday Club and meet on Tuesdays. None of them, except young, impressionable Mark Meenan, is involved in Intersection as they reckon that they deserve to go to acon in Glasgow without having to work for once. I'm being accused of backsliding because I agreed to write this article and I have been threatened with ice cream rationing if I do it again.


is for Prefab Trout and Pie Fights

Prefab Trout was held in a suburban hotel in 1988 with Iain M Banks as Guest and with a policy of running a small, thinly programmed, fannish convention. It succeeded in being small and thinly programmed, but had mostly the same old faces that had been at the earlier conventions, all eagerly looking for the 24hr video room.

In a moment of desperation prior to Albacon 84, looking for something different for the programme, someone suggested a custard pie fight. Eventually it appeared on the programme and so we had to go ahead and stage one using paper plates and shaving foam. Unfortunately, the foam ran out just before the Committee Vs Hotel Staff bout. Not to be cheated of their chance to thrash the SF weirdoes, the kindly chef went off to the kitchen and whipped up some real custard. The incredible mess from that fight was matched only by the incredible smell from the protective tarpaulins a few days later after they had lain in a store room awaiting return to their building site. When Albacon 91 was being planned the first item the committee wanted to revive from the old conventions was the pie fight: perhaps Intersection will be crazy enough to do the same.


is for Queens St

Glasgow has two main rail stations: Central for trains from the South and Queens St for trains from the North and East. Some con attendees have travelled to Glasgow via Edinburgh and found themselves at Queens St, then wandered into the Copthorne Hotel attached to the station and wondered where the con had gone. Such is the conditioning caused by too many years of staggering off a train at Central Station and into the Central Hotel.


is for Rob Holdstock, Robert Rankin and Restaurants

Rob was the GoH of Speculation in 1991 and was unusual because he principally writes fantasy and Glasgow guests had previously been hard SF writers. It may have been because he is a great writer and long-time fan, well worth honouring, or it may simply be because the majority of the Speculation committee were not from Glasgow.

Robert Rankin was a GoH at a small media con in the Kelvin Park Lorne Hotel called Fantasia in 1990. The attendance was tiny but many of those who were there rated Rankin as the best Guest they had ever seen. He was meant to appear at Albacon 91 but was too ill to travel, so he owes Glasgow an appearance and we hope he will make it to Intersection. (Hint to programme team.)

Glasgow is a big city and its inhabitants like to eat out, so there are restaurants of every kind - well, maybe not Vietnamese yet, and only the Hilton Hotel does a Japanese meal (breakfast for a cool 35), but if you want Indian, Chinese, French, Italian, Greek, even English and Scottish, they're all there for you. Just to confuse visitors wanting to try the traditional fish and chips, in Glasgow when you ask for a "single fish" they give you two fish. They also deep fry pizzas - not recommended if you have a delicate stomach.


is for SF shops, Stableford, Saxton, Speculation and S4

Glasgow has half a dozen specialist SF book shops and another dozen comics shops. There are lots of second hand shops too, so you could fill your cases before hitting the dealers' room.

Brian Stableford and Josephine Saxton were the Guests at Albacon 87 providing illuminating glimpses of the differences between the writer of hard SF and the writer of imaginative fiction. I had the job of interviewing Ms Saxton at the end of a week in which she had given up smoking 60 cigarettes and drinking 20 cups of coffee a day. Next time I'll get an easy job, like a knife thrower's assistant.

S4 is the Strathclyde Space and Science fiction Society: SSSS or S4 for short. They are all students at Strathclyde University and spend a lot of time drinking with their chums in Io. One of its founder members managed to convince the university that going to conventions was part of the constitution of the society and therefore the university should pay for the travel and accommodation. Needless to say he went on to become a member of the Albacon committee.


is for Trek and Transport.

There are a few Star Trek groups in Glasgow and there have been a number of successful conventions. One group manages to run a 300+ person one day mini-con every six weeks as well as an annual convention drawing up to 1000. They too used the Central Hotel for many years but have had to move to the Hospitality Inn as numbers have increased.

Transport will be a major concern for everyone attending Intersection as the SEC is well away from most bus routes and is only served by trains which run at best every 10 minutes. Some special busing will be needed to get fans to and from their hotels, but this shouldn't be a problem as there are so many bus companies now that it is sometimes difficult to move in the city centre because of nose to tail buses competing for fares.


is for Underground and Unicon

Glasgow's underground is very simple to understand. It goes in a circle, so you just get on and, when your stop comes round, you get off. When it was renovated in the 80's the colour orange was chosen for the small trains that negotiate the tight tunnels under the city so it was dubbed by the tabloid press "the clockwork orange". Nobody in Glasgow uses this term, except the Intersection committee when they visit.

Unicon, the student run convention, was held in Glasgow in 1992. Called Scone for reasons too obscure to believe, it was unique in offering attendees a dramatic version of Asimov's entire Foundation Trilogy in a little under 10 minutes, as well as the chance to eat as many scones with jam and cream as they could stomach.


is for Vogon poetry

As you know, Vogon poetry is the third worst in the galaxy. Starting at Hitchercon 1 in 1980, Glasgow conventions regularly challenged attendees to come up with even more awful poetry than the Vogons. This led to many near suicides and as many near lynchings as the audience got carried away with critical frenzy. On one occasion, attempting to broaden the scope of the event, a fellow musician and I entered a musical tone poem, me playing grand piano in G major, him playing accordion in C sharp minor. The audience rushed the stage and carried off my companion, then they carried off the piano!


is for James White and Don Wollheim

Jim White was the very first Guest at a Glasgow convention in 78 and we asked him to be GoH again for the 83 Eastercon. One of his Sector General books is dedicated to the Friends of Kilgore Trout, an honour of which Glasgow fans are exceedingly proud. He has even created an alien classification FOKT to describe creatures who, when threatened, bunch together in a carpet-like group entity with a tartan pattern. Unfortunately, the more they join together, the lower their intelligence becomes.

Don Wollheim was a great supporter if Glasgow conventions and attended a great many, appearing on panels and helping with guest liaison. The first transatlantic telephone call I ever made was to his office, and I remember the terror gripping my Scottish soul when I got his wife instead who proceeded to talk to me endlessly about the weather while my phone bill doubled every 10 seconds.


is for XIIcon

XIIcon was the local September con run after the Eastercon in 1986. It was, as the name implies, the 12th convention run in the city, a total that has more than doubled since then.


is for Yearly conventions

The unbroken run of SF conventions from 1978 - 88 ended when the Albacon 88 committee couldn't work up any enthusiasm for another convention, so the yearly Glasgow convention story ended. It is commemorated by a seat in the local arts cinema sponsored by Glasgow SF Conventions 1978-88. A new generation of fans recreated past glories with Albacon 91 and would have gone on to do more but a change of management at the Central Hotel made it uneconomical. However, there is still hope that Albacons may return as convention fever washes over the city in anticipation of Intersection. OK, maybe not fever, perhaps just a little less apathy. Who knows, Intersection might try running a mini-con to drum up members before the big event.


is for Marion Zimmer Bradley

Marion was a Guest at Albacon 3 where she was somewhat annoyed at the quality of research done to compile her bibliography. It was not that it was inaccurate, rather that it was too accurate and contained some "adult fiction" that she had hoped nobody would ever discover was written by her.