From sending taxis for a stranded Paul Weller, to baking an apple pie for Thin Lizzy, Susan Gillan has seen – and experienced – a lot in 39 years working at the Caird Hall.
As a manager for the entire venue, the 61-year-old has watched as world-renowned musicians have walked through its doors, witnessed significant changes in the music industry and seen generations of music lovers have the time of their lives.
Her passion and commitment to the job is obvious; she’s knowledgeable and approachable with endless anecdotes.
“Morrissey performed and told us that nobody could eat any meat in the building,” she said.
“At that point in time there was a Kennedy’s Steak House just round the corner. You could smell the fry-ups and our staff had his team in a room pretty close to that side of the building. I remember thinking, ‘what did you do that for?!’”
Meetings with A-list stars have become routine for Susan, who is thought to be the longest-serving manager of any venue in the UK at the minute.
When Paul Weller arrived in Scotland as part of his latest tour, though, she was forced to do more than just provide hospitality at the Caird Hall venue.
High winds meant the Tay Bridge was partially closed, which posed a problem due to the fact Weller’s double-decker tour bus did not pass the safety requirements to make it across.
There were other issues on top of the obvious transport problems, with his entire band and crew already in the venue and the stage set up and ready to go – albeit without the superstar act everyone had paid money to see.
The crisis required quick thinking from Susan, who stopped short at sending the Broughty Ferry lifeboats to pick him up.
She explained: “We had to send taxis in the end. The kit was here because the trucks had already arrived and were all set up – but we were missing him and his band.
“It was a stressful night but he got here in the end.”
Sending taxis for Weller was nothing compared to what she had to do for rock gods Thin Lizzy – who had a request for an apple pie on their rider, which then led to Susan donning her chef whites and cooking it herself.
Thankfully for Susan’s sake, requests from bands aren’t quite as unusual nowadays.
She added: “Nowadays the demands are fairly run-of-the-mill. Before, you used to get things like demands for soft toilet paper.
“I don’t meet all the artists personally, it just depends, but when you do meet them they are generally all lovely. They have a job to do and I think sometimes people forget that.
“The music industry is always changing and it just depends what bands are wanting to do. Last year we had a run of artists like Biffy Clyro, Bombay Bicycle Club – a number of gigs that were one-offs in Scotland; they didn’t go anywhere else.
“That was fantastic for Dundee, but it doesn’t make it easy to get tickets. It’s always an issue that there will be people who miss out if that is the only gig in Scotland so it is challenging.”
The day-to-day job is one Susan enjoys and she has seen much change over the years – including settling into her own working environment after over a dozen office moves.
“I think I’ve moved offices about 13 times,” she said. “I’ve been based on Clepington Road, at the old Olympia, all over the city. And I’ve worked for various bodies including Tayside Regional Council, Dundee City Council and Leisure and Culture Dundee. But the one constant, since 1981, has been the Caird Hall.
“It’s a unique building and people really do think it’s beautiful. Artists will go into the auditorium and be visibly stunned. It does give them that ‘wow’ factor when they arrive or during rehearsals.”
In 1996, the venue underwent a significant refurbishment, inputting tiered stalls and making the stage accessible for wheelchair users – a rarity for venues of this calibre.
Speaking of the modifications, Susan said: “They have made a huge impact on the customer experience and enjoyment of events because you have complete, unrestricted views of the stage.
“We did an upgrade in 2002 with what was then the Scottish Arts Council worth £750,000. If there hadn’t been that investment we wouldn’t have the programme of events we have now.
“It would have been impossible because people would have thought, ‘This is a bit of a dump, we’re not going back there.’
“So it’s important for us to constantly look to improve and upgrade.
“I enjoy the challenges and I’m always going on to do something else. Already, 2020 is pretty full at the hall for regular events, so we’re now programming and the diary is open until 2025.
“It’s not just about the here and now, you are constantly looking ahead.
“You’re looking so far into the future one minute you’ll suddenly realise, ‘Wow, that’s another decade away!’
In coming months the Caird Hall will welcome stars including Paul Weller, Jason Manford and Kevin Wilson, among others.