GRAINY footage of a performance in Glasgow by Allen Ginsberg, one of the leading figures of the Beat Generation, is the perfect image to portray the birth of the city's flourishing arts scene.


The year is 1973 and incredibly someone had got hold of a film camera to record the occasion in the former premises of the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists' Club in Blythswood Square.

As the American countercultural thinker, who was vehemently opposed to militarism and economic materialism, recited poetry to a rapt audience and sang folk songs, a young Glaswegian man sat by his side, accompanying the songs on guitar.

"Somebody phoned me and asked me to play at the gig, it might have been Tom McGrath, and I said sure because I had been impressed when I was a teenager by Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation," remembers Allan Tall, the 66-year-old actor and musician who played with Ginsberg and went on to appear on stage and screen in Braveheart, Hamish Macbeth, Monarch of the Glen, The Cherry Orchard and Midsummer Night's Dream.

"I was happy to play in front of folk. I can't remember if I was paid. I think in those days you got paid more than you do now as there weren't open mike nights.

"Ginsberg was knackered, he'd been travelling quite a bit. We didn't have any rehearsal, we just sat there and tried to feel the vibe, as they say."

The radical poet, playwright and musician Tom McGrath had set up a makeshift arts base in Blythswood Square for like-minded people to come together.

His idea blossomed with the opening two years later of the legendary Third Eye Centre on Sauchiehall Street, now better known as the CCA, which celebrates its 40th anniversary on May 1.

It was officially opened when then Lord Provost Sir William Gray, who later became chairman of the organisation, was at the head of a parade on Sauchiehall Street to mark the 800th anniversary of the granting of the Royal Charter to the City of Glasgow and brought the procession to a halt to cut the ribbon at the front door.

Over the years the venue was not only a place to meet, eat, drink and attend events, it brought the best modern art into the lives of people in the city and was a crucial link in what is now referred to as the Glasgow Miracle and the city's global status as a breeding ground for prize-winning artists.

A regular at the Third Eye Centre, Allan, who still lives in the West End of Glasgow, met Tom in the 1960s and worked with him on a number of occasions over the years.

"Tom had become more actively interested in Eastern religion, particularly through his involvement with the late Sri Chinmoy who was also a kind of guru to John McLaughlin, the guitar player, and Carlos Santana," he explains.

"Alan Spence, the writer, got involved too. I think that had a lot to do with calling it the Third Eye Centre.

"It was a good move on Tom's part to move the venue to Sauchiehall Street - then it really took off.

"The old cafe, which had a very low ceiling, was very atmospheric and that was where everybody met. There is video footage of gigs there.

"The painter Alan Davie came along one day, I think there was an exhibition of his paintings, and that evening he had a gig with his jazz band and played soprano sax."

Allan remembers the launch of writer and artist Alasdair's Gray's legendary work of fiction Lanark there and an exhibition of the work of painter John Byrne.

"When the CCA opened in 1992 I didn't like it. I came in and thought, 'They've lost all the character'. But a couple of months later I was loving it, it was nice to have all the light in. I think it's a great place now," says Allan.

"In the old days it felt pokier, more East Berlin or Amsterdam brown cafe, there could be all sorts of skulduggery happening."

Allan has been just one of those who has helped CCA director Francis McKee on his trawl through the 40 years' of archive material to identify events and faces.

As well as the Allen Ginsberg event, among the nuggets uncovered so far are rare footage from the 1970s of young black American minimalist composer Julius Eastman, a recording on Ivor Cutler's Life in a Scotch Sitting Room and footage of South African anti-apartheid musician Lewis Mahalo.

"When the Third Eye was here in the 1970s there was nothing like that in the city. They were all really young and started working - 40 years later and no-one has archived it or can remember what they did," says Francis.

"And nobody is here who did it originally. It's going back and trying to make sense of that and then using it to help us. That has reconnected us to that early spirit of the Third Eye, and that has been helpful in regenerating the building.

"Looking at the way they approached art and an arts centre, there aren't many arts centres really in the world. They came out of hippydom, the Third Eye certainly did, a sort of psychaedelic squat where you do everything in one room and suddenly all these arts are mixed together.

"Now a lot of intern students are working on the archive and they can do projects and that gets us constantly talking about the organisation and reminds us to keep that as a goal and not to forget why you're here."

Francis and his team are keen to hear from anyone who was an artist, performer or even audience member in the early years who can share their memories.

"When we started the archive we didn't realise we had inherited a whole new building, the villa which used to be the Cotton Club in the 1980s but in the 1960s was also where a lot of blues bands played, like Mississippi Fred McDowell and Jack Bruce," says Francis.

" We know nothing about that and there's no archive, we don't even know what it was called. The whole building has its own history and we don't have any of it. So if anyone has any of that, or can tell us about going there, we'd really love to know about that too."