Legendary nightclub Fat Sam’s has dominated Dundee’s nightlife for almost 40 years. Gayle Ritchie digs out some old photos and uncovers tales from the vaults including Phillip Schofield being a Fatties regular and the night rock wildman Pete Doherty was given an earbashing from supermodel Kate Moss.
Fat Sam’s revolutionised Dundee’s music scene in the early 1980s.
Before the legendary nightclub sparked into life on South Ward Street, revellers had limited choice when it came to watching up-and-coming locals bands.
Fat Sam’s aimed to break the mould – to escape from the mainstream – and offered a safe haven for lovers of alternative music and those who liked to be different.
Fondly known as “Fatties”, the venue launched on December 6 1983 with a fun opening night packed with dignitaries and big names from the local and national music scene.
It was called Fat Sam’s after the speakeasy in 1976 gangster musical comedy film Bugsy Malone, renowned for its music and dancing.
The original decor was very much in the mood of a speakeasy with a diner and cocktail bar which were separate from the main dance area.
The diner provided an American-themed menu at booth-style tables lit with colourful downlighters.
This was hugely popular in the early years but demand faded in the late 90s when late-night takeaway food establishments flourished in town.
Euan Webster was one of club’s directors from day one and remained in situ until 2000.
“From the outset, we aimed to provide Dundee and the wider community with a new vibrant nightclub to break the mould of what had been on offer,” he says.
“We joined forces with the operators of nightclubs in Glasgow and they brought significant expertise and knowledge of the up-and-coming music scene.
“In particular, live music was not catered for locally and Fat Sam’s put its mark on that throughout the 80s, 90s and beyond.”
Fatties rapidly established itself as the go-to venue for music lovers throughout Tayside and further afield.
The early 80s saw the birth of the famous Dance Factory which brought many live bands at the height of their popularity to the club.
“Fat Sam’s was the first venue in Scotland to run competitions for local bands to have the opportunity of playing live at T in the Park,” says Euan.
“There were numerous highlights throughout these early years and most of these were the live performances.
“Bronski Beat, The Communards, Danny Wilson and Deacon Blue were just some of the highlights and they thoroughly enjoyed playing to such vibrant music lovers in Fat Sam’s.”
The success of Fatties, says Euan, was down to the progressive DJs and live bands who performed there.
“We steered away from the ‘disco scene’ and concentrated on quality alternative music.
“This led to the age bracket of our clientele being predominantly early to mid 20s upwards instead of teenagers.”
Climbing the Fatties ladder
Colin Rattray was one of the lucky few to experience the club’s opening night in 1983.
“I managed to sneak in ‘illegally’ because I was under age but I was about 6ft 3in and 16 stone so I looked the part!” he recalls.
“It was a night of extravagance for a 15-year-old boy from Broughty Ferry!
“I’d never been to a nightclub and it had such a lasting impression on me.
“Suddenly I was exposed to this glamour and excitement – people out having a great time. I realised I wanted to work in the licensing trade.”
Colin’s dream came true when in 1989 he was hired as a doorman.
Over the years he worked his way up through the ranks to become general manager in 2000, a post he held until 2012.
Colin, a former president of the Dundee Licensed Trade Association, is in the process of writing a tongue-in-cheek book about the history of Fat Sam’s.
“It’s about all the characters – the Dundee legends – who hung out there, and all the stars,” he reveals.
“I’m about six chapters in and hopefully it’ll be ready to publish this year.”
There will be a wealth of stories, anecdotes and tales to be told but Colin isn’t ready to give them away just yet.
He does hint at one, though. “The night Pete Doherty played in 2005, The View turned up and begged to play the support slot.
“It was me that eventually gave in and took up their demo CD to let Pete hear it.
“He asked if they were still around and the next thing we knew they were opening the gig for him!
“The View really played amazingly in front of a pretty hostile partisan Babyshambles crowd, but they were definitely won over!”
That was the beginning of their break into the big time.
Things weren’t looking quite so healthy for rock wildman Doherty that night.
“Ten minutes before Babyshambles were due on stage, I was informed Doherty was feeling unwell and that he needed a doctor,” recalls Colin.
“I asked to see him and I can’t tell you what a genuinely nice guy I found him to be – just really vulnerable and completely used by others.
“He had an infection on his abdomen that needed to be cleaned so I took him to my office, cleaned and dressed the wound as best I could and sent him on stage to avoid dealing with a potential riot.
“The gig was crazy but we and the venue survived.
“Goodness only knows how much Doherty had drunk on stage because he appeared sober before the gig and completely drunk afterwards and his dressing and wound needed to be replaced thanks to his energetic, frenzied performance.
“I really wanted him to go to hospital as I felt he needed stitches, but there was no way the entourage were letting that happen as they had a party organised for the bus to the next venue in England somewhere!
“I did the best I could to fix him up and at one point one of the entourage came in with a mobile phone so he could speak to Kate – I assumed Kate Moss.
“He was so drunk he told her he was with a doctor but she obviously didn’t believe him.
“He handed me the phone and she asked: ‘Are you a doctor’ and when I replied: ‘No, I’m a nightclub manager doing first aid’, she told me to tell him to ‘fxxxxxx grow up’!”
“I believed I’m mentioned in one of his books!”
Colin says many bands and acts played Fatties the night their singles shot up the charts to clinch the top spot.
“Eddi Reader played at Fat Sam’s the night she went to number one, as did Sigue Sigue Sputnik.
“There were so many epic gigs – Evan Dando, KT Tunstall, Snow Patrol, Texas, Deacon Blue, Franz Ferdinand… the list goes on.”
One of the main strengths of Fatties was its array of nights it put on, including Dance Factory, the under-18s night Rope Club and Subway.
“Subway had some incredible, revolutionary DJs like Ned Jordan and Dave Calikas,” says Colin.
“If they were doing this today, they’d be superstar DJs.
“They were playing dance music right out of Chicago and mixing it. Ned and Dave were playing tunes you’d hear in the charts six months later.”
Dundee nightclub tycoon Tony Cochrane took over Fat Sam’s in 2014.
“Since then, acts who have performed there include Lewis Capaldi, Sam Fender, Gerry Cinnamon, Twin Atlantic, The Snuts, Jake Bugg, John Newman and many more,” he says.
“I did hear that one regular in the early days was Phillip Schofield. He had a friend from Dundee and came up quite a few times to the club.”
Former Rocktalk writer Alan Wilson remembers the huge impact Fat Sam’s had on the local music scene in the early 80s.
“Until then we just had mainstream discos like the JM, Tiffany’s and Teazers and apart from the Caird Hall and the uni, there wasn’t really a proper music scene,” he says.
“I remember the Tayside Bar was brilliant for local alternative bands and there were occasional nights at the Royal Centre and the Tay Centre but then Stuart Clumpas started the Dance Factory, bringing breaking touring bands to Dundee at different venues.
“That settled at Fatties and all of a sudden Sundays and Thursdays were the nights to go out.
“I don’t remember seeing The Associates live but Billy Mackenzie was always around and we had a lot of mutual friends, so you always got a nod and a hello when he saw you.
“My pals were in The Divorce Brothers and I also saw Hipsway and loads of other great young bands.
“Usually they were on The Tube one week and then on at Fatties a few weeks later.”
Alan also remembers watching The Proclaimers on a Sunday night in 1987.
“Chris and Nick Wright used to DJ on Sunday nights too,” he adds.
“The Wright Brothers with their Screaming Wheels just played anything and everything. It was brilliant and so different from other discos.
Alan became good friends with Angus Robb when he took over the West Port Bar in the late 80s and turned it into one of Scotland’s best small venues before he launched The Mardi Gras as a major nightclub.
“He then took over at Fatties when it had fallen out of favour with Dundonians and was at a really low ebb and along with Colin Rattray, totally transformed it into one of Scotland’s biggest nightclubs,” says Alan.
“Gus was determined to keep bringing live music to Dundee and he built a new venue by extending into the building next door, which became Fat Sam’s Live, the 1000-plus capacity venue that Dundee was crying out for.
“More than anybody else Gus has maintained the Fatties tradition for combining live music and clubbing in Dundee.
“Fat Sam’s was such a breath of fresh air for people who didn’t really like mainstream discos and a safe haven for people who liked to be different.
“For almost 40 years it’s been the place to go to for live music in Dundee.”
Here are a few more images and posters from Fat Sam’s over the decades. Enjoy!
A band in action in the 80s. We’re not sure which band!
The Sugababes in 2002.
Rocking out on the stage in the late 80s.
Franz Ferdinand in 2007.
Another band from the late 80s.
Pete Doherty shows his support for Scotland at Fatties in 2007.
The dancefloor in December 1983 – a few weeks after Fat Sam’s opened.
Lewis Capaldi with Fat Sam’s owner Tony Cochrane.
An advert for a Circus Of Hell gig in 1984.
A poster advertising The Proclaimers gig in 1989.
The View in 2008.
On stage in 1988.
A poster for one of the nights at the club called Sweatbox.
More band action from the late 80s.
Some of the crowd from a fundraising gig for the Haiti earthquake disaster in 2010.
The packed dancefloor in 2010.
The Wave 102 Evening Telegraph Pub Idol 2007 competition in Fat Sam’s Live.