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Sex Pistols, Dire Straits and Motorhead performed at the Bowling Alley in Dundee

Dire Straits performed at the Bowling Alley in 1978 to a crowd of around 30 people before going on to global fame and fortune.
Dire Straits performed at the Bowling Alley in 1978 to a crowd of around 30 people before going on to global fame and fortune.

Some of music’s biggest names performed at the Bowling Alley in Dundee including Motorhead, Dire Straits and the Sex Pistols.

Simple Minds, The Skids, Joe Jackson, XTC, Chas and Dave, Frankie Miller and Runrig also played at the venue during its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s.

Card carrying students got in free and they could each sign in two paying guests.

The DJ was Brian Wilson with his Deepwater Disco sound system who played a diverse range of music which made visiting the Bowling Alley such a big draw.

The popular student venue was a former bowling alley

Skyline Bowling on the corner of Marketgait and Guthrie Street opened in 1965 before being transformed into the students’ union of the Technical College in the mid-1970s.

It kept its old tag as Dundonians still generally referred to it as the Bowling Alley.

Before gigs started there in 1976 the Bell Street Tech College students used to book bands to play at The Palais in South Tay Street.

The Sex Pistols performing on stage in 1976 during the Anarchy in the UK tour.

Tech Ents was responsible for booking the bands and got the Sex Pistols to perform for £250 on October 12 1976 just days after signing with EMI Records.

There was a conflict of music styles on offer in Marketgait as the Sex Pistols performed on the same night that legendary crooner Frankie Vaughan played the Barracuda.

The song and dance man was booked into the same hotel as the punk pioneers and they had breakfast the following morning in the same dining room.

The concert was a great success and afterwards Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren invited Tech Ents to host a return visit to Dundee for a second gig.

The students costed it out and found some businessmen who were prepared to finance the appearance and the Caird Hall was booked with the band to get £500.

Dundee District Council cancelled the December 16 concert after guitarist Steve Jones turned the air blue on Bill Grundy’s Thames Today show with a four-letter word, although the infamy that surrounded the live tea time appearance turned them into stars.

The Sex Pistols gave Dundee fans a punk rock education

Ross Niven from Monifieth said he realised he was witnessing something special when he watched the Sex Pistols perform at the Bowling Alley

“When you look at the quality and calibre of bands playing in Dundee during the 1970s and 1980s it was pretty amazing,” he said.

“We went to the Bowling Alley gig with little knowledge about the Sex Pistols or punk rock so we were given an education during the evening.

“John Lydon had a tremendous stage presence and completely held the audience in the palm of his hand.

“I did realise at the time that I was witnessing something special.

“The next day I went into Bruce’s Record Shop in Reform Street to order the single, Anarchy in the UK, and they hadn’t heard of the song or the band.

“All that was about to change following the Grundy show!

“Within days, everyone had heard of them!

The Sex Pistols performed in Dundee in 1976.

“I think it was great PR from Malcolm McLaren, their manager, to boost their presence.

“As an aside, I eventually got the single on the EMI record label.

“EMI then distanced themselves from the controversy that they courted.

“They switched to Richard Branson’s Virgin record label and the relatively few EMI copies of Anarchy in the UK have now become a holy grail item.”

Dire Straits played the Bowling Alley on June 21 1978 as part of a concert tour of the UK and Europe to promote the band’s first single Sultans of Swing.

The student who turned down a job with Dire Straits

Mark Knopfler, John Illsley, David Knopfler and Pick Withers were watched by just 30 people before they swapped the pubs and clubs for the biggest stages in the world.

At the time the Bowling Alley employed a ‘Humpin’ Squad’ which was led by Robin Patterson whose job was to help the roadies to get the band’s gear upstairs.

The band were so impressed they offered Robin a job with them as a roadie on their upcoming US tour which he declined because he wanted to finish his college course.

Dire Straits went on to sell more than 120 million albums which featured hits including Money for Nothing, Romeo and Juliet and Walk of Life.

Dire Straits performing on TV in 1979 following the success of their debut album.

Chas and Dave performed at the Bowling Alley in December 1979 after agreeing a fee with the Tech students which included a case of Newcastle Brown Ale!

“Every year in December, on the last Friday of term, the union organised an ‘all-nighter’, known as the Snoball,” said former DJ Brian Wilson.

“The entertainment consisted of six bands, two discos and a couple of female ‘novelty acts’, spread over two rooms, and ran from eight in the evening until six in the morning.

“On the Wednesday leading up to the 1979 Snoball, Martin Webster, the VP Entertainments at the time, received the shock news that Friday’s headline band had pulled out of the gig.

“He immediately started phoning round the agents, and eventually found out that Lindisfarne were playing at the Caird Hall on the Thursday night and had a free night on the Friday, before playing Glasgow or Aberdeen on the Saturday.

“Martin asked about the possibility of Lindisfarne agreeing to play at the Snoball and the agent said he would get back to him.”

Chas and Dave were paid with a case of Newcastle Brown

Within a couple of hours, the agent reported back that Lindisfarne were looking forward to their night off.

But he suggested the support band, Chas and Dave, could be agreeable to a suitable offer.

Chas and Dave were paid with a lump sum and a case of ale thrown in for good measure!

Brian added: “It was arranged that Martin, Pete, my disco partner, and I would meet up with Chas and Dave after their set on Thursday evening.

“I should say that Chas and Dave had previously played at the Bowling Alley and had gone down a storm.

“We duly arrived stage left during their last number and when they finished their set, suggested that it would be fine to go somewhere that served beer to discuss things, so we took them round to The George in Castle Street and, over pints, in a traditional Dundee pub, a deal was thrashed out, involving what is known in Dundee as a ‘back-hander’ and a case of, if my memory serves me well, Newcastle Brown Ale!”

Chas and Dave went on to write a series of classic hits in the 80s including Rabbit, Snooker Loopy, London Girls, Ain’t No Pleasing You, and Margate.

Brian Wilson brought his Deepwater Disco sound system to the Bowling Alley

Brian Wilson became the resident DJ at the Bowling Alley in November 1976.

He was joined by the late ‘Pete the Camera’ who was there each week to photograph the disco action and the bands who played there over the years.

“After my stint as DJ in The Palais from 1972-74, Pete and I started to put together Deepwater Disco from the end of 1974 onwards,” he said.

“The name came from a Grapefruit track, because I could make a jingle out of the chorus.

“Our first gigs were at Kirkton Community Centre under-14s club in February and March 1976 and we kind of fell into the Bowling Alley gig by accident.

“We had joined a loose grouping of DJs and mobile discos which shared out bookings.

“For the evening of November 12 1976, we had no booking and were third on the rota for any booking that came up for that night.

“The night before, a booking came in for a disco for the Bowling Alley and we got it.”

Students enjoy dancing to Brian’s diverse mix of music on a busy night at the Bowling Alley.

The rest is history.

He said: “Our philosophy was to play whatever requests we got and we managed pretty well.

“I very quickly realised that ‘student music’ as a genre didn’t exist, particularly in Dundee, where around 60% of students at the Tech were home grown, with their own peer groups and music preferences.

“Most requests, initially were for various kinds of rock, interspersed with a smattering of disco, chart, soul, pop and reggae with punk beginning to rear its head.

“As the years went by, the requests followed what was going on chart-wise.

“There was always a rump of heavy rock but punk, new wave, power pop, new romantic, indie and pure pop all had their day, as the 80s progressed.”

Deepwater Disco also organised two Bowling Alley beach parties in 1978 and 1979 which were held on the final night of the summer term.

There was no admission unless students were wearing beach wear.

The dress code was vigorously enforced with people being turned away at the door although one student turned up in a diving suit and flippers!

Brian gave up his role as DJ in March 1987.