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Bally’s nightclub brought the biggest stars of the 1980s to Arbroath

Ally Bally bought the nightclub in 1988 and the venue played host to some of the decade's biggest stars.
Ally Bally bought the nightclub in 1988 and the venue played host to some of the decade's biggest stars.

Bally’s was the nightclub which brought some of the biggest stars of the 1980s to Arbroath including Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue.

The West Links nightspot became so popular that some A-listers would appear for just their petrol money.

The venue is now a cinema but the story of Bally’s is worthy of its own Hollywood script.

At the helm of this real-life soap opera was broadcasting legend Ally Bally who bought the club in 1988 while riding the crest of a wave on Radio Tay.

Radio Tay legend Ally Bally bought the nightclub in 1988.

His stint at Bally’s saw him reach greater heights of popularity as he was named Britain’s top DJ ahead of the likes of Tony Blackburn and Terry Wogan.

Ally said: “I had opened and been running a wallpaper and paint shop in Forfar as well as hosting the breakfast show on Radio Tay.

“Brian and Allison Bonnyman, who owned the Royal Hotel in Forfar, asked me to run the nightclub part of the hotel, which I did for a couple of years which gave me the experience of nightclubs.

“It was brought to my attention that Smokey’s nightclub in Arbroath was for sale, having closed down several months earlier.

“I made the move and the rest as they say is history.”

Kylie arrived in secret on opening night

Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan’s on-screen romance in Neighbours had spilled over into real life by the time Jason arrived to open the nightclub in July 1988.

Kylie arrived in secret and went unrecognised by the punters but Jason almost left the venue without his fee after Ally refused to pay up after a row with his agent.

“I was lucky to strike up a couple of friendships with club promoters Tony Cochrane and Brian Orr and both had great connections with record companies and stars from TV soaps,” he said.

“It was a win, win for everyone.

“As I was still doing a daily radio show on Radio Tay, the visiting artistes to Bally’s would be interviewed for the show and of course I would play their new single, so they were getting radio play and a large live audience at the club.

Jason Donovan signing autographs for fans in Bally’s when he opened the nightclub in 1988.

“Through personal experience, it was a top priority for me that any artiste visiting Bally’s was given the red carpet treatment, so everyone was offered a meal and drinks in the private VIP lounge.

“It created a buzz in the industry and artistes wanted to travel to Arbroath and often they would appear for just the price of their petrol money!

“Jason Donovan bringing Kylie along with him was of course an added bonus but one story I haven’t told up until now, was the stand off between Jason’s manager and myself.

“You see the agreement was that Radio Tay would get an interview with Jason and their mid-morning presenter Graeme Adamson.

“Graeme had been waiting around to record the interview for his show the next day, however when Jason came off stage, his manager was none too keen for this to happen, saying he was not doing it.

The Bally’s fans go wild for another big act on stage at the Arbroath club.

“He stated: ‘It is only a local radio station, and Jason only does nationals’.

“It was clear to me that Jason’s manager was being the diva here, and Jason had no problem with doing the interview.

“As you can imagine I saw red at this point!

“He did not make the connection between me the nightclub owner and the radio, so when he asked for payment so they could get on their way, I refused.

“After lengthy discussions, suffice to say, Graeme got his interview!”

Graeme finally gets his Radio Tay interview after Ally saw red at Jason’s agent.

Bally’s hosted most of the cast of Neighbours and Brookside along with new pop stars that were making their way up the charts like Sonia and Big Fun.

Ally left Sonia lost for words

Sonia appeared at Bally’s in 1989 to perform her debut single You’ll Never Stop Loving which proved to be so good that the audience got to hear it twice!

“The song was number 1 when Sonia performed at Bally’s,” said Ally.

“The crowd went wild and I picked up the microphone and asked the crowd: ‘Do you want to hear another one?’ and they started cheering again.

“That’s when Sonia whispered to me: ‘Ally, that’s the only song I have!’

“Quick as a flash I turned to the crowd and said: ‘Do you want to hear it again?’

“I put the backing track on again and Sonia performed it for a second time!”

Ally pictured after the nightclub opened in July 1988.

Ally said the people of Arbroath made Bally’s special.

“Arbroath was in need of a venue that could cater for various events, not just disco, which is why we named it Bally’s Nightlife,” he said.

“We opened it up to the community – yes at the weekend it was a nightclub, but community groups were able to use the venue for fundraising which brought many people through the doors who would not normally be visiting a nightclub.

Neighbours star Stefan Dennis was another Bally’s regular in the 1980s.

“We were full to capacity of 1,200 people most Fridays and Saturdays and with the under-18s on a Sunday evening, it was a constant happy party atmosphere.

“My late ex-wife Helen and I could not have wished for a better team of staff.”

Kid Jensen left in a Royal Mail plane

Bally’s over-30s nights also became very successful and guests included Showaddywaddy, The Searchers, The Platters and The Tremeloes.

Freddie and the Dreamers were booked into a B&B in Arbroath before performing and enjoyed their stay so much they stayed for six nights!

They travelled across Scotland for the rest of their gigs and lead singer Freddie Garrity even bought a new car from an Arbroath garage before leaving.

DJ David ‘Kid’ Jensen brought the Network Chart Show roadshow to Bally’s before making a first class departure in the back of a Royal Mail plane.

David ‘Kid’ Jensen made a first-class exit from Tayside in the back of a Royal Mail plane.

“Millions of people tuned in to the Network Chart Show when went out live at 5pm every Sunday,” said Ally.

“I got word that they were doing a series of roadshows in nightclubs across the country and put a bid in to bring the only Scottish date to Arbroath.

“The Network Chart Show with David Kid Jensen and his entourage duly arrived on the Saturday afternoon for the evening appearance.

“We had dinner at Idvies House in Letham and the team from London were staying overnight at the Seaforth Hotel.

“The problem arose when trying to get David back to London early Sunday morning to record his show as there were no scheduled flights.

“We managed to get him a lift on the Royal Mail plane!

“Several years later, I was at a dinner in London where David was also a guest.

“We were at the same table and were going around the table saying who we were and where we were from.

“When I said I had travelled from Dundee, David launched into his experience of travelling in a mail plane.

“It was just him, the pilot and bags and bags of mail.

“I let him tell his very humorous story to the table before I revealed my part in his trip!”

Ally has special memories of Bally’s

Ally has a ‘memory box’ of photos from Bally’s which include some cherished shots of his late son Craig alongside many of the stars his dad brought to Arbroath.

Ally finally gave up the nightclub in the early 1990s.

Ally alongside the staff who made the experience so special back in the late 80s and early 90s.

“I was burning the candle three ends and my family life was suffering so something had to give,” he said.

“Radio Tay was just about to appoint a programme director and I was asked if I would consider taking it on and I did.

“I have no regrets, it was a great experience but I could not have even opened the doors without the help and assistance of a few people.

“To them I will always be grateful.”

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