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Past Times

How Clark’s bar became much-loved Dundee live music venue

We’ve had a dig through the DC Thomson archives to find nostalgic pictures of the venue and chart the story of the building which started life in the early 1870s.
Graeme Strachan
Inside Clark's bar in Dundee.
The closure of Clark's was a hammer blow for Dundee's music scene. Image: DC Thomson.

Clark’s bar being brought back to life will open a fresh chapter in the history of the building which became one of Dundee’s top live music venues.

Clark’s opened in 2011 and played host to many up-and-coming bands as well as a variety of popular cover bands and big acts like ’80s synth-pop heroes China Crisis.

Based in North Lindsay Street, the much-loved venue has remained boarded up and closed since 2020 when the first lockdown forever changed life as we know it.

Owner Scott Clark now plans to open once again in the not-too-distant future following the success of “pop up” events at the nearby Captain’s Cabin last November.

Clark's in Dundee.
Clark’s was always packed to the gunnels on a Friday and Saturday night. Image: DC Thomson.

We’ve had a dig through the DC Thomson archives to find nostalgic pictures of the venue and chart the story of the building which started life in the early 1870s.

So why should delighted pubgoers be raising a glass to Dundee’s greatest-ever ice hockey player following the news that Clark’s will be reopening in the summer?

Brian King tells us more.

Brian’s book, titled Dundee Pubs, gives the Big Red Book treatment to some of the city’s oldest, quirkiest and most famous watering holes including Clark’s.

The popular watering hole in North Lindsay Street was always filled with familiar faces. Image: DC Thomson.

Brian said: “Clark’s actually closed between me writing the book and it coming out.

“A month after I handed in the finished materials to the publishers the government had closed every pub in the country and sadly Clark’s was one that did not open again.

“The building which contains Clark’s was not always a pub, though.

“It was built in 1874-5 as Lindsay Street Mill by local architects MacLaren and Aitken for the firm of John Henderson and Sons.”

You could be guaranteed to party the night away with like-minded fun-loving people at Clark’s. Image: DC Thomson.

Messrs John Henderson and Sons, a firm of flax spinners and manufacturers, was founded in the early 1850s by John Henderson, later in partnership with his two sons.

Their business at Lindsay Street Works was claimed to have been one of the first firms of manufacturers to engage in the spinning of jute in the city.

The jute mill was completely gutted by fire in 1866 and replaced by a range of buildings.

It was perhaps the first mill designed by architects rather than engineers.

MacLaren and Aitken excelled in the job they were given and they produced a rose window gable and a magnificent stair tower with lantern and French pavilion roof.

Do you remember the Keyhole?

In 1931, it was sold to Brown Brothers who occupied it for the next 51 years.

Brian said: “The credit for spotting the premises’ potential as a pub must go to the local newsagent whose shop was at number 72 North Lindsay Street.

“If that was his only contribution to Dundee life then music fans at least would still have cause to be thankful to him but this newsagent – Marshall Key – was also one of the city’s greatest ever sportsmen.”

The Keyhole Lounge Bar is pictured in 1986
The Keyhole Lounge Bar is pictured in 1986. Image: DC Thomson.

Spotted by coach George McNeil, he began playing ice hockey progressing to the junior Dundee Rockets team aged 13 and the senior Dundee Tigers at age 16.

In total, he played in 506 pro games for Dundee Tigers, Harringay Racers, Edinburgh Royals and Paisley Pirates in the Canadian-dominated seasons from 1948-1960.

He scored 217 goals, 332 assists, for 549 points, being assessed 167 minutes in penalties.

Having worked in the newspaper circulation business with the Daily Mail on leaving school, he had been in full-time hockey since completing two years of National Service in the RAF in 1952.

Marshall Key
Marshall Key was used to making headlines before he started selling newspapers for a living. Image: DC Thomson.

Key took over the running of his father’s shop in North Lindsay Street in 1962.

Twenty years later he and his wife Doreen bought the Brown Brothers premises.

Brian said: “They sold off the upper floors but transformed part of the ground floor into a pub they called The Keyhole – a play on their surname that also came with an obvious logo and a slogan ‘Look into the…’ followed by the keyhole symbol.

“After selling the Keyhole in 1987, Marshall ran the Invergowrie Inn. In 2000, he performed the opening ceremony for the Dundee Ice Arena, where one of the function suites is named after him.”

He died in 2016.

Triumph and tragedy

Key always made his customers feel special – just like Scott Clark.

That’s why so many of them followed him from the glory days of the Westport Bar in the 1990s through his various pubs like Braes on Perth Road and finally Clark’s in 2011.

Scott himself is from a famous Dundee musical family.

Scott Clark is returning to the helm at Clark's on Lindsay Street
Scott Clark is returning to the helm at Clark’s on Lindsay Street. Image: Mhairi Edwards/DC Thomson.

Twin brother Gary and third Clark brother Kit were bandmates in Danny Wilson.

The pub was formerly Irish bar O’Neill’s and Scott carefully built the new venue’s reputation for live music along with Kit, who booked the bands and performed DJ sets.

Clark’s hit the ground running and was immediately popular.

A crowd watches Funk Connection playing in Clark's Bar at 2018's Almost Blue festival.
A crowd watches Funk Connection playing in Clark’s Bar at 2018’s Almost Blue festival. Image: DC Thomson.

Scott also became one of the organisers of Dundee’s live music festival, Almost Blue, after it was announced that the Dundee Blues Bonanza would not take place in 2014.

He actually invented the name.

Clark’s became one of the staple venues on the festival’s circuit.

Clark’s was also the perfect place for work night’s out and retirement parties. Image: DC Thomson.

The pub became a Dundee institution in just a few short years.

There was always a full house in Clark’s on a Friday and Saturday night with people partying and dancing and enjoying the bands playing on stage.

It seemed the music would never stop.

Sadly images like this became a thing of the past when social distancing was introduced. Image: DC Thomson.

Then Covid hit in March 2020.

All restaurants, cafés, pubs and cinemas were asked to close and people were told to practise social distancing, with stricter measures for the more vulnerable.

The government assistance kept Clark’s going for a while before Scott announced the venue would be shutting for good in September 2020.

Clark’s was popular with people of all ages and always made for the best night out. Image: DC Thomson.

He said: “Obviously it’s tough making the decision to close but it had to be done for financial reasons as we don’t own the building.

“It’s nice to know the customers and musicians who have visited or played over the years have enjoyed it and have fond memories, so a big thank you to them, as well as all our hard-working staff.

“I wouldn’t say this is the end, though. It won’t be in the same building again, but in a year’s time, who knows, the situation will hopefully have changed, and there will maybe be an opportunity to do something in Dundee.”

He said what had set Clark’s apart was the unique atmosphere.

Who could have known that the music would have stopped so suddenly back in 2020? Image: DC Thomson.

“I have always believed in putting loads of work into getting that right,” he said.

“That is to do with getting into the heads of the staff, into the heads of everybody that works for you on the door, the people that come in and play.

“Whenever we got feedback about Clark’s the word atmosphere would come up all the time. And for me that is the key thing. It brings people back and it is not an accident.”

When asked for his favourite memories from the nine years of Clark’s, he cited legendary gigs by China Crisis and Chris Difford from the rock group Squeeze.

Scott added: “The main thing was just the sense of feeling great every time the atmosphere was right and there was live music on and people were loving it; whether it was a well-known national band or just one of our mate’s bands.

“It was that feeling that people were having a great time.”

The good vibes and good tunes will be returning to Clark’s in the summer of 2023. Image: DC Thomson.

Three years after Covid kicked them out of their iconic home, Scott and his team are buzzing and can’t wait to get back behind the bar, hopefully within weeks, and say they are not planning to change much.

Their customers are buzzing too.

This iconic venue has been sadly missed.