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Past Times

Fat Sam’s at 40: What are your memories of Dundee nightclub?

A new name emerged on the Dundee nightclub scene 40 years ago: Fat Sam's opened in December 1983. reports.
Graeme Strachan
People on the crowded dance floor at Fat Sam's in Dundee.
The Fat Sam's crowd were a diverse mix and enjoyed alternative music. Image: Tony Cochrane.

There was a new name on the Dundee nightclub scene 40 years ago.

Fat Sam’s opened in a former warehouse in South Ward Road on December 6 1983.

Ron McCulloch and Mark Goldinger wanted to provide the “best nightclub in the city” and bought Fat Sam’s after opening the successful Henry Afrika’s in Glasgow.

They came with impressive credentials.

Henry Afrika’s was the place everyone wanted to be — including Rod Stewart.

Fat Sam’s opened from Wednesday to Sunday with entry at £3 and the dress code of “smart but casual” being the guidelines given to staff on the door.

The fashions, of course, matched the music.

The dancefloor and lights of Fat Sam's nightclub in 1983. Image: DC Thomson.
The dancefloor and lights of Fat Sam’s nightclub in 1983. Image: DC Thomson.

“Fatties” never underestimated its audience and the owners wanted to break the mould and establish the nightclub as the place to go for alternative music.

This led to clubbers being predominantly aged in their early to mid-20s and upwards.

It was here that Stuart Clumpas launched the Dance Factory and the opening weekend brought Bourgie Bourgie to the venue, whose lead singer, Paul Quinn, was from Dundee.

Fat Sam’s was based on Henry Afrika’s

An advertising feature in the Evening Telegraph said Fat Sam’s was based on the principle of providing “the best of music and the most comfortable of surroundings”.

DJ Phil Jordan behind the decks after taking over in 1983. Image: Tony Cochrane.
DJ Phil Jordan behind the decks after taking over in 1983. Image: Tony Cochrane.

“Nestling behind the façade of a former warehouse building in South Ward Road, the exterior gives little hint of what is to come for patrons, who will be pleasantly surprised by the roomy interior,” it read.

“In fact, there are two ‘interiors’ – a disco area and a restaurant and cocktail bar, holding a total of around 500 people.

“There are two bars in the disco area, along with a separate stage which is to be used for live bands during the week.

The bar at Fat Sam's which welcomed customers in December 1983. Image: DC Thomson.
The bar at Fat Sam’s which welcomed customers in December 1983. Image: DC Thomson.

“Ron McCulloch, who owns the new nightclub, in partnership with Mark Goldinger and Harold Ure, has based the design around Henry Afrika’s in Glasgow.

“If Fat Sam’s is as well frequented as that club, which is a favourite haunt for many celebrities visiting or playing in Glasgow, then Mr McCulloch and his associates can look forward to realising their ambition of providing the best nightclub in the city.

“Fat Sam’s’ main priority is going to be to provide the most up-to-date music of the day alongside mainstream chart records at the weekends to establish the nightclub as perhaps ‘the’ place to go for good music.

“Fat Sam’s is certainly worth a visit for anyone who likes the night life.”

Phil Jordan (back row, white hat) surrounded by some of the Fat Sam's regulars. Image: Tony Cochrane.
Phil Jordan (back row, white hat) surrounded by some of the Fat Sam’s regulars. Image: Tony Cochrane.

Discerning clubbers will know that some of the best nights out happen just before the weekend officially starts.

Mr McCulloch said Wednesday would be the “fashionable” night where they would be playing records “not in the charts yet” but songs “which we think will make it”.

A lot of bands and artistes come into Henry Afrika’s after they have played in Glasgow and we would hope to attract any of them playing in Dundee to Fat Sam’s.”

Ron McCulloch

Then, resident DJ Phil Jordan, well-known from Smokeys Nightclub in Arbroath, would take over to run a “specialised disco night” on Thursday.

The weekend was back to playing mainstream music from the Top 40.

The 80-seat restaurant served food from 10am to 2am “from a light snack to an American hamburger to a three-course meal” with prices ranging from £2 to £20.

The exterior of Fat Sam's in Dundee
Fat Sam’s left its mark on Dundee after opening in 1983. Image: DC Thomson.

Mr McCulloch said the nightclub décor might surprise visitors and was “a more subtle blend of colours and a more traditional approach” than most of their competitors in Dundee.

“We have tried to keep away from the miles of chrome, glitter and mirrors on every wall that you tend to see in a lot of modern places,” he said.

Stone, natural wood and bare brick finishes were complemented by “ornaments and antiques from all over the world” to give a “comfortable club” atmosphere.

A flyer advertising all of Fat sam's' club night
There was always a big night out happening at Fat Sam’s. Image: Tony Cochrane.

The lighting system was seen in the UK for the first time on BBC’s Top of the Pops and Mr McCulloch wanted to bring those kind of stars to the stage in Dundee.

“A lot of bands and artistes come into Henry Afrika’s after they have played in Glasgow and we would hope to attract any of them playing in Dundee to Fat Sam’s,” he said.

“It’s good for a city to have a nightclub where you can meet celebrities, and our coming from Glasgow, could help, too, because we already know a lot of them and might even be able to persuade them to play in Dundee as an extra date if they know they have a good new nightclub to go to.”

Fat Sam’s put its mark on live music.

After a few months of running their Sunday nights, Stuart Clumpas was managing the whole club after agreeing “on the condition that a nice car came with the job”.

The list of bands that played Fat Sam’s reads like a who’s who of the decade’s best, including performances from Prefab Sprout, Bronski Beat and The Waterboys in 1984.

The Associates, Erasure, The Housemartins, James, Deacon Blue, The Shamen, The Proclaimers, Danny Wilson, Primal Scream and Simply Red were other highlights.

The La’s, Texas and The Fall also performed, while Fairground Attraction took to the stage for a sell-out gig on the same day Perfect hit the top of the singles chart.

The cocktail lounge at Fat Sam's in 1993, as the nightclub entered a new decade. Image: DC Thomson.
The cocktail lounge at Fat Sam’s in 1993, as the nightclub entered a new decade. Image: DC Thomson.

Stuart went on to found both T in the Park and the V Festivals.

Fat Sam’s filled a void for the alternative crowd.

It soon became recognised across the city and beyond and was later to be taken over and much expanded by Angus Robb, well-known for running the Westport Bar.

The Fat Sam’s bar in 1993 and many will remember the mirror backdrop. Image: DC Thomson.

Mr Robb transformed it into one of Scotland’s biggest nightclubs, alongside Colin Rattray, and competed with the Mardi Gras, which opened next door in March 1995.

They later expanded into the building next door to build Fat Sam’s Live.

The dancefloor of Fat Sam's
The dancefloor of Fat Sam’s has been trod upon by thousands of people over the years. Image: DC Thomson.

Dundee nightclub tycoon Tony Cochrane took over Fat Sam’s in 2014 and refurbished the five-bar venue and introduced the likes of Aura, Duck Slattery’s and Club Tropicana.

“I ran a small club called Club Feet, which catered for the alternative crowd, playing music you would never hear in the average Dundee nightspot,” he told me.

“Then Fat Sam’s opened and was the coolest thing to happen for Dundee with the best and most knowledgeable DJs behind the decks in Phil Jordan and Dave Calikes.

Revellers enjoying another big night in 2012. Image: DC Thomson.
Fat Sam’s revellers enjoying another big night in 2012. Image: DC Thomson.

“Fatties became a local institution with the best atmosphere and the coolest clientele.

“I was offered the opportunity to take over the club 10 years ago after the operators decided to move out and we have kept the big names coming to play at Fat Sam’s Live.

“Lewis Capaldi, Sam Fender, Snow Patrol and Manic Street Preachers have performed alongside some of the top DJs including Calvin Harris, Carl Cox and Joel Corry and, of course, local hero Hannah Laing.

“We are planning to hold an event to celebrate the 40th anniversary early next year.”

Patrons in Fatties in 2012
Fat Sam’s was still the place to go for a night out in 2012. Image: DC Thomson.

Fat Sam’s’ 40 years of history looms large in 2023.

Photographs and memorabilia of the bands that played in the 1980s and 1990s are on the wall and there is also a piano bar at the back which pays homage to the past.

It’s called Play It Again Sam.

Sam at 40?

Here’s looking at you, kid.

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