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Past Times

Pete Doherty and Calvin Harris were the stars – but it was Dundee clubbers who made Fat Sam’s ‘unforgettable’

Colin Rattray has been sharing memories of running Fat Sam's nightclub in Dundee.
Graeme Strachan
Clubbers on the dancefloor at Fat Sam's in Dundee.
There was always a special night to enjoy at Fatties. Image: DC Thomson.

Grove Academy pupil Colin Rattray was 17 and sneaked in under-age to Fat Sam’s when the nightclub opened 40 years ago.

It was the start of a love affair with a nightclub he would end up running.

Not that his rise through the ranks was conventional.

He started by lugging band gear upstairs then working the door before becoming general manager as the 550-capacity venue was transformed into a clubbing behemoth.

Colin crammed in enough adventures to fill a dozen large volumes including an awkward encounter with Kate Moss while playing doctor to her boyfriend, Pete Doherty.

And there was the time Calvin Harris was struck and downed by a rogue shoe from the crowd and Colin spent the concert looking for a person with one trainer missing.

Colin is sharing his memories of 22 years spent “officially” working at Fat Sam’s to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the nightclub, which opened in December 1983.

Fat Sam’s made lasting impression on Colin

There was great excitement at the opening.

Colin was 17 but looked older at 6ft 3in tall with a 16-stone frame and managed to get past the doorman and found himself immediately hooked by the magic atmosphere.

The Broughty Ferry lad was like a kid in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

“It was entirely different to what had come before in Dundee,” he told me.

“It was mysterious and adventurous with great tunes and fantastic characters.

“It made a lasting impression on me.”

Colin Rattray with the 2005 award for Scotland’s best nightclub. 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 the alternative crowd.

“My grandfather had been in the licensed trade,” said Colin.

“It was definitely what I wanted to do, although it didn’t happen overnight.”

Yargo on stage at Fat Sam's.
Yargo played the Dance Factory at Fat Sam’s in March 1988. Image: Retro Dundee.

Colin took a few different bar jobs during his teenage years before embarking on his “first foray” at Fatties when he was asked if he could “load in a band” in the mid-1980s.

The list of bands that played Fat Sam’s reads like a who’s who of the decade’s best and Colin helped the roadies with the band’s gear and made sure everything was ready.

Among the bands he recalls working with were Mersey legends The Farm, Love and Money, Hipsway and Garbage singer Shirley Manson’s band, Goodbye Mr Mackenzie.

Shirley Manson at Fat Sam's.
Shirley Manson on keyboards with Goodbye Mr Mackenzie at Fat Sam’s in 1987. Image: Retro Dundee.

“There were so many big bands appearing at Fatties in the 1980s,” said Colin.

“The singles chart was everything back then and we seemed to have a knack of booking a band or artist and they would be number 1 by the time they came to play the gig.”

Life got in the way and lugging band gear faded away for Colin as he studied at university before taking a series of jobs from supermarket tills to selling cars.

There was regular door work at the Parliamentary Bar in Nethergate before the call came from Fatties in 1990, when Derek Anderson and Louise Fenwick were in charge.

I can’t imagine anyone loving their job as much as I did.”

Colin Rattray

“Louise knew me and asked if I would consider running the door because they were short-staffed and I ended up working alongside Stevie Ogilvie,” said Colin.

“Stevie was a legend – the king of the one-liner.

“Sadly, he is no longer with us but he had this ability to read people.

“I would finish at the Parliamentary then go to Fat Sam’s.

“I quickly became head doorman and when Louise left I was asked to step up to become the assistant manager and everything changed and Fatties became a full-time job.”

Fat Sam's quiet bar all stocked up in 1993. Image: DC Thomson.
Fat Sam’s quiet bar all stocked up in 1993. Image: DC Thomson.

And what a job.

“It was just great fun every day, which sounds like such a cliche,” he said.

“Here I was with a front row seat at the best nightclub in Dundee and all the glitz and glamour that went with it. The place was full of so many brilliant characters.

“I can’t imagine anyone loving their job as much as I did.”

Red Stripe and vodka paralysers

Colin said there was a hardcore of regulars in the 500-capacity venue, which meant it was effectively self-policed once getting past the door staff.

That was the atmosphere that would set Fatties apart from the rest.

“We also had a slightly different drinks choice – I think we were ahead of the game with things like Red Stripe lager but it’s probably best not to mention Vodka Paralysers.

“I’m not sure you’d get away with naming a drink like that these days!”

Bruce Linton and Angus Robb bought Fatties in the noughties and invested millions, which brought the capacity up to 3,500 over three floors and seven different rooms.

A group pictured on a night out at Fat Sam's in 2012. Image: DC Thomson.
A group pictured on a night out at Fat Sam’s in 2012. Image: DC Thomson.

“Overnight everything changed and we became Scotland’s biggest nightclub,” he said.

“We were bussing in people from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews – I remember one Wednesday we brought 700 students over from St Andrews.

“Ten buses back and forward!

“We had three floors, seven rooms and seven different DJs – you could go from room to room and experience a completely different atmosphere in each one.

Clubbers came from near and far for a night out in Fatties. Image: DC Thomson.
Clubbers came from near and far for a night out in Fatties. Image: DC Thomson.

“Before I left in 2012 we still had people through the door who had been there on the opening night in 1983 and that’s what made the club so special – the customers.

“You could be 18 or 48 because there was something for everyone.”

Buster Bloodvessel performed star jumps

What gigs stand out for Colin during his time at Fatties?

“Peter Green from Fleetwood Mac was a hero who played here,” said Colin.

“The biggest surprise? Buster Bloodvessel and Bad Manners.

Buster Bloodvessel sings into the mic
Buster Bloodvessel brought Special Brew to Fat Sam’s. Image: Supplied.

“They wanted to play a warm-up before going on tour but I thought they were a band that were past their best and I had real doubts they would fill the venue.

“How wrong I was. Buster Bloodvessel turned up with 14 or 15 musicians and fitting them all on stage was the first challenge but they played the most amazing set.

“We all thought the set had ended when Buster left the stage and ordered two pints of lager which he downed immediately before returning.

“He had his back to the crowd, jumped in the air, turned round, did a bizarre star jump despite his large frame, then shouted into the mike: ‘This is ska!’

“The whole place jumped as one. I almost wet myself – 450 people all at once.

“They played for another hour and it was genuinely one of the best gigs I’ve been to in my life.”

Pete Doherty on stage at Fat Sam's after being patched up by Colin.
Pete Doherty on stage at Fat Sam’s after being patched up by Colin. Image: Supplied.

Then there was Babyshambles in 2005 and The View’s big break.

Lead singer Kyle Falconer heard Pete Doherty was doing a gig with Babyshambles and turned up with their demo CD and begged to play the support slot.

Colin agreed to take up their demo CD to let Doherty hear it.

It was the beginning of their break into the big time.

“I had so many different visions of what to expect but Pete was a lovely man in the grip of addiction who was being completely used by others,” said Colin.

“It was the only day in Fat Sam’s history I had to put a doorman on at 10am in the morning because we had every drug dealer and his granny hanging about the club.

“I would also never have spoken to Kate Moss in my life if it wasn’t for Pete.

“Ten minutes before Babyshambles were due on stage, I was informed Pete was feeling unwell and that he needed a doctor – he was off heroin but had picked a scab.

“It was bleeding and I was a first aider so I took him to my office and cleaned him up when one of his party came in with a mobile phone and said it was Kate.

“She was shouting down the phone at him rather than talking!

“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’, she told me to tell him to f****** grow up.”

Who threw a shoe at Calvin Harris?

DJ Calvin Harris had an unusual welcome at a show in 2009.

A flying shoe hit him in the face.

Calvin Harris goes down clutching his face after being struck by a white trainer. Image: DC Thomson.
Calvin Harris goes down clutching his face after being struck by a white trainer. Image: DC Thomson.

“I’ve no idea to this day who threw the shoe,” said Colin.

“Calvin took it brilliantly, picked it up and carried on.

“I was mortified.

“Why would anyone want to throw a shoe in the first place?

“I spent the next hour trying to find anyone with a missing shoe.

“I never found them.”

Fat Sam's in 1983.
The Fat Sam’s dancefloor in December 1983. Image: DC Thomson.

Colin left Fatties in 2012 and finds it hard to pick a stand-out moment from what he described as 22 years doing the best job in the world – with the best people.

“The Dundee customers were part of the fabric,” he said.

“I don’t know if Fat Sam’s would have made it anywhere else.

“Those days were unforgettable.”