On Monday August 16 1976 two 22-year-old lads, armed with a substantial record collection and £500, opened a record store at 89 Perth Road.
Groucho’s was a musical treasure trove, a feast for the eyes, ears and nose (the shop had an earthy patchouli scent which could be smelt from down the street).
Joy Melville, now aged 49, recalls the distinct smell of the shop – something which intrigued her even at the tender age of six. Her family lived just off the busy thoroughfare, on Springfield, and the mix of colourful and curious characters ambling in and out of the shop all day often left her desperate to find out more.
“It had the Groucho Marx face painted on its exterior and you could smell it from outside,” she said. “That sounds terrible but there was always a smell of patchouli oil or incense sticks. I used to wonder, ‘what’s that strange shop?’
“There were also such interesting people coming and going. I remember, around that time, that was when the punk thing was kicking off, so lots of really interesting looking people with green spiky hair and tartan bondage trousers and what not.
“That would be the place they would gravitate towards to get their records, t-shirts and badges.”
Joy, who works for Hillcrest and now lives in Monifieth, says her two older brothers, one of whom was a rocker – “the whole Pink Floyd long greasy hair” – and the other, who was a punk, would regularly frequent the store.
“They were going there, and I was always wanting to go. I think my mum thought it must have been some sort of subversive, dodgy place because I was never allowed to go. But I eventually did go and I must have been aged around 10 when I first ventured in.”
Once she made it through the doors, Joy became obsessed.
“Everything was just so different. We got badges made there and actually, when I think about it, that continued right through my raving days. In the late ’80s, early ’90s we used to go to Groucho’s and get stupid things like ‘space cadet’ written on a badge,” she said.
“Whatever phase I’ve gone through in my life, Groucho’s has always been there to provide not just the music, not just the soundtrack, but also some other things like t-shirts, badges and whatnot. It has always been part of my life.”
Joy remembers a huge cardboard box in the shop at one point that allegedly contained a life size doll of Gary Numan – the frontman of new wave band Tubeway Army – for £1.99. Aged nine at the time, she “begged” her parents to buy it and they eventually relented – only to find out that it was a joke.
She said: “What would I have done with a life size Gary Numan doll anyway?”
In July 1983, Groucho’s moved further into the city centre, setting up shop at the west end of the old Overgate Centre under the Angus Hotel.
Just over a year later, Breeks Alternative Clothing & Footwear stored opened at 204 Overgate.
“I would be down there on a Saturday, looking at the pointy shoes,” Joy said.
“I remember really coveting a pair of black winklepickers, but one side was black and the other was white so when you wore them, when you were looking from the side, it looked like you had two different shoes.
“They had everything from accessories, like your studded belts, the Mod gear, t-shirts with the roundels. It was quite cool that end of town, that’s where people would hang about.”
From there, Groucho’s moved sites a further two times before settling in its last location on September 23 1999 – the Nethergate. And there it stayed for 21 years.
Sadly, however, the shop which managed to survive so much – including the death of owner Alastair “Breeks” Brodie last year – was unable to contend with the pandemic, like so many other beloved independent retailers around the world.
The store closed for good just over two weeks ago.
“It’s an absolute institution – that term gets used quite a lot but, with Groucho’s, that was the case. It wasn’t just a record shop, it was where you met cool people,” reflects Joy.
“Obviously Breeks himself was an absolute music enthusiast. You could ask him about anything, any type of music. He was just so passionate.
“I’m gutted that we have lost Groucho’s.”
Debbie Mason’s lasting memory of Groucho’s involves a star struck teenage encounter with the lead singer of Deacon Blue, Ricky Ross, at the store when it was based under the Angus Hotel.
“We were just shopping, minding our own business, and this guy came in. It was a tiny shop, there wasn’t really enough room to move,” Debbie, now aged 43, said. “I looked up and I thought, ‘oh my god that’s Ricky Ross’.”
After some back and forth, debating whether it was indeed the singer-songwriter, Debbie’s dad approached Breeks and asked if it was him.
“Next thing I know, Breeks has popped through the back and Ricky Ross comes out with his hand out and says hi,” she said.
Small talk, an autograph and a handshake followed leaving Debbie on cloud nine. It was a feeling that lasted for a long time.
“The next thing I was in the house and I was telling my mum. I was doing stupid things that you know girls do at that age – ‘he’s touched the pen, he’s touched my cheek!’ I’m sure I never washed for a couple of days,” she laughed.
Now aged 43, Debbie fondly remembers Groucho’s and all that it offered, and that doesn’t just include chance run-ins with musicians like Ricky. Growing up it was a place she’d go with her dad, who loved records and music, where they’d pore over the latest releases and scour the cabinets for bargains.
As the years passed, the frequency of her visits didn’t change but the purpose of them did.
“We never stopped going in there, it was always something that we did,” she said.
“Obviously he moved, but we still continued shopping. We were more into, at that point, gigs and stuff. We’d always try to get tickets or travel to a concert, which they put on as well.
“It was a bit sad because it was always somewhere where you’d just pop in to. You’re thinking, that’s not good, and then you’re thinking, why wouldn’t somebody want to maybe carry that on?
“What’s happening right now is a bit weird so, yeah, it’s kind of hard for people to maybe try and carry that on.”
Despite its closure, three former Groucho’s staff members – Frank Mills, Morag “Moog” Rogers and Lee Scott – have since opened Thirteen Records on Union Street to ensure that there is still a place selling second hand records in the city centre and to continue Breeks’ legacy.
“It’s kind of good that there’s going to be some element of that still about, which is really nice. It’s a shame but happy memories though,” Debbie, who lives in Kirkton, added.
Fifty-seven-year-old Donald Suttie was a die hard Groucho’s fan, visiting the original Perth Road shop from (almost!) day one.
He would do a “record exchange loop” getting off the number 22 bus – which came from Downfield – and walking up the Perth Road where he would visit Groucho’s, then cross through the buildings at the University of Dundee to Rockpile in the Westport, before looping back through the city centre and returning home.
Donald, who now lives in the Gowrie Park area, says that he developed a firm friendship with Breeks over the years. A friendship rooted in Jimi Hendrix.
When the shop was underneath the Angus Hotel, Breeks gave Donald a rare Jimi Hendrix album for free on the condition that, if he ever uncover a copy of the unreleased Jimi Hendrix movie Experience, he was to let him know.
“The years came and went and then, by chance, I had ordered a DVD collection for a workmate of mine who did not have a computer. This would have been around 1998.
“The weeks passed and no DVDs were forthcoming but in those days, on eBay, sending a cheque and waiting for the cheque to clear took a few weeks. The seller assured me the DVDs would arrive and with a bonus for waiting so long.
“Although my workmate’s DVDs had no connection to Jimi Hendrix and the seller also had no clue I was a Hendrix fan, the seller had included the full movie on DVD of the movie ‘Experience’ which I still have to this day.
“I burned a copy and within a few days I had walked into Groucho’s waving a DVD. The expression on Alastair’s face was priceless. He said ‘is that what I think it is?’ I said ‘it sure is.’
“So, for me, that was one memory you cannot buy and I am happy that Alastair saw this before his passing. He said that over the years with all the movies, CDs, tapes and records passing through his store that movie had proved very elusive.”
At Breeks’ funeral last year, visitors were welcomed to Dundee Crematorium with a selection of instrumental Jimi Hendrix blues tunes played by Paul “Lefty” Wright, followed by the rock legend’s song Little Wing.
Very few people loved Groucho’s like Broughty Ferry man Al Fraser. In fact, Al was the last customer in the store when the roller shutters came down in March.
Knowing what could potentially happen, and the uncertainty facing the retail sector, the 50-year-old felt an overwhelming urge to buy something, anything, so grabbed a handful of plastic adaptors for 7″ singles (it cost 50p for 10).
“I was in the right place at the wrong time,” he said.
“I remember thinking ‘I need to buy something, I can’t walk out of here knowing what could potentially happen.’ So I was the last customer.”
Originally from Arbroath, the oil and has worker said that, growing up, a visit to Groucho’s was always the Mecca.
After a work transfer and a move to Broughty Ferry, Al was suddenly much closer to his favourite store and began making weekly trips there.
“That was when I really got involved with the Groucho’s family,” he said. “I’ve been a regular there since the beginning of 2014. For the past six years I’ve been going in once a week.
“Groucho’s was a huge part of my life. Being a vinyl addict, this was the main place for me to get my weekly ‘fix’. Most of my record collection was either traded or purchased from Groucho’s.
“The staff, including the boss man, became my vinyl family. I can say with an enormous amount of pride that I was a regular right until the shutters came down on the last day of trading.
“Now most folks who have a story to share about this amazing Dundee institution will be centred around that wee gem they managed to find whilst trawling the racks, but what I would like to bring to the table is the social aspect of the shop.
“Being in the store at least once a week, you see things which most punters don’t. Those souls who regularly come in as they know that they are in a safe and welcoming place, that they will be looked after by the caring and patient staff members, seeing the expressions of gratitude and joy when getting a couple of quid knocked off their purchases as they don’t quite have enough cash to cover what they want.
“This is the aspect of Groucho’s which will live with me forever. It wasn’t just a record shop to some, it was a home from home, an escape.”
Keen to ensure that the legacy of the store, and Breeks, lives on forever, Al has since made enquiries about the recognisable metal sign that swings outside the shop.
He has been assured that the new tenants are going to put the sign up – a fitting tribute to a store that gave so much, to so many, for more than 40 years.
Thank you Groucho’s.