The Witch Doctor St Leonards on Sea 1964 to 1967 by Nick Bloomfield.

Nick Bloomfield… Steve Marriott, David Bowie, The Moody Blues, Status Quo etc I’ve been fascinated by the story of a small live music club called the Witch Doctor which was started in St Leonards in 1964 and where many future pop stars and bands played. This video is not a detailed account but rather a personal view and a fond look at what became the place to go in Hastings for a few years in the 1960’s.. I have queried some of the claims made by others which is always dangerous but I worked hard on the research so hopefully most of this account is accurate… Hastings Pier was its big brother and had most of the big bands of the time but the Witch Doctor had a kind of magic. During my research I discovered that a Manchester based Business Man and major club owner was trying to expand his interests south. His name was Dougie Flood and some claim he had close connections with the ‘Quality Street Gang’ in Manchester. He bought clubs in both Catford and Hastings as ‘Witch Doctor’ clubs. Later the Catford club was rebranded as ‘Mr Smiths’ like the one in Manchester. Everyone knows about Hastings Pier and all the bands who played there From Hendrix to the Stones. The Who, Sex Pistols etc Pink Floyd played their last ever gig with Syd Barrett there. Much less well known though is The Witchdoctor which was a club formed in 1964 and based in Marine Court, St Leonards, the iconic 1930’s building that looks like a ship. It took much longer than I thought it would so if you don’t like it I don’t care as I’m knackered…

Gerry Fortsch… I was a bit to young to be allowed in to The Witch Doctor but as I was tallish and had long hair and sideburns I never had a problem.

Alan Esdaile… Well done Nick, must have taken you forever.

Andy Qunta… Very interesting! Thanks, Nick! I never went to the Witch Doctor as it closed before we moved to the Hastings area, but I remember my brother Tony & I played at the Cobweb in late ‘69/early ‘70 with our band Static Emotion, (also featuring Dave Austin, the late great Chris Sambrook).

Mick Knights… Was at the opening night and saw all the bands with the exception of Simon Dupree. Some famous names that were booked but cancelled on the night, one was Little Richard, I can remember Tony Powell sitting at the top of the stairs refunding the ltickets. I thought the owner was an organist and if I remember had a record out called Image which was played a lot but wasn’t really what people wanted to hear. I did see someone fire a shotgun at the main doors, was that to do with the Krays? Could go on but it’s time to take the dogs out.

Nick Bloomfield… I envy you seeing them all! There seems to have been a very flexible management structure in The Smiths organisation! I think the man you’re thinking of is Alan Haven and I’ve found the record you mentioned. ‘Images’ ‘from 1965.

Mick Knights… Nick, Yeah, a bit too sophisticated for the likes of us back then! You’ve certainly got the old grey cells working, I’ve posted about the Who gig before, of course nobody imagined they would become the force they did, back then they were just the best chart band around, I think I’m right in saying that Tony Powell booked them after taking a poll to find out which band people wanted to see. Always smile when I see the footage especially the sweaty bobbing head of Colin Gilcrest (Mr. G) sadly no longer with us. The girl dancing by herself I’m pretty sure is Silverhill Lill who was always there, as you can tell all the regulars had nicknames mine was ‘L I’ because I had the letters emblazoned across the front of my Lambretta. Really must stop rambling on, but between the Witch Doctor closing and the Cobweb opening the ballroom below was used for live bands on a Saturday night but sadly none come to mind!!

Chris Meachen… I went in once when it was the Cobweb, but the only feature I can remember was a tree trunk in the middle of the room, presumably as a funky kind of seating..

Stephen Moran… This is great Nick! I’m currently working on a PhD about the popular music histories of Hastings, and the Witchdoctor and the Cobweb made important contributions in addition to the Pier Ballroom of course, its great to see the Witchdoctor story captured so well.

Lynn Graham… I was in there at every available opportunity

Arthur Brown… I saw Steve Marriott at The Crypt

Tony MacDonnell… What a great film. Before our time in this area but so interesting. I played in a band in North Devon in the sixtes and we supported some of these acts in our local venue . Georgie Fame mentioned the Witch Doctor when he played a concert at the White Rock a few years ago. Once again – brilliant film and an important piece of local history.

Allan Testot-newick… I remember so well playing venue in 1966 with the King Bees we had a Brill night

George Underwood… Allan, ah yes, I remember now

Ian Williams… Allan, Local band ‘Spyke’ also played there

Mick O’Dowd… Used to be a member (still got membership card) even though I was underage. Saw some great bands there and always remember that the bouncers always seemed to wear Brut aftershave!

Stuart Moir… Played there many times supporting name bands of the era .

 

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