Did Hastings Pier Ballroom smell? by Peter Thomson


photo source: MilborneOne

Peter Thomson… I’m not sure why I feel the need to put this out there, and it all started as a couple of sentences, but here goes… Most visitors to SMART have strong recollections of the sights and sounds of Hastings Pier Ballroom (I suggest) from the 1960s to the early 80s. I’m right with you but consider this: the pier ballroom also used to smell. I didn’t know it then and was even less aware that it’s haunting whiff was almost unique. I say unique because that was the case until I encountered it elsewhere – hence “almost”. Very few life experiences have evoked a smell in my memory, but those which have usually reside deeply within my sometimes challenging childhood. Examples include my late mother’s mashed potato and being less than half a mile from the River Mersey. My teenage years were arguably even more turbulent but I discovered loud music and the boys in red were winning everything. Saved!

The origin of the pier smell – still less it’s attraction – is difficult to nail down but, on reflection, it was most likely a combination of some kind of floor polish, stale tobacco smoke, dusty old furniture (including deckchairs), a hint of burnt electricity and teenage sweat. Striking a chord with you or am I talking through my rear? I would hesitate to include other, nefarious substances as peripheral influences. Similarly, the location wherein I unexpectedly found the smell again excludes any possible seaside aromas from the mix. Past or present Hastings dwellers of a certain age know the pier in the early ’70s was a musical Mecca. Every tour listing published seemed to include Hastings (only later did we realise the notable exceptions). Regardless, history was made and the sights and sounds of those days echo daily within us and, thankfully, on this site. The other venues on that list were equally recognisable, and predated the modern arenas, while being one step up from the college circuit. Margate Winter Gardens; Newcastle City Hall; De Montfort Hall Leicester; The Dome, Brighton etc, all culminating in either the Finsbury Park Rainbow or, later, the Hammy Odeon. Just one of those gigs and you’d “made” it. It was in one of those iconic locations that I experienced nasal deja vu. Several years ago, this proud dad attended his eldest daughter’s graduation ceremony. It was while walking into the De Montfort Hall in Leicester that I was struck by the pier smell not experienced since??? There was I, gormless smile in place, transported to my teenage Nirvana. But this was before the Hastings pier fire so why was it such a profound re-awakening? I can’t answer that but it returned to me when I saw the fire on TV and has become more of an issue as rebuilding progressed. Like the music itself, that smell is etched upon my soul. I don’t know why this now looms before me and maybe I’m just nuts. I don’t have any strong views over who should perform at any pier reopening, and the smell of history is probably irrelevant to those considerations. We can’t possibly recreate it, even if others have managed to, unknowingly and unintentionally. Why should we want to? It was just one of those things; a nasal snapshot, and I needed to get it off my chest. Ahem – does anyone else know what the hell I’m on about? I took Mrs T to Venice for a day last summer. Venice smells, not uniquely but it’s an ancient seaport, so it should smell – and there the similarity with Liverpool (or Hastings) ends. While strolling through the narrow alleys and hidden piazzas, the sound of a busker started to echo around the locality. He wasn’t singing, but was beautifully strumming out “Wish You Were Here”. A snapshot; a perfect musical memory created in World Heritage surroundings that will always, somehow, be triggered through my nose.

Alan Esdaile… I always thought the smell was from the hot dog onions, damp and stale tobacco. God I can smell it now, just thinking about it!

Phil Gill… It always smelled of music, weed and patchouli oil in the 70s.

Peter Fairless… All of the above. Yes.

Dave Nattress… Well..having attended many a gig and had the privilege of playing there a few times with Damaris, I can honestly say I don’t really recall the smell, although backstage the facilities, (dressing rooms), were rather basic though!! However, the bar floor was always absolutely awash with beer but then the flares would often mop up so much of this. It was either spilled beer or an unusually high tide on gig nights! My recollection was that it took a lot of watered down Whitbread Tankard or whatever it was to get happy.

Pete Prescott… Yes it did smell. It’s strange that smell is the no 1 memory enhancer and music the 2nd.it smelt of the things you mentioned. Stale beer sweat and tobacco plus polish and damp. I still love the smell of village halls and old rehearsal rooms. It takes me back to happy days but I think the music loving youth are going through exactly what we did with their own favourite bands. Im sure one day they will write one day about the smells of The Tubman. I wish I had a time machine.

Peter Thomson… Exactly Phil, how can it possibly “smell” of music?

Phil Gill… It just can. Synesthesia.

Jeanette Jones… Nostalgia & all of the above;-)

Mick O’Dowd… I remember the Ballroom smell as eminating from the gas fires strung from the beams. There again , as quite rightly pointed out, there were many other contributing factors to add to the equation so I think it is maybe a combination of all of these. My other smell memory was of the Pier Cafe which smelt of steam all the time, even outside the door. Moving from The Pier to other smell memories Hastings Staion always smelt of soot and steam engines long after the last “puffer” had gone. Standing on the bridge above the line at West St.Leonards staion when a “puffer” came underneath covering you in steam & soot. Ahh those were the days my friends!

Dave Weeks… Definitely patchouli (and music of course) and those onions from the hot dog stall on the way in. I can remember the unique smell too.

Pete Fisher… with you on the weed and patchouli oil Phil (although the former was more likely the resinous variety of combustible)…I’d add stale beer and tobacco smoke to that, possibly with a whiff of salty sea air. As far as it smelling of music goes, I don’t remember that particularly from the Pier, but among other concerts I remember walking into Brighton Dome in 1969 to see Jethro Tull supported by Savoy Brown, and you could smell the valve amps (rows of Marshalls etc for both bands on stage), which had probably been on all day…

Colin Gibson… It was a horrible venue. As the late, erudite drummer Jack Peach succinctly put it “It’s a prairie with a roof on it”

SMART 41 coffee meet report

Excellent turn out and one of our busiest so far. Apologise to many people I didn’t get chance to chat to but among the newbies this time were Leigh Wieland-Boys and Mary Cox.  Leigh was chatting to Colin Bell about Bonitas and remembering him playing lots of James Brown. Mary was talking to Pete Millington with happy memories and photos of Chris Sayer. Tim McDonald was talking to Colin and Andre Martin about his time on the John Dunn Show for the BBC. Brian Wood remembers when his band supported a very early ‘The Sweet’ at the Witch Doctor. Also when The Flirts played the pier they had to get a special waiver to be allowed to play, due to Musician Union ruling at the time, as they were under 16. Loads of new cuttings and photos on display which I will get round to posting on these pages in the next few weeks, keep them coming. Roger Carey arrived with the early Rock A Nore promo photo of Stallion. Apparently they were told to dress smart and wear suits for the photo, except Tich who dressed as a skeleton. Happy memories of auditioning for a tour of Holland and juggling a job with gigs. Other bits he had on Stallion were an ad when they played the Iroko Country Club in London and a great photo of Tich Turner on the pier in 1974, as well as a playlist from 1975. Great very early photos of him and Phil Gill before they joined bands, with guitars, also Hat Trick photo and Felix reviews. He was also talking about the very successful tour he has recently finished with Steeleye Span. Len Benton arrived with a folder full of memories and lots of new items we have not seen before. Including a letter booking his band The Deep Purple at The Cobweb Ballroom for £15.00 on the 11th April, 1968. He also mentioned that when Episode Six played The Cobweb his band Deep Purple were also on the advert and posters for another date that week. Mysteriously Episode Six changed their name to Deep Purple shortly afterwards! Photos from his groups Pardon, when they played The Safari Club in George Street and also his band The Seekers.  Amanda Brooks was talking about the group Ghostriders which featured her dad Roy Brooks. David Miller and Mark Harris arrived with photos of their various bands, including Beez Neez, Split Image and cuttings from Carina’s Night Spot The Queens Hotel. Also a great photo of the duo Second Chance and The Likely Lads.  Tony Davis was talking about his recent trip to see The Giant of Rock at Minehead with the best bands of the weekend being Martin Turners Wishbone Ash, Manfred Mann’s Earthband, Deborah Bonham and Limehouse Lizzy. Jon McCallion was talking about the band Effigy, as Julie had found a gig ticket from 1971 at Clive Vale Annexe School. Trevor Webb asked if anyone has any merchandise on Smokie and did they play Hastings? Other talk was about who’s playing Fat Tuesday, The Mobiles, Music Festival at the oval, Beatles Day, Wrestling. With more people arriving and under pressure to finish on time, as the home secretary was due to appear at a function in the room we were in, we continued into the early evening in the bar area. This is just a very small bit of what I remember, anyone who wishes to add anything interesting you were talking about, then please feel free to do so.

Rachel Rayburn… Thanks Alan. Lovely to meet you and I appreciate the welcome. Look forward to the next one.

Jim Breeds… Sorry not to be there. We went north for a day out to see an exhibition that closes this weekend. Glad it went well. Looks like I missed a good one.

Josie Lawson… I enjoy reading the minutes of the meetings you have Alan…a great thank you to you all. It’s great you can all get together…

Carol Arnold… sorry i didnt make it this time

Alan Esdaile…  Interestingly this has just come up in my Facebook memories. Posted on the 3rd February 2013… Coffee Get Together. I’ve been chatting to a couple of friends here and thinking of arranging a get together over a coffee in town. Just a general chat, catch up of music lovers, pier talk, old photos etc.If it works out maybe meet up on a regular basis. Let me know if you are interested and pass on to like minded friends and I will be in contact with details in the future.

Leigh Wieland-Boys… I made it at last! It was lovely to see so many old friends – thank you for the warm welcome

Sid Saunders… I wanted to go to my first one but was walking the South Downs Way yesterday, next time.

Pete Prescott… Very upset to have missed it.But ill make the next one !

Mick O’Dowd… Same with me but no-one would have appreciated me throwing up over them!

Andy Qunta… Sounds great! As usual, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to be there, but thanks for the great write-up, so I know what happened!

Lucy Pappas… Thanks Alan, sounds like a great afternoon x

Leigh Wieland-Boys… It was a great afternoon…even when Amber Rudd’s entourage evicted us from the room & we had to move into the bar we carried on regardless..! I found it all very interesting & enjoyable, thank you

Jeanette Jones… Ditto Andy

Who remembers doing The Bump?

Chris Baker… I think there should be a scientific study on people who did the Bump in their teens, to see if that’s the reason for their fat arses now! Seems to have affected me and a lot of people I know! I want compensation!

Julie Morris… I feel your pain Chris – we should sue whoever invented the bump

Mick O’Dowd… It could certainly answer the steep rise in hip replacement for former “bumpers”!

Terry Hardwick… Kenny the bump

Julie Findlay-jones… Loved the Bump.

Jeff Belton… Alot of fun, especially you did the bump with a young lady.

Terry Hardwick… Well you will enjoy the next Scalliwags reunion D J Johnny Francis and Kevin Burchett are teaching a master clas on the Bump 630 start

Judy Atkinson… It was the only dance my late husband & I managed to successfully do together!

Dave Nattress… Definitely remember the song by Kenny and to buying some hideous similar “Lee” jeans with flared bottoms like those in the photo. About 1976?

Neil Steadman… Kenny…!!

Kev Towner… It should’ve come with a Government Health Warning.

Jules Stretton… Im too young I was goin clubbin in the late 80,s soit must of been before xx

Ian Brown… Kenny


Battle of Hastings – 14th October 1066 – coincidence?

Battle of Hastings today 14th October and first thing this morning when I checked,  we now have 1066 members on the SMART facebook page. It does go up and down all the time but a nice coincidence.

Jim Breeds… Yay!!

Peter Fairless… Watch out for arrows, then!

Pete Fisher… Was in my last year of junior school in 1966, and some of the local schools got together and made a film reenacting the battle at the original location, in which I was an extra, and had to play a dead Saxon…would love to see it again!

Mick O’Dowd… What’s the secret of the rejuvenation and long life after death Pete?

Alan Esdaile… I would say its one in the eye for SMART but notice someone has just left the group and we are down to 1065!

Martin Richter… mislaid my first day cover, during a move

Jeff Belton… Who won ?

Lyn Humphrey… Who won? Hastings Utd.

Steve Amos… Is their name Harold?

Dave Nattress… 1066! Well the story I heard was that when the chief of the Norman long-bowmen decided to tell his men to fire their arrows up into the air, his second in command said, well that’s all very well boss, but don’t you know if they’re not careful they’ll have some poor sod’s eye out!



Cassette tapes and Woolworth – 1970’s Advert

Who remembers buying cassettes from Woolworth?

Dennis Torrance… So enjoyed Woolworths everything about it broken biscuit upstairs as a kid and think when it went sad. Cassette tape nightmare always getting caught and after a while the recording just not good but vinyl and tape was the main thing then. How it’s all changed now but vinyl is making a comeback

Roy Penfold… Pick and mix – making sure to ‘sample’ a few sweets before putting them in the bag….

Website Update

Website Update

As you can see the website has just been updated.

As more people source the internet on their mobile phones, the old site was difficult to view and should now be more user friendly.  If your looking at this on your computer screen, some of the old posts may look messy (well more messy than usual) but will be cleaned up when there is interest in that post.

A big thank you to Geoff at 1066 Internet http://www.1066internet.co.uk  for setting it all up and to Justin for his constant help and for setting it up in the first place.

I always welcome any comments good or bad.

Happy searching!