The Atalanta Ballroom, owned by Bob Potter (post-war dance band drummer, band leader and Surrey farmer’s son – Grove Farm, Ash), stood on Commercial Road, Woking and was the place, if you couldn’t afford to go up to London, to be seen. The building was originally the Sunday school and Manse of the Wesleyan Chapel. In WWI it was a recreation hall for soliders and after a period of disuse, the hall became the Atalanta Ballroom in 1935.On Wednesday 8 May ’35 it was the venue for a ‘George V Jubilee Dance’ with the proceeds given to the Woking Victoria Hospital.

In the 50’s Geoffrey/Geoff Boniface lead a dance band out of the “Ata”; as it was often called, and the youth of the day also “got down” to the Bob Potter Band. Sheerwater based skiffle band the Mid Westerners also played at the Ata and Terry Lightfoot’s Jazzman were there on 13 December ’57. There would be a queue outside waiting for the doors to open and Bob Potter would stand just inside the door to greet you in his dinner jacket and bow tie, as Dot took your coat. The local lads would have to vie with soldiers from Pirbright for the local ladies’ attention with nights kicking off with a “Paul Jones” dance which paired you with whomever was opposite when the music stopped.

19 Sept 1958: The Jazz Couriers supported by the David James Trio were at the Atalanta Ballroom, Woking. Picture courtesy of Ben’s Collectors Records

Potter also DJ’d (another Ata DJ was Dave the Rave West) and ran the Bob Potter Agency (later I.E.A or International Entertainment Agency) representing bands like The Bandits, who frequently played at the Agincourt Ballroom, one of Potter’s other clubs, and Atalanta Ballrooms.

Friday nights at the Ata were legendary. When packed with 800 plus teenagers the acoustics, thanks to thick walls, traditional ballroom design and floor, were great. The Ata was famous for it’s “best in Surrey” (if not the South-East) sprung dance floor – with the rumour being it was built over a pool – and was used as a dancing school during the day in the late 50’s / early 60’s.

Bob Potter talks about The Beatles and The Rolling Stones at The Atalanta

The floor really bounced when hundreds of teenagers were rockin’ and rollin’ to a who’s who of early 60s bands. Potter’s own bands: Emeralds/Wishful Thinking, The Late, The Onyx, Mike Raynor and the Condors, The Embers and Chunk’s Jump Band all enjoyed playing the Ata. Along with resident and/or represented bands, the Flamingo Club, based at the Ata, focused on Jazz in the early 60’s.

The Merseybeats (c’63) with fans at Atalanta Ballroom. Source: Maggie Froud via WOKING when we were young

You could have seen Kenny Ball Jazzmen (4 Sept ’61), The Rolling Stones (19 Aug ’63 – a week before appearing on ‘Ready, Steady, Go’), Hedgehoppers Anonymous (8 Nov ’65), Jerry Lee Lewis (in ’65 – who had to play on a Hammond organ as the piano was broken), Gary Farr & the T-Bones (21 Mar ’66), .

Peter Howard, of ICE magazine and Contributing Editor for Rolling Stone, talks about a 1963 Atalanta Posters that includes The Rolling Stones

Steam Packet appeared in ’66 – with Rod Stewart on vocals; Acker Bilk (5th Sept ’67), The Turtles, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, The Who, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Graham Bond Organisation, Screaming Lord Sutch, Geno Washington And The Ram Jam Band, The Temperance Seven, Tornadoes, Wilson Pickett, The Equals (16 July ’68) and many other sixties headliners such as Tom Jones (16 February ’65 – and earlier in ’63 – was paid 100 quid) supported by one of Bob’s bands, Rampant from Portsmouth. The image used on the front cover on Tom Jones and the Squires’ 1965, 7″ 4-track vinyl “Tom Ones On Stage” was taken at The Atalanta, Woking. Of course, the local bands kept the place alive; local bands like The Late.

16 February 1965: Tom Jones on stage at the Atalanta, Woking. Source: Richard Knotek via WOKING when we were young

Two notable 60’s headliner were Cream (19 September ’66) and Pink Floyd (sometime in ’67). Cream had come directly from recording their slot for 30 December broadcast of Guitar Club for the BBC Home Service show. The venue was packed for them, but down the front of the crowd was a gent yelling at Clapton, “Oi, Eric you’re useless. Can’t play at all. Rubbish…!” One of the bouncer pulls this heckler aside and held him against the wall, to whom Clapton shouted out “Put my uncle down!”. Well, that’s how the story went when Adrian Clapton told it to Adam Russel. Pink Floyd launched into their set, which likely opened with Interstellar Overdrive, with their infamous live lightshow designed by Peter Wynne Willson. This visual bombardment so displeased Potter that he stopped the show.

Many a band member would nip next door to the Schooner Club bar. The Schooner was a great little club, entering to the left of the Ata building via the foyer, where Stan would greet you on the Door, then along a dark passage that opened up into the Schooner to be welcomed by Dougie & Doris (Potter’s sister and brother in law) behind the Bar. Potter’s agency bands would turn up and jam when the DJ was late. In fact, on Saturday and Sunday nights the Schooner was often open until 2am and Potter’s bands would finish their other booking/s and then travel back and do a session there. Les Reed’s, (he co-wrote ‘It’s Not Unusual” for Tom Jones) mother used to wax that floor and she used her position as the venue’s caretaker to introduce Potter to piano playing Reed. The Daleks also made an appearance one Saturday in ’66-ish, if you collected enough vouchers from the Woking News and Mail you could get a free ticket.

The Atalanta Ballroom was demolished in 1972

It was demolished, despite a long petition to retain the Atalanta, in 1972 (or ’74, ’78 and ’79 depending on the source, but readers do say it was definitely after ’72). The Peacocks / Wolsey Walk now occupies the site. Potter went on to build Lakeside Country Club, Frimley Green

Bob Potter OBE, passed away peacefully in his sleep after a short illness on 14 April 2023. He was 94.