Two special gigs at the Eel Pie Club, Twickenham, the descendant of the legendary club on Eel Pie Island, pay tribute to the Island’s huge significance in British musical history.
A fresh serving of eel pie brings back the birth of British Beat. A major new exhibition ‘Eelpiland: The Birth of Rhythm and Blues’, curated by Michele Whitby, in association with Arts Richmond, is at The Stables Gallery, Orleans House, Riverside, Twickenham from August 1 to September 29. Music gigs feature The Others and The Carnabys, and Birdwood and Kieran Daly, in association with the Eel Pie Club at The Cabbage Patch Pub, Twickenham is on August 15 and September 5 respectively. A new half-hour documentary film is screened in West London (dates and venues to be announced).
A new book, ‘The British Beat Explosion: Rock ‘n Roll island’ £9.99 ISBN 9781906582470 will put the island’s unique contribution to British Rhythm and Blues into context (Aurora Metro Books, available from bookshops and online).
Eel Pie Island
The venue, originally accessible only by a paid ferry ride – or, for those with less disposable income, by swimming – was a vital link in the chain of cultural and musical phenomena that led to the success of many major British jazz and R&B acts in the 50s and 60s. The Eel Pie Hotel’s Jazz Club, featuring such future jazz legends as Ken Colyer, Acker Bilk and George Melly, soon established itself and its environs as a place where teenage music fans could not only find music that moved beyond the bland homogeny of the crooning style, but also a culture where freedom and self-expression were encouraged. Eelpiland became its own strange, glorious country and even had its own ‘passport’. As Rod Stewart said: “When you dressed up in your finery and carefully arranged your hair, and set off for Eel Pie Island, you had that palm-tingling sense you were heading somewhere truly exotic…a fantastically exciting destination, and the place where I really began to understand the power of rhythm and blues, when it’s done right.”
As musicians gravitated towards the island, UK Skiffle and Rock ‘n’ Roll wove their DNA into that of Mississippi Blues, and the distinctive British Beat sound emerged, to energise a generation. This enthusiasm did not extend to club promoter and visionary Arthur Chisnall, “a jazz enthusiast who was not very keen on Rhythm and Blues” according to Gina Way, cofounder of the new Eel Pie Club at The Cabbage Patch Pub in Twickenham, and Eel Pie stalwart in her schooldays.
Chisnall’s energy and altruism were key ingredients in the success of the venue, enriched by acts like Alexis Korner and John Mayall, and a whole new breed of musical acts – The Rolling Stones, The Herd and Yardbirds – was unleashed, with a distinctive new sartorial mode. The full roster, of the music giants who took flight at, or were influenced by the Eel Pie scene, is hugely impressive in its size and scope, and includes Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Brian May, David Bowie, Elton John, Ronnie Wood and David Gilmour.
In 1971, the hotel burned down, and all trace of the dilapidated club disappeared, to be replaced by new town houses. ‘Twickenham is blessed with a wealth of young musicians, most of whom must have been influenced in some way by the musicians who played on Eel Pie Island in the 1960s.
Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund
The gigs are organised by Aurora Metro Arts and Media, in association with The Eel Pie Club, as part of a series of events over the summer to celebrate and record the musical heritage of Eel Pie Island (see www.eelpieislandmusic.com for full details).
Venue: The Cabbage Patch pub, 67 London Road, Twickenham, TW1 3SZ 07732 322610.
£2.50 under 20s, £5 Eel Pie Club Members & Concessions, £7 non-Members, book via website, www.eelpieclub.com