Now then, we’re all aware that Eel Pie Island has something of a legendary status in the history of British music, aren’t we? When it comes to the detail of those heady days by the river, those who didn’t get to experience them first time around have to rely on those who did but, as they say about the 60s, if you can remember them, you weren’t really there. Problem? Not at all. A new exhibition is opening in Twickenham in August to celebrate Eel Pie Island’s musical heritage. David Birkett, Marketing Director of the Eel Pie Island Music Project explains…
A Fresh Serving of Eel Pie
You may have seen Rod Stewart on the BBC’s Imagine programme recently, waxing nostalgic about how Twickenham’s Eel Pie Island set him on the road to global stardom. To many outside Twickenham and the music biz, the glorious history and true significance of The Island is not well-known.
Aurora Metro Arts and Media is organising a series of events over the summer to celebrate and record the musical heritage of the Island:
* A major exhibition titled “Eelpiland: The Birth of Rhythm and Blues”, curated by Twickenham resident Michele Whitby, in association with Arts Richmond, will be held at The Stables Gallery, Orleans House, Twickenham from August 1st to September 29th. There will also be a free guided tour and walk on Saturday 3rd August and a free ‘Make Your Own Musical Instrument’ workshop for 12-16 year olds on Saturday 10 August.
* Music gigs featuring The Others and The Carnabys, and Birdwood and Kieran Daly will be held in association with the Eel Pie Club at The Cabbage Patch Pub, Twickenham on August 15th and September 5th respectively.
* A new half hour documentary Film will be screened in West London (dates and venues tbc).
* A new Book, The British Beat Explosion: Rock ‘n Roll island will be launched to put the island’s unique contribution to British Rhythm and Blues into context.
There’s a lot to celebrate.
More About Eel Pie Island
This venue, originally accessible only by a paid ferry ride 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 observed: “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, the distinctive British Beat sound emerged, to energise a generation. Soon a whole new breed of musical acts – The Rolling Stones, The Herd and Yardbirds – was unleashed. The full roster, however, of those music giants who took flight at, or were influenced by the Eel Pie scene includes Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck , Brian May, David Bowie, Elton John, Ronnie Wood and David Gilmour. The whole revolution was made possible by the vision, energy and altruism of Promoter Arthur Chisnall. In 1971, the hotel burned down, and all trace of the dilapidated club disappeared, to be replaced by new townhouses.
People who were part of The Eel Pie scene can contribute their memories via the Eelpiland website.
David Birkett marketing Director of the Eel Pie Island Music Project. The project is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, and is being produced by Aurora Metro Arts and Media Ltd. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
And here’s some information about a new documentary about the Island’s music scene: Private view is on 12th Oct. Details.