Twickenham’s Musical Heritage Celebrated

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

The Rolling Stones at Eel Pie Island Hotel Copyright Mike Peters

The Rolling Stones at Eel Pie Island Hotel
Copyright Mike Peters

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

Gillian Green's original 'Passport' to Eelpiland - photo Sue Palmer

Gillian Green’s original ‘Passport’ to Eelpiland – photo Sue Palmer

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:

* Eelpiland website
* El Brute online bookings (for tour & instrument making)
* Stables Gallery exhibition info

And here’s some information about a new documentary about the Island’s music scene: Private view is on 12th Oct. Details.


Filed under Random Stuff, What's on

16 responses to “Twickenham’s Musical Heritage Celebrated

  1. And here’s some information about a new documentary about the Island’s Music scene: Private view is on 12th Oct

  2. so far ive been to the stables gallery eel pie island exhibit and i found the small things interesting such as receipts and agreement forms and photos and working out who knew who..but are there other events in the borough?

  3. Young People’s Musical Instrument Workshop on Saturday 10th

    The workshop is part of the Eelpiland project which is celebrating and preserving the heritage of The Eel Pie Club as a music and cultural venue in the 50s and 60s, as is the exhibition at Orleans House which opened last Thursday. The event is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

    • Saturday 10 August 10.30am – 4pm
    • Coach House, Orleans House Gallery
    • Inspired by the Eel Pie Island exhibition, come and make your own musical instruments with professional artists.
    • Workshop suitable for ages 12-16, materials provided, please bring a packed lunch.:
    • Booking essential for this FREE event.

    Please see for the booking link.

  4. And here’s a link to a ‘Vine’ (clip) of the launch private view. A good evening and, more importantly, it’s a fascinating exhibition:

  5. oh no i was really looking forward to this as i have a connection to the early RnB movement….i saw the rod stewart tv program and remember steam packet band …and i am a big fan of jeff beck too…

  6. Luke

    This looks realy interesting,Isn’t it a shame the islands charm is being destroyed by developers turning the boat yards into office spaces.

    • Luke

      Hmmm a thumbsdown,probably from one of the developers who care more about cash than community.There are now more office staff than residents who play no part in the island,it’s just a place of work,this has obviously increased the traffic on the island and has taken away parking spaces from residents…….and don’t even get me started on the tacky buildings……how they compliment their surroundings in any way is beyond me.

    • To be almost halfway fair, the Sims boatyard had been empty and unused for nearly two decades. I don’t think anyone else had the inclination or money to get rid of all that asbestos.

  7. George

    Sounds like it will be an interesting exhibition to visit. Bit of a contrast between then & now. I wonder where the modern equivalents of Eel Pie Island are, if indeed there are any? Certainly not around here (nice as it is).

  8. The tour is already sold out 😦