Eel Pie Island’s rich music heritage includes many famous names. Some of them are greats, a few of them genuinely deserve the title ‘legend’. One such legend, David Bowie, died today at the age of 69. Michele Whitby is a Twickenham resident and curator of the Eel Pie Island Museum which ran as a pop up exhibition at Twickenham Library last year. In this short piece, Michele, a huge Bowie fan, gives her take on the passing of someone whose nascent creative genius touched this part of London many decades ago…

11th JAN 2016. ‘Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.’
Being woken to the words ‘Mum, David Bowie has died’ coming from my daughter’s mouth at 7am this morning was not what I had in mind to start the week. My first thought was ‘please let it be one of those hoaxes’, my second was ‘if it’s true, then he orchestrated the release of his final album in perfect Bowie style’. Then I cried.

My daughter understood my tears and hugged me. After all ‘Starman’ was the song I chose to sing her as a lullaby when she was little and she has grown up listening to his music. She loved the line from his song ‘Kooks’, written for his own son, ‘And if the homework brings you down then we’ll throw it on the fire and take the car downtown’ (we were actually able to do this when we moved to a boat with a wood-burning stove!). She was as mesmerised as I by the fabulous V&A Bowie exhibition and it is testament to his genius that he could effortlessly engage different generations through his output of brilliant music.

I, in turn, understood how my Dad must have felt that morning Mum walked in with the paper in 1977 and told us that Elvis had died. Bowie had the same impact on my life as Elvis had on his. I had spent much of the weekend listening to Bowie, prompted by the fact that it was his 69th birthday on the 8th January, and also by my son giving me my Xmas present of his new album ‘Blackstar’ which was released the same day. He was foremost in my mind and this morning’s news hit me like a ton of lead. It seemed I was not alone as I walked off Eel Pie Island – at least 4 of the people I passed on the path looked visibly upset, and to shed a tear on that island path is entirely appropriate as the man himself had walked that same route many times in the 60’s to check out the sounds at the Eel Pie Hotel.

Before he became Bowie (the name change apparently so as not to be confused with Davy Jones of the Monkees) he even played on Eel Pie as ‘Davy Jones and the Manish Boys’ a bluesy outfit that gives little away in respect of the ground-breaking music he would later come up with. His 1973 album ‘Pin-Ups’ features covers of his favourite tunes from the 64 – 67 period and his handwritten sleeve notes on the back cover namecheck Eel Pie Island as one of his chosen haunts of the time. A photo in my well-thumbed copy of the ‘David Bowie Black Book’ shows him ‘outside his Twickenham home’ circa 1971. As a teenage ‘Bowie obsessive’ living in Teddington this was hugely exciting for me but I never did work out where that house was!

The world has lost a musical genius, an absolute icon who will continue to influence and inspire. Put on your favourite Bowie song, and boy, are there LOADS to choose from, very loud and sing your heart out. His last album is Blackstar, but for me he will always be a bright, shining golden star. RIP and thank you for all the great music Mr Bowie. Love on Ya!

Eel Pie Island gets a mention on Pin Ups
Eel Pie Island gets a mention on Bowie’s Pin Ups

About Michele:
A life-long resident of the area, co-author of the books ‘Eel Pie Island’ and ‘The British Beat Explosion’, she has been interviewed on radio and TV about our borough’s music history. In 2013 she curated the very successful ‘Eelpiland’ exhibition at the Stables Gallery, Orleans House which received over 100 visitors a day, a unanimously positive response and repeated requests for it to be given a permanent home. It led to the creation of the Eel Pie Museum which ran as a pop-up exhibition at Twickenham Library in 2015. The museum is still seeking a permanent home.

* Eel Pie Island Museum