The British Beat Explosion: Rock n’Roll Island
Anyone with an interest in the history of UK rock ‘n’ roll is familiar with The Cavern Club and the role that Merseyside played in the story of the British Beat scene. But on a far less-celebrated but no less significant path, over a small bridge onto an island in the middle of the Thames, another great 60s club night played host to acts that would later make a global name for themselves. The Rolling Stones, Long John Baldry, Pink Floyd, The Small Faces, David Bowie and The Yardbirds are amongst the many acts who performed at the legendary Eel Pie Hotel during its 50s and 60s heyday, as did jazz greats like Ken Colyer, Kenny Ball and Acker Bilk as well as more avant-garde performers like Ivor Cutler.
But how did The Eel Pie Club become such a popular venue? What motivated its founder, Arthur Chisnall to create a space where young people could enjoy the music they wanted to, in an environment free from the usual constraints? Why has this thriving West London scene been omitted from rock history when its influence has spread far and wide?
Recently, bands like The Mystery Jets have paid homage to Arthur Chisnall’s fabulous club, playing gigs on the island that launched careers and cemented rock’s infamous relationships. The latest incarnation of the Eel Pie Club is alive and well. This book traces the origins of a scene that is long overdue for recognition.
The book has been voted Best Blues Book of 2014 by Blues Matters magazine.
‘Here there are fascinating interviews with performers, and fans’ oral histories explaining why and how Eel Pie became the unlikely centre of a transformative musical and social scene.’
Steven Cockcroft on The Afterword website
“From the perspective of an Eelpieland regular ‘back in the day’ its a wonderful read with great pictures - I couldn’t put it down”
Published on August 1st 2013
and available at a special reduced rate at our exhibition
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Dan van der Vat and Michele Whitby tell the story of Eel Pie Island from the Stone Age to The Rolling Stones and beyond, illustrated with a wealth of rare archive images and atmospheric contemporary photography.
Named for the favoured snack of Henry VIII, who was said to stop here on his way to and from Windsor, the island has enjoyed two periods of special fame:
In the 19th Century it was a resort for Londoners who, like Charles Dickens, came by the newfangled steamboats to spend the day in the grounds of the hotel that dominated the island until 1969; and in the middle of the twentieth it was a venue for jazz and later English R&B groups, where the likes of Chris Barber or George Melly, and then the Rolling Stones or Rod Stewart, performed in the dancehall of the hotel. A surprising number of people all over Britain and beyond remember Eel Pie Island and its gigs – usually with a nostalgic smile.
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