R & B Legends at Eel Pie Island
The birth of British Rhythm and Blues
In the 1960s, Twickenham was a thriving centre for rhythm and blues. The musicians who performed at the Hotel on Eel Pie Island between 1962 and 1967 read like a Who’s Who of the R&B movement. The bands of veterans Cyril Davies, Alexis Korner and John Mayall, whose roots lay in traditional jazz and skiffle groups, provided inspiration and a showcase for the talents of Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Eric Clapton, all of whom played regularly on Eel Pie.
Ian McLagan, keyboard player with The Small Faces, The Faces and The Rolling Stones, recalls nights when Cyril Davies’ Rhythm and Blues All Stars shared the bill with Long John Baldry’s Hoochie Coochie Men.
"Long John Baldry would take the stage. He was slim, wore double-breasted suits, and at six feet seven inches tall was an imposing presence on the bandstand, wailing Big Bill Broonzy’s blues. When he felt the need to take a break, he’d bring up a big-nosed, skinny Mod with a bouffant hair-do, all three-buttoned suits and high-heeled boots, called Rod Stewart." (Stewart has said that his break came when he was spotted playing the harmonica at Twickenham Station)
The Great R&B groups at Eel Pie
One of Eel Pie Island's most celebrated attractions was the band billed originally as "Brian Jones and Mick Jagger & The Rollin' Stones". By April 1963, The Rolling Stones had a weekly residency on the island and their first chart hit "Come On".
It was on the strength of their performances on the island that the musical impresario Robert Stigwood gave The Rolling Stones second billing on a UK-wide tour, the 1964 'Group Scene', headlined by Phil Spector's The Ronettes.
In August 1964, a young vocalist and saxophone player named David Jones played his first gig with the group Davie Jones and the Manish Boys on Eel Pie Island. Throughout 1964, the group, whose name was taken from a Muddy Waters' song, performed regularly on the island. A year later, to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees, the lead singer duly changed his name to David Bowie.
Eel Pie was also a regular venue for one of the most rebellious, outspoken groups ever to emerge. The Who was formed through a school friendship between Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Roger Daltrey and dates back to the late 1950's. Pete Townshend lived in Twickenham and set up the music company Eel Pie Recording Production Limited in 1970, trading successfully ever since.
When the Stones went on tour another local Kingston group The Downliner Sect was resident at Eel Pie for part of 1964.
Performing with a group called The Tridents was one of Britain's most innovative guitarists, Jeff Beck. One of the first electric guitarists to experiment with feedback, Beck acknowledged that Eel Pie Island was the spawning ground for his pioneering style. "(I) just put the guitar up on the amp and it would make these amazing sounds that made the people go crazy."
The Yardbirds were another legendary R&B group who played regularly on the island. Formed from two bands playing in the Kingston area, one of their earliest performances was at Eel Pie. Jim McCarty of the group recalls "We got a gig playing with Cyril Davis at Eel Pie Island in the interval. We didn't have a name or anything, we were just playing twelve bar blues. Then when we'd finished playing Cyril Davis said, 'that was a great set, thank you, and what was the name of the band?' Keith (Relf) said to him, it was The Yardbirds'. That was the first time I had heard the name!"
The group's line-up over the years boasted guitarists Clapton, Beck and Jimmy Page, who fulfilled the group's final contractual obligations under the name The New Yardbirds and then went on to form Led Zeppelin.
All The Rage by Ian McLagan (Pan Books 1998)
The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg (Reynolds & Hearn, 2002)
Arise, Sir Mick by Laura Jackson (Blake Publishing Ltd, 2003)
Fender Players' Club interview with Jeff Beck.
Interview with Jim McCarty by Dave Owen, Opening Out Renaissance Newsletter, Issue 20.
Rod: The Autobiography by Rod Stewart (Century Books 2012)