A 30-minute film rediscovering Twickenham’s Eel Pie Island – the heart of R ‘n’ B – nominated ‘Best Short Documentary’ at upcoming Raindance Film Festival 2015
By Cheryl Robson and Helen Walker
On a tiny island on the River Thames, the Eel Pie Island Club began in a rundown hotel which had seen better days, and passed into music folklore as one of the great venues for bands to play in the Sixties. The musicians who performed on Eel Pie Island between 1962 and 1967 read like a Who’s Who of the R&B movement: Long John Baldry and the Hoochie Coochie Men were regulars, and the bands of veterans Cyril Davies, Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball, 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 performed regularly on Eel Pie.
A thriving centre for rhythm and blues, with its sprung dance floor and less than salubrious décor, when you arrived at Eel Pie Island, you entered another world. There was nowhere else like it – not then, not now. It was the epicentre for a new musical explosion which emerged in the ‘60s, a true cornerstone of UK Rock history.
Rock N Roll Island, written, produced and directed by Cheryl Robson and Helen Walker, with a commentary by former island resident, actor Nigel Planer, boasts exclusive footage and stills from the era, interviews with legendary musicians including Steve Hackett (Genesis) , Mick Avory (The Kinks) , Top Topham (The Yardbirds) , Phil May (The Pretty Things), Paul Stewart (The Others), Don Craine and Keith Grant (The Downliners’ Sect) Derek Griffiths (The Artwoods), Geoff Cole (Ken Colyer Band), Bob Dwyer (Steve Lane’s Southern Stompers), Blaine Harris (The Mystery Jets), and Rod Stewart; as well as interviews with diehard fans – whose memories are ever vivid.
Rock N Roll Island is the brainchild of co-producers Robson and Walker, and followed the publication by their company Aurora Metro of Women Make Noise, a book on the history of all girl bands. “We were keen to do more of this genre, so began looking for other music books and discovered the Eel Pie Island history, right on our doorstep in Twickenham,” explains Cheryl Robson.
“When I had the chance to make a film about the musical history of Eel Pie Island in London’s River Thames, I thought I’d just contact a few agents and interview a few old rockers and we’d be done. I didn’t expect to make a personal journey back in time to discover just how a counter-cultural shift takes place – and why,” continues Robson. “Over two years, the project took on a life of its own and the people who were there on the island in the old days – really there – all talked about it as if it was some kind of magical place – some even seemed to grow younger as they remembered being teenagers in a place that seemed to exist out of time and out of mind… whatever was in the water there must have packed a powerful punch because 50 years later, it could still transport people.”
All the greats of the rock and roll years cut their teeth at the island including The Rolling Stones, The Who, David Bowie, Elton John, Rod Stewart, The Yardbirds and Pink Floyd, during its ‘50s and ‘60s heyday.
Co-producer Helen Walker says: “Somehow going over a bridge to another land, all helped the music and the vibes to flow… so no surprise that this was a place where obscure black blues artists from Chicago and the Mississippi delta rocked up to perform. They shouted their gritty blues numbers over the din of people packed in to the cavernous, rundown hotel dance hall, drinking Newcastle Brown Ale, stomping and shimmying and totally into that raw, angry sound. This was the authentic voice the young people were drawn to, far from the standardized pop of the day, it was angry and soulful and full of energy.”
Rock ‘n’ Roll Island will have its UK Premiere at VUE Cinema, Piccadilly on Saturday 3rd October (Provisional date) and will be screening in the Shorts Programme showcasing blues orientated short films titled PREACHIN’ THE BLUES.