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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 January 2007, 08:24 GMT
Eel Pie's place in rock history
By Jo Meek
Producer, BBC Radio 4's The Eel Pie Island Hotel

Catch a train to Twickenham, west London, down to the edge of the Thames. Walk over the bridge to the tiny island of Eel Pie. Where sheds, boat-houses and picket-fenced gardens now line the water's edge, the grand Eel Pie Island Hotel once stood.

The Eel Pie Island Hotel had a colourful history. Charles Dickens described the hotel as a "place to dance to the music of the locomotive band". In the 1920s it hosted popular tea dances.

But perhaps what has come to define the hotel, at least as far as music fans believe, is the incarnation of the hotel as a jazz club in 1956.

The Eel Pie Island Hotel played host to some of the most influential British performers of traditional jazz including Ken Colyer, Acker Bilk and Chris Barber.

George Melly
You could see sex rising from it like steam from a kettle - it was very difficult not to get laid on Eel Pie Island
George Melly
George Melly, who appeared at the club regularly, describes the run down hotel, with its ornate columns and arches, as being like "something from a Tennessee Williams novel".

"In those days you got to the island by boat, you had to pull yourself across on a rope, it was fairly primitive and you could hear jazz playing in the distance," he recalls.

"The island had a reputation for sex. When you approached it you could see sex rising from it like steam from a kettle. It suited us randy young musicians. It was very difficult not to get laid on Eel Pie Island."

In the 1960's the club's focus changed. With the growing popularity of the British R&B scene, regular players like Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies brought in musicians of the future as their fans.

Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger played regularly at the Eel Pie Hotel
For Ian "Mac" Mclagan - who was to become the Small Faces' keyboardist - the Eel Pie club became a regular haunt.

He says: "I was at Twickenham Art School and we'd have our end of term dances at the club. I went to see the Stones play there one night and helped them with their equipment and very cockily said to Mick, 'who's your agent?'"

"The next Monday I went up to Regent Street and hung around this office and booked them. My band The Muleskinners opened for them. I can't remember what we paid back then though."

Ronnie Wood would join the Rolling Stones after the club's heyday, but he was there in the big melting pot that Eel Pie became in the days when they were just starting to play.

Eel Pie Island
"It was great, you might bump into Mick Jagger at the bar. It was an art school crowd. I remember once going in and having a wee upstairs in a bucket - it leaked and when I came down I saw it was leaking onto the stage onto my brother's band!"

Members of The Yardbirds and The Who, Rod Stewart, and many a barefooted hippy were tempted over the bridge by the promise of great live music.

What many didn't know was that the club was set up as a personal project by a former army sapper, junk shop manager and social researcher called Arthur Chisnall.

He wanted to see how the generation born at the end of World War II would develop and so created a world where they could come and be themselves, meet influential people, and if they needed it, gain advice about further education and training.

Eel Pie Island flyer
The fact that he was providing a stage to young artists like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Long John Baldry and many others, he saw as just a means to attract the right crowd.

Shortly before his death in December, he told BBC Radio 4's The Eel Pie Island Hotel: "I didn't know what impact I was having on the music scene. You've got to remember that my job was to create a world for people and I created that world.

"The people who were originally there were 300 art school people and they remade themselves until - bang! - you had The Who and The Rolling Stones."

Eric Clapton's Yardbirds were among the acts nurtured at Eel Pie
In 1967, the club was forced to close because the owner could not meet 200,000-worth of repairs, which the police had deemed necessary.

But it was to enjoy a short renaissance in 1969, when the hotel briefly reopened as Colonel Barefoot's Rock Garden, welcoming bands like Black Sabbath and the Edgar Broughton Band, as well as international travellers and idealists trying to create an utopian commune.

Demolished in a mysterious fire in 1971, the hotel's history is still preserved in the stories, poems and songs of the old islanders and the musicians who played there.

The Eel Pie Island Hotel can be heard at 1530 GMT on Saturday 3 February, or online via the programme link on the right of this page.

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