Eel Pie Island Museum is a volunteer-led organisation dedicated to celebrating the story of Eel Pie Island; a small enclave on the banks of the Thames at Twickenham that would become a fulcrum of music and creativity from the 1960s to the 1980s. From The Rolling Stones to The Who, Pink Floyd to Jeff Beck, scores of the biggest bands of the 20th century flocked to play in the dilapidated bohemian palace of the ‘Eel Pie Jazz Club’. Subsequently becoming home to an emergent artist commune, this “oasis of chaos, in a desert of suburban calm” has endless stories to tell.
The contribution of Eel Pie Island to the wider themes of the AMP project, cannot be overestimated. It was for Kingston’s burgeoning young art student population that the Jazz Club founder, Arthur Chisnall, set about creating a space for the emerging ‘teenage’ crowd, to have a space to call their own in the late 1950’s.
Born in Kingston himself, Chisnall ran local junk shop ‘Snapper’s Corner’, which is where he observed the resident youth coming in to browse the dusty jazz and blues records, but having nowhere to go to dance or express themselves. Taking on the role of an informal social worker, Chisnall also helped many disaffected young people into work or adult education through mentoring and grants; recognising the alienation felt by this new generation and the power of music in shaping their lives.
He said of his ‘social experiment’: “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 Stones”.
Not only did ‘Eelpiland’ subsequently become a beacon for many of the world-class acts who graced the neighbouring pubs and clubs of Kingston in the following decades, but Chisnall also paved the way for the ‘Youth Arts’ centred approach that Kingston is proud to continue today across its educational and cultural programming; such as at Rose Theatre, and through the work of Creative Youth, its new multi arts space FUSEBOX and associated annual festival FUSE International.
You can learn more about Arthur Chisnall and the spectacular history of Eel Pie Island, at the Eel Pie Island Museum website.
The Eel Pie Club was set up in 2000 to preserve and continue the heritage of UK Rhythm & Blues based in the Cabbage Patch Pub in Twickenham.
The musical legacy of Eel Pie Island also lives on through Eel Pie Records, a vinyl record shop and organiser of live music events in Twickenham.