A Taste of Eel Pie

Behind St Margarets’ genteel and gentrified façade, there beats a rock ’n’ roll heart. Richmond was the cradle where the jazz baby of the ’50s grew into the rebellious rhythm and blues child of the ’60s, a fact currently being celebrated at the Stables Gallery, Orleans House. The gallery is set in tranquil wooded gardens across the river from the eastern point of Eel Pie Island, and thus a Rolling Stones’ throw away from the island’s legendary R&B venue, the Eel Pie Hotel. This iconic setting, with a wooden floor that bounced beneath the dancing crowds, played a key part in the cultural history not just of Richmond and Twickenham, but of the world. The nineteenth-century building had hosted ballroom dancing in the Roaring ’20s, and in the ’50s local trumpeter Brian Rutland began running jazz sessions there. These laid the foundations for the R&B gigs of the next decade, which are still spoken of in reverential tones. Bowie, Clapton, The Who, Pink Floyd, The Kinks and the Rolling Stones all performed at the Eel Pie Hotel before it closed its doors in 1967, unable to meet a £200,000 bill for improvements demanded by the police. It finally left the stage in suitably rock ’n’ roll style in 1971, consumed by a mystery fire. The Stables Gallery exhibition features photographs, artwork and memorabilia from the hotel’s heyday, and is curated by island resident and author of the book Eel Pie Island, Michelle Whitby. It includes first-hand accounts from musicians and concert-goers, original passports to what was known as “Eelpiland”, and the earliest known colour photographs of the island. Documentary movies narrate a truly unique time and place in London’s history, and you can select your own musical memories on an original record player. Photographs include Cyril Davies, The Yardbirds, Rod Stewart; plus the impossibly youthful-looking Rolling Stones who back then had a Wednesday residency and this summer, 50 years later, were still raising a Crossfire Hurricane in Hyde Park.

This weekend is your last chance to see the exhibition The Birth of Rhythm and Blues. Orleans House is less than a 20-minute walk from 20 The Barons. Just head south to the banks of the Thames to taste a historic slice of Eel Pie. Entry is free.

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