Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Gigs: Eel Pie Island

My brother dropped a few names in a throwaway comment the other day – the Flamingo, Eel Pie, the Cromwellian.  Yes, my band, Dave Anthony’s Moods, played regularly at those places, amongst others, in 1965-69, and I’m going to write about a few.

Of all the places I played, Eel Pie Island is the closest I recall to a spiritual home.  Soon after we hit London and acquired Bessie*, we got a regular spot there, alternating with the Artwoods, on otherwise free Saturdays.  Eel Pie back then was a once legendary but now decrepit hotel, which had miraculously retained an alcohol license.  We played, on a big stage, in must once have been the hotel ballroom.  It had been a go-to destination before the war.  Imagine it:  in the Thirties, guests from around the world, America, South America, Germany, in skimpy diaphanous flapper frocks or baggy-trousered zoot suits, delivered by huge cream and black motor carriages with huge headlights from Mayfair to the riverfront at Twickenham, and conveyed somehow across the precarious causeway bridge**, escorted delicately tripping over the neat lawn to the glory of the Eel Pie Island Hotel Ballroom, there to lindy-hop the night away to Ambrose or Geraldo …

It wasn’t quite like that by the time we got there.  The hotel was a wreck. Even a cheap band like us  wouldn’t have booked a room there, had that been possible, which it surely wasn’t.  The rickety bridge was still in place, though, and the guy who ran the gig, Arthur, was highly organised.  Two or three trips across the bridge, gear loaded on the back of his Mini pick-up, quick set-up and we were ready to hit the bar, no draught beer so it was Newcastle Brown, by the neck.  You could get some kind of bacon or sausage butty, which did for dinner.  In winter, the hall was heated by industrial gas blowers, until the crowd arrived, when on a good night two or three hundred hot and hungry kids generated their own heat and soaked up the music.

We loved it, loved several of those hot hungry kids, got tanked on three or four Browns then went on and just did it.  I remember having to go off for a piss halfway through a song, nobody noticed, Pete or Bob filled in for my solo – or perhaps the crowd thought this was just part of the act?  In the summer, it was possible to take a stroll down by the river, across the strangely well-tended lawns, lie down on a grass bank with a suitable girl, discuss the different ways the leaves and other debris floated down through the Thames eddies …

Now, I recognise that everyone in the place apart from the band was stoned out of their skulls.  (Though perhaps with hindsight I recall Andy and Graham being absent for some time before we went on …?)  As for me, if I was even vaguely aware of the existence of drugs, I’d have been scared shitless of them.  I’d read novels and tracts, I knew how marijuana could drive you insane and rot your brain.  All that came later.

* Bessie was one of the very first Ford Transits, subsequently to become the transport of choice for gigging bands up and down the land.  This was the stretch version, elongated wheelbase, double wheels at the back – just big enough to hold our kit and us.  We came up with a seating plan: driver and passenger in the front, three old bus seats salvaged from god knows where in a U formation behind, just about made eight, kit in behind.  The job of driver was of course keenly contested, but this had to be hidden behind reluctance, as second prize was front seat passenger.  A heavy emergency stop would probably have killed us all, impaled or crushed by Hammond, Fender or Ludwig.  Bessie could’ve murdered a whole band.

** Actually, research suggests that the bridge wasn’t built until 1957, and so prior to that guests must’ve been conveyed by boat, or possibly had to swim.


  1. Brilliant evocative writing, Tim.

  2. Well, this is a trip (as in stumble?) down memory lane.
    Late 60s,rock n roll,LSD and Disque Bleu.
    Yes, I did venture down to Eel Pie once or twice.(I was more a Ronnie Scott person)
    And I think there's a connection with Pete Townsend's publishing company, Eel Pie?
    Thanks for the flashback!

  3. I had a friend - we sadly lost touch - who spoke about Eel Pie Island with great affection, he being a 'regular' there during your period. I've just been listening to 'See My Soul' on YouTube. Will we be getting an account of your Italian adventures, too?

  4. Sounds like a brilliant time. I've often wished that I was old enough to remember the sixties.

  5. We went past Eel Pie Island on a narrow boat a couple of years ago.
    Insanity and brain rot came later? Can't wait to hear about it!

  6. Thanks for filling in a huge gap in your life for me, when I was busy living somewhere away and having children.

  7. Time to publish all? It is superb & deserves an airing.

  8. Thanks Z, as always.
    Dinah, yes, I think Eel Pie was Pete's corporate HQ for a while. We don't hear much of him these days, do we?
    Martin - oh dear. That awful record is about as untypical of the band as can be. Go to the myspace page for the official singles - although none of them are really representative.
    Liz, Rog, I wish I was young enough to remember the eighties ...!
    Martin, Mig, Sue, Richard - watch this space...

  9. see the myspace page of the Dave Anthony's Moods for the discography and a short story of the band or (for those who could read Italian) the "official" page DAVE ANTHONY'S MOOD's on Facebook. As a big enthusiastic fan of the band, I agree with Tim about the fact their records are litte representative of the great potential of the Mood's.