Skip to content

The blues came down from Richmond

Around the corner from where I live is an apartment that was once a crash-pad for Paul Simon, Jackson C. Frank and John Martyn. If I carry on to the train station, I pass the building where the Rolling Stones played the early gigs that attracted the attention of Andrew Loog Oldham and the four Beatles. On the way I see another building, now a Nando’s, where Eric Clapton and his fellow art students would while away an afternoon over a single cup of coffee. A couple of doors above it is the site of a clothes shop that was once vital to the Mod culture. I walk on past an independent book shop which, 50-odd years ago, was owned by Pete Townshend (who still lives a few hundred yards away, up the hill, past the house where Syd Barrett once had a flat). Beyond the station lies a rugby ground, the site of the festivals that, starting in 1961, created the enduring pattern for such open-air, multi-stage events.

If, instead of heading for the station, I were to walk in the opposite direction, I’d come to the footbridge to an island where, as the ’60s picked up speed, trad jazz gave way to R&B bands in a semi-derelict hotel whose ballroom featured the Cyril Davies All Stars, Long John Baldry’s Hoochie Coochie Men with Rod Stewart, the Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the Downliners Sect, the Art Woods, the Graham Bond Organisation, and so on.

The place that featured the Stones was the Station Hotel in Richmond, where the back room hosted the first incarnation of the Crawdaddy Club. The coffee bar was called L’Auberge. The men’s boutique was John Simon’s Ivy Shop. Townshend’s book shop was called Magic Bus. The rugby ground is the home of Richmond RFC and London Scottish; their clubhouse became the second Crawdaddy, where the Yardbirds — mostly local boys — took flight. The Eel Pie Island Hotel is the legendary venue in the middle of the Thames at Twickenham, which opened with local trad jazz bands in 1956, closed in 1970 with Quintessence and burned down while being demolished the following year. Those are some of the locations, and there are many more, including the Hanging Lamp folk club, held in a church crypt, where the local teenager who would become Elvis Costello went to listen to guitarists like Davey Johnstone and John James.

The story of how Richmond and Twickenham — and particularly Eel Pie Island — became a seed-bed for the British R&B bands that, in conjunction with the Mersey Beat, reset the course of rock music is such a great one that I’ve often thought it was worth a proper book, particularly after I came to live here 20 years ago and realised that the buildings and the pavements had tales to tell. I never got around to it. But now someone else has, and he’s done it so well that I’m glad I didn’t.

Andrew Humphreys spent many years working on travel guides, first for Lonely Planet and then for Time Out. He lives in Richmond and runs a publishing company of his own. When he had the idea for the book, he offered it to three well-qualified music journalists, none of whom was interested. Eventually he decided to do it himself, and I’m glad he did because it could hardly have been done with a finer combination of basic enthusiasm, thorough research and authorial skills. Apart from getting the facts right and in the correct order, he’s talked to many of the people who made up the audiences and customers at these places, creating a vivid portrait of an extremely exciting and important time.

Alongside the musicians and their listeners, several key figures are identified. The first is a local businessman called Michael Snapper, who bought Eel Pie Island Hotel — built in 1830, mentioned by Dickens in Nicholas Nickleby, in and out of fashion over the decades — in 1951, when it was all but abandoned. The second is a young trumpeter named Brian Rutland, who persuaded Snapper to let his Grove Jazz Band use the dilapidated ballroom. The third is a rum cove called Arthur Chisnall, who managed one of Snapper’s shops in Kingston, saw his vocation as scooping up lost youth and putting them on the straight and narrow, took over the running of the venue and, responding to police demands that it be properly organised, created something called the Eelpiland Club, which soon became a focal point for beatniks, students from the area’s several art colleges, and other adventurous types.

The fourth is Harold Pendleton, a former accountant who loved jazz, managed the Chris Barber Band, ran the National Jazz Federation, founded the Marquee Club in an Oxford Street basement in 1958, organised the NJF’s first National Jazz Festival at the Richmond Athletic Association’s grounds in 1961 and saw it grow into an event of national significance, with the trad and modern jazzers gradually pushed out by the young R&B bands, first represented in 1963 by Georgie Fame, Graham Bond, Cyril Davies and, at the bottom of the bill, the young Stones.

The fifth is Giorgio Gomelsky, a refugee from Soviet Georgia who arrived in London in 1955, aged 21, and soon became known on the scene as a hustler and fixer, a colourful character never short of an idea. Through knowing Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies he met Brian Jones, whose new band he heard at a pub in Sutton in February 1963. It was Gomelsky who created the Crawdaddy for them at the Station Hotel later that month, first with an audience that could be numbered on one hand but soon with queues down the street. Gomelsky printed flyers, ran ads in the Melody Maker, buttonholed journalists on the music papers, and in general hyped the Rolling Stones as best he knew how. He did a great job, but within weeks he’d lost them to a younger hustler, the 19-year-old Andrew Loog Oldham, who came to see them in Richmond and persuaded them he could take them to the next stage. As, of course, he did, leaving Gomelsky to manage the Yardbirds and cook up countless further schemes — some good, some bad, none of them quite as good as the Stones — before his death in New York five years ago.

All this and much more is in Humphreys’ book, which is well illustrated with period photos, flyers, posters and adverts, and useful maps on the end-papers. It’s also hugely enjoyable, written with a delightful touch and an ear for the colourful anecdote. Here, for instance, is a trad-band musician describing the task of getting their instruments across to Eel Pie Island on the original chain ferry, before the footbridge was installed in 1957: “A decidedly dodgy affair, like the D-Day landings but without the gunfire.”

I hope I haven’t made Raving upon Thames sound like a book of local history. In fact it’s about us — all of us, even if we weren’t there.

* Andrew Humphreys’ Raving upon Thames: An Untold Story of Sixties London is published by Paradise Road (www.paradiseroad.co.uk). The photograph was taken at Eel Pie Island in 1960 for a feature in Weekend magazine headlined “Down Among the Dead Beats”.

21 Comments Post a comment
  1. I was never there, living in Maidstone as I was back then, but I’ve ordered a copy !

    November 30, 2021
    • Enea luciano iacobucci #

      Hey doesn’t matter. You got the spirit abd the vibe. I was born in 64. , I never experienced it first hand either!There’s enough media on the whole scene fir us to enjoy it

      December 1, 2021
  2. Robert Landrum #

    You always write do well. I’m going to try to find this book in the US.

    November 30, 2021
  3. My partner and I were on the docklands light rail going back to Mudchute on the Isle Of Dogs one night after I had played a gig on one of my yearly visits to London and Cafe Oto and we got chatting to a character sat opposite spotted my guitar. He asked if I played and what I played etc. We all got off at Mudchute and as we parted and he disappeared into to fog he said ‘I used to be in music. I ran a place called Eel Pie Island, maybe you went there?’ True story.

    November 30, 2021
    • Caldwell Smythe perhaps? He ran Colonel Barefoot’s Rock Garden from late 69 to November 70, when Quintessence were the last band advertised as playing on the Island. Big fella, big voice, and big white hair?

      December 1, 2021
  4. Thanks Richard for bringing this book to our attention and your ‘local’ colour. It’s a trip down memory Lane for me as my older cousins, all into music, lived in Queens Rd, Twickenham and would be either in The Birds Nest ( trendy bar) on the Broadway or on Eel Pie Island. My cousin Ronnie looked like a young Jagger and played up to this. I will be looking across to the Island on Friday evening while drinking in The Barmy Arms.

    December 1, 2021
  5. Enea luciano iacobucci #

    Like books on the Liverpool scene, I MUST BUY IT.

    December 1, 2021
  6. Peter Flanagan #

    Thanks for the heads-up, Richard. I’ll have this by December 25th, if I can restrain myself before then! Did you know Pete just sold The Wick, by the way? Or did he get another place on the Hill? Also, didn’t Jagger live across the road there at one point too?

    December 1, 2021
  7. Geoff Noble #

    Most interesting. They may not qualify as ravers and rockers, but Evan Parker lived near Twickenham Green in the seventies and for many years, Peter Ind ran Wave Records from his home at 207 Amyand Park Road.

    December 1, 2021
  8. Jeffrey Farrell #

    My favourite piece that you have written of late. Thank you

    December 1, 2021
  9. stewart gunn #

    Enthusiastic as always. One for the Christmas list – you can never have too many books.

    December 1, 2021
  10. Jim Cambridge #

    Was it not Andy Roberts who commemorated ‘Richmond’ in song (Jeff on stage with the Tridents, etc)? Also covered by Shelagh MacDonald.

    December 1, 2021
  11. Thanks Richard. I think I’ll check this one out. Wherever would we be without a ‘rum cove’ or two to enlighten our lives?

    December 1, 2021
  12. Colin Harper #

    You make it sound compelling. I’m feeling ‘pop history-ed out’ at present but I’ll probably purchase it eventually.

    December 1, 2021
  13. Tim Topham #

    My Richard Williams Richmond theory was correct then. Load more Richmond heaven stuff in his article, but clearly it’s best days are long gone.

    December 1, 2021
  14. Michael Engelbrecht #

    Richard, the opening passage of this time travel text made me think about a book you could write: „May I lead you through the streets of London?“ This title would probably be a bit too sentimental, but the book certainly not. Makes me, too, think, of writer Patrick Modiano walking through Paris, making tiny corners and forgotten backyards come to new life.

    December 2, 2021
  15. Jim Martens #

    I lived in Kew Rd while researching my thesis and everyday I would walk through Richmond to Twickenham rugby grounds. I realized one day that this was where Baldry, the Stones, Yardbirds etc all played. I was fortunate to play rugby for London Welsh RFC and got to play against London Scottish at Richmond Athletic Grounds. What a doubly wonderful year I experienced in Richmond, rugby in the cradle of British Blues. I need this book. Thanks.

    December 2, 2021
  16. Ronald McNeil #

    Good piece, Richard, and I look forward to reading the book, though I thoroughly dislike the slick cover illustration. A more evocative image would have been the one accompanying the post.

    December 2, 2021
  17. Tim Harrison #

    It’s an excellent book, celebrating the simplicity of pre-internet life, where you paid on the door and breezed into local venues to watch local musicians. The D-Day quote is from trumpeter Mike Peters. It’s also used in another book, published in early September, about south-west London pub music, notably The Toby Jug in Tolworth, graced in the late 60s and early 70s by many visiting American guitar greats including John Lee Hooker, Freddie King, Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf and Lowell Fulson. https://thegoodlifesurbiton.co.uk/toby-jug/

    December 3, 2021
  18. Sergio Alejandro Rubin #

    Wonderfull !!!

    December 9, 2021
  19. Steve Topping #

    What a beautiful teaser you framed Richard. I was just a bit too young to have been there. Rare and tantalising name checks… glimpses of movers and shakers. Giorgio Gomelsky is one, who enabled a significant album release: John McLaughlin’s Extrapolation. Just one of many that gilded my early years in the wonderful 70’s!

    December 13, 2021

Leave a Reply to Chris Charlesworth Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: