Twickenham’s Eel Pie Island takes centre stage in BBC Four documentary

By Samuel Draper
April 8 2020, 21.00

A documentary on the musical history of Eel Pie Island aired on BBC Four late last month.

For Cheryl Robson, the creator and director of ‘Rock n Roll Island: Where Legends Were Born’, it was the culmination of a process which began seven years ago.

In some aspects, the film, narrated by former Eel Pie resident Nigel Planer, arrived at a perfect time.

Ms Robson said: “Being unable to go out to enjoy live music at the moment has made us appreciate the wonderful music from the 60s and 70s even more.

“It’s been a long haul to see the film broadcast and the feedback I’ve had from people has been fantastic.

“As I left the BBC years ago, it was great to see my work on the BBC again.”

Eel Pie Island was a hub for rhythm and blues in the Thames in the 1960s, and saw early performances from a string of iconic British music names including The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Pink Floyd.

Ms Robson founded the Twickenham-based charity Aurora Metro Arts and Media.

The project to celebrate Eel Pie Island’s heritage began in 2013 with an exhibition at Orleans House, as well as music gigs and ‘The British Beat Explosion, Rock n Roll Island’, which was named Best Blues Book of 2014.

Much of the material gathered in the process is now on display at the volunteer-run Eel Pie Island Museum on Twickenham’s London Road.

A short film to gather oral history about the island snowballed into a 30-minute film which won four awards at film festival.

To bring the documentary to the next stage involved international filming as well as working with other professionals to make it ready for broadcasting.

Eel Pie Island Hotel, a key focus of the documentary

And whilst ‘Rock n Roll Island’ features interviews with Rod Stewart and Genesis’s Steve Hackett among others, Ms Robson is proud of more local aspects of the filming.

She said: “I live and work in the Richmond area so I am proud that we paid tribute to the incredible music from the period, featured a diverse range of musicians and promoters, both men and women, as well as capturing the experience of the fans.

“The local musicians, whom we interviewed early on, still form the core of the film.”

And the local music scene remains important to her now.

She said: “I am still in touch with Gina Way and Warren Walters who continue to put on such wonderful music gigs at the Eel Pie Club at the Cabbage Patch pub in Twickenham – I recently saw Muddy Waters’ son Mud Morganfield play an amazing show there.”

And Aurora is leading a campaign to get sponsors and donors for the UK’s first full size statue of Virginia Woolf.

She said: “We have planning permission to locate it on Richmond Riverside where people will be able to sit next to the statue on a bench and take selfies.

“The book ‘Virginia Woolf in Richmond’ by Peter Fullagar tells you all about the ten years that Virginia and her husband Leonard spent living in Paradise Road in Richmond and setting up their own small publishing business The Hogarth Press.”

She has also worked to publish and produce ’50 Women in the Blues’, a book with Chicago-born music photographer Jennifer Noble, who is now a Twickenham resident.

A new Americana project has seen her film in Nashville and Australia.

And what advice does she have for those considering making a documentary project themselves?

Ms Robson said: “Remain curious as you never know what people might say. Be prepared to travel to get an interview and don’t be surprised if people let you down at the last minute.”

First broadcast as part of BBC Four’s weekly music night, ‘Rock n Roll Island: Where Legends Were Born’ is available on the BBC iPlayer until Sunday April 26.

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