Eel Pie Islandby Kevin Kinsella Snr
I went to Eel Pie Island after I left the Royal Navy in 1957. At the time it was all trad jazz – Acker Bilk, Terry Lightfoot, Humphrey Littleton, Chris Barber, George Melly. Everybody in the place was into trad jazz and nothing else. Became big friends with Johnny Mortimer, who was with Acker Bilk. He later married Vanessa, who was previously Barney's (aka Barnyard) girlfriend, who went on to do film work. She was at the time very sought after. They lived in St Margaret's near the Ailsa Tavern.
That lasted to the early 1960's when more rock bands started to take over, and then some of us who weren't really into that sort of music moved on. It was great. Arthur was a great guy and he asked me to help out on the door, especially when we had some mods come over who weren't, quite frankly, welcome. They were well out of step. We were there with beards, dufflecoats, long hair and were described as having no legs because our jeans were that tight. Great fun.
A lot of us went to the L'Auberge which was the coffee bar to go to in Richmond. It was owned by Mike Hill, a tough guy about 5'9/10, ex-fighter pilot RAF moustached who was the owner. He asked me to sit near the entrance at the top of the stairs and not let in anybody I thought might cause trouble. That was an easy job. I sat there drinking coffee with my pal Johnny Cliff, who used to disappear about 12 o'clock to play cards all night because that was what he did for a living, and we used to meet up in the flat later. Generally, when L'Auberge closed everyone was looking for a party. There were always parties going on all over the place.
It was a very arty place with artists, writers, actors, models - Martine Beswick, Jamaican actress to be, Ray Galton who became a great pal of mine lived in St Margaret's (Steptoe and Hancock writer), loads of people who were writing 'books'. Great atmosphere. To this day, I run across people who knew about L'Auberge.
I found getting on to the Island by boat really great. When the bridge came along later it was less fun, although it was wobbly. Brian Rutland used to play in the Barmy Arms prior to being asked by Mike Snapper, the owner of the Eel Pie Island Hotel, if he'd like to go and play in the old place on the Island, which he did. I think he could be the guy who could be said to be the first one to play trad jazz on the Island. I went with Brian and opened nights at the Feltham Hotel and White Hart in Acton. Again, all trad jazz. That was what we were interested in.
I remember Ann Nightingale because she went to school with my girlfriend, Thirza Bywater. My pal Paddy Connors, who ran into a news agency, employed Anne. She was very ambitious and wanted to move on to the journalistic world. I later came across her in Oxford Street when I was an agent for a rock band and there was some event going on. They were great times - it's amazing how things seemed so ordinary at the time. We were all young kids - I was playing rugby for Osterley, fit as a fiddle and later played for London Irish. Around the early 1960s I moved to Kensington and had my office at 280 Kensington High Street and lived in Connaught Street, so I didn't have a lot to do with the new guys, the Rolling Stones. Wasn't my style. Trad jazz I loved and still love it today.
I did in fact buy a restaurant and club on the Petersham Road known as 'The Writers and Artist Club' where I managed a local artist called Pascoal de Souza. I still have 14 of his works today. John Body, who opened an agency, used to be my neighbour in Isleworth. We then moved to 101 Chertsey Road, Twickenham which was where I lived with my parents, and where I put my feet up when I came home from the Royal Navy after National Service. Hence the association with Eel Pie Island just down the road.