Subject: Eel Pie memory / The Young Ones
Date: Wed, 22 Oct 2008 & Sat, 31 Jan 2009
Dominic's mashed memory of Eel Pie
I arrived on Eel Pie Island in November 1969 with Martin, who had recently come to the UK from Australia; we met Jumbo and Scots John by a bonfire in the courtyard. We were made to feel welcome and adopted a little room which housed the electricity meters, next to the door to the courtyard.
The rest of the ground floor consisted of the old bar rooms, one was the 'Anchor Bar'. It was a big L shaped room with a bar shaped like the bough of a boat. It was once a lovely room but now most of the floor was caved-in due to dry rot. I think it was Jeremy who made a 'den like' dwelling behind the bough shaped bar. The other bar room was the 'communal' room where I remember the occasional mass 'jam sessions'. (All acoustic, a few guitars, make-shift percussion, penny-whistles, home-made paper and comb kazoos, jaws harps (or is it jews harp, I never know) and wailing voices, non stop for hours into the night), after a day of 'tripping' in the garden. Also in those early days of the 'Free Commune' that room was used by people who only came at night to 'crash'. 'The dossers'! They were approached every few days by Scots John and others and made to feel unwelcome as dossers but invited to join in as communards. Most chose to 'crash' elsewhere for a few days, it helped to keep the numbers down without offending anyone, hopefully.
There was a dark, damp, cellar where nobody went in the early days and upstairs was two floors with long corridors and many rooms where the rest of the forty-odd people lived.
On one side of the courtyard was a large wing which used to be the kitchens, now semi derelict, and on the other side, the dance-hall or Eel Pie 'Ballsroom' as it was called. Every Saturday night it would be heaving with 'head-bangers' in ex military greatcoats with very long hair, and 'bikers', stomping to 'heavy rock' bands. It was really wild but most of those punters didn't know what was happening in the old hotel next door.
On the opposite side of the building was the remains of the lawn with hedges defining a path to the riverside, overlooked by the first-floor balcony and a huge tree to one side.
Martin and I arrived, I think, on the same day, or the day after, some people had been in court. The Police had raided 'The Hotel' looking for drugs but only found a small piece of hash on a table in the middle of a room full of people. We were told that, instead of denying it, they all claimed it was theirs, which made it difficult for the police to prosecute. I can't remember what the outcome was but everyone seemed to be happy about it.
The police never raided again but they did occasionally walk around, without opposition, looking for under-age runaways. They turned an obvious blind eye to the joints (as they were called then) being passed around in every room that they looked in.
People were very friendly, 'hippy-trippy', smiling faces, shedding their inhibitions, loving music and each other. I was just 19, fresh from 'up-north'. I was already a 'freak' but now I was really 'turned on' by this 'Hippy Commune' thing!
As you walked up the stairs you would probably be sung to, by Magic Mike, on the half-landing, playing a guitar and dressed in a bed sheet, a bit like a toga. He would make it up as he went along so he was singing 'to you', 'about you'. I went busking with him in Portabello Rd. one day. I was collecting money in a hat from the crowd, while he was directing me with the words in his songs, to the richest looking punters.
Felix was very tall and thin and lived with Loretta, he was completely bald which was unusual in those days. He would often be seen hopping around on one leg with the other behind his head. Or walking on his hands with both legs behind his head! The weirdest thing you ever saw while, probably, tripping!
Seamus was always flitting about, goofing and smiling to the point of giggling. We became good friends. We were the same age and both northerners, and tried to share our trip experiences. We later became good friends with Scratch and Gary (Little Brother). 'What a character' - Gary or L.B. turned up age 16 looking for his older brother, Odd Job, a renegade Hells Angel, who had been there but was now in prison. (Some previous offense caught up with him). Scratch took L.B. under his wing and L.B. kept us all laughing for years after!
There was Pete and Anthea, the acid king and queen. He looked like an angelic Mick Jagger and she was like an elven princess. Joanna from Chicago and Dave Walton (the warlock). there was a guy from Chicago who's name escapes me, who looked like Frank Zapper.
Cliff Harper an intellectual anarchist, was, i believe, the initial squatter of the disused hotel but then was rarely seen outside of his room. He lived with his American girl-friend Amy. She looked like a librarian and he resembled a 'full bearded' John Lennon.
There was English John, Irish John, Scots John and Californian John, there was a Canadian John and Canadian Tom, and Canadian Chris (Chris Fairs), author of Eel Pie Dharma, who, I remember, always had lots of beautiful young women callers. Often he would be holding court with four or five in his room at once. He had a permanent 'cheeky' smile peering through the curtain-like black curly mop. He was such a sweet guy, it's no wonder the girls loved him!
Brennan and Anna, (gorgeous, earth mother) and baby Cellina. There was Johnathon who looked like a college professor.One of the few that didn't have the long haired hippy look. There was a Spanish guy with a massive afro, another name I have forgotten.. Gavin who played guitar and always had good music coming from his room. Hilton, a short haired, zoote suited speed freak. Lorna and Ricky. They used to stay in their room a lot, drawing (while speeding). His 'psychedelic' pencil drawings would be so worked-on that there would be no white left on the page, in fact it would be all black. You had to look deeper to see the intricate 3D world of ghoules, dragons, weird creatures and foliage.
Collin, from Australia was probably the oldest person there and seemed so mature to me but he was probably only in his 30's. He had his 4 year old daughter with him. There was a big blond fellow from Cornwall called Frank The Hand, so called because he wore a medallion in the shape of a hand. there was Hella and Inga two loverly earthy girls from Denmark. Chris Whitehouse, who looked like a beatnik to me, with skinny drainpipe jeans and long thin straggles of hair surrounding a bald patch, and pointy beard. Always energetic and enthusiastic.
Then there was the Yak brothers. Dick and Chris. I remember Chris walking in a style, he called 'tugelling', his feet stretched out in front, a bit like those 'Crump' cartoons. He had 'the look' of the time, with his 'hip hugging' 'wide flared' Levies and very long, well kempt, fair hair with obligatory center parting. He looked a bit like David Gilmore (Pink Floyd), as he appeared on the 'Umaguma' album sleeve.
Tommy Quartermain had a 1940's style, flat fronted, 'Morris Commercial' van, painted in a mess of colours. He somehow managed to drive it over the foot-bridge onto the island. Then Draego acquired the van. He had been in prison in Chile. He had been a political rebel. Now he was married to Consuela, a beautiful Portuguese woman.
Bernie, who sometimes worked in L'Auberge, (the hang out cafe in Richmond) had the room opposite the very top of the stairs. It had 'TV heads' scrawled on the door. He had the only TV in the house! On rare occasions people would be stacked in his room when something relevant, or Monty Python's Flying Circus was on, but most of the time no one was interested in TV. There was very little that was relevant to us on TV in those days.
Also there was Mark, Angie, Rodger, Ray and many more who were properly residential in those early days. The names and faces I've forgotten for now but I'm sure they are all there in my dusty, long untouched, memory file.
Although we called it a commune, we were only communal in a selective way. It was like an experiment or a game. It wasn't very practical in any real sense but it was an amazing experience. I think most people probably experienced it from within their own separate bubbles and so each have their own story to tell.
There were quite a few guitar players, and there were often impromptu jam sessions, and apart from those big mad jams that included most of the forty or so people living there, there were some proper guitarists. I wasn't involved myself, but I heard that a group of them had befriended Pete Townsend (The Who) who lived in a big house on the Twickenham river bank just near the foot-bridge to The Island. I remember his house always having pigeons all over the roof.
I think Pete Townsend invited a few people to come to his house to use his music-studio equipment. I can't remember how long that friendship lasted but I think some of them were being quite constructive about it. It all came to an end when Townsend got angry with another Pete, who as the story goes, was aggressively 'flirting' with his wife. Apparently he chased the other Pete from the house while waving an axe.
The other Pete was affected by a mental condition at the time. I think he was, as we now call it, 'Bi Polar'. Then the experts called it schizophrenia. We thought he had just taken too much acid. That was probably true as well. He did some rally crazy things during that time, including, taking people's record collections and trying to sell them in the town to anyone including the policemen who were out looking for him. He pranced around the town wearing his girlfriends dress, which a few years later would have been quite acceptable, but in 1970 that was overtly crazy. From my view he had just changed from a quite reserved, posing, beautiful-people hippy into an out-spoken, really funny comedian.
He was in and out of ' the loony bin' as we called it in those non PC days. He would keep escaping. There was one story, when someone else, I think it was Irish John, was being transported to 'the hospital'. He saw Pete going the other way, escaping again on a stolen motor-scooter, (helmets were not required then). They waved to each other, how mad.
There were many regular visitors such as 'Artist Pete', a middle-aged man who had a studio on the Twickenham side of the river. And Sally, a young, blond, fairy-like girl and her friend who's name I have forgotten, often seen flitting around the place.There was a constant flow of visitors, some had heard about 'Eel Pie Free Commune' in other countries and came to 'check it out'.
There were a lot of American college drop-outs in London in those days, avoiding being drafted and sent to Vietnam. They were usually long haired hippy types but I remember a couple of American soldiers turned up, having gone A.W.O.L. from where they were based in Germany. They both had classic American army crew-cuts so looked really out of place but they were already used to tripping and smoking pot in the army.
They were from Memphis and everything they did was synchronized, always flicking cigarettes at each other and catching them in a slick way, after flicking them around rhythmically, they would end up catching them neatly between the lips. They would do the hand-jive in sync with creative variations. They landed on Eel Pie and didn't want to leave but they ended up back in the army.
Cambridge University wanted a spokesperson to talk about the 'Free Commune'. It was generally accepted that no 'one' person could speak for us all, as we had no rules or leaders. So we all went to Cambridge. Well, as many as could be bothered. Which happened to be the same number of people as could squeeze into the only two vans available. They weren't expecting so many people and had to find a building to accommodate us. There wasn't much talking. To us, 'free commune' was a 'happening thing'. Words were not enough, so we 'showed' them, by having one of those 'free form' jam sessions. What a farce! I think we were all tripping.
Midsummers day 1970, we had an afternoon party in the garden. A well known 'festival band' called 'The Pink Fairies' played and also Peter Green from 'Fleetwood Mac'. That roughly marked the end of the 'beautiful, hippy-trippy period'.
I would like to pay a tribute to everyone who was there in late 69 to early 70 but my brain hurts!
I appologise to anyone that I've forgotten, or who I've forgotten the names of. Also, appologies for any inaccurate descriptions, my memory is a bit squishy. Everyone was lovely.
And then there was the Hog-farm Community.
That first six months or so was wonderful! There was a genuine familiarity that everyone seemed to share. The population was kept to about forty or so. We all knew who each other was, even though perhaps we didn't know each other very well.
Then one day someone had donated a van-load of food. No-one questioned it. We just carried it over the foot-bridge, like a trail of ants, back to the nest. It was stacked up against the wall along the first floor corridor. I mainly remember the stacks of trays of eggs and boxes of corn-on-the-cob but there was a variety of food-stuff. I don't remember much about it because I didn't get to eat much of it. I think I had a couple of cobs of corn. At the top of the first flight of stairs, there was a room ' we called the kitchen.. Actually there were no facilities, just a small Calor Gas cooker. For three days and nights there was a queue of people wanting to use that cooker, then all the food was gone.
The word got out, and dossers and freaks came from all around the area to partake in the free food. The gas bottle had to be changed several times during those three days. Sometimes in the middle of the night someone would go and wake up Mrs. Brock, a neighbour who had a little Tea Rooms and sold bottled Gas.
It turns out, the food was a kind of bribe. Suddenly the garden was filled with a sea of tents, including a 'tipi' which had been 'tie-dyed' in a swimming pool. It was done in earthy colours, mostly green with flecks of red and yellow, incorporating huge circles / sunbursts. We were very impressed and our number was more than doubled overnight. This was 'The Hog Farm Community', from America. Well half of them at least. The other half landed on a commune in North London. They came to buy two London buses to travel to India in. Nobody remembered that the very high tide would sometimes cover the garden. And so, one morning all the tents got flooded.
In the few weeks that they were there, we lost contact with the number of people living there. And when they left, some of the originals either went with them or got the travelling bug. We were left with a swelled population, most of whom were newcomers.
The place was deteriorating some rooms had blankets where there used to be doors. Broken windows were never repaired with glass but just boarded over. There must have been over a hundred people living in every conceivable corner. The intellectual and family / communal elements had gone but it was still vibrant. Most people hadn't experienced that amazing first six months but they were still enjoying the experience now.
The uninhabitable cellar was now inhabited by 'The Cellar People'. I never knew any of them. It was a black underground world, no daylight, only candlelight. Various dwellings were separated by dirty old carpets and blankets. It was 'heavy' down there and as if gravity had some sort of effect on it, the heavy vibes seemed to settle to the bottom of the building. So eventually, us hairy fairies ended up on the top floor.
Before moving to the top floor, I and one or two others had made ourselves quiet, den-like dwellings above the semi derelict ex kitchen area. It was almost a separate wing to the main building, so most people didn't even find their way there. It was a bit more private, a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle and a certain amount of chaos in the main part of the old hotel.
The old kitchens was just a big empty space with office rooms above, overlooking, through multiple paned windows. It was a potentially useful space but as far as I can remember it was never used before, except for garaging Gary's (LB's) little motorbike.
The 'peace and love' 'hippy dream' was dying fast. People were arming themselves, sleeping with axes under their pillows. There was even talk of guns in the house. The local Hells Angels, Richmond chapter, had infiltrated the building some time ago.
At first the Angels used to just play in the garden at weekends, getting drunk and harassing people in boats on the river. There seemed to be an invisible aura, (invisibility cloak or shield) around all the peaceful hippy types. One could walk right past the Angels at their worst and not even be noticed. I think the vibes were so strong and fearless that the Angels didn't know how to react. It worked for us so they were left alone to play. We knew it was only on the weekends, they would be back to work on Monday.
Even the entrance to the hotel seemed to be invisible to them. Though it was an open door to everyone. I think everyone was aware of this barrier but it was unspoken, like a spell that would be broken if it was mentioned. There was still a pleasant atmosphere in the hotel at that time and nobody wanted to invite the Angels in because they appeared to be quite disruptive.
There hadn't really been any trouble between the Hells Angels and the Hippies but then one day the unspoken barrier was penetrated when the tension got to one of the younger Angels. Drunk, he exploded into a rage. He burst into the building, shouting and swinging a heavily studded belt at the windows in the doors as he passed. He ran up the stairs shouting "Come-on you fucking pacifists" ('have a go if you're hard enough' sort of thing). Everyone stayed calm, saying things like 'cool-it man' and 'peace man'. He got to the top floor and his friends were still in the garden. They didn't react until they heard him shriek.
Hilton, not wanting to be labelled as a peace and love hippy, pulled out a cut-throat-razor from the inside pocket of his slick jacket and said, "I'm not a pacifist", at which the young Hells Angel shouted for assistance.
For a moment it was quite frightening when they all rushed up the stairs, pulling weapons, chains, coshes and belts, from inside their leathers. The girls amongst them were armed and ready to fight as well, which was quite shocking to me in those days.
The heat was taken out of the situation almost immediately when some one explained to them that this was a 'free commune' and they were free to be a part of it. And if they damaged it, they were damaging it for themselves. It seemed to work but it broke the invisible barrier that kept them outside. They seemed to respect the rest of us for a while. They only used the ground floor and usually only at weekends.
For quite a while The Angels were no trouble. Some of them were quite cool and friendly, on a one-to-one, but loyalty to their chapter was important to them, so they could easily turn. Their leader / president, Bob, a big, seemingly intelligent guy, had a lot of respect for those of us who were left from the original crowd. He appointed himself as our protector. He probably saw himself as protecting us from the outside world, but to us he was just protecting us from his own chapter. Gradually they made more use of the ground floor until they were there most of the time.
Halloween 1970, I came home to find that the whole place had been fortified. Petrol bombs, bottles and other missiles lined the balcony and the rooms above the old kitchen that overlooked the courtyard. There were even rifles and shotguns propped up against the walls ready for use. Big Bob told me that Windsor Chapter were coming.
Hells Angels 'Windsor', who were now calling themselves 'England', had a president called Buttons who got his colours / qualification when he was in America. No one was allowed to call themselves Hells Angels without his say-so. They were coming to 'sort out' Richmond Chapter who's club-house was now known to be Eel Pie Island Hotel.
There was only a handful of people left who were part of the wonderful early days. The rest had different ideals. There were junkies and speed-freaks, thieves and dossers. And the Angels of course, who had by now, more or less taken over the place.
There was nothing left for us idealists but we had jelled into a little group. Me, Seamus, Gary and Scratch were quite close and stayed that way for many years. Jeremy and his, then, partner Tinaig were close to our little foursome. We were the younger novices from the 'heady' days. We didn't know the right time to jump ship. We felt left behind, it seemed like everyone else that we admired had gone to India with The Hog-Farm.
That night, Halloween, Seamus and I met Scratch and Gary in L'Auberge, the cafe hang-out in Richmond. we had all escaped the impending mayhem on The Island. We were absolutely convinced that 'the hotel', our home, would be burned to the ground that night. It was like a tinder-box, and with all that petrol about. We were sure that we would be homeless the next day.
Bernie who used to have the TV on The Island in the early days, worked in L'Auberge and had a little room in Richmond. He gave us refuge there. We took some acid and brainstormed all night while Bernie slept. We really wanted to take what we had experienced in those early days of Eel Pie Free Commune and, somehow, reproduce it. We were naive but we had a lot to talk about, while tripping, that night. For us it was the end of an era and the beginning of something. We didn't know what but it cemented our friendship.
The next day 'the hotel' was still standing, to our amazement. The Police had heard about the planned battle and turned most of the Windsor Angels around en-route. Some made it to the Twickenham side of the foot-bridge to Eel Pie Island but were turned around there by police.
We stuck it out until Christmas but that was the end of Eel Pie Island for us.
I remember in the early days, someone saying that we were all like seeds. After we dispersed, new things would grow where we landed. I'm sure many thing grew from those seeds but for me, Seamus, Scratch, Gary, Jeremy, Chris Whitehouse, Martin and Inger and Odd Job it was 'The Grosvenor Road (free) Community'. Also in Twickenham.
End of an Era
I lived on Eel Pie Island for thirteen months solid. It wasn't too difficult to leave; those heady, 'free commune' days were over by midsummer. The beautiful people had gone and we'd been hanging on to a dream for the last six months. We were too young and naive to notice at first. We were still having a great time, tripping and getting stoned and being free. There were so many newcomers and the population had doubled within a few weeks in the summer. It was hard to know who everyone was now so we didn't bother to find out any more.
Everyone seemed to be enjoying the whole experience in their own way, and in their own, various little pockets of activity all over the building. The basement was full before I'd even noticed that people were living there. I would pass people in the corridors and not know which room they lived in, or even if they were just visiting.
The general atmosphere was still peaceful. The fashionable attitude was still 'peace and love' and 'live and let live'. Even the Hells Angels were quite peaceful. Certainly, we, the originals, felt no threat from them; Big Bob was proud to be our protector and we felt we could trust him. He didn't want anything from us, he just seemed to respect us.
Halloween night was the big wake-up call. The 'nearly war' between Richmond and Windsor chapters. They were quick to turn the whole place into a fortress. My quiet semi annex above the old kitchens was no longer a safe haven. That's when I gravitated to the top floor.
The rest of the house was starting to feel a bit 'heavy' but it was still light and airy up there. It even seemed cleaner up there. Although I don't think anyone actually cleaned up. I think even the dirt settled down to the bottom of the house and most of it ended up in the basement. Also I think that most of the down-stairs people were too off their faces to climb that last flight of stairs.
In hindsight I think we must have kept a little bit of that invisible protective shield from the early days. Just enough to protect that top stairwell.
My neighbours up there were the little group that stayed friends for the next few years. Gary (LB), Seamus, Scratch and Jeremy. There were some others but I don't think any of them had been there before the summer migration. We were still a happy house on the top floor. We seemed to be laughing most of the time and it was mostly Gary's wit that kept us going.
The presence of the Hells Angels became more of a threat when two of their number arrived for the first time one weekend. One came out of the army and the other had just been released from prison. They were both big and brutish, unlike Bob who was big but with a brain. They both seemed to be very pissed-off that their mates had become so pacified and were intent on making trouble.
The rest were quiet in comparison and we could often hear these two shouting. I think they felt a bit insecure 'cos all their mates were so chilled-out so they seemed to become a twosome, they needed each other. One of them had the name 'Evil' and from the top floor, we often heard the other one calling his name, "EEVIL", in a deep growling voice at the limit of his volume. He sounded so needy. Gary used to shout back in the same kind of voice, "MUMMY" and, "I WANT MY MUM". If he heard it he probably wouldn't have been able to work out where it was coming from, but it still felt dangerous, and hilariously funny. Gary would often have us all creased up laughing.
So anyway, by the time it was Christmas we were quite glad to get out of there. We had previously decided, mutually, to all leave together then. We went to our respective families for Christmas and then met up again in Aberdeen, at Scratch's mum's house for New Year. A great time was had there for a couple of days and, not quite knowing what to do but knowing we wanted to keep something of Eel Pie alive we headed back to London.
In 1972 Seamus and Scratch, with their friend Mac, opened up the first house in Grosvenor Road, Twickenham, behind the police station. Half the length of which had been emptied for redevelopment into offices. It was a political hot potato so there was legitimate support for the squatters. Soon after they were joined by Chris W. Then Gary and I joined them after our adventuring in Wales on motorbikes. By then all the houses were occupied by squatters.
We used our experience of Eel Pie, learning from the mistakes. We sought to influence this squat of about ten houses and I, for one, believe that it was the influences from Eel Pie that made Grosvenor Road a vibrant, free, community for the next four years.
Grosvenor Road Community didn't become degraded or fall apart, even though we never knew if we could stay there for more than a couple of months at any time. It became more solid and more realistic towards the end. It only ended because of the redevelopment programme.
Many people had already set themselves up in caravans and converted vans and buses before the end, knowing that it was inevitable. Like a new kind of gypsies they made an effort to keep the community dream alive but inevitably, and with changing times, eventually we all became dispersed again.
If anyone wants to add to, criticise or correct any part of this account, they are more than welcome.
Love to all,