1956 Roll-Call


sees Brian Rutland obtain the use of the Eel Pie Island Ballroom in April, courtesy of owner Michael Snapper

Whilst I have seen mentions of The Hugh Douglas Orchestra, a dance band very popular in the area, playing at such venues as St Mary’s Hall, and Twickenham Palais as well as Eel Pie Island Hotel during the 1940s and early 1950s, by and large music was no longer being played in the ballroom. However, having outgrown the capacity of the Barmy Arms, Brian Rutland’s Grove Jazz Band performs the first of a series of (informal) gigs there, after having approached owner Michael Snapper over the use of his ballroom ‘literally gathering dust’. However, after a few months, Brian turns up to find Arthur Chisnall has booked Ken Colyer in his place, thereby gazumped

Jazz Parade in Twickenham – Brian Rutland and The Grove Jazz Band – 1956

The following ‘roll-call’ of performers at Eel Pie Island has been compiled mainly from the contracts held by the estate of Arthur Chisnall, who operated the club between 1956 and 1967. When Arthur Chisnall took on the booking of bands, John Winstone (working with Chisnall) wrote to local Student Unions notifying them that “the inevitable party will be held at Eel Pie Island this Friday 1/6/56, with the Terra Buona Jazz Band playing for dancing, followed by a Skiffle Group, who will play until their audience has fallen exhausted”, and advising of a 1/6 entrance fee, 2/6 for a membership ‘Passport’, with the heavy hint that very soon entrance would soon be by Passport only due to the physical limitation of the venue, obviously expecting oversubscribed attendances by the near future. These fees were initially to provide the rent for the venue. After a short while, due to police pressure, the venue became legitimised as a club, “Eelpiland”, following the introduction of those memberships and entrance fees, which allowed for payment for the performers, rather than the previous crates of beer. It is from that point that records exist, in the form of contracts and flyers that have allowed the following roll-call to be compiled, though there are numerous gaps. Unlike similar pieces of work written about other venues, such as The Cavern and The Marquee, as far as the Island is concerned, typically no adverts appeared in either the local or musical press, so that avenue for research is largely unavailable: publicity about forthcoming events was limited to word of mouth and some discreetly distributed flyers. Please note that the comments appearing against any act are no-one’s opinions but my own, though facts have been sourced from all over, and I apologise if any of said comments appear to be teaching any grannies to suck eggs, but I am aiming at a broad audience. Grateful thanks are due to Susanne Fischer for the kind use of Arthur’s ephemera.

Fri. Aug 10th – Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen

The first act to appear professionally at Eel Pie Island, in 1956 on this, the official opening of the Eel Pie Island Jazz Club, or ‘Eelpiland’, and its ‘Guest Register’

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