The Skiffle Explosion
In this issue we discuss the origins of skiffle music, its journey across the Atlantic, and its impact on the British youth scene.
But first, here’s some….
Beatley News Updates
Abbey Road on the River
This issue was published just a few days before we head out for the Abbey Road on the River Festival in Jefferson, Indiana.
So what is Abbey Road on the River?
To quote from the festival’s website
“Abbey Road on the River, affectionately referred to as "AROTR", the world's largest Beatles-inspired music festival, is held each year over Memorial Day weekend at Big Four Station Park in Jeffersonville, IN.
Each year people from all over the U.S. and abroad come together to celebrate the music of one of the best bands of all time, they reunite with their “Beatles family” and celebrate 5 days of peace, love and rock-n-roll.
Attendees will enjoy over 250 Beatles and 60’s themed concerts performed by 50 different bands from around the world. Attendees can also enjoy a Beatles-merchandise marketplace, on-site food and beverages, retail and craft vendors, interactive art and a kid’s area.
More than 20,000 music fans from across the universe have been regularly attending Abbey Road on the River since 2002. They come with friends, with kids, with grandkids, or even alone. They come because it’s a place where everybody’s happy. A place where the fans mingle with the bands, and the bands become fans when they watch fellow bands perform. A place where every day is like a magical mystery tour down memory lane.”
I’m delighted to be the featured guest author at this year’s events where I’ll be hosting discussions on the Fab Four’s early days.
I’ll also have a table in the main merchandise tent where I will have copies of the Before They Were Beatles book for sale and debuting our new line of portrait sketch cards, featuring excellent artwork of my good friend Mr. Gabriel Morrissette.
And of course my friends The Savage Young Beatles will be making their US debut at the festival. Looking forward to meeting up with the band, and seeing them perform those great rock-n-roll numbers live.
Dinner And A Show
Like Beatles history? Want to try a unique food experience? Love Rock-n-Roll?
Join us for a special event in Austin, Texas on the evening of June 2nd.
“Stereo Dinner and Pershing present “Before They Were Beatles” a one-night-only celebration of the Fab Four’s early days with historian and author Alan J Porter. The event on June 2 will feature an intimate multi-course ticketed dinner followed by access to the after-dinner concert with Liverpool’s The Savage Young Beatles.”
Full details at https://www.stereodinner.com/events/beforetheywerebeatles
Rock out to the new BTWB Playlist
If you enjoy the early rock-n-roll years and the music that inspired the Fab Four you can now enjoy a great selection of songs from the period on the new Before They Were Beatles playlist on Spotify -
The Before They Were Beatles podcast passed the 50k downloads mark since the last newsletter. Thanks to everyone who gives it a listen. The podcast continues to show continuous growth in listener numbers with a steady stream of new folks starting at the beginning and starting to work their way through the story of the Fab Four’s early days.
I was delighted to have been a guest on the Abbey Road on the River podcast “Something Will Happen” talking about the Before They Were Beatles book and podcast as well as working with The Savage Young Beatles tribute band. You can check it out HERE
For more information on what else I have going on with writing, podcasting, and general slice of life stuff, check out my regular FREE weekly CAN’T SEE THE FOREST newsletter -
And now on to the good stuff…
1956 - The Skiffle Explosion
It’s January 1956, and for a brief moment Elvis’ position as the most influential singer on the British teenage audience was challenged by an unassuming jazz band banjo player by the name of Lonnie Donegan.
In the same month that Heartbreak Hotel was released in the US, Donegan’s version of an American folk song, Rock Island Line, recorded two years earlier, was released in the UK and sparked the imagination of thousands of British teenagers desperate for their own sound and musical outlet. For the next two years the British Isles bopped to the sound of numerous amateur skiffle bands inspired by Donegan’s music.
Donegan’s version of the classic song, which dated back to 1929 and had been recorded multiple times since, featured jazz musician Chris Barber on double bass and singer Beryl Bryden on washboard. The Acoustic Music organization noted that Donegan’s version "flew up the English charts. Donegan had synthesized American Southern Blues with simple acoustic instruments: acoustic guitar, washtub bass and washboard rhythm. The new style was called 'Skiffle' .... and referred to music from people with little money for instruments. The new style captivated an entire generation of post-war youth in England.” (1)
What made skiffle music popular was its apparent amateurish nature; you didn’t have to read music and the instruments could be fairly basic and homemade. Donegan’s innovation was in applying modern production techniques to the basic musical form. That he was able to retain its playability makes his achievement all the more noteworthy.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Before They Were Beatles to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.