Saturday, 24 October 2009


I've already been beaten to the punch by Peter Checksfield's Margate Music Man post on this subject, but I thought I'd take the opportunity to remind you that Lonnie Donegan Jnr is playing in Birchington on November 7th. Tickets, from what I understand, are still available to buy from Framing Plus, 8 Station Approach in Birchington (£10 each) so feel free to call the telephone number on the poster above if you have any further enquiries on attending the gig.

Needless to say, it looks set to be a great night, so I urge you to buy tickets if you have some spare cash. I myself will be putting in an appearance and, in fact, I've even written an article for next week's Thanet Extra which shares a few of my thoughts on the event after I interviewed Lonnie Donegan Jnr last week. He was a great bloke, we had a really interesting conversation about the history of music in general, in particular, how music evolves and develops, appropriating different idioms to accommodate different fashions or whims, and the lasting legacy his father made on the music industry.

His father, Lonnie Donegan, lest we forget, was the self-professed King of Skiffle, arguably the first British pop star of his kind, inspiring a crop of fifties kids already enamoured with rock 'n' roll to pick up guitars and become musicians themselves. The skiffle boom, spearheaded by Lonnie, led to a boom in guitar sales, and it's fair to say that without it, musical legends like Lennon & McCartney and Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin would probably not even have considered music as a viable career. That kind of influence should not be underestimated, nor forgotten.

I've had an interest in skiffle for quite some time. I'm not an aficionado, I don't dig up old 45's of crackly 1930s records, or meticulously learn the jazz diddlings of Django Reinhardt on my guitar, but I do have a solid appreciation for it. When I first learnt the guitar, I was initially inspired by the DIY ethic of punk, the idea that three chords is all you need, etc. For what it's worth, the first song I learnt was "Sweet Jane" by The Velvet Underground (later covered perhaps more famously in the '70s by Mott the Hoople), which while not punk per se, could be described by some as being proto-punk, with its emphasis on power chords and simple arrangements.

Now, I'm aware that there's a lot of revisionism surrounding punk, in particular attempts by music critics to glamorize it or nostalgically attach too much meaning onto something which I'm certain was rather shambolic, but what appeals to me is the notion that punk inspired lots of young kids to pick up a guitar. It abandoned the restricting idea that you had to be Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton in order to play and create your own music. In its heyday, Sniffin' Glue magazine famously printed an article saying: "Here's one chord, here's another, and another. Now form a band."

Punk eschewed traditional concepts of musicianship, and embraced the idea that amateurism should be no barrier to originality or freedom of expression in music. If you had something to say, regardless of your music ability, you got up and did it, and that's what appealed to me. That's why I learnt the guitar. The other side of punk, of course, is its politically and socially aware lyrics, which possess certain similarities with folk music, so despite its lo-fi, noisy and rough-hewn nature, I don't think it was too much of a radical departure of what came before it really. Punk just gave rock 'n' roll the shot in the arm it needed to reinvigorate itself, much like skiffle spurred people on to go out and buy guitars.

Of course, this has little to do with skiffle in some respects, but in my opinion, what I like about skiffle was it was arguably to the 1950s what punk was to the 1970s. Even the respected film critic Mark Kermode, who plays in a skiffle band called The Dodge Brothers, acknowledged this in an article on The Guardian, stating:

"Crucially, no matter how talented the musicians were, the underlying message [of skiffle] was simple - anyone can play these songs, and you don't need proper training or fancy instruments to do so. It was an ethos which would give birth to British rock 'n' roll, and go on to inform punk's anti-establishment call to arms: 'Here are three chords - now form a band.'"

I suppose what Kermode captures, in essence, is the attraction of skiffle to some fans of punk, myself included. Both musical genres are certainly comparable, although Lonnie Jnr was sure to remind me that his father's band were actually professional jazz musicians, playing three chords, so it was deceptively simple musically, but the musicianship was always very accomplished, so I don't refute that. Punk didn't always have accomplished musicianship, or perhaps even the sense of songcraft like skiffle did (drawing upon folk, blues or country) but I still think comparisons are valid. Skiffle and punk were inspirational for very similar reasons, in my view.

For this reason, I appreciate skiffle. It's joyous, wonderful, inspirational music, and Lonnie Donegan deserves to be venerated for the impact he made on music, not just for the immediate British Invasion generation which followed him, but for the generation of punk kids who came after that, probably little realizing that they inadvertently owe Lonnie a musical debt themselves. So I urge you to buy tickets, especially those who haven't even heard Lonnie's music before, and especially if you're my age, are a fan of punk music (the real stuff, not Blink-182), and wanna see what all the fuss of skiffle is truly about. I'm sure you won't regret it.

In fact, who knows? It might even persuade some people to start a skiffle band yourselves, drumming with cardboard boxes and baked bean tins. After all, according to the newspapers, we are officially still in a recession, so we probably won't even be able to afford musical instruments soon anyway, so I say it's time for a skiffle revival, wouldn't you say? Grab your kazoos, everyone. Our time has come.


  1. I think both you and Checksfield were beaten by about a month actually.

    See you at the gig!

  2. You won't see me at the gig, I'll be at work watching The Specials!