Home Music Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World By Billy Bragg. (An essential book)

Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World By Billy Bragg. (An essential book)

Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World By Billy Bragg. (An essential book)

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)

“Without Lead Belly, there would have been no Lonnie Donegan; and without Lonnie Donegan, there would have been no The Beatles” George Harrison.

Johnny Kidd, The Beatles, The Who, Swinging Blue Jeans, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, and hundreds of other groups and performers have in common, that before dedicating themselves to Rock they were Skiffle musicians. Any British 60’s musician started in this genre.

This magnificent book written by the musician Billy Bragg, is the best document so far on this typically British musical genre, which had a short, but very intense journey. Although this musical style is largely forgotten today, in its heyday it was followed by millions of people in Britain. According to Bragg, the high point of the Skiffle can be found in 1957, in that year there were between 30,000 and 50,000 skiffle groups. This was due to the fact that it was very easy and cheap to be able to mount a group of Skiffle. Bragg also talks about the importance of this genre, which was the first made for young people, and how it paved the way for American Rock & Roll to germinate among youth.

The Skiffle as a style grew out of traditional jazz clubs of the early 1950s. Initially, it was a broadcast vehicle for new songs coming from across the ocean. In venues where performances by Skiffle were offered, music was mixed with sketches and music hall numbers, a tradition that British artists yearned to revive after world war II. The style became very popular, perhaps due to its simplicity, often played with a guitar, a washboard, a harmonica, a single-string wooden bass, and occasionally a piano, since in many of the premises there used to be small wall pianos, This meant that almost anyone could play an instrument. So, the skiffle was adopted by all the boys who grew up in the post-war period. These were the first teenagers from Britain, looking for their own music in a pop culture dominated by crooners, and governed by the BBC. Braggs tells us how the pioneers of the Skiffle, such as Ken Colyer, Chas McDevitt or Lonnie Donegan adapted and reinvented Jazz and American Folk. Bragg tells us that when Lonnie Donegan hit the charts in 1956 with a cover of Rock Island Line, a song that reinvented a Leadbelly tune, it made guitar sales soar from 5,000 to 250,000 that year. The book also tells us about the Importance of Lonnie Donegan as an ambassador of British music in the USA, about the amazing connections he had with American Rockabilly. When Donegan came to the United States in 1956, he played with artists such as Chuck Berry and Frankie Lymon. And, in general, he was well received by the rock community, as another rock and roll musician, his music was influenced by other sources and did not differ much from that practiced by the Americans, the only difference was his British accent. Bragg also tells us about the admiration that some American musicians like Buddy Holly had towards Donegan and about his amazing performances with the Johnny Burnette Trio.

The book, in addition to telling us how the music scene in the UK was brewing, perfectly describes all the juvenile fauna of the moment, Teddy Boys, beatnik girls, coffee bohemians and McCarthy witch-hunt refugees. The book shows us how the guitar came to the forefront of music in the United Kingdom and how the Skiffle was disappearing as Rock & Roll progressed, and how all this led directly to the British invasion of the American charts in the decade of the 1960. A magnificent work that cannot be missing from the shelf of any music fan of the 50’s and 60’s, and which I highly recommend from here.

Juanmy “The Hunter”.

This post is also available in: Español (Spanish)


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