Monday, 27 March 2017

War Baby ......... stories by Eddy Newport no 27 .... 1956

1956 was the year I started at OPC and my social life was running much as before. 

Chris Barber and band, 1957
Steve Searl, Ron Devlin and Bob Taylor had secured apprenticeships in various firms and we still kept in touch with each other.

Bob and Ron had bought guitars and were trying to learn to play them. Skiffle had become very popular by then due to a hit song by Lonnie Donegan whose “Rock Island Line” had become a number one bestseller and was topping  the charts.

Lonnie Donegan was the banjo player of a traditional jazz band run by Chris Barber.

They produced an LP with a number of regular jazz tunes and had some space to add more music, so the story goes, Lonnie who sang American folk and blues songs with the band, had the chance to record a few fillers to go onto the LP.

During a break in recording Lonnie played guitar Chris played bass and a friend of the band was jazz singer Beryl Bryden who happened to have a washboard with her (this was played with thimbles on fingers running up and down on the serrated surface of the washboard thus producing the rhythm) and they recorded two songs “Rock Island Line” and “John Henry”.

This LP (long player) became a hit and it was soon realised that Lonnie’s tunes were the most popular. These two songs were released as a single and shot Lonnie Donegan to fame and fortune in his own right. The effect it had on a my generation of boys and girls who had been brought up on a diet of full band arrangements, ballad singers  and boring dance music was immense .

Rock and Roll had given us own musical identification and Skiffle was to give us the ability to be able to get involved ourselves and have a go at playing it.

Skiffle groups were being formed all over the country. All you had to do was learn three chords on a guitar and be able to sing in tune and if all the group members joined in a passable sound was produced. One problem that had to be overcome was the need for a bass. This was solved by getting a large tea chest which was a plywood square box about two foot by two foot, drilling a hole in the middle of one of its sides and with a stout piece of string secured in the hole and the other end to the end of a broom handle a reasonable note could be obtained.

You had to put one foot on the top of the chest and with one hand keeping the string taut by pulling back the broom handle and plucking the string a bass note was produced. Of course, a washboard was an essential part of the sound too. Washboard were hard to find as washing machines were becoming used more in homes and the old fashioned washboard was being thrown out with the rubbish.

my first drum kit
It was suggested that I would play the washboard (if I could find one) and Steve could play the tea chest bass. I did find one but it was made of glass and not suitable. However, I did manage to get an old banjo. I took off all the strings and with a pair of drum brushes; I produced a passable rhythm by tapping the banjo skin.

We would all meet at Bob’s house and in his bedroom; we would attempt to play some skiffle music.
Tim Leonard and I were becoming firm friends and I meet up with him in the evening and weekends. He lived with his mum, dad and sister.

His sister had been the head girl at the Gordon School. Tim also had a love of music and liked modern jazz. He was taking lessons on the clarinet and the tenor saxophone.

He liked to listen to Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes, and American sax players such as Zoot Sims and Stan Getz. I was not too enthused about this style of music, as I was more into the traditional style as played by Louis Armstrong and Chris Barber. Cont:-

Another in the series by Eddy Newport taken from his book, History of a War Baby.

© Eddy Newport 2017

Pictures; Chris Barber;(trombone); Monty Sunshine (klarinet); Eddie Smith (banjo); Dick Smith (bas); Ron Bowden (drums); Ottilie Patterson (zang), 1957, Joop van Bilsen (ANEFO)from GaHetNa (Nationaal Archief NL, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license and others from the collection of Eddy Newport

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