Skiffle is a genre of folk music with influences from blues, jazz, and American folk music, generally performed with a mixture of manufactured and homemade or improvised instruments. Originating as a form in the United States in the first half of the 20th century, it became extremely popular in the UK in the 1950s, where it was played by such artists as Lonnie Donegan, The Vipers Skiffle Group, Ken Colyer, and Chas McDevitt. Skiffle was a major part of the early careers of some musicians who later became prominent jazz, pop, blues, folk, and rock performers, The Beatles and Rory Gallagher amongst them. It has been seen as a critical stepping stone to the second British folk revival, the British blues boom, and British Invasion of the US popular music scene.
Links to Peel
Skiffle was a relatively obscure genre, and it might have been largely forgotten if not for its revival in the United Kingdom in the 1950s and the success of its main proponent, Lonnie Donegan, who Peel was a fan of.
Peel very much enjoyed skiffle music in his youth, but in an 1987 interview with John Walters for Peeling Back The Years he mentioned Donegan as the main skiffle musician he liked, but did like others as well:
"It was principally Donegan. I mean, I listened to the others. I quite liked some of the Vipers stuff and I bought the EP of the first national skiffle contest winners – again, a collectors item, I don’t doubt, if you can find the collector…"
In the same interview, Peel also described his attempt to form a skiffle band whilst he was doing National Service:
"And after I’d finished basic training and was sent to a place called Trials Establishment Guided Weapons, Royal Artillery, to Ty Croes Camp, Anglesey, and fell in there with a bunch of people who quite liked rock and roll. There was a chap there called XX, who now teaches – he’d probably now be rather embarrassed if he’s listening to be reminded of this – but anyway, he now teaches guitar I think in Harrow. But he and I formed the basis of what was supposed to be a skiffle group. We never got much beyond practicing in our billet. I think on one occasion we tried to perform during a camp dance at the camp cinema, and I got up on stage rather drunk and started to sing Gene Vincent’s Say Mama, but was dragged off after a line or two of that by real music lovers."
Although skiffle music declined at the end of the 50's, many British artists in the early 80's, such as Terry & Gerry created a revival of the genre, which Peel played often on his shows, including sessions. Peel also performed a skiffle jam on TV with amongst others John Walters and Andy Kershaw for the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1985. In 2017 Peel favourite and fellow skiffle enthusiast Billy Bragg publshed a book on the movement, Roots, Radicals and Rockers; How Skiffle Changed The World
- Peel states in Margrave Of The Marshes (p. 132) that the individual concerned had objected to being mentioned by JP on air and threatened legal action if this happened again.