Screamline and Skiffle
At the start of the 1950's kids like me didn't listen to records much. The music that was to be heard on the radio, and which was for sale in the record shops was for grown ups, not for us.
Then -- all of a sudden, out of nowhere it seemed, there came something extraordinary called. . .
Gene Vincent and the Blue caps
These two records topped the charts in 1953
This was for us. We loved it; we identified with it. We became known as teenagers. We dressed for it, learned how to dance to it - and I wanted to be able to play it.
But to play Rock & Roll you needed an electric guitar, amplifier, microphone, bass, saxophone drums - expensive kit.
But not so with skiffle
All you needed to play skiffle was an acoustic guitar. I had one for my birthday and a 'learn to play the guitar' book too. But I couldn't fathom out the musical notation it looked much more complicated than the music sounded. So I gave up on the learn to play book, and instead studied photographs of Lonnie Donegan playing Rock Island line' noted where he put his fingers when he started to play and put my fingers in the same place.
Later I learned this was the chord of D
To find out more about skiffle click here.
By copying Lonnie's fingers I was able to work out the 3 notes, that made up a chord and how the chords fitted together to make a tune. I practised every day - in the bathroom where there was good echo. and I could lock the door.
It must have been painful for everyone else in the house to have to hear. My dad said - "You can always sell it you know". This remark only spurred me on. As soon as I could play a few tunes I formed 'a group'.
Our first public performance was reviewed in the local paper. The fuse was lit
Four years later I became a star...
. . . well, sort of
Screamline was an annual variety show put on by The Scouts. It had a cast of 160 and was always a sell out. It was made up of supposedly funny sketches, faintly amusing monologues, lots of Union Jack waving, jolly choral singing, and dressing up in drag. The first half ended with me taking part in a dance routine dressed up as one of the 'Bucknall Bluebells"- It was embarrassing.
But I went along with it because, surprisingly, I was the only person in the cast who had a guitar and could play it and, each night after the interval, the curtains rose to reveal . . . . . . .me, in the spotlight, alone on the stage of the Theatre Royal in front of an audience of 1,800 people, dressed in a sparkly powder-blue jacket, playing a low-slung, amplified guitar and singing "Be-bop-a-lula she's my baby" - just like Gene Vincent.
That's me in the middle with the painted peacock tie
Skiffle and a taste of stardom didn't get me into writing -- but it did lead to something that did.