Roots, Radicals and Rockers by Billy Bragg
The skiffle craze was kick-started by Lonnie Donegan’s 1955 cover of Lead Belly’s Rock Island Line, said Michael Henderson in The Times. Donegan, a jazz guitarist, recorded the song almost as an afterthought, but it became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and “opened a door” through which the “young and voiceless” marched. Having previously been “force-fed” music by their parents, British teenagers now started buying “guitars by the lorryload” and forming bands. At the height of the craze, up to 50,000 bands were “hammering away in youth clubs and church halls”, said Victoria Segal in The Sunday Times. Skiffle was, as Bragg points out, the “first music for teenagers by teenagers” – and it played a crucial role in the growth of modern youth culture. Full of “fascinating digressions”, and written with an “archivist’s sense of mission”, as well as a “musician’s knowledge”, Roots, Radicals and Rockers illuminates a lost world.