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Skiffle is music that is also played on unconventional, improvised instruments. In addition to the guitar and the banjo , you can often find washboard and wash tub or tea chest bass , even devices such as buckets, tubs and watering cans are used.


Skiffle is based on both Anglo- and Afro-American folk , country , blues and jazz music . The term first appeared on records by Jimmy O'Bryant and His Chicago Skiflers in 1925 . In 1934 Dan Burley and His Skiffle Boys played the Dan Burley Hometown Skiffle on guitar under the direction of barrelhouse pianist and journalist Dan Burley , bassist Pops Foster and the brothers Sticks and Brownie McGhee on guitar .

From 1953, Skiffle was made famous in Great Britain by British traditional jazz musicians such as Ken Colyer and Chris Barber , but also by Alexis Korner and Lonnie Donegan . The first recordings were probably made in 1953 during a Paris tour by Ken Colyer's Jazzmen, when they were on the French radio Midnight Special and John Henry in the cast Ken Colyer (guitar and vocals), Lonnie Donegan (guitar and vocals), Chris Barber ( double bass ) and Bill Colyer (washboard) presented.


Lonnie Donegan often played in the following years with Colyer or Barber, so even with a recording session on July 13, 1954. Overall, in London for the Chris Barber LP New Orleans Joys eight songs recorded, two of which as Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group dubs were, namely Rock Island Line and John Henry . These two tracks were released as a single in November 1955. When the A-side Rock Island Line aired on the BBC Light program in January 1956 , it sparked the skiffle wave among British teenagers. In the same month the song came into the local charts, where it reached eighth place. The title also reached the same position in the US pop hit parade in March 1956 and, as a million seller, helped ski flemish music to break through. To cement the success, Donegan separated from Barber and toured now with his own band.

Although Donegan's band performed with the same standard instrumentation as the rock bands from 1956 (vocals, lead guitar , rhythm guitar , double bass and drums ), many teenagers began using the example of American youth band music of the 1920s , along with other improvised instruments such as jug , tea box bass, and kazoo etc. to use. Other professional skiffle bands from 1956 to 1958 did without unconventional instruments, such as the Vipers Skiffle Group, Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group or Dickie Bishop & His Sidekicks, one of the first groups to perform with an electric bass guitar instead of a double bass.

In 1958 the first book about this genre was published with the title Skiffle - The Story of Folk Song With a Jazz Beat . Many British pop superstars of the 1960s and 1970s started skiffle or skiffle bands in the 1950s , such as The Beatles (one of the forerunners of The Quarrymen ), the Rolling Stones , Eric Clapton , Mark Knopfler , Elton John , Rod Stewart , Chris Farlowe , Van Morrison , The Kinks , Led Zeppelin , Roger Daltrey or Simply Red .


From 1959 Skiffle largely disappeared from pop music, only Lonnie Donegan stayed at the top successfully for a few years and landed some hits such as My Old Man's a Dustman and Does Your Chewing Gum ... From 1962, beat music dominated the charts and displaced them Ski flem music.

Nevertheless, there were still a few skiffle hits in the following years:

Skiffle in other countries

In the pre-beat era, there were also a number of skiffle groups in Germany in the late 1950s and early 1960s , from which, for example, Reinhard Mey or the Lords emerged , who even celebrated big hits with some Donegan covers ( Have a Drink On Me , Over in the Gloryland ).

Around 1970 the Worried Men Skiffle Group made a name for itself, the texts of which were mostly written in Viennese dialect . Some of these even came from the pen of prominent poets, such as Konrad Bayer . Her biggest hit was Do you think I'm bled? .


Skiffle survived mainly on the live market, so there was the first major skiffle revival in Germany in the 70s. The most important performers were Leinemann from Hamburg, the Bourbon Skiffle Company from Hanover , the Heupferd Jug Band with Götz Alsmann , the Yeti's Skiffle Men from Hanover or Walter hc Meier Pump from Essen.

In the mid-1990s there was another skiffle revival, this time with a focus on Great Britain. It all started when Lonnie Donegan received the Ivor Novello Award for his life's work. That evening he spontaneously jammed with Van Morrison , and Morrison, together with Donegan's then bassist Brian Hodgson, persuaded him to record and release a studio album again after more than 20 years. It was released in 1999 under the title Lonnie Donegan - Muleskinner Blues . At the beginning of 2000 Lonnie Donegan also found her way back into the international charts of some countries such as the USA, Great Britain and Germany - through the collaboration with Van Morrison on the album The Skiffle Sessions - Live in Belfast .

The climax of the English skiffle revival of the 1990s was the concert in the Royal Albert Hall on December 7, 1998, Skiffle - The Roots Of British Rock , u. a. with Chas McDevitt , Tony Sheridan , Diz Disley , Chas & Dave and Lonnie Donegan with band.

In addition to Great Britain, the main focus of the ongoing ski revival is Germany, Finland and the Netherlands. In Finland, every year in July, the Kihveli Soikoon takes place in the small town of Hankasalmi near Jyväskylä in central Finland ! instead, a three-day event with several thousand spectators. The more traditional Hamburg Skiffle Festival and the Summer Skiffle Night in the open-air museum on Kiekeberg take place in Hamburg every year at the end of January . The latest revival is Lonnie Donegan's Rock Island Line in the television advertisement for the Opel Astra TwinTop .


  • Archibald Brian Bird: Skiffle. The Story of Folk Song With a Jazz Beat . Robert Hale, London 1958 (with a foreword by Lonnie Donegan).
  • Karl Dallas: Lonnie Donegan and Skiffle: Was Skiffle the Start of British Rock? . In: The History of Rock , No. 7 (1982), p. 124 ff.
  • Mike Dewe : The Skiffle Craze . Planet, Wales 1998. ISBN 0-9505188-5-9 (with a foreword by Chris Barber).
  • Ulf Krüger: Washboards Kazoos Banjos. The History of Skiffle. Book accompanying the 6-CD box from Bear Family Records . Hambergen 2013.
  • Spencer Leigh: Putting On The Style. The Story Of Lonnie Donegan . Finbarr International, Folkestone, Kent 2003, ISBN 0-9529-5002-2 .
  • Holger Lührig: The British Skiffle Groups 1954–1958. A discography with biographies, photographs and background material . Unna 1997.
  • Chas McDevitt: Skiffle. The Definite Inside Story . 2nd ed., Robson Books, London 2012. ISBN 978-0-9574462-0-5 (with prefaces by Joe Brown , Mark Knopfler and George Harrison ).
  • Mike Pointon and Ray Smith: Goin 'Home. The Uncompromising Life and Music of Ken Colyer . Ken Colyer Trust, London 2010. ISBN 978-0-9562940-1-2 (+ 1 CD).

Web links

Commons : Skiffle  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Author: Brian Bird, 1958.