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Thread: Lonnie Donegan

  1. #1

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    Lonnie Donegan

    Maybe been done before. He is often cited as the Godfather of British rock and roll and I mentioned him to a friend a few days ago. She had never heard him so I played a couple of songs. She is now a fan and has ordered a CD.

    A lot of his records still hold up and when I was a lad I loved watching him on the TV (in black and white).

    Deserves a listen.

  2. #2
    Amor de Cosmos's Avatar
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    George Melly reckoned he coulda/shoulda been the British Elvis. Mainly because, in his opinion, skiffle was the UK's first proper home-grown pop-genre. He bemoaned the fact that LD was forced to become a novelty singer in order to have any sort of career.

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    British Elvis. Hmm. Don't know about that although Melly usually knew what he was talking about. Certainly more dynamic than, say, Tommy Steele.

  4. #4
    You couldn't have an English Elvis. He'd have to be from somewhere, and come from a certain class. That's how you end up with Cliff Fucking Richard. Tom Jones was a bit later. but he was Welsh.
    Last edited by The Awesome Berbaslug!!!; 09-07-2018 at 21:45.

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    So far as I can remember Melly's point was that Cliff, Tommy Steele et al we're merely Elvis knock-offs. Donegan OTOH (a Scot with an Irish mother BTW) had a rich and varied musical background that included playing jazz, folk and, through his Dad who played violin in the Scottish National Orchestra, classical music. He began the guitar, washboard, tea-chest bass three man skiffle combo as an intermission act when he was with Ken Colyer. Melly's point was that it was non-US imitative. Like the Beatles, like punk, it was indigenous, home grown. Sadly Lonnie lacked the personal charisma of Lennon or John Lydon, so never got his Elvis moment, but he deserved it.

  6. #6
    My dad has forced me to listen to a fair bit of skiffle over the years, and I get where he's coming from. I think it falls short when you just look at them. Elvis looks like a God, and basically invented Sex in the television age. It was always going to be hard to compete with that.

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    True enough.

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    Quote Originally Posted by The Awesome Berbaslug!!! View Post
    You couldn't have an English Elvis. He'd have to be from somewhere, and come from a certain class. That's how you end up with Cliff Fucking Richard. Tom Jones was a bit later. but he was Welsh.
    Well, Larry Parnes did his best to manufacture English rock 'n' roll pin-ups, but, after the gentler Tommy Steele and Marty Wilde, they were all much of a muchness - Dickie Pride, Vince Eager, Duffy Power, etc. The only one of Parnes's stable with real credentials was probably Billy Fury. (Georgie Fame had genuine talent and built his own career thereafter, but he wasn't part of the set-up for long.)

    I've always thought of Tom Jones as more 'cabaret' anyway. His natural rival back in the day was arguably Engelbert Humperdinck - who was about as rock 'n' roll as a family dinner.

  9. #9
    I highly recommend Billy Bragg's book on skiffle, Roots, Radical And Rockers, which covers Donegan in great detail. It's an incredible story of the earliest stirrings of teenage culture in the UK.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jah Womble View Post
    Well, Larry Parnes did his best to manufacture English rock 'n' roll pin-ups, but, after the gentler Tommy Steele and Marty Wilde, they were all much of a muchness - Dickie Pride, Vince Eager, Duffy Power, etc. The only one of Parnes's stable with real credentials was probably Billy Fury. (Georgie Fame had genuine talent and built his own career thereafter, but he wasn't part of the set-up for long.)

    Wait...Steele, Wilde, Pride, Eager, Power, Fury and Fame. You're having a fucking laugh. Nobody name Jimmy Rock'n'Roll or Frankie TooCool or Jackie Kids'll Love'em?

  11. #11
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    Allegedly he named them based on what they were like in bed (or what he imagined they were like.)

  12. #12

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    In the 50s the tradition of the music hall still had a massive influence on popular entertainment in the UK. So the novelty records released by Donegan, Steele and other putative British rock'n'rollers were efforts to give them a presence in that market and prolong what was seen as a short career. There was no real "youth" market. Up until at least the mid 60s to play the London Palladium was the pinnacle of a showbiz career. The Beatles, famously, played the Palladium.

    To quote (I think) Nik Cohn "Elvis became God and Tommy Steele played the Palladium."

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amor de Cosmos View Post
    Allegedly he named them based on what they were like in bed (or what he imagined they were like.)
    The latter part of that is almost certainly true.

  14. #14
    WOM's Avatar
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    Lewis Let's Just Cuddle didn't go very far...

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    Amor de Cosmos's Avatar
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    It probably also explains why Tommy Quickly* wasn't a massive success



    *A Brian Epstein "discovery."

  16. #16
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    British music was strapped to showbiz in the Fifties. There was no club circuit specifically for rock and roll until the Cavern, which started as a jazz club. Donegan was a player in Chris Barber's jazz band and his first hit was recorded for the band but then picked up a cult following.

    Was he brash and flashy enough to be a rock and roller? Probably not. Did he exude sex? Doubtful. Did he sing rock and roll repertoire? No, he sang folk tunes not boy meets girl.

  17. #17
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    Him not being "Rock 'n' Roll" was Melly's point though. He was something else, something different. I can see what he was getting at. A closer comparison is perhaps with the Greenwich Village folk scene, which burst into pop consciousness a few years later. But, as I said up top I don't think LD had the charisma on any level, it wasn't just sex, even more importantly he could never have been cool, in the way Dylan was cool.

  18. #18
    Jah Womble's Avatar
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    Not sure I can agree with that. Given what was about him at the time (ie, years before Dylan et al revolutionised the genre/s), Donegan was more than sufficiently 'cool'. He wasn't glitzy, for one thing, and his output had a refreshingly DIY feel to it to which young men non-plussed by the day's pin-ups would've readily related.

  19. #19
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    I think young men, on the whole, probably did relate to him. But they weren't the pre-dominant record buyers in the late fifties. If "cool" = attractive and interesting, to both sexes, then I'm not sure Lonnie rated very highly with young women, who were the primary pop market at the time. But naturally that's just guesswork on my part.

  20. #20
    He was a bit in the Strummer mould, or rather, vice versa. Joe seems to have appealed far more to boys than girls, not sexually (necessarily).

    Actually, watching The Battle of New Orleans, it's not a million miles from Tommy Gun.

  21. #21
    That's Joe Strummer named after his practices in bed, allegedly.

    Laughing at Lewis Let's Just Cuddle.

  22. #22
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    Interesting comparison.

    I've often thought that the pre-Beatles era of British pop could do with a comprehensive female analysis. It's a period where, of course, men made all the decisions. Frequently gay men who believed, as Larry Parnes claimed, that "they understood what girls liked," better than straight men. But young women weren't, so far as I know, actually consulted. What was on offer were mostly Elvis clones, with various boy-next-door features thrown in. But I, like other men don't know if that's what women wanted, it's the little girls who understand.
    Last edited by Amor de Cosmos; 11-07-2018 at 22:50.

  23. #23
    Women fancied Paul Simonon. A lot.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amor de Cosmos View Post
    I think young men, on the whole, probably did relate to him. But they weren't the pre-dominant record buyers in the late fifties. If "cool" = attractive and interesting, to both sexes, then I'm not sure Lonnie rated very highly with young women, who were the primary pop market at the time. But naturally that's just guesswork on my part.
    Well, that's my point - young men were clearly bored with this and found in Donegan an artist to whom they could relate (John Lennon said something to this effect), which to no small extent altered the consumer demographic of the time.

    He sold plenty of records (including sixteen Top Ten hits and three at number one) and had the best part of a decade in the limelight - so it must've worked.

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