Author(s): Billy Bragg
Roots, Radicals & Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World is the first book to explore this phenomenon in depth - a meticulously researched and joyous account that explains how skiffle sparked a revolution that shaped pop music as we have come to know it.
It's a story of jazz pilgrims and blues blowers, Teddy Boys and beatnik girls, coffee-bar bohemians and refugees from the McCarthyite witch-hunts. Billy traces how the guitar came to the forefront of music in the UK and led directly to the British Invasion of the US charts in the 1960s.
Emerging from the trad-jazz clubs of the early '50s, skiffle was adopted by kids who growing up during the dreary, post-war rationing years. These were Britain's first teenagers, looking for a music of their own in a pop culture dominated by crooners and mediated by a stuffy BBC. Lonnie Donegan hit the charts in 1956 with a version of 'Rock Island Line' and soon sales of guitars rocketed from 5,000 to 250,000 a year.
Like punk rock that would flourish two decades later, skiffle was a do-it-yourself music. All you needed were three guitar chords and you could form a group, with mates playing tea-chest bass and washboard as a rhythm section.
Against a backdrop of Cold War politics, rock and roll riots and a newly assertive generation of working-class youth, the songwriter and political activist Billy Bragg charts the history, impact and legacy of skiffle - Britain's first indigenous pop movement.
"In his first book, musician, left-wing activist, and sonic archivist Bragg has crafted a remarkable history of skiffle, a particularly British music genre. Initiated by amateur players obsessed with the blues, jazz, and folk, skiffle lured teenagers obsessed with all things American and eager to dance away post-WWII conformity and deprivation. With a DIY ethos and three-chord tunes, skiffle inspired a generation of British lads to pick up guitars, including among them Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page, and a young extraterrestrial who would later take the name "David Bowie." Roughly a cross between folk and R&B, skiffle quickly succumbed to the other two genres and faded from the charts, even as its former disciples led the British Invasion. Bragg impresses throughout with engaging prose and painstaking research. He further enlivens the text with personal insights and witty asides that give the material a unique cast few professional writers would dare. The introduction of dozens of new figures in the last third of the book diffuses the narrative but that's a minor demerit to an accomplished work. Ending with a flourish, Bragg convincingly argues for the emotional connection between skiffle and punk rock, something Bragg would know about better than most." (July) -- âPublishers Weekly (Starred Review)
Stephen William "Billy" Bragg is an English singer-songwriter and left-wing activist. His music blends elements of folk music, punk rock and protest songs, with lyrics that mostly span political or romantic themes. Billy's music is heavily centred on bringing about change and getting the younger generation involved in activist causes. For the entirety of Bragg's 30-year-plus recording career he has been involved with grassroots political movements, and this is often reflected in his lyrics. Bragg said in an interview: "I don't mind being labelled a political songwriter. The thing that troubles me is being dismissed as a political songwriter."