Monday, May 09, 2011

Skiffle- the music of change

I have a theory about how and why music styles change. Each decade since the end of WW2 has seen incredible advances in musical playing technique and performance- followed by a "back to basics" revolution. Music runs in ten year cycles. The Forties ran from 1945 until 1955, the Fifties, from 1955 to 1965, the seventies from 1975 to 1985, etc. And each decade ended with the overthrow of the old and the establishment of a new and exciting music style.
Let me elaborate. The Forties was the era of the big band. 18 piece bands packed with star soloists playing out of their skin. Who wouldn't like that? Well, the youth for a start. What's the point of listening to music that is so technical it goes over everyone's head? By the mid fifties the big bands of the day were bigger than ever, louder than ever, more technical than ever, and yet..

Within a year or two they'd been swept away. What started the revolution?

It started out as a novelty interlude in a jazz band's concert. The rhythm section would play a few songs to minimum accompaniment. People liked it. It was easy to get into, and more importantly, easy to play. Anyone could buy a guitar and form a skiffle band.

I remember hearing the sound of do it yourself music everywhere in the little town in the far west of Cornwall where I grew up back in the mid fifties. The skiffle craze reached every corner of this country. Most bands were awful, but a few skiffle groups spawned a host of stars. The Quarrymen in Liverpool became the Beatles. Two young lads from Newcastle came to London to enter a skiffle contest and never went back. Their names? Hank Marvin and Bruce welch of the Shadows.

A simple, easy to play music form gave young wannabees a chance to learn their trade and make music that would change the world.

By the mid sixties the beat boom had run its course. Skiffle had evolved into rock n roll, which had then evolved into beat music.

Psychedelic drugs and big amplifiers heralded the Sixties- a decade of afro haircuts and long guitar solos. Cream, Hendrix and the Who morphed into Emerson Lake and Palmer and Yes, and suddenly the music had become overblown and technical. It was time for a musical revolution. It was time for punk.

More later, but for now a couple of videos to show the difference. First up is a recording from 1971 of Buddy Rich's band playing "Straight no chaser" which could have come from the 1950s

And a clip from 1957 featuring a very young Jimmy Page.

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