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Books Editorial

skifflebook.jpg Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World

Billy Bragg, Faber & Faber

Skiffle was a curiously British phenomenon that emerged from the jazz clubs of the early 1950s. During breaks in sets by bands playing New Orleans style jazz, the likes of Lonnie Donegan would relegate the brass instruments in favour of guitars and washboards to bash out songs that trampled all over tradition. And the kids loved it. It’s a scene that has slipped down the cracks of pop music’s history somewhat, buried beneath the rise of rock and roll and the 60s beat groups, but Billy Bragg does a fine job in charting its rise and importance. Of course, no scene arrives fully formed, and he places skiffle in context by taking us right back to the birth of ragtime in the US, along with blues and jazz (both traditional and the more experimental bebop style). And he also nicely captures the milieu of 1950s Britain, with the exciting introduction of Gaggia machines in Soho, which would lead to the rise of coffee shops where teenagers would gather to check out these rockin’ new bands, who, in their own way, would prove just as influential as the punks, 20 years later.