The skiffle craze
: a popular music phenomenon of the 1950s

  • Michael Dewe

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Against the background of Fifties Britain and the London coffee bar culture of its young people, the thesis examines skiffle's American origins in black and white folk music, its emergence in the UK from the revivalist jazz bands, and its brief significance as a commercial popular music genre from 1956-1958. In so doing, the background and careers of the major skiffle performers - Donegan, McDevitt, Duncan and the Vipers Skiffle Group - are described, as well as less high-profile groups such as the City Ramblers and those led by Colyer, Barber and Cort. The emergence of the many teenage skiffle groups throughout the UK, imitating the above artists amongst others, is also chronicled, along with details of their instrumentation, performance venues, involvement in skiffle contests, and appearances on radio and television. The role of broadcasting in promoting skiffle, however, is dealt with more fully and separately and considers in particular the BBC's television programme, Six-Five Special, and radio's Saturday Skiffle Club. The final part of the thesis shows how Fifties skifflers moved on to other kinds of music and that skiffle continues to be played today, whether by veteran performers or younger newcomers to the music. Especially through the inclusion of reminiscences from grassroots Fifties skifflers, the thesis demonstrates: (1) that skiffle introduced many young people to a lifetime of music-making who might not otherwise have considered it. (2) that skiffle groups provided the model for the rock and other groups that came later. (3) that skiffle paved the way for the subsequent folk song revival and British rock 'n' roll and rhythm and blues. (4) that skiffle provided the stepping stone to rewarding activity in popular music at the local level or sometimes on the national scene, as exemplified by the careers of Cliff Richard, Adam Faith, the Shadows, the Beatles, the Spinners and others (5) that skiffle continues to play a part in popular music over forty years after its heyday. A concluding chapter places skiffle in a broad theoretical context, exploring its relationship to popular culture and popular music, and examining the music's significance for conceptual issues such as appropriation, gender, text, youth culture, and audience, within the wider context of demographic change and local identity
Date of Award1999
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University

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