skiffle

Discuss word origins and meanings.

skiffle

Post by Shelley » Fri Aug 12, 2005 12:34 am

After finishing my third Beatle bio, I've become curious about the music style called "skiffle", which was what they were playing in Liverpool in the very beginning. Can any of you Britishers talk a little about skiffle? I don't find it in the slang resources on WW, but I haven't looked elsewhere.
Post actions:

skiffle

Post by Bobinwales » Fri Aug 12, 2005 7:19 pm

Also known as "The great skiffle disaster" it was a strange era. It started in the ‘50’s, and in it’s very basic form was American folk songs sung very loud and very fast. “Rock Island Line”, Tom Dooley”, “Battle of New Orleans” etc.

It was played mainly on acoustic guitars and an assortment of more weird stuff, washboards and tea chest basses. Actually, I was a bass guitarist in the ‘60’s, but my first effort on bass was a tea chest. You may have got the impression that it was a Liverpool thing, but the whole of the UK was infected.

Arguably leading exponent of the art, certainly the longest running, Lonnie Donnegan died last year, but I also remember Nancy Whisky with some affection. I must have been at least 14.
Post actions:
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

skiffle

Post by Shelley » Fri Aug 12, 2005 7:47 pm

Ah, those were the days, eh, bobinwales? Thanks for your info -- I must ask, though, what's a tea chest? How big is it? Is it special because it's airtight to keep the tea leaves dry? How did it work as a bass (guitar)?
Post actions:

skiffle

Post by Phil White » Sat Aug 13, 2005 11:06 am

Shelley,

I suppose US memories of tea chests died at Boston.
Used originally to import tea (and still used for this purpose), they are made of thin plywood with steel bands around the edges. The inside, to my memory, is lined with metal foil. Most people (at least of my generation) came into contact with them as removal boxes. I believe removal companies used to provide them when you moved house.

I assume the size is standardized, but I can't find any details. I remember them to be about 20" x 20" x (well, a bit higher than they were wide)". I could certainly clamber inside them at the age of about 5 and lacerate my hands on the protruding nails.

The ones available at http://www.woodenpackaging.co.uk/Wooden ... Chests.htm are not the real McCoy, as they don't smell of tea, but they'll give you an idea. Proper tea chests smell of tea, even after many re-uses as removal chests.

There's a nice pic of a tea chest bass at
http://www.mms.qld.edu.au/student-instr ... t-bass.htm
Bob will undoubtedly correct me, but the principle is to put your foot on the top of the chest to keep it stable, tug at the broomstick to tension the string (yes, string, I mean real string...), pluck the string and hope that you're somewhere within three semitones of where you want to be (which is plenty for skiffle - allowing the same margin of error for the guitarists, this made for the unique harmonies of skiffle).

To be fair, some exponents were (and some probably still are) quite amazing musical talents.
Others, on the other hand, are not (http://www.teekisten-bass.de/Teekiste.mp3).

Apparently the US equivalent of a tea chest bass is a washtub bass.
Post actions:
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

skiffle

Post by Shelley » Sat Aug 13, 2005 2:47 pm

Yeah, man! Slap that bass! I get it now -- of course I thought of the tea chest as being a chest of drawers that somebody would bang on like a drum. I've got to tell some bassist friends of mine about that teekisten-bass link. Phil, that was a good tea chest tour.
Very funny crack re: our American rejection (or should I say ejection) of tea and related accoutrements! There is something to be said for our efficiency, though: after ma plays bass at the local function at the junction, she can do the laundry with the washtub and board, and use the string for a clothesline!
Thanks, both of you. I'm off to the library to find recordings of skiffle (well, after I do some laundry . . .)
Have a nice day!
Post actions:

skiffle

Post by Wizard of Oz » Mon Aug 15, 2005 10:17 am

Shelley, you may want to delve deeper into this mire of musical mayhem by looking at the connection between the tea chest bass and the lagerphone and skiffle .. try here >> http://www.wongawillicolonialdance.org. ... ussion.htm .. if you want more in-depth info on the lagerphone then go here >> http://www.pcug.org.au/~kmsayers/lagerphones.htm .. now you can really get into the noise making business .. *grin* ..

WoZ of Aus 15/08/05
Post actions:
Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

skiffle

Post by Bobinwales » Mon Aug 15, 2005 2:08 pm

I had forgotten about the lagerphone, thanks for bringing that little joy back to front of my mind. Isn't it a shame that Rolf Harris didn't invent the wobbleboard until much later?

Your description of how to play a teachest bass is quite correct Phil, we did try to get within two semi-tones, but it was never easy.

I did actually play a contraption made out of an oil drum on stage once. I really can't remember why it was required instead of a real bass, but it was in 1970 something and in a folk club, we did daft things then.

Thanks for putting me on to those sites, I never thought there would be people still thumping the things, I think I can quite honestly say that I think I have probably played my last.
Post actions:
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

skiffle

Post by Shelley » Mon Aug 15, 2005 5:38 pm

I THINK I can quite honestly say that I THINK I have PROBABLY played my last.
Bobinwales, are you quite sure about that? To paraphrase, "I think, therefore I am not certain."
WoZ, for some reason I imagined a lagerphone would be an empty (lager) bottle, and to produce a tone the musician would blow over the top. The true contraption is magnificent to behold! I would hang one on my wall, if I had an extra bit of wall.
Post actions:

skiffle

Post by Bobinwales » Tue Aug 16, 2005 8:06 am

I know what I wrote Shelly. I am a terrible show off, I do a five minute set when the fridge light goes on. So if someone said to me one day, "I need a teachest bass for this track..."
Post actions:
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

skiffle

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Aug 16, 2005 8:10 am

That really is the teachest thing I've ever heard!
Post actions:
Signature: -- Looking up a word? Try OneLook's metadictionary (--> definitions) and reverse dictionary (--> terms based on your definitions)8-- Contribute favourite diary entries, quotations and more here8 -- Find new postings easily with Active Topics8-- Want to research a word? Get essential tips from experienced researcher Ken Greenwald

Re: skiffle

Post by Shelley » Sun Apr 29, 2012 5:48 pm

Over six years later . . .

This past week, I saw yet another British import to the Broadway stage -- "One Man, Two Guvnors", an adaptation of an 18th century play by Goldoni called "A Servant of Two Masters". It's hilarious, and features, among other delights, a 4-piece band called "The Craze".

Now, this band is playing before the show starts, and they've got a washboard, guitars and a lead singer, and they're dressed up in skinny, shiny suits, and the songs are not exactly rock and roll . . . Well, I think it's the washboard that tips me off. I lean over to my husband and, trying to impress, tell him I'm pretty sure they're supposed to be, um, Tommy Boys, or something like that. But I know that's not quite right. I'm searching my memory (which is not as easy as a WW search on the computer), and suddenly it pops into my head: skiffle! Once again, I lean over and whisper, "Skiffle! That's it! It's a skiffle band -- a precursor to the Beatles . . . etc." Seconds later, somebody from the play comes on stage and says, "I hope you all enjoyed our skiffle band, ladies and gentlemen!" Sometimes, the universe grants instant confirmation.

At this age, some of you can probably understand the deep satisfaction that comes from dredging up a fact, name or some other memory or bit of information from way back in the vast filing cabinet of our brains. To say nothing of the pleasure of impressing one's spouse!
Post actions:

Re: skiffle

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Apr 29, 2012 7:58 pm

Homegroan music can be a wonderful thing.

Note that I only said it CAN be...
Post actions:

Re: skiffle

Post by Bobinwales » Mon Apr 30, 2012 7:24 pm

Were you thinking about TEDDY BOYS Shelley? They actually pre-dated skiffle.

By the way, "flick knife" = "switch blade"

Well remembered though, I hope he was impressed.
Post actions:
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: skiffle

Post by Shelley » Sun May 11, 2014 4:53 am

Two years later:

I spent the afternoon at a fantastic exhibit called "Ladies and Gentleman . . . The Beatles!" at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. It had everything -- unseen film clips, interviews, memorabilia, tour contracts, hotel bills, newspaper articles, buttons, lunch boxes, John's granny glasses, and . . . instruments. In an out-of-the-way corner, there was a sign on the wall with the word "Skiffle" on it. Next to it was a guitar, a washboard, and a big wooden box with a broomstick and a piece of string! I was delighted to realize I knew exactly what I was looking at! The sign invited us to play the instruments, and explained how to make the tea chest bass work. Well, I didn't hesitate. Had lots o' fun, looking pretty silly. (By the way, making music out of that broomstick and piece of string is harder than you'd think!)

Life is good.
Post actions:

Re: skiffle

Post by Bobinwales » Sun May 11, 2014 2:44 pm

Welcome to the club of those of us who have played tea-chest bass in public Shelley. I'm not sure how select it is mind you...
Post actions:
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Post Reply