Spectropop remembers

LONNIE DONEGAN (1931 - 2002)

The King Of Skiffle

Lonnie Donegan died in Peterborough on Sunday 3rd November, 2002. He was mid-way through a national tour, its next stop Nottingham. Lonnie probably expected to die in the saddle. Despite being beset for many years with heart problems, and following a number of serious operations, he found it difficult to tone down an extraordinary singing act which required his full energy and commitment. In life, there was no denying he could be a difficult man, argumentative, often rude and obstinate, but on stage he was always King, master of his audience.

Much can be said about his pivotal role in bringing British artists to the fore of international popular music and he undoubtedly served as a beacon, an inspiration, to the giants who followed him: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, Elton John, Brian May, Cliff Richard, and so on. Certainly, when it comes to playing guitar, no man ever provided a greater catalyst to his youthful audience than Lonnie Donegan to take up the instrument.

Maybe the musical connection with those who followed is not always clear - Mick Jagger and "My Old Man's A Dustman"? - but Lonnie's music had many facets and from his mixed bag of songs - folk, simple blues, country, ballad, standards or novelty - there was something for everybody. His performance for each song was sincere, utterly committed, whether it was the frantic "Cumberland Gap" or the moving "Nobody's Child", Lonnie instinctively knew what was required and rarely was he wrong.

To illustrate the power of the man, shortly before his death, he received a telephone call from Eric Clapton, who was arranging a tribute concert to George Harrison to be held at the Royal Albert Hall. In recognition of Lonnie's early influence on the young George, when the Liverpool lad played Skiffle, Eric wanted Lonnie to open the show. A few days later, Eric rang Lonnie again. Now he wanted Lonnie to close the first half of the show. Why? Because he couldn't find anybody who wanted to follow Lonnie - they all knew that this man, of seventy plus years, would blow them away.

Lonnie is gone but we have his music. For forty-odd years he has entertained us, from being a humble banjo player in a jazz band to 'pop' giant. In fifty years time, someone, somewhere, will still be playing his music. A true star is always a star.

Paul Pelletier - http://www.brightguy.demon.co.uk/skiffle/donegan_obit.htm