Sunday, 7 February 2010

Skiffle n' Thimbles

Way back in the post war UK of the 1950's, a new music trend was beginning to sweep the nation.  It was called Skiffle and made use of a multitude of household items to make music such as jugs, combs wrapped in paper, spoons and tea-chests. The UK's biggest Skiffler was Lonnie Donegan, famous for "My Old Man's a Dustman". He didn't invent it though.  The origins of skiffle go back to the early 20th century in the southern states of America.  Probably the most well known item is the washboard.  Originally designed for rubbing washing up and down to get it clean, the washboard has become synonymous with Skiffle.   It was not much good on its own though.  To make the distinctive sound the washboard needed something metal to rub against the metal of the board.  This is where the humble thimble comes in.     

With a metal thimble on each finger of each hand, the washboard player could strum, rub or rap the board. 

Skiffle probably became popular on both sides of the Atlantic due to the fact that it was an inexpensive way of making music.  By using everyday items anybody could join in.  It may have gone out of fashion in the mainstream music industry but the legacy of skiffle still lives on.  To this day, children still make music from blowing through a paper covered comb or twanging on elastic bands wrapped round a shoe box.  I'm not sure that you can still get washboards but if my children come back from school wanting to make a sound out of a cheese grater - I'll have just the thimbles they need!    

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