Skiffle legend Lonnie lives on

TREVOR HEATON, EDP Whats On Editor The show Lonnie D, coming to Cromer Pier Pavilion this weekend, pays tribute to one of the most influential figures in British music history – Lonnie Donegan.


It was an era of novelty records, cheesy orchestras and overblown crooning. And then Rock Island Line by Lonnie Donegan came on the radio and nothing was ever quite the same again.

From that moment in 1956, youngsters all over the country realised that this was music for them, not their parents. Not just that, it was music that would inspire them to go on a musical journey themselves.

Youngsters like Paul McCartney and John Lennon with their skiffle group the Quarrymen, like Roger Daltrey, like Mark Knopfler, Brian May, Chris Farlowe, Ron Wood, Keith Richards…

Lonnie didn't know it, but he had opened the lid on a treasure chest of musical talent which would change the world of pop and rock forever.

Not a bad claim to fame, then - which is one of the reasons why Lonnie D, a musical account of his life, has struck such a chord with audiences up and down the country.

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“They seem to like it,” said Peter Donegan - who with his brother Anthony is a star of the show - “We played Gravesend last night and had a standing ovation.”

And no wonder - the show feature more than 20 of his most famous songs, biographical insights and rare footage. The cast of 15 includes members of Lonnie's original band. There's even a 'Stomp'-style routine inspired by one of his best-known songs (and third chart-topper) My Old Man's a Dustman.

“We start off Jack O'Diamonds with some film of my dad doing the song on 6.5 Special - and then we pick up the song live. That really gets the audience going!” Peter explains.

The show, which has now been touring successfully for a year, actually has its roots in a family dinner party conversation before Lonnie's death in 2002.

The talk came round to rock'n'roll musicals and it was pointed out that while Buddy Holly and Cliff Richard had had their musical tributes, the King of Skiffle had not…

That germ of an idea has grown into the elaborate two-part show, which begins with a 'docu-concert' of some of Lonnie's best-known songs and biographical links from Peter and Anthony, before moving to a scene set in a coffee bar scene which re-creates that excitement which swept across the nation's teenagers.

“We try to entertain and be informative too,” says Peter, such as explaining the story behind Lonnie's stage name (he was actually christened Anthony).

Lonnie's 50-year career saw three number one singles, 30 hits, millions of record sales and numerous sell-out concerts. But it's his role as inspirer-in-chief to a generation of musicians which is his greatest legacy.

Luckily, Lonnie was left in no doubt of their appreciation. “Brian [May] certainly told my father how much he had inspired him - and Van Morrison idolised my dad,” said Peter.

And there there's the music too, of course.

“I went to a pub the other night - and there was a skiffle band performing,” Peter continues.

“And it still sounds great.”

t Lonnie D is at Cromer Pier Pavilion tonight and tomorrow, Friday September 30 and Saturday October 1, (8pm) tickets £15, telephone 01263 512495

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