Washboard player with the Vipers, which helped set the stage for British rock’n’roll during the 50s teenage ‘skiffle craze’

John Pilgrim, who has died aged 87, achieved fame, if not fortune, as washboard player with the Vipers during the brief mid-50s “skiffle craze”. The Vipers were among the most popular and exciting of British skiffle groups, and, as the first resident band at the 2is coffee bar in Soho, helped set the ball rolling for British rock’n’roll, many of whose early stars emerged from the 2is cellar. They toured widely and had chart success, notably with Don’t You Rock Me Daddy-O, released on Parlophone in 1957, which reached No 10, and then with Cumberland Gap and Streamline Train.

Skiffle had emerged from the postwar British New Orleans revival jazz bands – simple, catchy music popular with British teenagers, who discovered they could play this “folk music with a beat” on homemade instruments and using only three or four guitar chords. Within months of the runaway success of Lonnie Donegan’s Rock Island Line in 1956, there were thousands of skiffle groups across Britain – it was the first really demotic teenage music.

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Author: Dave Arthur

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