The SKIFFLE craze captured the imagination of Britains youth in the mid 1950s. It was a re-invention, in strictly British terms, of the American jug and spasm band music played at rent parties and get-togethers in the 20s and 30s. A hybrid music, it mixed the elements of folk, country, jazz and pop in a simple yet rhythmic style. It flourished in coffee bars, jazz clubs and even concert hall; and although eventually overtaken in popularity by Rock n Roll it still has its ardent devotees.
Thousands of kids had taken up the washboard, guitar and tea-chest bass and formed these Skiffle groups which became the spawning grounds for future rock legends, the Quarrymen became the Beatles, the Railroaders became the Shadows. Van Morrison, Mark Knopfler, Albert Lee, Chris Farlowe, Roger Glover, Ralph McTell and Martin Carthy are just a few who acknowledge the influence that Skiffle had on their careers.
Of the original groups that spearheaded the boom in the mid 50s, only two are still playing fulltime; Lonnie Donegan, the undisputed fountainhead of the music and Chas McDevitt, whose group with Nancy Whiskey on vocals, had a world-wide hit with FREIGHT TRAIN.
The success of this record took the group on tour with such international acts as; Slim Whitman, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, Freddy Bell & The Bell Boys and replacing Jerry Lee Lewis on his ill fated 1958 UK tour, with the Fabulous Treniers. In July 1957, fully six years before the Beatles, Chas & his group appeared on the Ed Sullivan show on the same day as The Everly Bros. first performed BYE, BYE, LOVE. The show had a viewing audience of 45,000,000.
Chas group had further success with GREENBACK DOLLAR and IM SATISFIED. They appeared at the first ever Skiffle concert at The Royal Festival Hall in April 1957 and later at The Royal Albert Hall. After a record breaking tour of the Moss Empire Theatre circuit, Nancy Whiskey left the group to marry and was replaced by Shirley Douglas in September 1957. The group had more releases on Oriole including minor hits with REAL LOVE and TEENAGE LETTER.
Chas and Shirley married in April 1959. They recorded for a variety of labels; Top Rank, HMV, Columbia, Fontana and President records. Currently most of this material is available on Rollercoaster. By the mid 60s they were playing the world wide cabaret circuit, from Helsinki to Hong Kong, from Bangkok to Nairobi, and from Cape Town to Reykjavik. They toured as support to the Beatles, Cliff Richard, the Shadows, Dave Clark Five and Chubby Checker as well as headlining their own shows in summer season.
Chas and Shirley remained married until the mid 70s. Their daughter Kerry occasionally sings and plays washboard with the current Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group.
For a while in the late 80s Chas reconstituted his original line-up, with Marc Sharratt on washboard and John Paul on bass and they toured both in the UK and on the continent. With the demise of both Marc and John, Chas now fronts a group of young contemporary musicians as well as making guest appearances with The Lonnigans and The K.C.Moaners Skiffle groups. He plays solo in cabaret on the holiday circuit, including Warners Stately homes and occasionally on the cruise ships. Chas is currently President of The National Skiffle Society.
Notable recent engagements have been at The Royal Albert Hall in November 1997, The Roots Of British Rock. Chas hosted this concert which celebrated 40 years of Skiffle. The show featured; The Chris Barber Band, Chas & Dave, Tony Sheridan, Diz Disley, Nancy Whiskey, Ray Bush, Wee Willie Harris, Chas himself with The Lonnigans Skiffle Group and Lonnie Donegan with special guests, Adam Faith, Joe Brown and Bill Wyman. The promoters acknowledged the success of this show and were, proud to present the biggest gathering of skiffle minded musicians and fans to celebrate a thoroughly British institution.
More recently Chas has played the Country Music Festival in Llangollen, where the Eistedfodd is held. In August 2000 he took his group to Finland for the KIHVELI SOIKOON FESTIVAL, an annual three day event in Hankasalmi with down home music played on home made instruments. They headlined a show that included many varied groups such as the avant-garde Cleaning Ladies and the hugely entertaining siblings, The Werner Bros.
During the summer of 2001 Chas played concert dates together with guitar virtuoso Gordon Giltrap proving that different styles of guitar music can exist side by side to their mutual benefit. The audiences were delighted. www.giltrap.co.uk
For more information on Chas and Skiffle be sure to read SKIFFLE-The Definitive Inside Story, published by Robson books. ISBN 1-86105-140-9 Available from Rollercoaster records, email firstname.lastname@example.org or direct from Chas McDevitt, email email@example.com 20.00 inclusive of 3.00 P&P.(U.K. only).
As well as his interest in antiques (mainly ceramics & Art Nouveau) and collecting records and old sheet music, Chas devotes considerable time supporting The Grand Order Of Water Rats. The G.O.W.R. is a show business charity promoting good works and good fellowship. Its members include many luminaries from the world of entertainment, notably; Roy Hudd, Bert Weedon, Brian May, Englebert Humperdink, Rick Wakeman, Joe Brown, Sir Henry Cooper, Sir John Mills, Jimmy Tarbuck, and Michael Crawford. Over the years, since its inception in 1889, many international stars have been privileged to be members; Laurel & Hardy, Will Hay, Ted Ray, Dan Leno, Bud Flanagan and in more recent times Frankie Vaughan, Les Dawson, John Inman, John Dankworth and Bob Hope. There have only ever been 850 Water Rats since 1889, and never more than 200 at one time.
In 1980 Chas received the trophy as Rat Of The Year from the then King Rat, Henry Cooper. December 2000 saw Chas inducted as Prince Rat for the year 2001. In 2003 he was elected King Rat and again in 2004.