Billy Bragg, the Bard of Barking, shines the spotlight on skiffle in his latest book Roots, Radicals And Rockers: How Skiffle Changed The World.
This primitive music, with its tea chest bass, washboard and guitar, energised the lives of British teenagers in the 1950s; a mainly drab world where the shadow of World War Two loomed large with certain foodstuffs still on the ration.
Bragg, in this well-written and diligently-researched work of scholarship, argues that skiffle lies neglected in the dead ground of British pop culture. Yet skiffle was where the “pop royalty” of the 1960s learned their musical chops and paved the way for the British invasion of the US charts; as Beatles guitarist George Harrison once said: “If there was no Lead Belly, there would be no Lonnie Donegan; no Lonnie Donegan, no Beatles.”
Donegan was skiffle’s biggest star but his swift decline into novelty songs, such as the 1960 hit My Old Man’s A Dustman, tainted skiffle with an odour of embarrassment that still lingers.
Now Bragg believes the time is ripe to restore the genre’s reputation. He stresses skiffle was the first music for teenagers by teenagers in our cultural history and he dedicates his book to “every kid who picked up a guitar after hearing Lonnie Donegan”.
The film Frantz explores that fraught emotional landscape… the immediate aftermath of the Great War.
Anna, a young German woman, is mourning the loss of her fiancé, Frantz, killed on the Western Front fighting the French. She lovingly tends his grave in the picturesque churchyard of her home town even though his corpse remains on the battlefield in an unmarked grave – the fate of so many soldiers.
The town’s residents, still trying to come to terms with Germany’s catastrophic defeat, are piqued when a mysterious visitor starts visiting Frantz’s grave.
Anna eventually gets to know Adrien, a battle-scarred veteran of the French army, who reveals that he knew her fiancé. Their fledgling friendship sets in motion a chain of events that took this filmgoer on an emotional rollercoaster at York City Screen this evening.
Director François Ozon has created a sumptuous period drama and Paula Beer excels as its main protagonist, Anna, ably supported by Pierre Niney as Adrien.
Hacksaw Ridge tells the remarkable story of medic Desmond T. Doss. The conscientious objector refused to bear arms, yet vowed to do his duty in the combat zone by saving the wounded. He had to counter US Army red tape before getting his opportunity. His unit took part in ferocious fighting against the Japanese on Hacksaw Ridge during the Battle of Okinawa (1945) and Doss proved his courage by rescuing more than 75 soldiers. He was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S Truman. Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson, is a brutal film with its graphic portrayal of combat; but there are moments of Christian-inspired tenderness. Doss was a man of faith who refused to compromise his beliefs, yet he did not flinch when confronted by extreme danger. I left Vue Cinema, York, feeling both emotionally drained and uplifted.