In an article in WOW a few months ago, skiffle was the main subject and, if I remember correctly, we were going to return to this fascinating and fun form of music later in the year.
Joe Scanlan’s super article from last week brought back weird flashes of memory from the days of skiffle, with its washboards, cheap guitars and anything that could be used as a drum – all held together by the rhythmn of a tea chest, broom handle and a length of string.
What is not generally known is that there was a cast level in how ‘chest’ players were perceived as indeed were washboard players.
It was like finding gold if a tea chest was found dumped. It would be carried home and immediately converted into a d-i-y-ers bass viol. A very nice example of the tea packer’s art would be a tea chest nicely stencilled with ‘product of Ceylon’, some code numbers and a description of the contents sometimes stencilled ‘sweepings’, Darjeeling, Chun mee etc, and the inside neatly lined with tin foil. It was rare to find chests of the more expensive teas, but if one was found, it was the equivalent of finding a Gibson guitar.
Anyone with a chest stencilled “Meghalaya Lakyrsiew” could demand prominent position on stage. The same principle applied to washboards as they came in varying sizes, and quality. They all played well and, like all instruments, were only as good as the player. The sound did vary, though. A glass one was normally less resonant, more muted, whereas the metal ones gave a sharp, tinny tone.
Some had differing patterns of corrugations on either side, so, depending on the sound required it was just turned over.
As with tea chests, if they had any form of printing or advertising on them they were much sought after.
A small, ‘soprano’ wash board I have underneath my desk carries the following on one side:
“DUBL HANDI – Use either side according to fabric.
Columbus Washboard Co, Columbus.” And on the other side: “Ideal for silks, hosiery and lingerie or handkerchiefs. Just the right size to fit a bucket, pail or lavatory. Packs easily into a case or travel bag. Columbus Washboard Co, Columbus, Ohio.”
So there we go then, stuff your washboard down the lavatory, wash your undies, remove, put it in your travel bag and off you go.
That’s skiffle for you. It was good music and still is.
MONDAY, MARCH 21
THE DOVE: Bury, 8pm. Singaround. Everyone welcome, young, old and others. Real ale. Pork scratchings and birdseed. Real ale.
SOHAM FOLK CLUB: The Fountain 8pm-10.30pm. Free. Contact: email@example.com.
THURSDAY, MARCH 24
OAKES BARN: 8pm. Free. Steve’s Blues Night. Real ale.
DRINKSTONE VILLAGE HALL: 10-11.30pm, £5 on door, Circle Dancing. firstname.lastname@example.org
The Greyhound, Bury: ‘No Covers’ evening. Specifically for singer/song writers, poets and the spoken word. Contact: Eamonn tel:07746 071361.
Stamford Arts Centre: Bookings now being taken for the SqueezEast Concertina Band Day. Details: www.squeezeast.org,uk
Orwell Bluegrass Festival: May 6-8. Hollow Tree Scout Camp, Ipswich. Something for percussive dancers(cloggers). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeB8Avuzans