THE SKIFFLE GROUP, 1957
Wake up. It's 1957. I'm ten. My pal Robert has a proper guitar, with six strings and 'F' shaped holes for the sound to get out. It belonged to his uncle. My Elvis Presley guitar is plastic and it has four strings, but it also has a box which fits over the strings with elastic bands. It has buttons to press for chords. After you've learned how to play the chords with your fingers, you can take the box off. We decide to start a Skiffle Group.
I get a tea chest out of the cellar and run up the hill to the village to buy a broom handle and some string at the hardware shop. The older lad in the hardware shop doesn't like me, because he comes from the next village. He keeps wanting a fight. When he and his pals try to invade our street we chase them off and throw stones at them. In the hardware shop he hisses "I'll get you, you'd better watch it," at me while I pay for the things. I get my broom handle and a ball of string and bring them home down the hill.
We use the broom handle and ball of string to make a tea chest bass. I use my scout knife to cut the string to the right length. The bass sounds great! My pal Michael is going to be the bass player.
We need a washboard. My mother says they're old-fashioned and she doesn't have one. Our old house has a scullery with a brick-built washer that you light a fire under to heat the water and turn a handle to wash the clothes. I sometimes help my mother by turning the handle and then using the wringer to get the water out of the clothes, but now she has an electric washing machine. They sell washboards in the hardware shop, but they're expensive and I can't afford one. We can't have a drummer until we get a washboard.
Nixon wants to be in the skiffle group. He's from the next village too, but we like him and he can sing like Little Richard. He can sing 'Good Golly, Miss Molly' just like the record, but he only knows the first line. I tell him he needs to buy the Record Song Book, which costs sixpence a week. We share our pocket money to buy it every week, but Nixon doesn't live near enough to read our copy. He has to know the words to get into the Skiffle Group.
Nixon wants to join us because there isn't a skiffle group in his village. Some of the kids from his village are ok, I've been in the Cubs with a few of them and we're still pals, but the rough lads from there say there's been a war between our villages since before their granddads' time, so they keep trying to invade us and we fight them off.
We practice our songs in my room. I put my train set away, because we're starting a night club in here and we need more space. A long time ago, my parents had the floorboards of my room French polished, so that people could dance at a party they had. I find the French polish in the scullery and my friend Michael and I polish the floor. We try tying yellow dusters to our feet and skating about, but that doesn't work very well. We end up on our knees, polishing by hand.
I have an idea that we should do some painting in my room. It has a white plaster ceiling rose. I think it would look great if it was black. A lot of night clubs in films have black ceilings. I have a tin of black paint that I used to help paint another kid's bike, so I get that and a small paintbrush. I get up on my dad's step ladders and paint the ceiling rose. It looks much better in black.
We call our club 'The Six O'Clock Club', because it reminds us of our favourite television show, The Six-Five Special. They have great music on it each week. Our night club will open at six o'clock. I run back up to the village and buy six tall glasses, for lemonade. They have musical instrument designs on them and the box says they're 'Contemporary Style,' like modern G-Plan furniture. My mother bought some yellow Fablon to put on a tray, and she said it was a Contemporary design too, called 'Skaters' Trails'. I love it.
When we open the club, we're going to have Dandelion and Burdock, American Cream Soda, Tizer and Fentiman's Lemonade. We can get them all from the Pop Man, Fentiman's, whose lorry comes around every week.
We get our Record Song Books out and decide which songs we're going to sing. My Auntie Rena is a great pianist, she taught me how to play 'Puttin' On The Style' by Lonnie Donegan, so we do that one. Robert can do 'Rock Island Line'. We learn 'Diana', which needs four chords, and 'Maybe Baby' (it needs four chords too) and 'Oh Boy!' by Buddy Holly. I like him. I also like Jim Dale, Tony Crombie and Elvis Presley. We learn 'Teddy Bear' by Elvis and 'Be My Girl' by Jim Dale.
My mother comes home from the shops. "Hello boys, are you having fun?" Then she sees the black ceiling rose and screams. She doesn't like it one bit and she goes mad at me. The others have to leave while I get told off. She says I have to paint it white again, with proper ceiling paint. She says the paint I used was only for metal. She shouts "See if Robert or Michael's mothers would let you paint THEIR ceilings black!"
Now we can't use my room for the Skiffle Group or the Six O'Clock Club. Robert and Michael can't use their rooms either, so we're stuck.
We have a meeting and decide to use my front lawn for our club. We do posters with our John Bull Printing Outfits and tell our other friends. We carry our tea chest bass and the two guitars outside onto the grass. We put the lemonade and the Contemporary tumblers on a picnic table and put a tartan car rug on the grass for our friends to sit on. Our friends arrive. They want us to start straight away, but we say we have to wait until six, because it's the Six O'Clock Club.
When it's six, we start with 'Puttin' On The Style'. That sounds ok, so we carry on with our other songs. I'm in the middle of 'Oh Boy!' when our neighbour Mr Lytollis appears at the garden gate, shouting and shaking his fist. "Stop that racket!" he shouts. He's really angry. Our friends scatter out of the garden and we stop playing. "Go on, get out!" shouts Mr Lytollis. "I live here..." I start to say, but he's furious and he's not listening. He chases us all the way up the street.
When my dad comes home from work he goes round to see Mr Lytollis. My mother says we weren't making too much noise, and he says Mr Lytollis has no right to threaten and chase us. Out of my bedroom window I can see my dad warning him on his doorstep. He has his warning look. He still has his warning look when he comes back and I get told off again for the black paint. But he says we can sing in our own garden if we want to, once I've painted the ceiling rose white again.
I ask about what we'll do if it rains, but he just says "Nothing. You'll stay in." His warning look is still there and I think I'll just leave it for now.
Tonight, I'm practicing singing 'Heatbreak Hotel' in the bathroom. There's a really great echo in here. There are some open bottles of pop left over from the Six O'Clock Club. It'll go flat if it's left, so I get one of the Contemporary tumblers and pour some Dandelion and Burdock. We normally only get that for birthday parties, so I'm pleased.
I'm in bed now, thinking. There's plenty of string left over from making the tea chest bass and Michael says we can build our own private telephone with it and two empty Heinz Baked Beans tins, so that we can talk to each other from our houses when it's raining outdoors. I'll get the tins out of the rubbish in the morning, before it goes into the outdoor dustbin.
The landing light goes out. I reach under the bed for my torch and this week's 'Wizard' comic. I start reading about William Wilson the Wonder Athlete. He's 200 years old and he can climb Mount Everest without needing help.
© Martin Craig, 2016.