The Swampdwellers Skiffle Band - It's all their fault.
THE EARLY YEARS
1-THE SKIFFLE SCHOLARS
IN HIS OWN WORDS..
(The following is an excerpt from "Memories of New Zealand Musicians")
John Donoghue:- "I was born in
Northland, NZ. My family moved around the North Island a lot in the first few years of my life before finally arriving in Miramar, Wellington just before my eighth birthday in 1956.
One day, just as
things were beginning to settle down, “It’s in the Bag” came to town.
This was circa B.T. (before television) and “Its in the Bag” with Selwyn Toogood was the highest
rating radio show In NZ.
The venue was the Miramar Central School Hall, and was fully booked out. My parents had purchased our tickets early, so we had good seats, and could see everything.
“It’s in the Bag” featured a short break during the live broadcast. This was so the technicians could play a pre-recorded “...message from our sponsors...” A local act had been
booked to fill in this gap for the live audience.
The local act that performed that night was "The Swampdwellers Skiffle Band." Selwyn Toogood himself announced them on. Carrying washboards and tea-chests,
they rushed out onto the stage and began belting out a highly animated Lonnie Donegan song. Before they could finish a red light came on and they rushed off again.
To an eight-year-old this was wildly
exciting and totally amazing. I thought that the Swampdwellers were by far the best band I’d ever seen. Of course, they were the only band I’d ever seen, but all that aside, life’s never been the same since.
I recognised the “Swampdwellers” guitarist, Mike Shackleton. Mike was the same age as my sister Marion and our mothers worked together at “The Lamphouse,” in Maupuia Road. Mike also had a younger brother, Andy,
who was closer to me in age.
After the “It’s in the Bag” show, I became very interested in what the Shackleton boys were getting up to after school and on the
weekends. The Shackleton’s house in Brussels Street had a big old shed out the back. The boys had taken it over and the Swampdwellers held their band practices there. There were a variety of musical instruments lying around and an old wind-up gramophone
that sat on a bench surrounded by piles of ‘78’s.
Andy had also formed a Skiffle Band, with his schoolmates Rod Stone and Johnnie England. They called their band “The
Skiffle Scholars.” About dinner time when the Swampdwellers packed up and left the shed, the Skiffle Scholars took over.
The boys had a banjo, a ukulele, a washboard and a
tea-chest bass with the name of the band painted on to it. Sometimes when they were jamming they would let me sit in with them, usually playing the Tea Chest.
Inspired by the adventure
of it all, I formed my own Skiffle Band at Miramar Central Primary school. The members of my band were Eddy McDonald, Ian Stephen, Laurie Thomas and Dave Reid.
We would perform in
the school playsheds on rainy days. I played my Dad’s old Tenor guitar that he had tuned to an open “C” chord for me. The rest of the band played percussion instruments that we borrowed from the school.
We had our first serious public performance at a school concert held in the very same hall that the Swampdwellers had performed in. For this big event I borrowed Andy’s tea chest bass for Dave Reid to play.
We were all dressed as pirates for a play we were performing in that evening, so I named my band “Johnnie and the Cutthroats.” However, Andy’s Tea Chest still had "Skiffle
Scholars" painted on it so people assumed that was our name of our band.
It turned out to be a life-changing night for me and those who were there still remember it.
Later on we changed the name of our band to "The Rhythm Wreckers," and then "The Vultures."
One day Andy and I were out
in the Shackleton’s shed when suddenly, for no apparent reason, he tore his banjo apart and rebuilt it as a snare drum. That “snare drum” became the centrepiece of a "drum kit" he built out of pots and pans and old buckets and stuff. He would
sit in with Mike’s band when they practiced in the old shed. In no time at all he became their regular drummer.
This really marked the end of the skiffle era in Miramar and
British group “The Shadows” was now becoming the major influence on the Local Bands. The Swampdwellers” soon went electric and re-named themselves "The Premiers," then “The Skiffle Scholars” followed and became “The Librettos.”
Not to be left behind, "The Vultures" plugged in to become “The Strangers.”
To visit Andy Shackleton's excellent "Memories of New Zealand Musicians" site, click here