The Prince of Skiffle Peter Donegan talks about his father Lonnie Donegan, Van Morrison and the relation between Skiffle & Blues

"Music is for me the ultimate form of expression which can inspire others and change our moods."

Peter Donegan & The Lonnie Donegan Band 

Peter Donegan, son of Lonnie is a talented musician in his own right. He has joined force with the Lonnie Donegan band that toured with the legend for the last 30 years.

Peter is not only a talented performer but also a talented songwriter. Having developed his own style, Peter accompanied by the Lonnie Donegan Band will  perform some of Lonnie's classics such as "Putting On The Style", "Have a Drink On Me", "Rock Island Line", and "Pick a Bale of Cotton" to name just a few. But they also delve into some of Lonnie's lesser, known recordings. This combined with original numbers written by Peter adds up to a great night of Skiffle, Blues, Jazz and a lot of foot-stomping fun!



Peter began his education in the entertainment business at the age of five at the Barbara Speak stage school in London. After this Peter was educated by his father Lonnie Donegan, M.B.E. as well as receiving private tuition on the piano, achieving grade 7 as well as attending the summer school at Sylvia Young's theatre school at the age of thirteen. Once Peter turned eighteen, he was invited to join the Lonnie Donegan Band, performing as keyboard player with the band and as the opening act before each concert. Peter spent two years in the band where he was able to learn hands on from the experience of his father Lonnie and during that time he also worked with Van Morrison.

After the untimely death of Lonnie during a tour, the family organized, a tribute at the Royal Albert Hall in London, during which, Peter and the Lonnie Donegan Band were provided backing for a kaleidoscope of well known artists, which included, Chas 'n' Dave, Billy Bragg, Rolf Harris, Ralf McTell, Barron Nights, Rick Wakeman, Mark Knopfler, Joe Brown, Roger Daltry, Joe Cocker, Van Morrison, Chris Barber, Bruce Welch and Chris Farlow. During the concert, Peter performed a number of songs including one Lonnie's Frankie and Johnny with Hogan's Heroes. In 2007, Peter performed on tour with Crystal Gayle on her British tour as her opening act and performed a song with Crystal and her band during her set. Peter has performed with a variety of musicians at The Sage, Gateshead as a guest: - Bill Wyman and his Rhythm Kings, featuring Eddie Floyd, Albert Lee and Hogan's Heroes.

Peter the formed his own band, the Peter Donegan Band playing a mixture of material that Lonnie played but in Peter’s own style and new material written by Peter. In 2006 they recorded a live album, The Elephant on the Tyne. They played at venues across the North East as well as appearing at a number of festivals, developing a fan base along the way. In 2009 Peter decided that he wanted to take a different musical direction and teamed up with the original Lonnie Donegan Band and took to the road with The Lonnie Donegan Band.

Interview by Michael Limnios


When was your first desire to become involved in music, what are your first musical memories?

Ever since I was born I have loved music and even before I had lessons I couldn’t pass by a piano without wanting to touch it.

One of my first musical memories was always watching my father from the side of the stage. My mother tells me that even when I was a baby I wouldn’t go to sleep until after the concerts were finished and that I would watch intensely until the end. I also remember the first guitar my father bought for me was a little classical guitar which my father used to play with me sometimes to encourage me and teach me.


What was the first gig you ever went to & what were the first songs you learned?

I can’t really remember the first one as there were many other than my father’s concerts. When I was younger I sometimes didn’t really know who they all were or even really realize what they meant to other people because they were friends of my father and that is how I saw them.

The first song I learned how to play I remember very well. Vangelis’ Chariots Of Fire on the piano. I taught myself to play it by listening to the original. I was probably about 10 at the time. I have had such a wide taste in music since very young and the simplicity yet beauty of the song caught my ear plus it was much easier than the blues and stride piano I really aspired to play as at this point I hadn’t had any lessons yet. 


Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

This is a difficult one to answer because there have been so many for me.

I think really it amounts to 2 times. 1st is when I first joined my father’s band at the age of 18. My father was going on his last tour and I was to become his piano player.

You see, I had grown up watching these musicians and appreciating them for their obvious great talents and to suddenly be playing alongside them was a huge compliment and experience. I learned a lot during that tour and it was very sad when we didn’t get to finish because my father past away.

2nd is definitely when we did my father’s Tribute at the Royal Albert Hall in London. It was a day of many emotions, most of all pride. We had a waiting list for cancelations that could have filled the theatre twice and a huge list of performers who wanted to be there but couldn’t due to lack of space or other engagements including the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Brian May, Eric Clapton etc….

The artists we did have there were magnificent. Van Morrison, Chris Barber, Joe Cocker, Bruce Welsh from the Shadows.

It was so wonderful to see the influence my father had still and how many people were willing to come and celebrate his life. To stand on that stage with my brothers and those artists knowing that we were all there for one man.


What does music offered you? Do you think that your music comes from the heart, the brain or the soul?

It comes from them all. Music is life as far as I am concerned. Without it the world is very dull. Music is for me the ultimate form of expression which can inspire others and change our moods. For me to write a song is a huge satisfaction and way to escape from reality, a way to express myself and my emotions also a therapy. Without music we as a human race would be nothing.


"My inability to be able to have a normal routine in life. I cannot bare to get up every day and go to the same place and do the same thing every day. I have grown up in this magical world and to me it’s an addiction."

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician?

I suppose the ones I mentioned earlier. I have played alongside people like Van Morrison, Brian May, Joe Cocker and with my father’s band and above all I have had the one man who changed British music as my mentor.


What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

I have had a few. 1st would be father’s tribute I mentioned before and also I love doing festivals. I love the atmosphere of people joining together to just enjoy music. People come to festivals with a more open mind to music as they haven’t come for just one artist or style and as such is a great opportunity to experiment with new songs and as such brings me to one last concert I did recently in the UK whereas always I ask of the audience have any requests of my father’s songs and I was met with silence. When I asked again one lady sitting in the front said,

“We haven’t come to hear your father’s songs, we just like you!”

That was a very nice feeling to be recognized as me.


Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

The best was the day of my father’s tribute concert. The worst was doing a working man’s club in Middleborough, UK, with a man doing heroin in front of me while I sung.


"Music is life as far as I am concerned. Without it the world is very dull. Music is for me the ultimate form of expression which can inspire others and change our moods."

Of all the people you’ve meet, who do you admire the most?

My father, Van Morrison, Michael Jackson.


Why did you think that Donegan’s music, continues to generate such a devoted following?

I think because of the pure energy which my father produced. The songs are simple so everyone can sing them with you and I have noticed at all concerts I do, people who don’t know anything about what I sing can’t help but start to feel it.


What characterize the sound and philosophy of Lonnie Donegan’s music?

Energy. Pure energy! Plus the songs all have a story which makes them more interesting, but definitely the ability to get your foot stomping.


Do you have any amusing tales to tell from the stage with Lonnie Donegan?

I remember my father used to receive pieces of paper send backstage with requests for songs and once there was one from a little girl who was only 9 years old, it said, “Please can you sing the song “Beans In My Ears” as I love it so much, my grandparents have raised me listening to your music” To which father jokingly said, “That’s cruelty to children that is”. And I made a comment, “So what about me?”

At the time is was amusing and everyone laughed except for my father, he wasn’t amused, but that actually made the situation more funny.

Plus we were performing and for some unknown reason a couple were so happy with the performance they lifted their little girl onto the stage. We were very confused and I had to escort her down of the stage.


What advice has given your father, Lonnie?

Many, my father was very helpful to me. He said to always practice so that the worse we performed was still good.

To remember to always respect the people who come to see the show because they are paying you a compliment by being here with you.


How difficult is for you to “carry” this name in the music business?

Many people ask this question and I always say it isn’t!

I will tell you what my job is. My job is to help everyone who comes to my concerts to forget about all of their troubles at home and have fun. That is the best job in the world and if it wasn’t for my father I might not have that.


Peter, how do you feel now, when you see younger musicians playing Donegan’s music?

Proud!


Which is the most interesting period of the Lonnie Donegan Band and why? 

Every night on stage. We never play anything the same way it always has a different emotion to it and with such great musicians we can explore every aspect of that.

"It was so wonderful to see the influence my father had still and how many people were willing to come and celebrate his life." 


Where do you get inspiration for your songs & what are your best songs, you’d most like to be remembered for?

For me inspiration can come from many places. Sometimes I have had a bad experience and I write about it. Sometimes I just want to write a song and I make up a story in my head and write about that, sometimes I fell in love and that is always a powerful emotion to write about as we can all sympathize with this, so gives the song an extra connection with the listener. I will let the public decide which one is the best


What do you think is the main characteristic of your personality that made you a musician?

My inability to be able to have a normal routine in life. I cannot bare to get up every day and go to the same place and do the same thing every day. I have grown up in this magical world and to me it’s an addiction.


What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Work very hard! Be prepared for disappointment but never give in!


What do you think about SKIFFLE music & how close are to BLUES?

Very close! Skiffle is a mixture of Blues with Country, Folk, and Jazz. It’s great because you get so much variety in one night’s concert.


Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is?

It’s uncomplicated, easy to listen to, something most people can learn to play themselves which ads a connection and draws from an emotional pain we all have and releases it.


"My job is to help everyone who comes to my concerts to forget about all of their troubles at home and have fun. That is the best job in the world and if it wasn’t for my father I might not have that."

If you go back to the past what things you would do better and what things you would a void to do again?

The list is endless ha ha. But I don’t think we should change anything as it is these experiences that make us who we are.


Which of historical music personalities would you like to meet?

Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley.


What are your plans for the future & do you have a message for the Greek fans?

I wish to continue a long time enjoying my music and as for Greece. I have been to Corfu and I have been to Cyprus on my honey moon in June 2011 and I can say that I like the Greek people a lot and I loved both my trips there. I would love to come and do a concert.


Peter Donegan's official website


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