In the following extracts Peter Donegan talks about his father Lonnie Donegan, Van Morrison and the relation between Skiffle & Blues. The full interview can be found on the Blues GR Site.
Peter Donegan is a talented musician in his own right. He has joined forces with the Lonnie Donegan band that toured with the legend for the last 30 years.
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 organised, 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.
The interview was conducted 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 and what were the first songs you learnt?
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 realise what they meant to other people because they were friends of my father and that is how I saw them.
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 learnt a lot during that tour and it was very sad when we didn’t get to finish because my father past away.
Second 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 cancellations 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 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 recognised 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 Middlesborough, UK, with a man doing heroin in front of me while I sung.
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 characterises 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.
What do you think about SKIFFLE music and how close is it to the 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.