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28 October 2014
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Martin Newell and Chas Hodges on Rock Ferry

Mike Newell and Chas Hodges on the ferry

'Rock Ferry'

Back in the rock'n'roll heyday of the 50's and 60's The 'Rock Ferry' floated between Southend and France as the likes of James Brown played. Essex poet Martin Newell takes a trip as the Rock Ferry makes one last rock across the Channel.

Back in the late '50s Skiffle was the punk music of its day.

Martin Newell on Rock Ferry with musician

All aboard - hair raising seas!

In 1957 the Australian wrestler Paul Lincoln, a.k.a 'Doctor Death', who ran the legendary 2I's Coffee Bar in London's Soho, came up with the idea of running Skiffle concerts on a boat, which would run from Southend to Berloin in Calais, France.

He rented an old paddle steamer called The Royal Daffodil, an old boat that had previously been hit by a German bomb as she played her part in the evacuation of Dunkirk during the Second World War.

Skiffle sound

In the early days Skiffle, the punk music of its time, was the dominant force in popular music. It was a DIY sort of affair which had an appeal for hard-up adolescents.

The Rock Ferry

The 'Rock Ferry' - iconic boat.

To play Skiffle you only needed a couple of acoustic guitars, a home made tea chest bass and perhaps a washboard or a rhythm pole - a broomstick with metal bottle caps nailed to it.

Skiffle was easy to play and thousands of groups sprang up all across the country.

After just a couple of years, however, Skiffle was being edged out by a new kind of music that would go on to rule the world - Rock and Roll!

Harder edged and more amplified, it would sound the death knell of Skiffle.

And so 'Rock Across the Channel' was born.

Ferry across the Channel

The ferry to France would see some of the world's biggest names performing, including Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent and James Brown. British stars included the Shadows, Ritchie Blackmore and Chas Hodges, of Chas and Dave fame.

Chas Hodges

Chas Hodges - skiffle king.

Martin Newell spoke to Chas about his unique experiences playing bass for Jerry Lee Lewis, his hero, on 'Rock Across The Channel' in a band called 'The Outlaws'.

Chas says that tour in 1963 was where he really learned to play piano as Jerry Lee Lewis became his personal piano teacher!

It was very difficult to do perform on the boat with the violent sea causing it to rock (perhaps to the music!) and, Chas says, the audience as well as most of the band were falling all over the place and constantly "banging into each other".

Classic trip

The bar on the boat was open all day, which was a novelty, because in those days in England pub licensing hours were quite limited, so all the English passengers were completely drunk, and being sick over the side of the boat.

Chas says that he remembers the boat approaching Calais to cheers and applause welcoming them.

But, he says, "there were lots of drugs and [people] got into trouble and fights" with the French.


Rocking on the water - The Rock Ferry.

By the time they left, the French were throwing bottles and beer cans at the boat, "but we rock and rolled throughout," Chas insists.

By 1963 it was all over. It may have only lasted six years but the 'Rock Across The Channel' trip left it's mark on all who were there.

It might not have been the best thing in its time for Anglo-French relations, but it was an extraordinary thing to have happened.

It was incredible that stars of the stature of Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent and James Brown should have boarded a patched-up old paddle steamer to perform their immortal classics.

And as Martin Newell "It's kind of difficult to imagine something like that ever happening again".

last updated: 08/08/2008 at 15:11
created: 26/03/2008

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