Rock Island Line: A Tribute To Lonnie Donegan
Royal Albert Hall, Monday 21 June 2004

By Julian Purser
I arrived at the Royal Albert Hall at about midday on the day of the concert, and was signed in by Barry Walker, Chris’s sound engineer. We spent the afternoon listening to the rehearsals from the side of the stalls, and it was obviously going to be memorable evening of excellent music and – let’s be fair – nostalgia! The musicians’ restaurant was like sitting in a 1960s time warp!

For the concert I was joined by my daughters, and Jem, a good mate, and we found our seats near the front of the stalls. It was almost disconcerting listening to Lonnie’s two sons (Peter and Anthony) talking and singing: they both sounded very much like their Dad! The backing band was Lonnie’s own band, some of whom had been with him for twenty years or more! Pete Wingfield and Ray Cooper were also added at times, and it was good to see ex-Chris Barber Band member, Alan ‘Sticky’ Wicket, on percussion, and a current member, Vic Pitt, playing bass with Kenny Ball.

In the first half, stand-out numbers were Dead or Alive, with Billy Bragg, both of Rolf Harris’s numbers, Rick Wakeman (keyboards) with vocalist Chrissie Hammond, and last on, Joe Brown (I shall be trying to see Joe in concert as soon as possible!).

The second half was even better than the first! Bruce Welsh (The Shadows) and friends gave us some authentic skiffle-rock & roll numbers. Roger Daltrey showed why The Who are still at the top of their game. Mark Knopfler surprised us by duetting with Joe Brown: he included a new track from his forthcoming album (due in September), called Donegan’s Gone, a fitting tribute. Then came Joe Cocker, again on top form. The last guests were firstly Van Morrison, and then Chris playing bass and backing vocals on the last two numbers, a reminder of the Skiffle Sessions album. A word of thanks to Lonnie’s band, who gave great support all night.

It was an evening to savour and remember, a most enjoyable occasion. A personal ‘thank you’ to Barry, Chris and Kate for helping make it a great day.

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