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New Winds

How was rock and roll welcomed in Great Britain?

At the same time that skiffle was prevailing, the British audience got to know American rock and roll. Films such as Blackboard Jungle or Rock Around the Clock were where they could meet and admire Bill Haley.

Meanwhile, the successes of Elvis Presley managed to find a place in the programming of radio stations, which opened the doors to new music by artists such as Buddy Holly or Jerry Lee Lewis.

Wee Willie Harris - Rockin´ at the Two I´s (1957)

A self-composed song which was included in the debut single album by this British rock and roll pioneer. He was called Britain's wild man of rock and roll.


Wee Willie Harris was a baker who played the piano every night at 2i´s, a café in London's Soho. There he was discovered by BBC producer Jack Good, who signed him for the Six-Five Special program. Despite the fact that his television appearances gave him a large audience, due to his striking way of dressing and acting he was taken more as a showman than as a rocker and none of his albums made it to the charts. His figure was revalued at the end of the 20th century.

What were the first British rockers like?

No less important was the propagation work carried out by the sailors, who in the port areas of British cities sold large quantities of records brought in their luggage from the United States.

These records and movies generated hundreds of imitators. Initially, in the mid-1950s, the British music industry focused on making exact copies of American records with teenage idols.

Tommy Steele and the Steelmen - Rock with the Caveman (1956)

A song credited to Tommy Steele, Frank Chacksfield, Lionel Bart and Mike Pratt. The so-called British Elvis was created in the image and likeness of the original American idols.


Tommy Steele was the first British rock and roll star and youth idol in his country. Like so many others, he started out playing in a skiffle band. He was also part of a group of successful artists who had become famous by singing at London's 2i's Coffee Bar. Thanks to his charisma, more than his sex appeal, he triumphed with his own songs and versions. From the first moment, his albums entered the charts, reaching number one with his single Singing the Blues and his album The Tommy Steele Story, both from 1957.

Were there only imitators?

Despite the tendency of copying and create only on rare occasions, a group of rock and roll musicians more focused on their British roots and on being apart from the skiffle fashion soon began to appear.

Although, in general, these British artists practiced a more relaxed style than that of the Americans, there were also more dynamic ones, such as Billy Fury, Vince Taylor or Johnny Kidd and the Pirates.

Johnny Kidd and the Pirates - Shakin 'all Over (1960)

A song composed by Johnny Kidd and Gus Robinson. With his Pirates, he was one of the few pre-British rockers who achieved great fame, mainly thanks to this song.

This song has been considered a standard of British rock and roll. Although it had no repercussions outside Europe, it reached number one on the charts in its country. Johnny Kidd and the Pirates stood out for giving their music a personal style that, far from what others did, it did not intend to copy the American idols. They also gave a visual touch to their performances, in which they appeared dressed as pirates. His career was cut prematurely due to Johnny's death, in 1966, in a traffic accident.