Review of Pete Frame's The Restless Generation:
"How rock music changed the face of 1950s Britain"
At long last, here is a music journalist and historian, Pete Frame (famous for his Rock Family Trees) who recognizes that the revolution that shook the British – and ultimately the world’s – music scene (not to mention society in general) during and after the 1950s did not begin with Tommy Steele, Cliff Richard or the Beatles. Nor were its roots grounded solely in Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Carl Perkins, or contemporary black American pop music, soul, and rhythm-and-blues. Instead, in The Restless Generation, Frame traces the British rock scene in the 1950s back through (in reverse chronological order) skiffle, Lonnie Donegan, Chris Barber, and ultimately Ken Colyer, finally giving due to the phenomenal influence of these and other jazzmen and skiffle proponents on what happened later.

Everyone knows that the Beatles began as the Quarrymen, but how many are aware of what came before and what encouraged Harrison, McCartney and Lennon to pick up their guitars in the first place? Now we have a book that sets the record straight once and for all. Indeed, the very first paragraph of the book begins with Ken Colyer and the Crane River Jazz Band, and there follow almost a hundred pages devoted to Colyer, Barber and Donegan, including two chapters on Barber himself, his early amateur bands, and the formation of Chris Barber’s Jazz Band and the recording of New Orleans Joys in 1954. Later sections cover Chris’s role in bringing to Britain Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, and Muddy Waters, and discuss the stunning impact that they had on musicians and fans alike.

At Chris Barber’s 75th Birthday Concert in Liverpool (July 2005), guest Bill Wyman, the original bass player with the Rolling Stones, remarked that “If it wasn't for this guy here, none of would have been here tonight. All the rock bands of the sixties, I'm talking about The Beatles, The Stones, The Kinks, everybody, everybody learnt from skiffle, and what Chris was doing, and bringing over blues artists in the fifties, and forties even, and so we are very proud to be here tonight as he is massive in the history of English music.”

The Restless Generation, a well-written, witty, entertaining, and informative book, establishes why Wyman’s tribute should have been made long ago, and is a must-read for Colyer, Donegan, and Barber fans.

If it’s not available in a local bookstore, look for it on-line from Amazon.
Pete Frame, The Restless Generation. London: Rogan House, 2007. x + 500 pp. ISBN 978-0-95295-407-1. Visit the Rogan House website at
Back to the From The Archives page.