Charles (Chas) James McDevitt was born in Eaglesham, Ayrshire, Scotland in 1934. The family moved to Camberley, Surrey where he grew up. As a teenager he suffered a long illness and developed a liking for American Blues and Jazz. During this time, he taught himself to play the banjo and later joined a local college jazz band called The High Curley Stompers. In 1955 McDevitt moved to London and played with the Crane River Jazz Band. Fellow band members included Ken Colyer, Sonny Morris and Marc Sharratt.
Keen to progress he also busked and performed in a skiffle group with blues singer Redd Sullivan (The Thameside Four). Quickly they established themselves as coffee bar favourites and appeared regularly at the 2Is Coffee Bar and other Soho Jazz Clubs. Oriole Records recorded a demo the group’s version of Elizabeth Cotton’s “Freight Train” in 1956.
The group regularly played this as part of their live set and featured it in a talent contest promoted by Pye Records on Radio Luxembourg. Bill Varley, their new manager suggested they recruit a female vocalist to help them stand out from other skiffle groups and they seconded a folk singer called Nancy Whiskey. They rerecorded Freight Train with Nancy as lead vocalist. The single was released in 1957 and reached # 5 in the UK Singles Chart. Riding high on chart success the group toured Europe and America featuring on the Ed Sullivan Show.
The group had a second lesser hit with `Greenback Dollar' on which Nancy was again vocalist.
Nancy left the band soon after and was replaced by Shirley Douglas. The group made a guest appearance in a couple of movies The Tommy Steele Story (Rock around the world) (1957) , by which time Dennis Carter and Alex Whitehouse left the band to form a rival group, i.e. The Oldtimers Skiffle Group; and The Golden Disk (1958) .
When Jimmie MacGregor left Tony Kohn, Lennie Harrison and bass player, Bill Bramwell all joined the line-up and the group toured extensively. Once the skiffle phase passed the group broke up in 1959. The group did reform in the 80s for festival performances with Chas McDevitt, Marc Sharatt, John Paul and Nick Lawrence. The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group still survives with Steve Benbow (lead guitar), Jack Fallon (bass) and Chas' daughter, Kerry on vocals and washboard. Occasional members include Martyn Oram (fiddle), Mike Martin, (guitar and banjo) and Richard Sharp (bass).
Worth a listen
Worried Man ( 1956)
Greenback Dollar (1957 )
Don't You Rock Me Daddy O (1957 )
New Orleans [House of the rising sun] (1957)
The Cotton Song (1957 )