Shirley Douglas: Singer and guitarist who helped lead the skiffle boom

 

British pop fans were surprised in 1957 when Nancy Whiskey left the Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group at the height of its fame. Her replacement was Shirley Douglas, a charming soprano with a particular talent for romantic ballads.

Douglas's parents were both musicians. Her father, Charlie, led a dance band in Bournemouth and he was intrigued by a report in the newspaper which contained his fish and chips. It described how the concert violinist, Fritz Kreisler, was impressed with a singer he heard busking in Dublin, Lily McEvoy. Charlie checked her out and they ended up getting married. Shirley was born in 1939 – and by the 1950s, they were touring Ireland as the Douglas-McEvoy Trio.

In 1957 the Soho-based Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group had an international hit with "Freight Train". Their singer, Nancy Whiskey, was unmarried and pregnant – and she thought that she had better leave the group rather than risk humiliation. The variety club singer Micky Andrews told McDevitt about Douglas, who had appeared with him in Belfast. She had an audition in Manchester and then joined them for a week's variety in Liverpool.

Her first television show with the group, Now the Hop Fields, was broadcast in the rain from Kent. When they appeared on the Isle of Wight, the singer Michael Holliday persuaded them to close the show. Little did they realise they would miss the last ferry – and they returned to the mainland in an open fishing boat. Another night, in Hawick, the show ended late and they were locked out of their digs and forced to spend the night in police cells.

The group toured the UK with The Treniers and appeared on a BBC concert from the Royal Albert Hall, but the skiffle craze was short-lived and McDevitt renamed the group Chas McDevitt, Shirley Douglas and the Freight Train Boys. They arrived at one show to find that the promoter had carried out to the letter McDevitt's instructions about print size for promotional material. The poster read: "Chas McDevitt 100 per cent, Shirley Douglas 50 per cent and the Freight Train Boys 25 per cent".

From 1959, McDevitt and Douglas were playing electric instruments and during that year, she published The Shirley Douglas Easy Guide to Rhythm and Blues for Bass Guitar. Both John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) and John Entwistle (The Who) have acknowledged their debt to this manual.

McDevitt played football with the Showbiz XI, which included Sean Connery and Billy Wright, and in April 1959 they arranged a fixture for a Sunday morning so that all the players could attend McDevitt and Douglas's wedding at St Patrick's Church in Soho. One of the players, Tony Dalli, sang at the wedding.

Douglas's first record with McDevitt was the film theme "Across the Bridge", and they followed it with an attractive folk song written by Bobby Darin, "Real Love". They also recorded "Dream Talk" (1960) and "Mommy Out De Light" (1961). The pair wrote "How Long Is Forever" for Cliff Richard and "Move Over Tiger" for Vince Taylor. They worked as a support act for Chubby Checker, The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five and they released the albums Sixteen Big Folk Hits (1963), Sixteen English Folk Songs (1966) and Old New Borrowed and Blue (1972).

Their daughter, Kerry, was born in 1969. The marriage ended in 1975 and Douglas released a solo album, Heart on the Loose, with several of her own songs. She still performed, but mostly produced amateur dramatics. She moved to Spain for the weather, looked after stray animals and, from time to time, would perform with McDevitt and their daughter.

Kathleen Barbara Marie Douglas (Shirley Douglas), singer and guitarist: born Athlone, Ireland 1939; married 1959 Chas McDevitt (divorced 1975; one daughter); died Benissa, Spain 15 January 2013.

Suggested Topics
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
Ricky Gervais performs stand-up
people
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a Teaching Assistant...

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Year 6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd are seeking KS...

Automation Test Lead (C#, Selenium, SQL, XML, Web-Services)

£50000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Automation Tes...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering