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Li'l Chuck the One Man Skiffle Machine - Album Review: SO/LO

20 Oct 2023 // A review by OLDER

September 29th 2023 saw the release of David Thorpe, A.K.A. Li'l Chuck The One Man Skiffle Machine’s 4th album SO/LO on a limited run of CDs and digitally on Bandcamp. Originally from the UK, David has been based in Christchurch since 2003 and has performed and released music through multiple creative projects such as Davey Backyard, The Skeatles, The Harmonica Guy, and The Old Fashioned Singalong to mention just a few. He is a full-time musician and a multi-instrumentalist, but he’s not limited to playing one instrument OR another - he plays several at once!

For most people, a ‘one man band’ is an oxymoron meaning someone who runs a business in which they do everything. Sometimes in music we use it to mean someone who, using a combination of their talent on one or two instruments and modern studio trickery, can produce and entire album as though there were multiple musicians involved. David Thorpe is something very special – he can play multiple instruments and sing at the same time and to prove it SO/LO is essentially a ‘live’ studio album recorded with no loops or over-dubs. Just like they did back in the long distant past! Oh, and he wrote, engineered & mixed the album and organised the artwork and PR himself. Actually, it appears he did everything, including making a couple of rather good music videos!

Musically the album comprises of 13 songs, all original and all rich with the sounds of skiffle music which itself is a form of folk music that is influenced by blues, country, bluegrass and American folk music. Based around 12-bar chord progressions (though not always firmly tied to that structure) SO/LO has expertly played finger-picked acoustic guitar, warmly driven electric guitar, a glorious harmonica, a bass drum, a high-hat and a vertical snare played by foot. All are stitched together with David’s impeccable vocals which suit the music perfectly.

From the moment you start listening it’s hard to believe it’s just David playing – especially when he is belting out first class lead harmonica breaks over guitar licks that most of us would who play guitar would be proud to have played so well on their own! Add the fact he is also the drummer at the same time, and I have to stop thinking about the brain power required and just enjoy what I’m hearing! And that is rather easy because this is a rather special album.

You’d need to be approaching your 90’s to have been around as a teenager for the skiffle music wave that swept post-war Britain in the mid 1950's. It’s safe to say few of us were there but its importance in popular music and its influence on what came after is immeasurable. For example, Britain’s first ever youth music TV show (Six-Five Special in 1957) used a skiffle song for the title track such was the dominance of the genre before rock ‘n’ roll. Many of Britain’s most successful artists that emerged in the 60's and 70's started out in skiffle bands, not least The Quarrymen. Yes Google them and see who they became!

Forgive me the diversion but David’s writing and playing is so beautifully rooted in a genre that arguably led directly to much of the Western music we hear today that I needed to give it some context. Listening to SO/LO is like listening to echoes of the past coming through to remind us of what’s at the heart of popular music.

Regardless of the amazing achievement of playing the entire album solo and simultaneously, the real achievement for me is actually the quality of songwriting and the arrangements. Whilst David stretches himself to play more instruments that should be humanly possible, what he has really done is strip rock music right back to its essential basics. In a way that could be argued as ironic however, the result is a simplicity in the songs that make them very accessible, and relatable.

Whether late at night on the deck, around a camp fire, in the corner of a small country pub, on a street corner, at a summer party outside, you imagine the location and David Thorpe, a.k.a. Li'l Chuck The One Man Skiffle will provide a soundtrack that encapsulates the heart of music. Coming across him playing live you’d be mesmerised and soon tapping your feet.

All the songs on SO/LO fit the album perfectly, none jar the flow, and all have a story to tell. I started to note stand-out tracks and realised they far outnumbered the others!

Track 6; Diddley Bow – classic rockabilly blues in which David somehow makes the guitar sound like a double bass! In the 1950’s this would have been a scandalous song and caused teenagers to scream! Still has that excitement about it now.

Track 7: Doing This – Such a beautiful, warm slightly overdriven harmonica – it almost sounds like its straining through an old valve radiogram. Wonderful.

Track 10; Once It’s Gone – I’m hearing a bit of Bruce Springsteen here. I did say skiffle led to rock!

Track 13; For Steve – Beautiful reflective and, for my ears, a sad and personal song. Short, intimate and a fitting way to end the album.

One of the best ways to get a sense of the music David is playing, and how he plays it is to check out his video for You Need A Good Kick Up The Arse on YouTube here.

Overall, a stripped-back album of wonderful old-style honest songs that would be perfect in many situations, not least a road trip. David does not claim the album is Hi-Fi, but that aside he has managed to record it really well and capture a natural warmth that suits the music perfectly.

If you have a love for skiffle music, along with the genres around it, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here. If you’ve never heard of skiffle music then SO/LO is a fantastic place to start.


About Li'l Chuck the One Man Skiffle Machine

Li'l Chuck The One Man Skiffle Machine is an authentic one man band performing 'good time music with old time style'. Blessed with the ability to handle multiple instruments at a time, he is the master of coordination: blowin', suckin' and pluckin' simultaneously! He cranks out the harmonica, resonator guitar, kick drum, hi hat, kazoo and vocals to give the audience a rollicking good time.

Li'l Chuck has spent a lifetime rummaging through the drawers of 1930's - 50's music. His mainly original songs are inspired by the sounds of the era - Blues, Early Jazz, Western Swing, Ragtime etc. and are uniquely presented in the style of the street performers from those glory days.

Originally hailing from the UK, Li'l Chuck first stomped out his music on the Streets of Christchurch in 2003 after relocating to NZ.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Li'l Chuck the One Man Skiffle Machine


Year: 2023
Type: Album
Year: 2019
Type: Album
Utility Blues
Year: 2017
Type: Album
Blues In Full Swing
Year: 2014
Type: Album

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