“The first punk No.1” says Marcello. Yeah, I can see what he means. Lurching speed-freak skiffle played on Christ knows what which sounds nothing remotely like any previous chart-topper: if punk is anything, it might as well be that. I’d be tempted, though, to pin it down as the first really British No.1, for all that it’s a cover of an old American folk song. Lonnie takes the song?s form and he rides it into the ground, and he takes the song itself and twists it, localises it, makes it into something that can smack you round the chops with how raucously Northern it sounds. “Cumberland Gap, ain’t nowhere, fifteen miles from Middlesborough.”
The great thing is how silly and alive it is. Folk, blues, country – these were already tradition-steeped musics, crackling with myth-making energies for sure but rooted in someone else?s history and a history that those someones could take rightfully seriously. “Cumberland Gap” tumbles out of tradition, in awe of nothing but its own gleeful blurt, treating folk music like a music hall joke and music hall jokes like rock and roll. Listen to the “Two old ladies?” lines – the distance between this record and chewing gum on bedposts is much less than some might like to think.
Of course Donegan (and the skiffle craze) was then inspiration and midwife to The Beatles and The Rest; history tells us this. But it’s only by listening to “Cumberland Gap” that you hear a magpie spirit of British pop – hokey, jokey, disrespectful and quick-witted – poking its beak through the facts.