Studio Life – Peter Donegan

Peter Donegan grew up with music. Surrounded by songs and the legacy of his father, Lonnie Donegan, music was always part of his life and it’s no surprise that he grew up playing guitar and piano and with a natural flair for singing. Lonnie Donegan transformed the British music industry when he led the skiffle revival in the 1950s, inspiring countless musicians who followed.

All the subsequent guitar-based music can, arguably, be traced back to Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’, which was recorded 65 years ago. Artists from Jimmy Page to George Harrison and Brian May have recognised his influence. Peter Donegan played keys in his father’s touring band before beginning to write and release his own material, so he has years of experience to draw upon. The 2017 EP, ‘Superman’, was recorded in Nashville and, on 2019’s The Voice, his impassioned, clear vocals won over Tom Jones, for whom Lonnie Donegan wrote the hit ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’, and the viewing public. This year, Donegan organised a tribute concert, including performances from the likes of Van Morrison, Leo Sayer and Billy Bragg, to celebrate the 65th anniversary of Lonnie Donegan recording ‘Rock Island Line’ and his new ‘Live’ album was recorded in the original Decca Studio 2 in which his father created the hit all those years ago. Just after the new ‘Live’ album’s release, Americana-UK caught up with Donegan to discuss one of his most personal compositions.


Peter, ‘Little Man’ seems to be one of your most personal songs. Can you tell us the ‘story’ behind it?
Every parent, let alone father will relate to this. Before my son was born, I asked every parent I knew what to expect and what it felt like to have a child. The answer was the same from everyone: “We can’t tell you as there is nothing like it. You have never loved anything so much while expecting nothing back. As soon as your boy is born, you’ll know!”  And now I know!

I had the chords for almost the entire song in the back of my head for about a year or so. In fact, the pre-chorus chords were inspired by the intro’ to Lady Antebellum’s ‘American Honey’. I came up with the rest of them while sitting in my brother’s guest room in Dix Hills, NY. Normally, once I have a chord structure, a melody line presents itself and then I find a subject to write about, but not this time. Maybe it was meant to be or maybe it was the pending drive from Long Island to our new home in West Palm Beach, FL playing on my mind that distracted me.

Fast forward about 16 months and I’m now looking at my adorable 4-month-old son watching me with intense joy while I played these chords on my father’s Martin guitar. Something clicked! Like someone turned on the light and now I could see. “Eric! This is your song.”  I knew what to call the song as I have always called him ‘my little man’ as he was one of those babies who had a look of wisdom about them. Almost like he has the old soul of someone who’s done this all before.  As I looked, his beautiful face lit up with every strum of the guitar and then he looked up at my face with such joyous wonder as I began to sing. I couldn’t help but stop to tell him: “Aww, I love you! And nothing is ever going to change that.”
“That’s it!” I thought. God’s honest truth. So…..
‘And there’s nothing you could say or do would change it.
I’ll always be the one to hold your hand
‘cause that’s just who I am
And I’ll stand by you my little man.’

I knew the song was done immediately as it said what I wanted it to say. Plus, I can almost never make it through the line: ‘You’re the best thing about me, you’re my son!’

This song has become so much more meaningful as time has gone on especially as our little man was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and has become a song which many people in the same circumstance have related to.

I was able to perform this song at the Rock Island Line 65th Anniversary concert which I produced and organised at Cadogan Hall, London this past July 13th to celebrate dad’s (Lonnie Donegan) first hit which changed the British music industry. The event also helped raise a lot of the funds needed for Eric’s therapy, so performing ‘Little Man’ was perfect. It was an honour to share the stage with some great people that dad had influenced, such as Van Morrison, Billy Bragg, Leo Sayer, Chris Farlowe, Paul Jones, Chas McDevitt to name only a few.

Next for me is touring, which is a permanent state for me, and I’m pleased to be able to include The Pheasantry and The Half Moon (both in London) as well as following in dad’s and The Beatles’ footsteps to fantastic Cavern Club, Liverpool on October 10th.

While this is all continuing, I am always writing away and have the honour of being a scholar of the Buddy Holly Educational Foundation. As such, I am taking part in a song writing retreat this September in Lubbock, TX. I hope to record a new single next as I have never done that before.  Please keep an eye on everything that’s coming up as well the occasional daft video and great competitions by following me on social media and the website.

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Read Americana-UK’s review of the Rock Island Line 65th Anniversary Concert here:

Rock Island Line 65th Anniversary, Cadogan Hall, London, 13th July 2019

Read Americana-UK’s review of Donegan’s new live album here:

Peter Donegan “Live” (Independent, 2019)

Lyrics:

Little Man
From the moment you were born, I knew that I’d adorn
My heart on my sleeve,
Give you all of me and more, right then is when I swore
I’d love you more than you’d believe,
Be there to throw and watch you grow
Into more than I could ever be.

My heart’s beating fast, took my breath as you’d clasp
On my finger holding tight.
Embrace you in my arms, kiss your cheek and spin you yarns.
Hold your smile, it feels so right
And there’s something deep inside I have no answer for.

And there’s nothing you could say or do would change it.
I’ll always be the one to hold your hand
‘cause that’s just who I am
And I’ll stand by you my little man.

Lying in your crib with your hand under your head
And I’d whisper a prayer full of words I’d left unsaid.
Yeah, I’m always by your side, you’re the best thing I’ve ever done
You’re the best thing about me, you’re my son!

And there’s nothing you could say or do would change it.
I’ll always be the one to hold your hand
‘cause that’s just who I am
And I’ll stand by you my little man.

Author: Andrew Frolish

From up north but now hiding in rural Suffolk. An insomniac music-lover. Love discovering new music to get lost in - country, singer-songwriters, Americana, rock...whatever. Currently enjoying Lukas Nelson, Midland, Jarrod Dickenson.

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