Web Page No 2282
22nd July 2016
Top Picture: Chris Barber
Second Picture: Chris Barber Band
Third Picture: Nat Gonella
Fourth Picture: Acker Bilk
Last week I looked at the American Folk Influence, this week it is Trad Jazz and the leading light in that field was Chris Barber. Donald Christopher 'Chris' Barber was born 17th April 1930 a British jazz musician, best known as a bandleader and trombonist. As well as scoring a UK top twenty trad jazz hit, he helped the careers of many musicians, notably the blues singer Ottilie Patterson, who was at one time his wife and vocalist/banjoist Lonnie Donegan, whose appearances with him triggered the skiffle craze of the mid-1950s and who had his first transatlantic hit, "Rock Island Line", while with Chris Barber's band. Whilst the Barber band will always be remembered for its version of ‘Petit Fleur’.
In Britain in the early 1960s traditional jazz – or "trad"– was the pop music of the time. Trad bands proliferated, as did recordings, radio programmes, and television appearances. Almost inevitably, the bubble burst after a few short years, but while it lasted, the "trad boom" engendered enormous amounts of publicity, including this article from a teenagers’ magazine, so much so here is a rundown, based on a teen magazine of 1960, of the Barber band at the time.
GRAHAM BURBIDGE (drums): Born in 1933 in Stepney. Played drums in the RAF, and was in cloth export trade till he got offer from Sandy Brown in 1955. Played with modernists before Sandy and Chris.
IAN WHEELER (clarinet). Born in 1931 in Greenwich, he spent most of early life in hospitals. Went into Merchant Navy. Trained as draughtsman but joined the Ken Colyer band in 1954. His hobby was model aircraft. He died in 2011
EDDIE SMITH (Banjo): Born in St. Bartholomew's Hospital in 1926 . Trained as printer. Bought first banjo in 1953 and played with Mike Daniels before joining Chris. Was a professional racing motor-cyclist. He died in 1992.
DICK SMITH (bass): Born in 1932 in Paddington. Trained in RAF to be wireless mechanic. Bought bass in 1952 and gothis first job two weeks later. Joined Ken Colyer in 1954. His hobby was cycle-racing, but now he's married and prefers home, food and wine. He died 2014.
PAT HALCOX (trumpet): Born in Chelsea 1930. Trained to be chemist, he joined Chris in 1954. First played piano and led own band when 20. Served in the RAF. Says his marriage is "a full-time hobby". He died in 2013.
OTTILIE PATTERSON (vocalist): Born in Comber, N. Ireland in1932. Trained as art teacher, she joined Chris in January, 1955. Hobbies included woodcarving, painting and writing. She died in 2011.
So it can be seen that from the original band there is only Chris and Graham still alive.
When they wanted to make the film It's Trad, Dad, and when the BBC wanted to launch its Saturday night radio series, Trad Tavern, they just had to send for Chris Barber. For Chris, at the tender age of 32, was really the Daddy of the Trad boom.
During the 1950s and well into the 1960s The "Three B's" Chris Barber, Acker Bilk, and Kenny Ball were particularly successful, all making hit records. Other successful bands including Terry Lightfoot, George Chisholm, Monty Sunshine, Mick Mulligan, with George Melly, and Mike Cotton, the Clyde Valley Stompers, Gerry Browns Jazzmen and Alex Welsh More light-hearted versions were offered by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, The Temperance Seven and The New Vaudeville Band.
With the advent of the Beatles and the Mersey Sound the ‘trad’ era died although it did still continue in odd clubs around the country. In Portsmouth at various times in the 1960s jazz could still found in ‘The Railway Hotel’ Walmer Road, The Talbot Inn, The Old House at Home, The Rendezvous Club and the Concorde Club but that involved at trip to Southampton.
In my youth I frequented all of these clubs and stood around for hours with either a pint of Black Velvet or Drum Mild.
Little did I know then when I was crammed into the ‘Railway Hotel’ watching Jo Collinson and the Bourbon Street Six or the Back ‘o Town Syncopators that fifty years later I would be lucky enough to play with and sing with two of the British legends.
When the bandleader Nat Gonella (Louis Armstrong would never tour in this country unless he has his ‘little English trumpeter’ (Nat with him) retired to Gosport he moved into a flat only about 300 yards from my front door and we became good friends. I often went to his flat and listened to him talk of the past and his career, you never knew who would visit, Humphrey Littleton, Beryl Bryden and others were regular visitors.
On the occasion of Nat’s 88th birthday a big party was held for him in the Thorngate Hall and all his friends and the members of the local jazz club were invited. Naturally there was a band playing, the Solent All Stars’, Nat could no longer find the wind to play the trumpet but he always sang. That evening is marked heavily in my diary because as I walked past the top table Nat called out ‘Pete come and meet Acker’ so I went across was introduced to Acker Bilk and started talking to them both. All a sudden there was a shout from the floor ‘Nat give us another song (he had already sung Georgia twice)’ and Nat obliged but in doing so said come on you two you can join in, you must know St James Infirmary Blues’. Which is how, much to my amazement I came to stand on stage in front of the ‘All Southampton Stars’ with Nat on my right and Acker next to him and sung my heart out. A wonderful moment I shall never forget! But no one took a photograph, let alone a recording!!!!!
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