The Last Music Podcast

65 Years in Music: Trombonist/Bandleader Chris Barber Shares Memories of His Trip

September 20, 2019 Chris Barber Season 1 Episode 1
The Last Music Podcast
65 Years in Music: Trombonist/Bandleader Chris Barber Shares Memories of His Trip
Show Notes

Join us as we revisit this fine interview from 2011 with Trombonist/bandleader Chris Barber, who has just announced his permanent retirement from full-time music after leading his internationally popular band since 1954.

Born in Welwyn, Hertfordshire in 1930, Barber became an avid collector of jazz and blues records before buying his first trombone at age 18 and forming a semi-professional band in 1949 when he recorded for the first time. He studied trombone and double-bass at the Guildhall School of Music and assembled his first professional band in 1953, fronted by trumpeter Ken Colyer. Colyer was replaced by Pat Halcox in 1954 who remained with Barber for 54 years. His small group initially played in jazz clubs but by the late 50s became an attraction in large concert halls throughout the UK and Europe. Barber’s Jazz Band first toured the USA in 1959 after having a million-selling hit with "Petite Fleur" that year, featuring clarinetist Monty Sunshine. He also featured a skiffle group with singer/guitarist Lonnie Donegan, which led to a national craze for such blues-based music. The powerful blues singer Ottilie Patterson, who later married Chris, starred with his band for 20 years.

It was Barber's passion for Afro-American music that inspired him to bring many American blues and gospel legends to Britain to appear with his band, including Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Muddy Waters, Louis Jordan, Sonny Boy Williamson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Together with his business partner Harold Pendleton, Chris opened the celebrated Marquee Club in London in 1958 where many British blues performers were first showcased including Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated and The Rolling Stones.

Rolling Stone Bill Wyman notes, " If it had not been for Chris Barber I don’t see how the 1960s bands would have ever happened in the UK. Apart from his own successful Trad Jazz Band, & the talent he had for bringing over to England a multitude of blues artists over the years - he created a section during his shows to play Skiffle music. Together with Lonnie Donegan they created hit records from this music that inspired a multitude of young people to pick up guitars. This included myself, Mick Jagger, the Beatles, the Kinks, the Who, and many others, who began their careers in small skiffle bands. As Donegan moved on to solo success, Chris then added Alexis Korner to his shows to play a blues segment. This inspired Brian Jones to form the Rolling Stones band & play blues music, together with other up & coming blues-inspired musicians. Chris Barber is entitled to be named the founder of the British music scene of the 1960s."

Over the years Barber successfully developed his Jazz and Blues Band and, due to his love of Duke Ellington’s music, in recent times he augmented his personnel and renamed it The Big Chris Barber Band featuring many talented young musicians, bringing a new lease of life to his music and touring widely. The band recorded prolifically over the years in its many forms with numerous special guests. Barber was awarded the OBE in 1991. His autobiography "Jazz Me Blues," co-written with Alyn Shipton, appeared in 2014. The double album “Memories of My Trip” featuring his career-spanning collaborations with other jazz, blues, skiffle and gospel luminaries is being re-issued by the Last Music Company on October 4th, 2019.

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