One of the perks of having a radio show is the guests. Chatting to fascinating people about music you love isn’t really work. A couple of weeks ago Legendary British trad jazz and blues trombonist Chris Barber came into the studio, I offered him a brew to which he answered, “I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a biscuit is there?” a man after my own heart and any nerves I might have had about interviewing this pillar of the British popular music scene disappeared although I was relieved we had good biscuits that week.
Chris a very sprightly 84 talked about the scarcity of jazz records during his youth, he had no interest in most of what the BBC piped out of his wireless so hunted down every ‘hot’ disc he could. In the early 50’s he formed Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen with clarinetist Monty Sunshine. In 1954 Pat Halcox took over from Colyer on trumpet and outfit became The Chris Barber Band.
Their version of Sidney Bechet’s ‘Petite Fleur spent 24 weeks in the UK singles charts selling over one million copies. Banjo player and vocalist Lonnie Donegan was a member of the band and his appearances with Chris of songs such as ‘Rock Island Line’ triggered the skiffle movement of the mid 50’s. Otilie Patterson a great addition to the band, married to Barber for many years, was a terrific blues singer.
A true music lover in particular the blues he’s helped along many musicians and inspired such luminaries as Eric Clapton, Ray Davies and Peter Green. He was responsible for organizing the first tours of American artists like Big Bill Broonzy and Muddy Waters in the late 50’s.
Read Chris’ autobiography Jazz Me Blues, it goes 100mph and is full of anecdotes. Whilst we were talking Chris mentioned a book that he’d found discarded at the American Eighth Air Force Base in Bassingbourn as a boy. Written by stalwart of the 1920’s Chicago Jazz scene Mezz Mezrow, Really The Blues told the story of jazz like it was full of vice and scandal, it inspired a very young Chris to find the records Mezz wrote about and nearly 70 years later I’m pouring over my own copy looking for the very same records.
The great man is still touring – 34 dates alone from Jan to April of this year! Jazz – it obviously keeps you young.