Chris Barber

For other people with the same name, see Chris Barber (disambiguation).
Chris Barber
Background information
Birth name Donald Christopher Barber
Born (1930-04-17) 17 April 1930
Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, England, United Kingdom
Genres Skiffle, ragtime, swing, blues, trad jazz, folk
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter, bandleader
Instruments Trombone
Labels Decca, Tempo, Columbia (EMI), Pye, Lake
Associated acts Lonnie Donegan, Ken Colyer
Chris Barber Band (The Netherlands, Febr. 1957)

Donald Christopher "Chris" Barber (born 17 April 1930) is 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 Barber triggered the skiffle craze of the mid-1950s and who had his first transatlantic hit, "Rock Island Line", while with Chris Barber's band. His providing an audience for Donegan and, later, Alexis Korner makes Barber a significant figure in the British rhythm and blues and "beat boom" of the 1960s.


Early life

Barber was born in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, the son of a statistician father and headmistress mother. He was educated at Hanley Castle Grammar School, Malvern, Worcestershire, to the age of 15, then St Paul's School in London and the Guildhall School of Music.[1]

Music career (1950s and 1960s)

Barber and Monty Sunshine (clarinet) formed a band in 1953, calling it Ken Colyer's Jazzmen to capitalise on their trumpeter's recent escapades in New Orleans: the group also included Donegan, Jim Bray (bass), Ron Bowden (drums) and Barber on trombone. The band played Dixieland jazz, and later ragtime, swing, blues and R&B. Pat Halcox took over on trumpet in 1954 when Colyer moved on after musical differences and the band became "The Chris Barber Band".

In April 1953 the band made its debut in Copenhagen, Denmark. There Chris Albertson recorded several sides for the new Danish Storyville label, including some featuring only Sunshine, Donegan and Barber on double bass. In 1959 the band's version of Sidney Bechet's "Petite Fleur", a clarinet solo by Monty Sunshine with Barber on string bass, spent twenty-four weeks in the UK Singles Charts, making it to No. 3 and selling over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.[2] After 1959 he toured the United States many times (where "Petite Fleur" charted at #5).

Barber performing in Hamburg, 1972

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Barber was mainly responsible for arranging the first UK tours of blues artists Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and Muddy Waters. This, with the encouragement of local enthusiasts such as Alexis Korner and John Mayall, sparked young musicians such as Peter Green, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. British rhythm and blues powered the British invasion of the USA charts in the 1960s, yet Dixieland itself remained popular: in January 1963 the British music magazine, NME reported the biggest trad jazz event in Britain at Alexandra Palace. It included George Melly, Diz Disley, Acker Bilk, Alex Welsh, Kenny Ball, Ken Colyer, Sunshine, Bob Wallis, Bruce Turner, Mick Mulligan and Barber.[3]

Barber stunned traditionalists in 1964 by introducing blues guitarist John Slaughter into the line up who, apart from a break between April 1978 and August 1986, when Roger Hill took over the spot, played in the band until shortly before his death in 2010. Barber next added a second clarinet/saxophone and this line-up continued until 1999. Then Barber added fellow trombonist/arranger Bob Hunt and another clarinet and trumpet. This eleven-man "Big Chris Barber Band" offered a broader range of music while reserving a spot in the programme for the traditional six-man New Orleans line-up.

A recording of the Lennon–McCartney composition "Catswalk" can be heard, retitled "Cat Call", on The Songs Lennon and McCartney Gave Away. Written by Paul McCartney the song was recorded in late July 1967 and released as a single in the UK on 20 October 1967.

Recent work

The 2015 line up is; Gregor Beck (drums), Jackie Flavelle (bass guitar, double bass), Joe Farler (banjo & guitar), Chris Barber and Bob Hunt (after an 18-month break, rejoined January 2010) (trombones); Mike Henry and Pete Rudeforth (trumpets), Bert Brandsma, Nick White and Trevor Whiting (clarinets and alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax). Pat Halcox, trumpeter with the Chris Barber Band since 31 May 1954, retired after playing his last gig with the Big Chris Barber Band on 16 July 2008. Halcox and Barber were together in the band for 54 years – the longest continuous partnership in the history of jazz, exceeding even that of Duke Ellington and Harry Carney (48 years between 1926 and 1974).[4] Tony Carter (reeds) also left the band at this time.[5] Vic Pitt (double bass) retired in January 2007 after 30 years with the band.

His feature duet with the drummers of the day – "Big Noise From Winnetka" was not only a feature of the Barber concerts, but also his time with the Kenny Ball band immediately before. When Amy Roberts joined the band in 2011, she was still a student at Royal Northern College of Music and thus not always able to be present. On several tours Bert Brandsma (reeds) replaced her. Brandsma joined as a permanent member in 2012.

At St Luke's, London, on 9 June 2007 Barber appeared in the horn section of Nick Lowe's band during a concert. In 2008 Barber, along with Eric Clapton and others, were involved in a new co-operative record company, Blues Legacy. On 23 July 2009, Barber, Bilk and Ball played a one-off concert at Indigo2 at the O2 in Greenwich. The concert was presented by the British Music Experience. He performed at De Doelen in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on 12 December 2010.

Select discography

Chris Barber, 1972

'New Orleans Joys' Chris Barber Jazz Band, with Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group 1954


  1. Jackson, Ed. "Photos and Article from a British Teen Magazine, 1962". Official website of Chris Barber. From the Archives. Retrieved 8 February 2010.
  2. Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 110. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  3. Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 116. CN 5585.
  4. "A tribute to Pat Halcox". Official website of Chris Barber. Retrieved 8 February 2010.
  5. "Chris Barber and The Big Chris Barber Band / Chris Barber Jazz & Blues Band". Retrieved 28 June 2014.
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