Chris Barber's Jazz Band, 1954
May 31, 2009 marks the 55th anniversary of the first gig played by the original Chris Barber's Jazz Band of 1954. The band was formed – or re-formed – when Ken Colyer was invited to leave what had been Ken Colyer's Jazzmen for the previous year and was replaced by Pat Halcox, who had previously but
The Big Chris Barber Band, 2009
briefly played with the band, but who had declined to turn professional.

Over the past 55 years the band has grown in size (from six to eleven members), altered its name a couple of times, and has changed, or rather evolved, its musical style. Constant threads over the years, however, have been Chris himself as the innovative leader, Pat Halcox as his front-line partner for 54 of those years, and, for the most part, long-term residencies by many of the musicians who have been part of the band.

In the final analysis, a band is two things: its members and its music. This page is a celebration of 55 years of Chris Barber Band musicians and the music they have created.

Members of the Band
  Click here to see a Flash version of the slide show,
here to see a larger version
for Windows Media
Player, or here to see a version in mp4 format
for Macintosh computers.
The story of the beginning of the Chris Barber Band in 1952-53, the addition in 1953 of Ken Colyer to the two-man front line of Chris on trombone and Monty Sunshine on clarinet to form the short-lived but influential Ken Colyer's Jazzmen,
Ken Colyer's Jazzmen, 1953-54
the subsequent split with Ken in 1954 and his replacement by Pat Halcox, has been told and re-told many times. (In fact you can listen to Chris tell the story "In His Own Words" in some audio files elsewhere in this website.)

The original six-piece band had Chris on trombone, Pat on cornet and trumpet, and Monty on clarinet, with a rhythm section consisting of Lonnie Donegan (banjo), Jim Bray (bass and tuba), and Ron Bowden (drums). The band was soon to be augmented with the astonishing blues singer, Ottilie Patterson, on January 1, 1955.

Dick Smith, Graham Burbidge &
Eddie Smith
Through the early years, the only personnel changes took place in the rhythm section, with one of the greatest-ever British traditional jazz rhythm sections of Eddie Smith (banjo), Dick Smith (bass), and Graham Burbidge (drums) in place by the end of 1957 (and continuing on until late 1974, when Eddie left and Stu Morrison took over the banjo duties).
Monty Sunshine
  Ian Wheeler
  John Crocker

The first real personnel bombshell came in 1960, when founding member Monty Sunshine, unhappy with the musical direction the band was taking, announced that he was quitting to form his own unit, which subsequently became very successful in Britain and across Europe. Monty's replacement was Ian Wheeler, whose style and instrumentation (soprano sax and harmonica in addition to clarinet) fit in well with the band's emerging sound and repertoire. Ian played almost eight years with the band, leaving in 1968 and being replaced by John Crocker, who not only added tenor sax to the range of instruments in the front line, but who then stayed with the band for a mere 35 years! In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the seven-piece unit gradually morphed into the Chris Barber Jazz & Blues Band, reflecting a broadening of its repertoire rather than a rejection of its earlier emphasis on New Orleans-style jazz.

John Slaughter  
The second bombshell hit in July 1964, with the addition of the young but brilliant electric guitarist, John Slaughter – an event that provoked a reaction among some "fans" not unlike what happened to Bob Dylan when he "went electric" at roughly the same time. Like Ian Wheeler, John was perfectly suited to the sort of Chicago-based blues of which the band had become so fond after their earlier North American tours, and in some instances the music was not unlike the sort of thing that British blues bands such as John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, the Rolling Stones, and the Yardbirds were creating in the mid-1960s.

Vic Pitt
The next major personnel-based change to the character of the band came at the end of 1977, with the expansion of the front line from three to four, and thus an increase of the band as a whole to eight members. This happened first with a brief tenure on reeds by Sammy Rimington, but then, in 1979, Ian Wheeler re-joined the band in Rimington's place (and then proceeded to stay for almost twenty more years, leaving for the second time in 1998. Again, the front line of Chris, Pat, Ian and John (together with Vic Pitt on bass – who also became a veteran of over three decades by the time he left in 2007) remained stable for a very long period. However, in addition to Vic, there were some changes in the Jazz & Blues band's rhythm section between 1976 and 2001, with a succession of drummers (Pete York, Norman Emberson, Alan "Sticky" Wickett, Russell Gilbrook, and Colin Miller), two banjo players (Johnny McCallum and Paul Sealey), and a seven-year absence by John Slaughter between 1978 and 1986, during which time his place was taken by Roger Hill.

Pat Halcox in 2008
By the end of the 1990s, the eight-piece Chris Barber's Jazz & Blues Band still retained the same instrumentation as before, but with John Defferary taking over after Ian Wheeler left. Then, in 2001, three members of Bob Hunt's Ellingtonians joined the band temporarily for a short tour, an arrangement that was so successful that Chris decided to expand the band permanently to eleven members, in the process changing the name to The Big Chris Barber Band. Although there have been several personnel changes since then, most notably the retirement of Pat Halcox in 2008, the Big Chris Barber Band continues as strong as ever, with concert tours and festival appearances continuing throughout the year, both in the UK and many countries in Europe.

In total, some forty musicians have been permanent members of the various incarnations of the Chris Barber Band during the past fifty-five years. Their contributions are celebrated in the slide show to the upper left on this page.

55 Indispensable Records
During its fifty-five years, the Chris Barber Band has recorded literally thousands of tracks, most of which have appeared on hundreds of records and in many formats: 78 rpm singles in the mid-1950s, followed by 45 rpm singles and EPs through to about the end of the 1960s, vinyl LPs from 1954 to the late '80s, a couple of laser discs in the early-1980s, compact discs since about the mid-1980s, and, more recently, DVDs. The covers below represent a personal selection of 55 of the best recordings, including original issues on vinyl, as well as CD reissues of older records and CD/digital recordings from the last couple of decades. Although I am sure many fans might quibble about the inclusion or omission of specific items, I would argue that these fifty-five records should be part of any comprehensive Chris Barber collection. (ELJ).

Elsewhere in The Chris Barber Website

Rather than repeat much of what you can find elsewhere in the Chris Barber website, you are invited instead to visit the following sections, which will tell you much more about the band, the musicians, and the music:

  • The Chris Barber Story: An edited and updated version of an essay written by Peter Clayton for tour programmes in the mid-1960s, and reproduced by Gerard Bielderman and Julian Purser as the introduction to their discography, A Life in Music: Chris Barber Discography 1949-2001.

  • Chris Barber: An Appreciation: A lengthy and informative essay written by Philip Clark & Martin Celmins, which appeared in the previous version of the Chris Barber website prior to 2004.

  • Chris Barber's Jazz Band / The Chris Barber Jazz & Blues Band: Links to other sections of the website covering various line-ups of the band.

  • The Big Chris Barber Band: Current members, biographies, music clips, and an additional "background" page, The Big Chris Barber Band, 2000 to Today.

  • Evolution of the band: Changes in band personnel illustrated with photographs of each "line-up" and records made by each "version" of the band.

  • From 1953 to Today ... The Instrumentalists: Photographs of every musician who has held a long-term position in the Chris Barber Band since the days of Ken Colyer's Jazzmen in 1953. Each photograph is accompanied by the dates that each was a member of the band, plus one or more musical excerpts that best illustrate his approach to the instrument.

  • Former members of the band: Individual pages celebrating the contributions of several band members over a fifty-five-year period.

  • Recordings page: More detail about many aspects of the band's recordings.

  • The Barber-Purser archives: A treasure-trove of photographs, published materials, and other memorabilia.

  • Tours, concerts, and special events: Rare archive material related to tours and concerts by the Barber Band over its 55-year history -- tour & concert programmes, posters, flyers, etc.

  • "In His Own Words": Spoken-audio files of concert introductions and Chris being interviewed on radio.

  • A Tribute to Pat Halcox: A special page dedicated to Pat on the occasion of his retirement from the band in 2008, with many good wishes from band members, friends, and fans.

  • Music clips: A complete list of all music clips used throughout the website, showing the records (LP or CD) on which they were originally or most recently released, plus links to relevant pages in the site.

  • 14 pages of photographs, beginning with Photographs, page 1.

  • Slide shows: Twenty short slide shows about various aspects of the band from its earliest days to the present.

  • News and Website Updates: A comprehensive list of links to all additions to the website since February 20, 2004.
Menu page