Ron Bowden

If you agree with Pete Frame's account, in his book The Restless Generation, then the roots of British rock & roll, blues, 60s beat, pop and contemporary popular music can be traced back through Lonnie Donegan and the skiffle craze of the 1950s, to Chris Barber's Jazz Band and Ken Colyer's Jazzmen, and ultimately to Colyer himself. Frame argues that it all began when Colyer founded the legendary Crane River Jazz Band towards the end of the 1940s, in which, among other subsequently influential musicians, Ron Bowden was the drummer. In this sense Ron Bowden helped to play a pivotal role in carving out a new and distinctly British type of music years before The Beatles emerged as the embodiment of the "British Sound."

After the Crane River Band split into two and later folded, Ron and Monty Sunshine from that band joined forces with Chris Barber, together with Lonnie Donegan and Jim Bray from Donegan's own amateur band, to form a trumpet-less quintet and make the daring leap into full-time professional music. The story has been told many times about how Barber and the rest of the band invited Ken Colyer to front the outfit after his legendary sojourn in New Orleans, leading to the formation of the rather short-lived but influential Ken Colyer's Jazzmen, which recorded the pioneering and unexpectedly popular 10-inch LP, New Orleans To London.

It's equally well known that, after a roughly a year, the disgruntled Colyer attempted to fire the Donegan-Bray-Bowden rhythm section – at which point the original five members, pointing out that this was a cooperative band, invited Colyer himself to find other employment. A more than able replacement was found in the person of Pat Halcox, who had played with the band in late 1952 but who had decided not to risk turning professional at that time. Pat was persuaded otherwise in May 1954, thus leading to the formation of Chris Barber's Jazz Band, with Chris on trombone, Monty on clarinet, Pat on cornet, Lonnie on banjo, Jim on bass, and Ron on drums.

This band recorded two wonderful 10-inch LPs in 1954 and early 1955, New Orleans Joys and Jazz Sacred And Secular, as well as many other live and studio sessions, most of them later with slight changes in the personnel of the rhythm section.

The front line of Chris, Monty and Pat looked to be a permanent fixture until Monty left to form his own band in 1960. However, changes in the rhythm section took place much earlier. Jim Bray was the first to leave, being replaced on bass by Micky Ashman and later Dick Smith. Lonnie went on to skiffle fame and fortune, so he too had to be replaced – briefly by Dickie Bishop and then by Eddie Smith. Until the end of 1957, however, Ron Bowden remained as drummer, leaving just before the Sister Rosetta Tharpe tour at the end of 1957, his replacement being Graham Burbidge.

In sum, then, Ron Bowden was an integral part of the emergence of New Orleans / traditional jazz in Britain in the early- to late-1950s, being a member of the pre-Colyer quintet, the Colyer band, and Chris Barber's band for a combined total of approximately five years. He can be heard to advantage on virtually all the recordings they made during that period, being notable for a distinctive and versatile drumming style in the New Orleans tradition.

Not long after leaving the Barber band, Ron joined forces with Kenny Ball, whose Jazzmen went on to the greatest level of commercial success of any of the British "trad bands", enjoying numerous British and international hit records. Ron stayed with Kenny Ball's Jazzmen for a remarkable four decades, and towards the end of that time was able to re-unite with the original Chris Barber's Jazz Band of 1954 for a long series of 40th Jubilee concerts and recordings in 1994 and 1995.

Music: New Orleans Blues || Skokiaan || The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise
Ron Bowden Slide Show
The Barber-Purser archives contain about twenty photos either of Ron Bowden alone or with members of the various line-ups that he played with during his four-plus years with Ken Colyer's Jazzmen and Chris Barber's Jazz Band. We have reproduced them here in the form of a slide show instead of the more usual photo gallery; the music is Skokiaan, recorded in concert at the Royal Festival Hall on October 30, 1954.
Video Clips

In the mid-1990s, around the time of the 40th anniversary of the founding of Chris Barber's Jazz Band, the members of the original 1954 band reunited for dozens of sold-out concerts in the UK and on the continent. One of these concerts was filmed for a DVD released by Storyville Films, entitled Chris Barber, 40 Years Jubilee Concert. Two short clips from the DVD are reproduced below (at a very low resolution), highlighting the introduction of Ron Bowden and the other members of the band, and Isle Of Capri, which shows Ron's playing to advantage.

You can read more about the DVD elsewhere in the Chris Barber website.

Back to the Former members of the band page.