The February 2004 UK tour of the Big Chris Barber Band was preceded and will be followed by dates with the other two Bs (Ball and Bilk). We will be concerned with the Big Chris Barber Band concerts in this review.
I was able to join the band for the last two nights, the 23rd and 24th at Swindon and Yeovil -- quite a contrast, as the heating had stopped working at the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon. It is difficult for musicians to play in cold conditions, but the band turned in a fine performance. The Octagon Theatre in Yeovil was a different proposition; for a start it was much warmer, and the full house were given a virtuoso display of jazz at its best. The audience on the second night included Dick Smith, bass player in the band from 1956 to 1966 (see the bottom right photo, with Pat Halcox and John Slaughter, two of Dick's band-mates), who was given a round of applause when Chris introduced him to the audience.
The Big Band is able to vary the mood, tempo, and style so much more effectively than previously, especially in the Bob Hunt-arranged Ellington titles. Some of my favourite numbers played included Jubilee Stomp (an Ellington piece, also the title track of the band’s latest CD on Timeless Records); and Snake Hip Swing (a pre-war number penned by a West Indian, “Snake Hips” Johnson, who led a band at The Café De Paris in London; he was not a musician but a dancer!). Also from the recent CD was Freeze And Melt by the American song-writing duo Fields and McHugh. I also enjoyed The Martinique (composed by Wilbur De Paris), a number first recorded in 1954 and now revived by the current six-piece band.
Chris's talk at the start of the second half of the programme is both illuminating and amusingly told, giving a brief history of how the band was created.
I am fortunate enough to be able to hear the band quite regularly; and with concerts as good as these I am happy to hear and see them as much as possible, so much so that I have booked a trip to Zurich in early May to catch them over two nights, the 4th and 5th, at the Restaurant Schutzenhaus Albisgutli.
The four photographs below were taken over the two nights in Swindon and Yeovil, with the kind consent of those being snapped!