The Grand Order of Water Rats is a show business charity run by musicians, comedians and others in show business. The membership is never more than 200, although at present there are some 180 members. The current 'King' Water Rat is Melvyn Hayes (one of the stars of the BBC TV Comedy It Ain't Half Hot Mum).
Last year the King was Chas McDevitt (a musician who had one of the better-known Skiffle groups in the 1950s). At the annual Water Rats Ball last November at the London Grosvenor House Hotel, he chose as his theme for the evening 'New Orleans', and Chris and The Band were invited as musical guests.
After their own spot, Chris, Colin Miller and John Slaughter with Joe Brown, Rick Wakeman, Chas McDevitt, Chas's daughter Kerry, and Brian May formed a skiffle group for a short session (Joe, Brian, Rick and Chas are all member of the Water Rats).
A history and full details of this charitable organisation can be found on their website at
www.eabf.org.uk/gowr.htm. Chas McDevitt's website is at www.chasmcdevitt.com/.
For more photographs, go to Water Rats Ball, page 2.
Sunday 28th November 2004, the Annual Ball of The Grand Order of Water Rats, (www.gowr.net), our major fund-raising event. As usual we raised about £50,000 for our various charities from the 1200 guests present.
This year, celebrating the end of my second year as King Rat, I chose the theme for the evening as Take Me Back To New Orleans. What would be more appropriate than to persuade The Big Chris Barber Band to top the bill in our All-Star Cabaret? It was a double thrill for me as I got to sing "Goin' Home" with one of my idols. The Finale was even more of a buzz with Rick Wakeman, Joe Brown and Brian May joining myself and my daughter Kerry on washboard with Chris featured on bass, for an impromptu skiffle session. We performed 'Freight Train', 'I'm Just A Rollin' Stone' and with the full band, 'Mama Don't Allow'. It earned a standing ovation and the evening is still talked about as being the best Rats Ball ever.
All the aforementioned were influenced by Chris and the music of the early 50's. In 1952-53 I was playing banjo in a local jazz band. Each Sunday some of us would go up to London to hear The Ken Colyer Band and later on Chris and his band, at such venues as the church hall in Bryanston Square, various clubs in Soho and Wood Green. We were what might be described as The Merrydown Generation, getting high on the music and Merrydown cider. Chris reflected this in his compositions, 'Merrydown Rag' and 'Merrydown Blues’.
Ken and later Chris featured the skiffle interlude and we began to do the same. With the success of 'Rock Island Line', many of the groups who had been playing in coffee bars and jazz clubs all aspired to get a recording contract. There were a few success stories, but none came close to that of Lonnie Donegan and Chris. Not only did Chris nurture Lonnie, but he was also responsible for bringing Johnny Duncan and Dickie Bishop to the attention of the record buying public.
The combined forces of this initial enthusiasm led to the second generation of skifflers: The Quarrymen (later the Beatles) and The Railroaders (later The Shadows), and bred such stalwarts of the R&B scene as Chris Farlowe (The John Henry Skiffle Group) and The Alexis Korner Skiffle Group, who can also lay claim with Chris to introducing the public to the blues of Broonzy, Muddy Waters, Brownie McGhee, etc.
From those early days the link can be established to many of the current crop of superstars. They all credit the music created by Chris and Ken as the germ that spawned their interest for the guitar and the Blues in general. Van Morrison, Brian May, Mark Knopfler, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton all tip their hats to the fountainhead, Chris Barber, still a force to be reckoned with in 2005.
Chas McDevitt, Eton, 30th March 2005.