The year 2003, and more exactly September 2, marked a special anniversary in the history of the Chris Barber Band, and indeed in the evolution of British jazz. It was on September 2, 1953 that Ken Colyer's Jazzmen recorded the eight tunes that were subsequently released on one of the most important LPs in British jazz history, and certainly one of the most influential, From New Orleans to London (the original LP cover is the first illustration to the left). This web page is a permanent celebration of that fifty-year anniversary, with the opportunity to listen to some of the tracks on the LP, as well as tunes that were recorded in two subsequent reunions of the original band many years later.
The story of the Colyer Jazzmen – how they were founded and acrimoniously split – and the subsequent formation of Chris Barber's Jazz Band has been told and re-told so many times that it hardly bears repeating here. You can listen to sound files of Chris telling about this as part of an in-concert announcement if you go to the "Concert Introduction" section of the Miscellaneous page on this website. You can also read the "Colyer perspective" on the Ken Colyer Trust website.
I think there are two important points to be made. First, the Colyer version of the band – Colyer himself on cornet, Barber on trombone, Monty Sunshine on clarinet, and the rhythm section of Tony (Lonnie) Donegan (banjo), Jim Bray (bass), and Ron Bowden (drums) – was relatively short-lived: not much more than a year, if that, but timelessly influential. Second, for their age and experience, all the members of the band were enormously skilled and talented, both individually and collectively (and vastly superior to the outfit that Colyer assembled after the split). It was common at the time for critics to make disparaging remarks about British traditional jazz band rhythm sections (Jazz On Record provides a good example), but here they all play with a light yet driving force that carries the band through a variety of tempos and moods. Even Chris Barber himself has been quite self-critical about his early recordings (listen to the 2002 interview on CBC Radio, for example), but to me – and, I suspect, many other fans and lovers of British traditional jazz – these eight tunes still sound as fresh as ever.
To avoid copyright problems (and to make download times shorter) I have converted three of the eight tunes recorded on September 2, 1953 to low-resolution mp3 files, which you can listen to by clicking on each title. These tracks were taken directly from an original 10-inch LP. I think that the surface noise creates a historical atmosphere that is somehow more authentic than the rather sterile-sounding CD transcriptions I have heard (the bottom illustration to the left is the cover of one of several reissues). The sound files are Goin' Home, Early Hours, and perhaps the best-known of all, Isle Of Capri.*
As far as I know, the original line-up played together only once more, 27 years after their dissolution, at a Lonnie Donegan Jubilee concert in 1981. I've included the first track recorded at that concert, Ace In The Hole. Lonnie starts by playing the banjo and singing, and then Jim Bray (on tuba) and Ron Bowden join in. Listen to the warm applause that greets Colyer, Barber, and Sunshine as they come onstage after a couple of choruses. Not long afterwards (1984), the original front line of Colyer, Barber and Sunshine played several concerts together with the then-current Barber rhythm section of Johhny McCallum (banjo), Roger Hill (guitar), Vic Pitt (bass), and Norman Emberson (drums). Wabash Blues is my own personal favourite, featuring a lovely solo by Colyer.
* Note: These comments were written before the most recent CD reissue of New Orleans To London. The new Lake Records re-release provides much better sound quality than previous reissues.