Chris Barber's Jazz Band: The Complete Decca Sessions 1954/55
Lake Records LACD 141/142, issued in 2000, as a compilation of tracks recorded in 1954 and 1955 and re-released numerous times on various vinyl LPs, EPs, and singles.

The Complete Decca Sessions 1954/55 was one of the earliest compilation CDs of Chris Barber’s music re-mastered and released by Paul Adams on his Lake Records label. The total of 27 tracks on this double-CD come from several sessions recorded by the original Chris Barber’s Jazz Band. They start with the recording of the eight-track vinyl LP, New Orleans Joys, on July 13, 1954, and end with a last session for Decca consisting of a couple of Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group numbers and two band tracks with vocals by Ottilie Patterson, on March 16 of the next year.

Chris Barber's Jazz Band, 1954 to 1955

While the band recorded and released other material on the competing Pye and Columbia labels during the same period, the tracks included here are of enormous historical significance in Chris Barber’s musical career, not to mention in the subsequent evolution of British jazz, skiffle, pop, and rock music. Not only do they include the first recordings made by the Barber Band after the split with Ken Colyer six weeks earlier, but they also encompass two stirring and influential “live” performances at the Royal Festival Hall. The first of these, which took place on October 30, 1954, was significant in that Chris invited saxophone veteran Bertie King to guest with the band – much to the horror, apparently, of traditional jazz purists in the audience and record-buying public – which presaged Chris’s career-long efforts to break with tradition and the straitjackets imposed by strict adherence to the New Orleans code.

Even more important was the second concert, held on January 9, 1955, mere days after Ottilie Patterson had joined the band as its full-time blues vocalist, and at which – to quote the sleeve notes of an LP released some years later, “Barber introduced Ottilie Patterson, a slim young Irish girl from Belfast to sing with the band. The critics and fans were stunned by her powerful and vivid blues singing as she swept majestically through Handy’s St. Louis Blues. George Melly, reviewing the concerts for one of the musical papers, likened her to a reincarnated Bessie Smith.”

The other main aspect of the historical importance of these recordings, of course, is that the first session included two tracks by the Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group, most notably Rock Island Line, which went on to become a smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic and which – as Pete Frame, among countless other music historians, has recounted in his excellent book, The Restless Generation – changed the course of popular music in Britain and much of the rest of the world.

In this compilation, Paul Adams wisely chose not to sequence the tracks chronologically but to put the studio recordings on the first CD, with the concert recordings on the second. He also included an excellent CD booklet in the package, together with a long and informative essay, several photos, and the conventional – and thorough – discographical information.

Click on the picture above to watch a video of a 78 rpm
record of Chimes Blues.

This is not by any means the first time that these 27 recordings have been available. In addition to their first appearance on vinyl LPs, EPs, and singles – as well as a few 78 rpm shellac discs – they were also reissued in various vinyl formats in the ensuing years. The covers of many of these original and reissue releases are shown below, and you can click on each one for more details, either to link to other pages in the Chris Barber website, or to specially-prepared pages as companions to this one, which show relatively high-resolution scans from the various sleeves, and in some cases the text of the original sleeve notes.

At the time of writing, this 2-CD set has been available for around nine years, and can still be purchased directly from Lake Records. If it’s not part of your Barber collection, it should be. Although some of the tracks have recently appeared on other compilations (for example, New Orleans To London/New Orleans Joys and Just About As Good As It Gets), the Complete Decca Sessions is the only CD which includes all of the historic 1954-55 Chris Barber recordings for Decca.

If I haven’t yet convinced you of the indispensability of this collection, let me conclude by pointing out that Richard Cook and Brian Morton, in the seventh (2004) edition of their Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, identify a “Core Collection”: recommendations for a set of some two hundred CDs encompassing the entire range of the music. The Complete Decca Sessions is one of those choices.

Ed Jackson, February 2009

Music: Diggin' My Potatoes || Ice Cream || It's Tight Like That || The Martinique || Merrydown Rag || New Orleans Blues || Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out || Rock Island Line || The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise
Click on the thumbnails below to see enlarged versions of the CD inserts:
Here is a selection of original and re-issue covers from LPs, EPs, and CDs which have included tracks from The Complete Decca Sessions. You can click on each cover for further information.

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