Chris Barber's Jazz Band with Ottilie Patterson and guests: Chris Barber at the BBC: Wireless Days; and Chris Barber at the BBC: Volume 2, More Wireless Days.
Upbeat Jazz, URCD146 & URCD 177.
Chris Barber and the Band were familiar guests on many BBC radio and television shows for many years in the 1950s, and especially in the early- to mid-1960s, at the height of the "trad boom". They were most frequently to be heard on BBC Jazz Club, which lamentably but for only a short time adopted an all-trad format. Not only did this provoke a fairly widespread outcry among aficionados of other forms of jazz, but, by overexposure of second-rate bands stemming from the need to fill each show, probably contributed in its own small way to the boom's collapse. (I and my traditional-jazz-fan schoolboy friends used to sneer at them as "Mickey Mouse" or "ricky-tick" bands, although I was able to convince very few of the Bilk and Ball acolytes of the obvious superiority of the Barber Band. At 16 years old I even had the temerity to submit -- and have published -- a short letter in the Melody Maker arguing that Chris Barber was playing the "only true jazz" in Britain. Now that the numbers in my age have been reversed, I like to think of my tastes as reflecting a little more breadth and tolerance!)
Chris himself became the host and his band the almost-weekly headliners on another BBC Radio programme, Trad Tavern, even contributing the signature tune, which was first released as the B-side of the single, Yvette. The Chris Barber Band could always be relied on to play British traditional jazz of the highest quality (as did other top bands such as Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball, Ken Colyer, and Alex Welsh, to name but a few). Ottilie Patterson typically sang several numbers on each show, to the obvious delight and enthusiasm of the studio audiences, and there were occasional guest spots by less than strictly traditional factions of the jazz world, including Tony Coe and Fred Hunt, both of whom can heard on the second of these two compact discs.
Together, the two CDs comprising Wireless Days and More Wireless Days include 36 tracks. Very few of them were "new" songs that had not already appeared on or were about to be recorded for commercial records, and some even echoed back to the earliest days of the band (Bobby Shaftoe from 1954's New Orleans Joys LP) and even the 1953 Ken Colyer's Jazzmen LP, New Orleans to London (Isle of Capri). Thus, while the listener will hear very few new songs on either of these CDs, the tracks have the advantage of providing new and alternative "takes" on material that had been and still was a part of the Barber repertoire, and in a relaxed, perhaps more "rough-edges" context than the formal studio setting, but also perhaps with a great deal of exuberance and sheer joy of playing.
ELJ -- March 2009