The Marquee Club - A tribute site dedicated to the history of the legendary Marquee club at London's 90 Wardour street.

Chris Barber - Biography

Chris Barber
Period of performances: 1953/1983
Lineup members at the Marquee:
Chris Barber's Jazz Band: Chris Barber (trombone, double bass), Lonnie Donegan (banjo), Jim Bray (tuba), Ron Bowden (drums), Pat Halcox (trumpet), Ken Colye (trumpet), Dickie Bishop (banjo), Ottilie Patterson (vocals), Montie Sunshine (clarinet), Dick Smith (double bass), Eddie Smith (banjo), Graham Burridge (drums).

Big Chris Barber's Band: Chris Barber (trombone), Norman Emberson (drums), John Crocker (reeds), Ian Wheeler (clarinet), Johnny McCallum (banjo), Roger Hill (guitar), Vic Pitt (double bass).


Born in April 17th 1930 in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, UK, Chirs Barber is considered one of the protagonists of London 50's jazz scene and a father of the British 60's blues rock explosion. Some of the bluesmen who shared a stage with Barber at the Marquee club include Muddy Waters, Louis Jordan, Big Bill Broonzy, Champion Jack Dupree, Jimmy Cotton, and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee.

Chris Barber's father was an amateur violinist who had him take violin lessons until the age of 15. Barber completed his education as a violinist against growing competition from a collection of jazz records from the father. In the late 40's, Chris Barber started directing the National Federation of jazz Organisations of Great Britain (NFJOGB), which was formed by a comittee of musicians, critics, journalists and club proprietors who were trying to regulate the quality of the jazz scene in the city. In 1948, a young accountant Harold Pendleton arrived from Mersyside to London taken by his passion for jazz music. In his very first day in the city Pendleton met Chris Barber quite by chance and both of them started a long friendship. Soon after their meeting, Chris Barber quit his job as a trainee actuary and started his studies on trombone and double-bass at the Guildhall School of Music. Eventually, Harold Pendleton joined the NFJOGB team as a secretary, replacing Barber. During this period the name of the federation was shortened to NJF (National jazz Federation) and it became the most important driving force in the UK during the jazz scene of the 50's and 60's.

Chris barber Harold Pendleton

Chris Barber, Earl Hines and Harold Pendleton
Photo courtesy of Barber-Purser Archives

On those days, Chris Barber acquired his first trombone for 8 pounds, a second-hand instrument that he bought from Harry Brown of the Humphrey Lyttleton Band at London's Leicester Square jazz Club. After some training with the instrument Barber tried to form his own band with musicians including Doug Whitton and Cy Laurie, with not much luck. A few months later, Barber formed his first band, the New Orleans jazz Band or Chris Barber's 'Washboard Wonders' when he was playing string bass. In 1949, Chris barber joined the King Oliver Band and eventually formed a new band with Alec Revell, Keith Jary and Ben Cohen, opening a club on Sunday afternoons at Studio 51 called the Lincoln Gardens.

At this stage, the British jazz scene was divided in three different movements: New Orleans revivalists, featuring pianist George Webb, trumpeter Humphrey Lyttleton and Chris Barber; modern jazz players influenced by American Bee Bop, including Johnny Dankworth and Ronnie Scott; and the Chicago-school represented by trumpeter Freddie Randall. During those days Barber got involved also in the Crane River jazz Band, featuring clarinettist Monty Sunshine and trumpeter Ken Colyer, and he also played along with banjo player Lonnie Donegan, bass and tuba player Jim Bray, and drummer Ron Bowden. In January 1953, Monty Sunshine and Chris Barber decided to move towards a more professional career and formed the first Chris Barber's Jazz Band, along with Lonnie Donegan, Jim Bray, and Ron Bowden. Trumpeter Pat Halcox joined the band later and was later replaced by Ken Colyer. The trumpeter had just got back from a trip to New Orleans after having visa problems that got him banged up in jail at New Orleans Parish Prison and he was finally deported to England. With Coyle onboard, he band started appearing regularly at venues such as the Bryanston Street jazz Club under the name of Ken Colyer's jazzmen. In a year, Ken Colyer split due to constant tensions with the band and went to form his own new band with Acker Bilk.

Chris Barber Band

Chris Barber Band at the Marquee club, 165 Oxford Street, circa 1958.
Left to right: Dick Smith (double bass), Chris barber (trombone), Graham Burridge (drums), Eddie Smith (banjo), Pat Halcox (trumpet) and Montie Sunshine (clarinet)
Photo courtesy of Barber-Purser Archives

In July 1954, banjo player Lonnie Donegan recorded his first version of "Rock Island Line" for the album "New Orleans Joys" featuring Chris Barber. The song was a an immediate hit, earning gold records in both the U.S.A. and Britain. This international success made Lonnie Donegan become the king of the British skiffle scene with his personal mix of American country music and instrumental jazz. With Donegan's departure to start a stardom solo career, he was replaced by Dickie Bishop and the band was completed with the addition of blues vocalist Ottilie Patterson, who would later became Chris Barber's second wife. This period represented the most legendary period of the band, which toured the US and Europe several times and was pioneering in numerous aspects, such as the exploration of new sounds in jazz and the creation of the British "trad" jazz sound caused by the lack of a pianist in the band.

The numerous visits of Chris Barber's Band to the US gave them the opportunity to team up with great American blues artists, who had an impact on the band's sound, such as Big Bill Broonzy, Brother John Sellers, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Rosetta Tharpe's performances with the band and Ottilie Patterson in 1957 are reminded as electrifying and she influenced very much Ottilie's singing to early blues style singing. Other legendary artists who played with the band and had a drastic influence on them were Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, but the most important was their collaboration with Muddy Waters and Otis Spann during the UK tour in 1958.

Chris Barber and Otillie Patterson

Chris Barber and Otillie Patterson at the Marquee club, 1958.
Photo courtesy of Barber-Purser Archives

In January 1958, Harold Pendleton brought over the legendary bluesman Muddy Waters from the USA to play with Chris Barber and legend has it that this was the first time that an audience ever saw an electric guitar in a London club. Three months later, Harold Pendleton became the owner of the club and on Saturday 19th of April that same year, he relaunched the Marquee Club at 165 Oxford Street with the celebrated "Jazz at the Marquee" nights. During this year, Chris Barber Band was one of the main acts at the club with a residency that helped establish the foundations of the jazz and blues scene in London.

During the early 60's, Chris Barber had his own BBC radio show, called "Trad Tavern", where he played with numerous guests such as Joe Harriot, Archie Semple, and Tony Coe. With the birth of the beat scene, Barber updated the band's sound with the replacement of Monty Sunshine by Ian Wheeler and the addition of John Slaughter on electric guitar. Chris Barber's figure was also essential in the British rhythm and blues scene under the input of his wife Ottilie. As a result, in 1961 the band got the collaboration of legendary R&B artists Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies, to whom Barber knew from their residencies at the Marquee Club. Harold Pendleton said once about Barber to Melody Maker magazine: "Alexis Korner is often hailed as the father of the British blues scene, but if that's the case then Chris Barber must be hailed as the great-grandfather. For Chris put together the band with Cyril Davies and Alexis and told them what to do. Chris is monstrously underrated for his contribution to the music scene in Britain".

National Jazz Festival

Poster of the National Jazz Festival, 1962.

In August 26-27th 1961, the NJF celebrated the first edition of the National Jazz Festival at Richmond Athletic Grounds in Surrey. The festival started with a small marquee resembling the decoration of the original Marquee club at Oxford Street and, along with Chris Barber band, it featured jazz artists such as Johnny Dankworth, Dick Charlesworth & His City Gents and Tubby Hayes. This was the beginning of a lifetime relationship between Chris Barber and the festival, who's figure was even printed on the cover of the posters and programmes of the festival in 1962. The roll that the NJF played in the development of the jazz, blues, rhythm and blues and rock culture was decisive, bringing the music of new talents to bigger audiences than the small capacity of small clubs like the Marquee. Throughout the years, the National jazz Festival became the first and most important rock event in the UK, which was later known as the Reading Festival. Chris Barber and his band played at the festival in every edition between 1961 and 1966. In 1969 they got back to the festival's lineup for another three years and, by 1973, Chris Barber was pretty much the only jazz act in the festival, which had evolved from jazz to blues, then to R&B and finally to rock music.

In 1963, the American artist Louis Jordan visited England and played extensively with the band. A year later, Chris Barber recorded an album with Alex Bradford, adapting some the New Orleans spirituals to a modern gospel approach. This was a major influence to the band's sound that was enforced with the direct clarinet style of Ian Wheeler. In 1967, the band was reformed featuring Ian Wheeler, Pat Halcox, Jackie Flavelle, Graham Burbidge (formerly known as Pete York), Stu Morrison, John Slaughter. During the 70's, Chris Barber incorporated rock influences into his band's sound and eventually started exploring into Balkan folk music.

In the early 80's, the band was relaunched under the name of the Chris Barber jazz & Blues Band, and featuring Norman Emberson, Johnny McCallum, Chris Barber, Roger Hill, Pat Halcox, Vic Pitt, Ian Wheeler, and John Crocker.

In April 1983, Chris barber had a comeback to the Marquee Club to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of the club, playing with Dr. John, with whom he toured the US that same year. It was not a real comeback though, since Barber only got to play at the first Marquee Club in 165 Oxford Street and 25 years later the club was located at 90 Wardour Street.

In 1995, Barber rejoined Lonnie Donegan and Dickie Bishop for a reunion UK tour, and he also did several reunion tours of the Chris Barber band with Monty Sunshine and Lonnie Donegan. During these years, the Chris Barber Band went through several lineup changes. In 1998, a new eight-man version of the band surfaced when clarinetist John Defferary replaced Ian Wheeler, and Paul Sealey joined on banjo and guitar, as well as Colin Miller on drums. During the last decade, Chris Barber continues touring all over the world with his band, featuring lineup additions with Bob Hunt on trombone, Mike "Magic" Henry on trumpet, and Tony Carter on reeds. The biggest change to the band occurred in 2001, when the eight-man jazz and Blues Band expanded to the eleven-piece Big Chris Barber Band.

Other artists that have worked with Chris Barber throughout the years are Sonny Boy Williamson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Howling Wolf, Van Morrison, Memphis Slim, Sweet Papa Lowdown, and Little Walter.

starMore info on Chris Barber

Chris Barber's Jazz Band gigs at the Marquee club

An unidetermined number of gigs between 1953 and 1958.

Big Chris Barber's Band gigs at the Marquee club
15-April-1983

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