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Chris Barber’s Jazz Band
With Lonnie Donegan’s Skiffle Group and Ottillie Paterson

Recorded 1955
LAKE LACB235 [79:24]

 

 



You Don't Understand
Tishomingo Blues
Wild Cat Blues
Everybody Loves My Baby
Papa De Da Da
High Society
Trouble In Mind
Jailhouse Blues
Doin' The Crazy Walk
Baby
Magnolia's Wedding Day
Dixie Cinderella
Here Comes My Blackbird
Can't We Get Together
Sweet Savannah Sue
Porgy
Diga Diga Do
Harmonica Blues
Worried Man Blues
Blue In Wood Green
My Bucket's Got A Hole In It
Lord, Lord, Lord
Blues Is Knocking On My Door
Momma Don't Allow

In a curious programmatic arc this recital of the Barber band in 1955 goes from Traditional to Skiffle and ends with the Revival. The first seventeen tracks are some fine examples of Barber’s post-Colyer band caught in the studios; there are two sides from Lonnie Donegan’s Skiffle Group and then the disc ends with the down home preaching of the band in the lo-fi soundtrack to the film Momma Don’t Allow, never before released. It implies a fluidity to the band’s stylistic horizons that is clearly born out in practice. And it also shows the kind of versatility of which the band was also capable – and thoroughly proficient in recreating.

Taken from commercial recordings of the time we have here examples of LPs that celebrated Clarence and Spencer Williams and a Jazz Today LP called Echoes of Harlem that included songs by Andy Razaf, Fats Waller, Fields and McHugh and the like.

The band had emerged from its vicissitudes with clarity and determination. There’s that typically light, springy rhythm and the crisp, clean front line. Tishomingo Blues in fact emerges as even springier than it might, which argues for limits on this kind of approach, but the corollary is the high level of expertise on display. Monty Sunshine’s feature Wild Cat Blues sounds highly rehearsed indeed. Ottilie Patterson adds some Bessie Smith gravitas on her appearances – she’s especially convincing on Jailhouse Blues - and collector-discographers should note that her Trouble in Mind is from a previously unissued acetate.

Things like Doin' The Crazy Walk show the catholicity and adventurousness of their repertoire – they were not at all dogmatic even then. And the influence of the de Paris brothers is clear as well; Barber has gone on record in acknowledging his debt to Wilbur de Paris, a now half forgotten stylist whose playing was always exciting and life affirming. Maybe Barber also echoes Jimmy Archey in Here Comes My Blackbird. He takes an elegant solo on Porgy. Pat Halcox of course is a tower of strength throughout.

The Skiffle sides are not the kind that Barber and Sunshine’s erstwhile colleague Ken Colyer recorded; Barber and Donegan avoid Leadbelly here, though doubtless they like Colyer knew his recordings, preferring Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee instead, a stylistic decision that Barber for one has maintained for half a century now. The film soundtrack is a bit rough and ready but shows us the more Back to the Delta side of the band. Here Bunk Johnson, George Lewis and Jim Robinson are very clearly the models.

So a curious arc inasmuch as it seems completely unhistorical to end with the revivalist world that Barber and co. had just left. Of course at the time things weren’t quite so, well, Academic. For admirers this release, a sort of "Year in the Life" album, joins Lake’s other Barber discs in usefulness and enjoyment.

Jonathan Woolf



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