From Good Morning Blues to Battersea Rain Dance:
An Overview of the Chris Barber Band, 1964 to 1968

The British trad boom collapsed in about 1963, due to the combination of an excess of poorly prepared and unimaginative trad bands (we used to call them "ricky-tick bands"), the public's tiring of the same old music, and the rise of the British beat, R&B, and blues movements. In effect, the release of The Beatles' "Love Me Do" in October 1962 sounded the death-knell for plunking-banjo-powered bands, interminably cranking out undistinguished – and indistinguishable – versions of "High Society" or trad interpretations of music hall ditties and Disney novelty songs. Beatlemania, and Beatmania in general, swept the country, then North America, and then the rest of the world, becoming the new focus of adulation for teenagers, but probably leaving the traddies wondering what had hit them so hard and so quickly.

Of course, a handful of the best bands survived the death of trad more or less intact, if no longer at the top of the charts. Kenny Ball and Acker Bilk established a smaller but enthusiastic and permanent following which has persisted to the present day, while Alex Welsh, for example, who (like Chris Barber) had never fully sold out to trad, continued quite happily with his Chicago-Dixieland style, which had its own aficionados who had remained more or less tangential to the pop-trad scene.

Ironically, it was Chris Barber and his band, together with Ottilie Patterson, who laid the foundation for the very developments that led to the Beat Boom and set the scene for trad's demise. This they did in two ways, quite unintentionally and with the purest of motives (not always shared by their contemporaries). First, Chris Barber and Lonnie Donegan virtually invented (although this has been disputed in the Colyer camp) and unquestionably popularized, skiffle – a British interpretation of American folk blues that not only created a massive fan-base but single-handedly democratized the whole business of making music in Britain: any schoolboy could buy a cheap guitar and learn three chords, sing in an almost passable imitation of Lonnie's or Johnny Duncan's nasal whines, build and thunk a tea-chest bass, or acquire a washboard and thimbles. (I speak from direct experience here!) The most successful, but by no means unique, descendants of the skiffle craze were Liverpool's The Quarrymen, soon to become The Beatles.

The second thing that Chris Barber did that ultimately undermined trad jazz was to bring to Britain – and pay for! – legendary American blues and gospel greats, notably Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1957, followed by Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee in early 1958, and Muddy Waters and Otis Spann at the end of that year. (Guests towards the end of the 1950s and on into the early 1960s included Jimmy Cotton, Howlin' Wolf, Champion Jack Dupree, Memphis Slim, and perhaps the most notorious of them all, Sonny Boy Williamson). There is no question that exposure to live performances by these blues legends influenced, if they did not solely determine, the emergence of the British blues and R&B movements – an influence that has been acknowledged by Alexis Korner, Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman, Eric Burdon, and Eric Clapton, among many others.

What did all this mean for the Barber Band? As always, Chris was well ahead of the curve. The band, together with Ottilie Patterson, had already recorded a blues album in 1959, while most of the future beat and blues luminaries were still at school (Chris Barber's Blues Book, Volume 1; sadly, there never was a Volume 2, although 1964's Good Morning Blues could have been thus subtitled). Monty Sunshine was still with the band when the Blues Book was recorded, and the album was very much influenced by Chicago-style rhythm-and-blues, albeit played using a jazz instrumentation. The band continued to refine and master the tight sound required for this sort of music, and benefited greatly from accompanying Louis Jordan on tour and on record in 1962.

It was really in the space of a few short months in 1964 that everything changed, or at least became noticeable to the listening public. The year started off with some fairly conventional recordings: folk songs such as "On Top Of Old Smokey" and "Tom Dooley" interpreted using the traditional jazz six-piece instrumentation and released on the LP, Folk Barber Style. Then, in July of 1964, young blues guitarist John Slaughter joined the band, prompting an immediate effect on its sound and repertoire. Soon after John came on board, the Chris Barber Band recorded what appeared to be a radical departure from what fans had come to expect. The album was Good Morning Blues, based almost entirely on the Chicago style, with the rhythm section sounding at times remarkably like the Stones and the Animals. It was a public declaration that the days of "Petite Fleur" and "When The Saints Go Marching In" were over – at least, temporarily.

Eddie Smith played on Good Morning Blues but didn't stick around for long after that: he left in November 1964, just four short months after John Slaughter joined. His replacement on banjo was the rather more metallic and plodding chord-based sound of Stu Morrison, who was probably more suited in taste and temperament to the new direction the music was taking. Stu's first recordings with the band appeared on Dans Le Vent, an album – now extremely rare and virtually impossible to find – made exclusively for the French market. It included several re-takes of tunes recorded previously for Good Morning Blues. Listen to and compare, for example, "Hamp's Blues" with Eddie on banjo and then Stu and "Jeep's Blues" (Eddie; Stu).

At this point Dick Smith was still on bass, but he, too, left before long, departing in March 1966 and being replaced for just over one year (March 1966 to May 1967) by Micky Ashman, who had been the band's bassist back in 1955 and 1956, and who had in fact briefly been a member of one of Chris's pre-professional bands in the early 1950s. Only a few recordings were made with this line-up: three tracks with Alex Bradford eventually ended up on the Hot Gospel set, which was not finished until some years later.

When Micky left, the new bassist was Jackie Flavelle, an accomplished and versatile musician recruited from the showbands of Northern Ireland. While he started out on string bass, he was also able to play electric bass, providing a sound and approach that contributed enormously to the band's distinctive style as it developed into the mid-1970s.

The rest of the line-up – Chris Barber on trombone, Pat Halcox on trumpet, Ian Wheeler on reeds and harmonica, and John Slaughter on electric guitar – remained the same until 1968, although the front line did take time out for a quick "back to the roots" session with Barry Martyn and his rhythm section on Collaboration, a terrific LP (and now a CD with bonus tracks) that showed that Chris, Pat, and Ian could still play in the traditional style with authenticity and feeling.

By 1967, the band's sound and repertoire are best described as eclectic, as witnessed by the varied selection of tunes recorded in concert for the Live In Hamburg 67 album. It was in the last year of the 64-68 period, too, that seven of the tracks on the ground-breaking Battersea Rain Dance LP were recorded. Ian was still there for these tracks, but he left in June 1968, to be replaced by John Crocker, with whom the band completed Battersea Rain Dance and went on to record the pioneering and sometimes puzzling Drat The Fratle Rat album and the two-LP set, Get Rolling. But that's the next chapter in the story....

The interpretations and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, Ed Jackson, and are not necessarily endorsed by Chris Barber or the other past and present members of the band mentioned above.

Photographs, 1964 to 1968
Note: We have been unable to find a full band photo for the line-up that included
Eddie Smith on banjo after John Slaughter joined the band (July to November 1964).
New members of the band at each stage are shown in bold font.

The Chris Barber Band, November 1964 to March 1966
Back row: John Slaughter, Dick Smith, Stu Morrison, Graham Burbidge
Front row: Ian Wheeler, Chris Barber, Pat Halcox

The Chris Barber Band, March 1966 to May 1967
Left to right: Graham Burbidge, Stu Morrison, Pat Halcox, Micky Ashman,
John Slaughter, Ian Wheeler, Chris Barber
John Slaughter
Eddie Smith, Stu Morrison
Dick Smith, Micky Ashman, Jackie Flavelle
The Chris Barber Band, May 1967 to June 1968
Left to right: Ian Wheeler, Pat Halcox, Jackie Flavelle, Graham Burbidge,
Stu Morrison, John Slaughter, Chris Barber
Record Covers, 1964-1968 (including CD re-issues)
Partial List of Recordings by the 1964 to 1968 Bands
Date Track title Most accessible current source
Chris Barber, Pat Halcox, Ian Wheeler, John Slaughter, Eddie Smith, Dick Smith, and Graham Burbidge
640805 Finishing Straight Blues Book Vol. 1 / Good Mornin' Blues
640805 Good Mornin' Blues Blues Book Vol. 1 / Good Mornin' Blues
640805 If I Had A Ticket Blues Book Vol. 1 / Good Mornin' Blues
640805 Mary-Ann Blues Book Vol. 1 / Good Mornin' Blues
640805 Sweetest Little Baby Blues Book Vol. 1 / Good Mornin' Blues
640805 Who's Been Here Since I've Been Gone? Blues Book Vol. 1 / Good Mornin' Blues
640813 Ballad Of The Liver Bird, The The Best of Chris Barber's Jazz Band
640813 Brands Hatch The Best of Chris Barber's Jazz Band
640914 Hamp's Blues Blues Book Vol. 1 / Good Mornin' Blues
640914 Hamp's Blues The Best of Chris Barber's Jazz Band
640914 Jeep's Blues Blues Book Vol. 1 / Good Mornin' Blues
640914 Morning Train Blues Book Vol. 1 / Good Mornin' Blues
640914 Morning Train The Best of Chris Barber's Jazz Band
640916 Back To The Country Blues Book Vol. 1 / Good Mornin' Blues
640916 Bad Luck Blues Blues Book Vol. 1 / Good Mornin' Blues
640916 Frankie And Johnny Blues Book Vol. 1 / Good Mornin' Blues
640916 When Things Go Wrong Blues Book Vol. 1 / Good Mornin' Blues
Chris Barber, Pat Halcox, Ian Wheeler, John Slaughter, Stu Morrison, Dick Smith, and Graham Burbidge
650119 Over In The Gloryland In The Beginning
650119 Tiger Rag In The Beginning
650408 Good Morning Blues Dans Le Vent
650408 Long Tall Shorty Dans Le Vent
650408 Mary-Ann Dans Le Vent
650408 Sweetest Little Baby Dans Le Vent
650409 Diving Duck Blues Dans Le Vent
650409 Jeep's Blues Dans Le Vent
650409 Mama Talk To Your Daughter Dans Le Vent
650409 Who's Been Here Since I've Been Gone? Dans Le Vent
650415 Hamp's Blues Dans Le Vent
650415 Howlin' For My Baby Dans Le Vent
650415 Mornin' Train Dans Le Vent
650415 Sideways Dans Le Vent
Chris Barber, Pat Halcox, Ian Wheeler, and Members of Barry "Kid" Martyn's Band
660609 All Of Me Collaboration
660609 Any Old Blues Collaboration
660609 Barber Shop Blues Collaboration
660609 Bill Bailey Collaboration
660609 Careless Love Collaboration
660609 Margie Collaboration
660609 Maryland, My Maryland Collaboration
660609 Red Wing Collaboration
660609 Sheik Of Araby, The Collaboration
660609 Some Of These Days Collaboration
660609 You Are My Sunshine Collaboration
Chris Barber, Pat Halcox, Ian Wheeler, John Slaughter, Stu Morrison, Micky Ashman, and Graham Burbidge
661231 Gimme That Old Time Religion Hot Gospel
669999 Jesus Is A Rock Hot Gospel
670216 Leaning On The Lord Hot Gospel
Chris Barber, Pat Halcox, Ian Wheeler, John Slaughter, Stu Morrison, Jackie Flavelle, and Graham Burbidge
670622 Mercy, Mercy, Mercy Battersea Rain Dance
670720 Cat Call Battersea Rain Dance
670720 People Get Ready Battersea Rain Dance
671018 I Think It's Going To Rain Today Battersea Rain Dance
671108 Down By The Riverside Live in Hamburg 1967
671108 Down Home Rag Live in Hamburg 1967
671108 Get Right Church And Let's Go Home Live in Hamburg 1967
671108 Harlem Bound Live in Hamburg 1967
671108 I Never Shall Forget Live in Hamburg 1967
671108 Mack The Knife Live in Hamburg 1967
671108 Saratoga Swing Live in Hamburg 1967
671108 Some Of These Days Live in Hamburg 1967
671108 When The Saints Live in Hamburg 1967
671108 Worksong Live in Hamburg 1967
680325 Dooji Wooji Battersea Rain Dance
680528 Better Get It In Your Soul Battersea Rain Dance
680528 Sleepy John Battersea Rain Dance

Chris Barber Jazz Band / Jazz & Blues Band page.