Along with all music fans we are remembering the life of legendary British trad jazz bandleader Chris Barber who passed away yesterday (Tuesday 2 March).

A regular visitor to Lighthouse from when it opened in 1978 as Poole Arts Centre, he entertained thousands of local jazz fans as much with his warm personality and mine of entertaining stories as with his exemplary musicianship and band of crack jazz musicians.

In 1985 Poole was the first date on the first ever tour by the fabled Three B’s – Chris Barber, Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball – who defined British trad jazz.

A trombonist and double bassist, from the early 1950s he championed New Orleans-style trad jazz, first as a member of Ken Colyer’s band, then taking over as leader when Colyer left in 1954. He maintained the Chris Barber Jazz Band as a leading force in British jazz until his retirement in 2019, making it the world’s longest-lived and most popular trad jazz outfit.

In its earliest incarnation the Band nurtured the talents of Lonnie Donegan, Barber encouraging the young banjo player to front his own combo in the interval breaks where he developed the acoustic folk-jazz crossover style that became known as skiffle. The subsequent craze kick started the British rock ‘n’ roll boom that lead to the explosion of guitar-based pop in the 1960s and into punk rock in the 1970s.

As well as hot housing the talents of British blues godhead Alexis Korner (whose own band became a proving ground for future members of The Rolling Stones and Cream among others) Chris Barber also arranged the first British tours of blues artists like Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and Big Bill Broonzy.

In more recent decades he played and recorded with the likes of Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, Jools Holland, and Dorset’s very own Billy Bragg at the Royal Albert Hall in a 2015 concert to celebrate the music of Leadbelly.

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Published 3 March 2021