Chris Barber: 'He only had to stamp his foot four times and New Orleans came to town'
WHEN your hero dies, it hurts. All the years of admiration, memories, loving and losing, crowd into your mind and I have such memories in spades following the death of jazz man extraordinaire Chris Barber.
I’m of the generation when Dixieland dominated our lives. The names are legendary now: Chris's wife, blues singer Ottilie Patterson; Kenny Ball; Acker Bilk; Jackie Flavelle; Lonnie Donegan; even Van Morrison played with the band - they were a jiver's delight.
Chris was 90 years old and suffering dementia when he died on March 2. His life story was one of music.
A trombone player who would saunter across the stage to Flavelle and share his double bass, Monty Sunshine’s clarinet took the Barber band to international fame with Petite Fleur.
Trumpeter Pat Halcox worked with him for 54 years - this man was obviously a good boss.
Chris played here on numerous occasions, from Queen's Festival to Queen’s Hall in Holywood and the Floral Hall, where we often paused energetic jiving to listen, such was his magnetism. He was the soundtrack of our teenage years.
Imagine my delight when on my way home from school along Queen’s Arcade I saw Barber and Patterson strolling towards me.
I was totally overcome but had the presence of mind to pull out an exercise book and ask for their autographs. It was the beginning of a love affair with him and devotion to her.
Jazz became part of my life and Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight was my favourite. In contrast, in Queen’s Hall, he played Sitting and a’Rocking, slow and sensual. A man for all seasons.
Celia McMorran saw the personal side of the man, the husband who was concerned about his wife.
“Chris was a regular in my father’s art gallery in Shaftesbury Square and he mentioned that he was hoping to find someone to visit Ottilie when he was away."
Her dad, Tom Caldwell, suggested his daughter and her friends would be happy to travel to Rostrevor where the couple lived at the time.
“We enjoyed ourselves so much we just kept going back. He was away a lot playing with the band all over Europe and we loved our time with her. Sometimes she’d play the piano and sing so we came to love the music, we have such special memories.”
The last time I saw Chris was in the Waterfront Hall in 2015 when we were dancing in the aisles. He only had to stamp his foot four times and New Orleans came to town.
All the old faces were in the audience and I was beside myself with delight, especially when Hero and I had a great chat during the interval.
The last word, however, must go to Walter Love, our own jazz aficionado.
“He was a national figure, unique, he and his band ruled the roost for years. They were an accompaniment to most of my life," he said.
"We loved him and his band, they loved him all over Europe and they loved him in America. Just listen to Bobby Shafto to hear the complete joy in his music.”