Chris Barber – Farewell to The British Blues Pioneer

Very sad to hear the news about Chris Barber, pioneer of British Blues & Jazz who helped expose UK audiences to the likes of Sister Rosetta Tharpe & Muddy Waters by organising tours in the late 50’s. His band nurtured many musicians notably British skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan & Alexis Korner, the latter who is of course key to the story of the Ealing Club. 

The Chris Barber Band’s return to Ealing (Walpole Park 2018) – (Photo: R.Green)

There will be plenty of deserving homages from the world of British Music for a man who played the blues through a trombone and stand-up bass on Lonnie Donegan’s early skiffle hits Rock Island Line and Lost John.

In 1955 Rock Island Line was a top 10 hit in both the UK and US, and kickstarted the skiffle boom that inspired a generation of musicians including John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Townshend, Van Morrison, Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmore, David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler and many more.

In 1958 Barber brought  Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and other US blues musicians to the UK.

Barber and his band deserve so much more credit for the millions of guitarists who still play blues guitar to this day be they, from London, Seattle or Sydney. 

His passion and that of those around him for the music helped curate & develop an awareness of the blues that has elevated the genre’s influence above other comparable world music forms. 

As side note, he was also a major contributor to the National Jazz Federation, a body directed by Harold Pendleton, the founder of the Marquee Club. Thanks to their initiatives, The Richmond Jazz Festival came into existence. In 2021 those festival roots will continue in the form of The Reading Festival where no doubt many guitarists will acknowledge the blues of Chicago & New Orleans. 

May they all remember Chris Barber’s contribution to the Blues & to the UK festival circuit. 

Chris Barber was interviewed in Suburban Steps To Rockland – The Story of The Ealing Club at Questors Theatre, Ealing. A true gent!