At 85 years young, Chris Barber is still going strong, touring with his Big Chris Barber Band with a date at Martlets Hall, Burgess Hill, on Saturday, June 13, at 7.30pm.
“I don’t feel anything like that age!” says Chris. “I don’t feel any different from when I was 30 or 35. I am lucky that I seem to have a body that has a pretty good system for fighting off diseases!”
For Chris, his Burgess Hill trip brings him back to the county where his father was educated. He was a student at Christ’s Hospital.
“My mother wasn’t musical. My father was. He learnt to play the violin at school. He went to Christ’s Hospital, and I think he must have been happy there, enjoying learning. From there he went to college. He was actually a mathematician and economist. He was taught by John Maynard Keynes.
“But he must have been playing the violin pretty well at Christ’s Hospital. They had a full orchestra, and he was the leader of the orchestra – so he must have been good!”
Chris took up the violin in turn, and he can’t say he didn’t enjoy it.
Nor can he say he positively enjoyed it. He heard forces radio, he heard jazz and he realised that was where his future lay.
Chris started playing, and it was chance that made the trombone his instrument: “The trombone-player tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Do you want to buy a trombone?’ I said ‘How much?’ He said “£6”, and I had £6 in my pocket.”
And so Chris was up and running – and hasn’t stopped.
“The success we had selling seats in the 1950s wasn’t much different to what The Beatles had in the 1960s. They hadn’t got into football stadiums yet, but in the 1960s huge success was big news. During the 1950s, huge success was not big news. I suppose people just weren’t tuned into it then. We had rationing, and things were different.
“And then The Beatles and groups like that made the big breakthrough, and they were treated like film stars straight away. When we started with trad jazz bands, we had that kind of success, but people just weren’t interested.”
Maybe they are more appreciated now.
Chris’ band stands out as one of the finest of its kind anywhere in the world, playing everything from new Orleans jazz and blues to late ’20s Ellington.
Tickets cost £20. Call 01444 242888.
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