Never too old for good music

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Jazz icon Chris Barber is proof that, no matter your age, if you are a talented musician you just want to keep entertaining audiences.

As he prepares to take to the stage at Falkirk Town Hall next month for the first FalkirkLive! music festival, he recalls that it is almost 70 years since he formed his first band.

The effervescent 88-year-old is acknowledged as not only the leader of one of the finest jazz bands in the world, but also the main inspiration for well-known pop and rock stars.

It was Bill Wyman who admitted “without Chris the Stones and the Beatles would be where they are now”.

However, music was never meant to be his first career and he was following in his father’s footsteps in mathematics until he failed the exams to become an actuary.

He said: “I was working for a life insurance company at the time. They said ‘would you mind taking your trombone somewhere else?’. They were quite humorous about it, they understood music had taken me over by that time.”

However, when he started his band it was never about making money, rather an opportunity to make music and learn. It was initially called Ken Colyer’s Jazzmen even though it was a co-operative and Chris was driving force.

Musical differences eventually saw Ken depart and they have been known as the Big Chris Barber Band ever since.

Of the musicians Chris has played with and most admired, he recalls how he appeared alongside Louis Armstrong at a charity concert in Ibrox Stadium, Glasgow. They had also appeared together on the other side of the Atlantic at the Hollywood Bowl in 1960.

Chris recalls: “He was most interested in music and he showed it by playing it perfectly all the time. A very nice man, very helpful to other people – a good fellow altogether.”

The craze started by Chris and Lonnie Donegan was another landmark for British music, leading to a throng of youngsters starting bands, including John Lennon with The Quarrymen, which evolved into The Beatles.

Chris added: “The main highlight has been being able to play this music the way I love to play it, having enough good players to be able to do it well and be appreciated – and to keep on being able to do it.”

The Big Chris Barber Band appear at Falkirk Town Hall on Saturday, October 15, at 8pm.

For details of next month’s festival www.falkirklive.com.