The Barbican Music Library is hosting a unique music history and culture exhibition for nearly four months this summer (26th May to 19th September 2022).
Charting the rise of the music that became the 'British Blues Explosion' that detonated on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1960s, changing popular music forever, the British Blues Exhibition showcases exhibits ranging over a hundred years of music. Content features the 'Boat That Rocked' (Radio Caroline), The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Cream, and Jools Holland.
This exhibition is dedicated to Chris Barber, the British trombonist and band leader who unobtrusively supported many musicians and was crucial to the development of a uniquely British blend of sound.
After the debacle of the US/UK American Federation of Musicians/Musicians Union ban on UK and US musicians playing either side of the pond in the 1940s and 50s, the UK music scene had been starved of much of the powerful influence of American roots music. The continuing austerity in Britain, which followed after the second world war, offered little in the way of music which appealed to young people. Many dance halls required chaperones, and jazz events were considered too risqué for well-to-do youngsters to be attending; the word 'jazz' was even used as an adjective to describe lewd behaviour. However, the hunger for new and different music, fuelled by the enticing sounds on the few records which made their way to the UK market, led to opportunities for entrepreneurs like Ronnie Scott, who opened a small jazz club in London with no drinks licence but great live music. British young people hit back, taking over the music scene, accessing the notorious 'bottle clubs' of Soho, where alcohol, music, and dancing flowed freely without supervision or regulations.
These illicit drinking dens attracted musicians who played dynamic, diverse music. Music had moved on in America and Europe, especially the jazz and blues genres, but Britain had not had much (legal) influence from the US. While jazz and blues remained linked irrevocably to the music which had emanated from America, UK musicians, including Ronnie Scott, George Melly, Humphrey Lyttleton, and Chris Barber, developed their own style. Some stayed close to traditional jazz, using variations of the New Orleans jazz style, but others introduced very different sounds and a new way of looking at roots music. The musicians were part of a powerful sector of music society that challenged established canons and changed how things worked in the UK music scene.
Danceable, challenging, and joyful, the live music scene became an essential part of a young person's rite of passage into adulthood and beyond. Trumpeter Humphrey Lyttleton, trombonist Chris Barber, and saxophonist Ronnie Scott contributed to the establishment of venues that allowed free players a platform to play to a growing audience. These young musicians were virtually anarchists in their day, merging jazz and blues into new, cool-sounding music that the younger generation loved. Donald Christopher (Chris) Barber was influenced by New Orleans jazz groups, including King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. While other musicians ventured into the realms of new styles and freer jazz, Barber remained essentially a traditional jazz musician.
In the early 1950s, Barber created a rolling ensemble of musicians, including cornet player Ken Colyer, clarinetist Monty Sunshine, and other musicians. He formed several bands and became known as 'The Godfather' of British blues and jazz. Colyer left to visit New Orleans, where he was influenced heavily by the NOLA sound. When he returned in 1954, Colyer and Barber played again but soon went their separate ways, with Colyer concentrating on a NOLA sound while Barber led the trad movement in the UK, and in 1954 Barber established Chris Barber's Jazz Band.
Although steeped in jazz, Barber also liked blues music and was integral in establishing a very British blues scene during the 1960s. He arranged UK tours of several blues artists, including Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry, Big Bill Broonzy, and others. Without Barber, many people would not have heard American blues sung by American musicians.
Barber was behind the success of many musicians, including Northern Irish blues singer Ottilie Patterson and skiffle player Lonnie Donegan. They played in Barber's ensembles, and Donegan honed his 'skiffle' music which developed into rock and roll. John Mayall, and many other musicians, were influenced by Barber. You can hear many of them as guest artists on the 2011 release, 'Memories of My Trip' (Last Music Company), which was released to celebrate Barber's career of over 60 years. Contributors include Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, Rory Gallagher, Lonnie Donegan, Jeff Healy, Van Morrison, Paul Jones, Edmond Hall, Albert Nicholas, Jools Holland, and Mark Knopfler.
Importantly, Barber provided sponsorship to African-American musicians so they could come to the UK. His championing of the British Blues scene saw a burgeoning talent spill over into overseas markets. The blues/skiffle/rock/jazz/blues bend of music created a distinctively British sound, which was popular in the United States. During the late 1960s, the UK was exporting music to America, from whence the foundation of jazz had initially come, in a glorious full circle of events.
Barber's blend of jazz and blues saw his Jazz Band become the Chris Barber Jazz and Blues Band in the late 1960s, and Barber continued to support both genres. The band swelled from eight to eleven members.
The exhibition covers eras from trad jazz to skiffle, the British Blues Explosion, and pub rock, right up to contemporary artists such as Rag' N' Bone Man, Connor Selby and Andy Twyman.
In an immersive experience, you can see musical instruments, books, sheet music, posters, and some eclectic ephemera and memorabilia that tell some of the forgotten stories of the steps along the path of the rise of popular music.
The exhibition features vinyl and other format releases that helped carry the African-American roots music worldwide. An original Howlin' Wolf 78rpm release donated by a board member of the Blues Foundation in the US has pride of place.
Although primarily about a remarkable musical history, the exhibition also reflects the cultural impact of blues music and has exhibits from artists including Stella Tooth and Pete Marsh. There is clothing, theatre; food and drink; books, and more.
John Mayall co-founded the Marquee Club in Oxford Street with Barber. He worked with Alexis Korner (founder of the Ealing Club, the first electric blues venue in the UK, whose diamond jubilee is this year, an anniversary the club shares with the Rolling Stones.
Mayall has donated a signed harmonica to the display. There is a trombone from Barber himself, a hat from British Blues singer Connie Lush, and items from Muddy Water's eldest son, Mud Morganfield, and ex-frontman of the band Fun Lovin' Criminals, Huey Morgan. Poet and Cream lyricist Pete Brown added a facsimile of the original lyric sheet for 'I Feel Free' (from the 1966 Cream album 'Fresh Cream' ) to the exhibition.
Other notable exhibits include a rare 'tea chest' bass as used by impromptu bands in the frantic, short-lived, but glorious rise of skiffle, led by Lonnie Donegan. There are washboards, including one used by the Crane River Jazz Band featuring a cartoon by artist Diz Disley. A copy of the only British Blues release to reach number 1 in the pop charts, the 45rpm single 'Little Red Rooster' by The Rolling Stones, comes from the Radio Caroline Music Library.
The exhibition has previously appeared at locations including The Musical Museum, The House of Lords, The Eel Pie Club, and the Great British R'n'B Festival in Colne, but this exhibition at The Barbican holds the most exhibition content ever displayed in one location.
Chair of the City of London Corporation's Culture, Heritage and Libraries Committee, Wendy Hyde, said: "This fascinating new exhibition is a must-see and hits all the right notes for music fans. It's great to see the Square Mile is a hive of activity again, and exhibitions like these are helping cement the City as the destination of choice for all."
Exhibition Founder Darren Weale comments, "I am very proud that the British Blues Exhibition is at the Barbican Music Library for so long. It is flanked by music history and students, which provides a very appropriate backdrop, and it's being in the world-famous music venue, the Barbican, that has hosted numerous Blues artists, notably the late bandleader Chris Barber, to whom this exhibition is dedicated."
Links: Website: www.britishbluesexhibition.co.uk
Facebook - www.facebook.com/BritishBluesEx
Instagram - www.instagram.com/britishbluesexhibition
Twitter - https://twitter.com/BritishBluesEx
Contact: Founder, Darren Weale. Email firstname.lastname@example.org; tel 07708 712011