Wednesday 12 June 2013

Bob Barter - The missing who's who

Bob Barter - piano
Barter's Band has an almost mythical status in South London Jazz circles. I'd heard the talk of course, although information always seemed a little hazy after a heavy night in a Jazz man's company, but sometimes fate deals you a handsome hand and you have to experience these things yourself. So last Sunday afternoon (09/06/2013) I was invited to The Berry, Berrylands by Dieter Kadan, to experience a modest incarnation of the legend itself.

Just two days earlier I had been watching Partikel at the Queen Elizabeth Foyer where they introduced one of their new tunes 'Barter's Band' , a brilliant composition with more swing than a cross-dressing Lancashire bowler. The writer of this said piece, saxophonist Duncan Eagles, asked the audience whether news of his muse had spread to their ears. Strangely there was a silence so as soon as I got home I checked out John Chilton's "Who's Who of British Jazz" but found nothing between the entries BARRITEAU, Carl Aldri Stanley and BARTON, John. I did find the briefest of references under the name JACKSON, Alan Richard, the talented drummer I'd had the fortune of sketching just a few weeks before at Croydon's Green Dragon.

Jimmy Hastings -
Saxophone & Flute
When you see Bob Barter for the first time you wonder why there isn't a whole damn book written about him. He is a rumble of disconnected energy, a man whose chaos is magnetic and like his audio equipment he looks as though he has experienced his fair share of frontline action. There is an unmistakable charm and it is obvious the modest audience are here because of Bob and his music. You can tell that music flows through his veins not just because he sports a piano tie or because he is still composing for Swiss Radio but because once the music starts the chaos ends.

Jenny Howe - Vocals
The man before me on Saxophone couldn't have been more  different in appearance. Jimmy Hastings has a precision and calmness about him, maybe to balance the energy of Barter and he was exemplary on the Nat Adderley/J.J Johnson tune 'Horace'. With pristine tie tucked into a fitted waistcoat he played lean and clean, and was the prow of Barter's Quartet until they adopted a figurehead to drive their vessel into fresh waters.

Paul Morgan -
Jenny Howe like all good figureheads is carved out of strong stuff. Clear of voice and spirit, the only disappointment was that her bows broke upon so few of us in The Berry's shallow waters. She is a fine vocalist, and I have not heard a better 'Close Your Eyes' in my time on the circuit.

Kevin Campbell -
Our succinct drummer was Kevin Campbell, an understated, tidy and handsome individual. He kept rhythmic house with remarkable efficiently and if this is a reflection of his attentiveness at his real abode I'd marry him in a shot.
Paul Morgan on bass wasn't at his most dynamic unfortunately. The last time I saw him with Dave O'Higgins he was on devastating form, wiping the floor in support and solo. That is not to say he wasn't entertaining, his facial expressions are worth the entrance fee. No other performer can switch from Winston Churchill to Georges Melies' Man with a Rubber Head with just a twitch of his cheek muscles.

Face in the Crowd
Bob Barter was not as his best in the early numbers too and it seems he needs some momentum behind him. An early indication of his excellent skills was the arrangement/interpretation of 'Joy Spring' and there was a sudden realisation of what had inspired Duncan Eagles to write his 'Barter's Band' tribute. By the end of the second set Barter was absolutely grooving with his quartet, and with a finale of 'Route 66' left us all wondering what would happen if we kept on going down Route 67 and into Latin climes.

The crowd amongst me were informative and friendly, I had fascinating conversations with Malcolm Ludlum and the original bongo player from 'The Diminished Fifth Five', John May. Both regaled me with anecdotes and slices of Jazz history I had never heard before, let alone tasted. Malcolm and John's stories only whetted my appetite for what must also be locked in Bob Barter's memory. It would be a great honour to hear some more and publish them here.

As you may know in one of my other guises I am a director at publishers Sampson Low Ltd, and this encounter with Bob Barter has spurred me on to update the Who's Who of British Jazz with a healthy entry for the man and musician himself. It would be a heroic task but I think fitting for a Jazz scene that has both vibrant young flair and an experienced core that continues to inspire.


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