Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival

The Big Chris Barber Band

George Square Spiegeltent

Keith Bruce


ALONGSIDE the wealth of intricate technical detail of the Apollo 11 moon mission that I have recently discovered my 11-year-old brain found a berth for, it also harboured a deep resentment that I was not permitted to attend the memorial concert for Edinburgh’s Archie Sinclair, trombonist leader of Old Bailey and the Jazz Advocates, headlined by the Chris Barber Band. It now seems unlikely that my father ever actually gave such an undertaking, but the capital’s licensing laws were cited as the reason he took my mum instead, who would concede she was less besotted with jazz.

Roll on five decades, on the hard-to-top 70th anniversary of Barber founding the band, the leader himself is the notable absentee in a packed house, for a programme of music that leans heavily on the very beginning of New Orleans trad and is still very much in the spirit of Barber himself even if, at 89, he was not well enough to make this date.

The Spiegeltent Palais du Variete is a natural dance-hall, as Sunday’s gig by Sons of Kemet proved, but here the chairs were in serried ranks and when genial MC and highly articulate clarinettist Bert Brandsma encouraged everyone to clap along to a blues number, it was not hard to envisage a nurse wheeling in the medication trolley after tea. But Barber’s approach to jazz heritage was always a studious one, in contrast to the party-band attitude of some of his contemporaries on the hotel function suite circuit in the 1960s, and Brandsma maintains that academic approach, with chapter and verse on the origins of the tunes and their place in the long history of the band.

The Dutchman and his colleagues in the reeds section, Edinburgh man Ian Killoran and the positively youthful-looking Nick White, often have the best of the music, thanks to the arrangements by the man depping for Barber on trombone, Bob Hunt. Opening, of course, with Bourbon Street Parade, and closing with When the Saints, White channelled Monty Sunshine on Petite Fleur and Brandsma arguably added the solo of the evening to Ellington’s Jubilee Stomp. In (and for) this company, however, Miles Davis’s All Blues was a bit of a stretch.