“Before the Beatles, Britain was Trad mad,” says the publicity blurb for a show which Richard Pite’s Jazz Repertory Company will bring to Cadogan Hall on Sunday afternoon 5 April, and which will bring back to life what Pite calls this “jubilant and lively music”. Feature by Peter Vacher:
In that jazz as a first-wave musical form was of unashamedly American origin, it’s heartening to recall a special strand of the music that, uniquely, emanated from the British Isles. We called it ‘Trad’ and managed to sell it to the Americans in a classic example of ‘carrying coals to Newcastle’. Well before what was called ‘the British invasion’ when beat and rock groups like the Beatles and the Stones conquered the US, the great triumvirate of British Trad, Chris Barber, Kenny Ball and Acker Bilk had also achieved exceptional success in America, through their hit-parade recordings and tours. Indeed, so comprehensive was their acclaim that local artists felt impelled to cover some of the British team’s hit discs. As an example, Bilk’s evocative solo clarinet composition, Stranger on the Shore, was recorded by 26 different US bands, as well as by any number of other UK and European artists. Mind you, Bilk himself recorded it 25 times! Much the same can be said for Ball’s lively arrangement of the Russian tune, Midnight in Moscow, which logged no less than 100 recorded versions.
All this and more, much more, will be reveled in and recreated when the Barber, Bilk and Ball Stars take to the Cadogan Hall stage on Sunday afternoon, 5 April, to relive those heady days. So just what was ‘Trad’ and how can we explain its enduring appeal? I asked concert promoter Richard Pite of the Jazz Repertory Company these very same questions. “Well,” he said, “Trad came about as local jazz bands gave early jazz, as originated and fostered in New Orleans, a uniquely British sound and style and that’s what we’re celebrating.”
But he hastened to add , “It’s Trad, Dad is just the second in a series of six diverse shows that we’re presenting at Cadogan Hall this year. Here are the others:
- Back In January, it was fourth-time round for Pete Long’s recreation of Benny Goodman’s famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert. With a full house yet again.
- On 13 June Claire Martin returns for the second Swingin’ With Strings show and a week later it’s the premiere of A Night at the Harlem Apollo: 1960, when we’ll recall the music of Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Ray Charles, Dinah Washington et al.
- On 26 September, the Chicagoan trumpeter Andy Schumm will evoke the Roaring 20s under MD Keith Nichols’ expert baton
- On 22 November, it’s our EFG London Jazz Festival special presentation, Bossa Nova With Strings, featuring the music of Stan Getz, Frank Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim.” …Phew.
“I think it would be fair to say,” Pite added, “that the majority of our audience for this Trad concert is of an age when they remember spending their pocket money or their wages on records by Ball, Bilk and Barber, as well as on those by Terry Lightfoot or Alex Welsh, and seeking these bands out at clubs and concert halls up and down the country. More to the point, that youthful affiliation to this jubilant, lively music has never wavered for many. They loved it then and they love it now.”
For a vital period in the 1950s and early 1960s, it should be explained, Trad Jazz became the soundtrack to British teenage social life. It was the music you heard on the radio and witnessed on television – think back to the time when the Kenny Ball band was resident on the Morecambe and Wise Show. It was music to have fun by, to dance to down at the youth club, to tap your feet to, and to share with your friends. As author Dave Gelly put it, “This was essentially a culture based on live music.” Never esoteric, never over-complicated, it felt good and did you good.
Yes, its players sought to pay homage to the great African American jazz originators but they did so with a uniquely British twist. Apprentice players burgeoned– indeed your writer was among them – and bands began to form country-wide. Even as parents disapproved and modernists scoffed, trad took hold, its best players soon proud to be professional, travelling far and wide, sometimes adopting rather outré band uniforms, recording companies anxious to sign them. And lo, the Trad boom was underway.
As many will know, Chris Barber retired recently and the last of the great bands of that era and genre was gone. Happily many trad fans are still around as are many of the younger generation of sidemen. Our leader is trombonist Ian Bateman who worked with Acker Bilk, Terry Lightfoot and Kenny Ball. He has assembled a band of young veterans, featuring trumpeter Ben Cummings (not in picture above), reedman Trevor Whiting, Craig Milverton on piano, John Day on bass and drummer Nick Millward, with the irrepressible Spats Langham on guitar and vocals, all of whom, performed with the great names of Trad.
Dust off your duffle coat, sit back and relish yet again what Pite calls the mad vigour of the music. Nostalgic, for sure, but hugely worthwhile too.