A man with attitude – and tal­ent

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By KARL DU FRESNE

Welling­ton mu­si­cians gather on Sun­day to hon­our a pi­anist and for­mer mu­sic teacher whose name be­came a by­word among his peers for his ex­act­ing pro­fes­sion­al­ism.

Long-time Ti­tahi Bay res­i­dent Bob Bar­cham, 82 to­mor­row, be­gan play­ing pro­fes­sion­ally in the late 1940s and was still do­ing reg­u­lar gigs with the X7s dance band as re­cently as late last year.

He last played in Auck­land ear­lier this month at the 80th birth­day cel­e­bra­tions of his old mate Graeme Saker, a fel­low mem­ber of the band that played at Welling­ton’s fa­mous Ma­jes­tic Cabaret in the 1950s.

‘‘I drove up for Graeme’s birth­day and ended up play­ing for the af­ter­noon with the Vintage Jazz Band, the leader of which [trum­peter Lind­say Meech] is one of my ex-pupils,’’ Bar­cham said.

‘‘A vintage jazz band isn’t my metier, but they want me back. They were a bit im­pressed, I think, to see this dod­dery old guy get up and play.

‘‘I think I play slightly bet­ter than most of them,’’ he added mis­chie­vously.

Name a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment, and chances are Bar­cham has played it: piano ac­cor­dion, cello, dou­ble bass, E-flat bass (a brass in­stru­ment) and trum­pet, to name a few. He even toured with the New Zealand Sym­phony Orches­tra as a per­cus­sion­ist.

There’s no doubt though about his pre­ferred in­stru­ments.

‘‘If peo­ple ask me what in­stru­ments I play, I say the piano and the or­gan.’’

It was as a pi­anist that he be­came a fix­ture at the Ma­jes­tic Cabaret dur­ing its golden era in the 1950s and 60s. His ser­vices were also in de­mand for record­ing ses­sions and he toured with artists as di­verse as the Bri­tish co­me­dian Jimmy Ed­wards and Welsh torch singer Shirley Bassey. Bar­cham si­mul­ta­ne­ously pur­sued a ca­reer as a mu­sic teacher, tu­tor­ing an av­er­age 80 pupils a week for 40 years.

Though he’s an en­ter­tain­ing ra­con­teur with a dry sense of hu­mour, he ad­mits no one ever hired him for his per­son­al­ity.

He re­calls the leader of the band at the Ma­jes­tic, the late Don Richard­son, once told him the other mu­si­cians didn’t like his attitude.

‘‘So I said, ‘ How’s my play­ing?’ He said, ‘It’s al­ways im­pec­ca­ble’. So I said, ‘ Well, that’s all you need to worry about’.’’

He had a long and close pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ship with Richard­son, but it was of­ten prickly.

Bar­cham tells of a time when they didn’t speak for months and a fel­low mem­ber of the band in­stalled phones on the band­stand so Richard­son could bark in­struc­tions down the line.

On one fa­bled oc­ca­sion, a cabaret pa­tron lurched up to Bar­cham and asked how he could call a taxi.

Bar­cham cranked the han­dle on the phone and handed it to the pa­tron, who found him­self talk­ing to an iras­ci­ble and un­com­pre­hend­ing Richard­son.

Bar­cham laments that most of his mu­si­cal con­tem­po­raries have passed on. He counts him­self lucky that he’s not only still alive, hav­ing sur­vived a life-threat­en­ing cancer, but re­mains mar­ried to Jean, his wife of nearly 63 years.

‘‘That must be a world record in the mu­sic trade,’’ he says.

In Sun­day’s tribute, or­gan­ised by the Welling­ton Jazz Club, the X7s will play orig­i­nal ar­range­ments writ­ten by Bar­cham. The venue is the James Cook Ho­tel and the per­for­mance starts at 5pm.

Photo: ES­THER LAUAKI

The piano man: You name it, Bob Bar­cham will play it – and that goes for the in­stru­ment as well as the tune. The mu­si­cian and teacher will be the sub­ject of a tribute con­cert by the Welling­ton Jazz Club this week­end.

Golden days: Bar­cham play­ing at the Ma­jes­tic Cabaret in 1952, along­side Tony Noorts.

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