Ex­tra ver­min

This month’s wan­der­ing plu­toid in rock ob­scu­ria’s end­less night, a freak­out for trad jazz trom­bone and elec­tric gui­tar.

Mojo (UK) - - Buried Treasure - Ben Thomp­son

Chris Bar­ber Drat That Fra­tle Rat!

THERE’S A SPE­CIAL feel­ing when you’ve been al­lowed to give an al­bum you’ve never heard be­fore a spin on the sec­ond-hand record shop stereo and within 20 sec­onds of it start­ing all the other cus­tomers’ façades of cool have crum­bled in their des­per­a­tion to know what it is. Chris Bar­ber’s Drat That Fra­tle Rat! de­liv­ers that sen­sa­tion on toast. The open­ing four-minute ti­tle-track sug­gests the great In­di­anapo­lis jazz trom­bon­ist JJ John­son jam­ming with Clear Spot-era Beef­heart while the soundtrack of an omi­nous Lat­vian film about in­ter­na­tional ship­ping plays out in the back­ground. Then Rory Gal­lagher re­ally cuts loose. Track two, The Fall­ing Song, is a lovely plain­tive seven-minute bal­lad pitched some­where between Traf­fic at their most in­ter­nal and Joe Cocker at his least bom­bas­tic. And whose is that lovely soul­ful voice? It’s Tony Ash­ton of Res­ur­rec­tion Shuf­fle trio Ash­ton, Gard­ner & Dyke, and he’s brought his band­mates along with him on bass and drums. Clos­ing side one in a deliri­ous – not to say psy­che­delic – mi­asma of laugh­ing po­lice­man trom­bone, Fe­galemic Pe­ga­loomer lo­cates its in­stru­men­tal non­sense po­etry within some su­perbly funky un­der­growth. It’s clear that you’re lis­ten­ing to per­haps the great­est trad jazz trom­bone/clas­sic rock gui­tar crossover LP of all time, so let’s save side two ’til we’ve got some back-story. St. John Earp’s cover paint­ing gives us few clues. With its hooded fig­ure climb­ing a stair­case to a ru­ined tower, it’s the sort of thing Roger Dean might have done for an imag­i­nary Cy­mande con­cept long-player cel­e­brat­ing the works of JRR Tolkien. Even though he still makes the oc­ca­sional live ap­pear­ance, track­ing down 88-year-old Bri­tish jazz in­sti­tu­tion Chris Bar­ber to ask him how all this hap­pened presents some­thing of an in­ves­tiga­tive chal­lenge. Early web­site leads run omi­nously cold, but a ser­pen­tine trail lead­ing from early the Old Grey Whis­tle Test pre­sen­ter Richard Williams through two for­mer mem­bers of Man­fred Mann even­tu­ally elic­its a wel­come late-night phone-call from the great man. “We weren’t glo­ri­fy­ing our­selves for play­ing weird stuff,” Bar­ber ex­plains. ”It was just like-minded peo­ple con­gre­gat­ing to­gether and trying to do things that hadn’t been done be­fore. By the early ’70s there wasn’t so much gig­ging go­ing on, but while Rory was record­ing with us we played one con­cert with him at a disused cin­ema in Swindon.” Far from the aber­ra­tion that it might ini­tially ap­pear to be, Drat That Fra­tle Rat!’s very Bri­tish kind of jazz-rock fu­sion is en­tirely in keep­ing with Bar­ber’s sta­tus as one of the found­ing fa­thers of the Bri­tish blues boom. Not only did he play bass on skif­fle rosetta stone Rock Is­land Line with then band-mem­ber Lon­nie Done­gan in a his­toric mo­ment of stu­dio down­time, he also helped bring over the great blues­men he met tour­ing Amer­ica on Mu­si­cians Union ex­change tours for the early UK ex­pe­di­tions which would be the foun­da­tion of ev­ery­thing that came af­ter. “It all went back to The Mar­quee, re­ally,” says Bar­ber. “We hated play­ing the 100 Club in the early ’60s – you can lis­ten to a band OK there but the sound when you’re play­ing is aw­ful, so we pre­ferred to cross Ox­ford Street to Gior­gio Gomel­sky’s Thurs­day blues nights… the Stones were start­ing up and a lot of good things hap­pened. That’s the spirit Drat That Fra­tle Rat! was made in, so it was fit­ting we made it in the Mar­quee Stu­dios, which was in Rich­mond Mews, round the back of the club.” In terms of spirit, per­son­nel and tit­u­lar lin­guis­tics, Drat That Fra­tle Rat! had its gen­e­sis in two tracks from Bar­ber’s pre­vi­ous LP, 1971’s partly live dou­ble Get Rolling! The off-kil­ter swing of Shoe­man The Hu­man fea­tures Stone The Crows drum­mer Colin Allen, and the amaz­ing 14-minute Balkan folk-tinged tour de force Ubava Zabava (writ­ten by Bar­ber, in­spired by mu­sic heard in a Yu­goslav restaurant while play­ing in Düs­sel­dorf) goes about as far out there as Bri­tish jazz ever has. The man with his hand on the tiller of Bar­ber’s new direc­tion was Cana­dian (but Lon­don-born) ukulele-player and gui­tarist Steve Ham­mond, who pro­duced both al­bums. “He was a ver y in­ter­est­ing mu­si­cian,” Bar­ber re­mem­bers fondly of the man who re­placed Noel Red­ding in Fat Mat­tress, “and he helped us bring to­gether all these odd lit­tle ideas we’d had.” Among these ideas were song-ti­tles which twisted jazz hip­ster-speak into what Bar­ber calls “the Bri­tish kind of non­sense” – a habit dat­ing back through fel­low jazz-buffs The Goons to Ed­ward Lear. “It was just mis­hear­ings, chang­ing words slightly so you used one where you meant an­other,” he says, “for ex­am­ple, the ‘Fe­galemic’ in Fe­galemic Pe­ga­loomer started out as ‘phal­lic’.” Along­side these “words that were nearly other words”, Drat That Fra­tle Rat! of­fers the lis­tener mu­sic that is nearly other mu­sic, in the form of an early ’70s Bri­tish jazz rar­ity that might as well be a great late ’90s Jim O’Rourke al­bum. Side two starts with the amaz­ing Earth Abides – imag­ine one of Jim Parker’s cham­ber jazz rhap­sodies for John Bet­je­man re-recorded by Chris McGre­gor’s Broth­er­hood Of Breath. Sleepy Louie brings Rory Gal­lagher back into the spot­light for a sec­ond woozy pub gar­den blues fantasia, be­fore O’Reilly brings us home in brac­ingly ab­stract and fu­sion-friendly shape with a lit­tle help from – who else? – Third Ear Band stal­wart and Space Od­dity and Miles Davis’s On The Cor­ner ar­ranger Paul Buck­mas­ter. It’s space-rock, Jim, but not as we know it.

“We weren’t glo­ri­fy­ing our­selves for play­ing weird stuff.” CHRIS BAR­BER

’Bone idol: Chris Bar­ber with elec­tric friends: (be­low) guest player Rory Gal­lagher.

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