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Jazz Remembered

 

Jazz Behind The Iron Curtain -
East Berlin 1965

by Stu Morrison

 

 

Stu Morrison and Chris Barber in East Berlin

 

Pat Halcox, John Slaughter, Chris Barber and Stu Morrison on the stage of the Friedrichstadt Palast
during their second visit to East Berlin in 1968

 

Stu Morrison, who joined the Chris Barber Band on banjo and guitar when Eddie Smith left in 1964, looks back on their tour of the DDR in 1965:

It wasn’t as though I hadn’t been or played abroad before. I’d first played a residency in the Netherlands with Cuff Billet and then in West Germany with the Mike Cotton Band. My first gig with Chris Barber was an All-Nighter in Toulouse, but this time was a bit different. We were to tour the DDR, East Germany, the first British Band, the first WESTERN Band to do so!

 

Stu Morrison

 

 

To detail every venue, Dresden, Leipzig, Halle, Eisenhüttenstadt, etc would take far too long, so I’m going to just concentrate on the high spot of the trip i.e. East Berlin, where we were to do two concerts on consecutive nights at the Friedrichstadt Palast, right in the centre of the City.

A lot of people think that the East West border was in Berlin but it wasn’t; it was at a place called Marianborn-Helmstadt or, at least, right by it. We arrived there at night and the scene was right out of an old black and white movie. Bright floodlights illuminated a series of barriers in an area patrolled by armed Border Police (Grenz Polizei), young, stony faced men, mostly conscripts, each with a slung light machine gun. Not cozy! Naturally, as we were guests of the Ministry of Culture our papers were all in order but nevertheless, the two Ford Cortina estates and Chris’ Alpha Romeo were thoroughly searched without a hint of a smile.

The drill was, once we were waved through, that we had to drive the 100 plus kilometres to Berlin without stopping! To do so would invite armed patrols with dogs, weapons and God knows what, as I heard later from a West German who’d broken down on one occasion.

We were staying at the Hotel Unter den Linden which was quite modern in an  “Ostelbisch” (Eastern-like) fashion. For instance, all the fittings in my bathroom which normally would be made of metal, taps, towel rails, etc. were of cream coloured plastic. Metal was a precious commodity in the Deutches Democratiche Republik.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we arrived a sleety snow was being driven by a very cold wind but it didn’t deter the six members of The Tower Jazzband who welcomed us with a spirited rendition of (of course!) The Saints and Chris immediately got his trombone out and joined in. He was good like that, it made their day. During our stay in Berlin we all became good friends.

 

Tower Jazz band welcome

 

Being welcomed by the Tower Jazz Band in freezing conditions outside our hotel.

 

At the hotel we were met by Karl-Heinz Drechsel who was to be our guide, “manager” and constant presence throughout. (You can hear his voice introducing the Band on the 1968 recording “Chris Barber in East Berlin” made when we returned and which is still selling.) He was from the Ministry, a Party member, immaculate in a suit he did NOT get in the DDR, more like Italy. His English was perfect, he was very smooth and friendly. It came as a surprise when I went into the hotel bar the following day accompanied by a local girl who stopped dead in her tracks saying “That’s Karl-Heinz Drechsel” and wouldn’t go in!

Concert Night. This was the first show. Both concerts were sold out 4 months in advance as soon as the tickets became available. As I’ve said, his was a State sponsored event and NO black marketeers would have risked trying it on. The theatre was old having survived World War 2 and resplendent in velvet curtains and red and gold paint. It was a nice venue and the atmosphere created by the audience was palpable, which helped us immensely.

People think that being a professional is being a super technician on your instrument. Not necessarily. Firstly you must be capable of producing your best performance night after night ‘on demand’ and as I said, on this night the audience really helped. The band went like a train.

Here is a video of the band playing that concert at the Friedrichstadtpalast - Chris Barber (trombone); Pat Halcox (trumpet); Ian Wheeler (clarinet, alto sax); Stu Morrison (banjo); John Slaughter (guitar); Micky Ashman (upright bass, replacing Dick Smith). Lu de Lussanet (drums), replacing Graham Burbridge, due to illness at that time. Lu or Louis was a Dutch drummer who played with the Dutch Swing College Band in the sixties.

 

 

We left East Berlin seen off by the Tower boys and their girls. We didn’t see any overt displays of oppression by a dictatorial government but looking at the Death Strip and The Wall from the Eastern side with its armed guards and barbed wire, didn’t give me a happy feeling about life in the “Workers Paradise”.

 

We returned in 1968 and were welcomed just as warmly (listen to that album).

 

 

 

Sadly, apart from Chris and myself, all the boys from the Barber Band I joined have passed away. On the bright side, the Wall, with it’s guards, mined strip, floodlights and barbed wire, has now gone.

 

Chris Barber in Berlin album

 

 

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