Freda Barker
The Blackburn Jazz Lady

By Andrew Liddle

 Freda passed away in hospital on Wednesday 16th November, 2016 at the grand age of 90

Freda Barker

Freda interviewed on Radio Lancashire


Click here if you can't play the audio

Article reproduced from Just Jazz Magazine August 2011
By kind permission of Andrew Liddle, Freda Barker and Just Jazz Magazine

Freda Barker can probably lay claim to have been the youngest female ever to run a Jazz club. Now in her 85th year, she was a mere slip of a girl back in 1942 when she started up the Blackburn Rhythm Club in a cellar of the Reform Club, in Victoria Street. On an amplified gramophone, she played jazz 78s lent by Pickering's of Darwen Street, to an audience mostly of people much older than herself. Only just a little over four feet ten inches, but 'a very serious person' and 'ruthlessly determined; she started the club because she was fed up with the popular Swing and wanted to hear hot music, the sort only really available when played by small combos from within a band. At the time she loved Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong and described Duke Ellington as, "My pin-up on the wall."

For her, Swing music - which she describes as "bastardizing Jazz" - was only to dance to, and indeed, she was a most accomplished dancer, having attended Park Gates Dance School since the age of 14, and going on to win bronze, silver and gold awards. She is at pains to point out that brought up as a teetotal Methodist, running a jazz club was not quite considered a suitable occupation for a 16 year-old girl, and temporarily she was brought into conflict with her parents. "I couldn't have stepped out of line more," she says with obvious relish. "They said it would wear off, but it never did!"

She ran the club for three or four years to great success and acclaim, and only gave it up because of the demands of her job as a dental technician combined with being a housewife. Jazz remained one of the great passions of her life, however, and in later years she and her husband, Harold, were regular attendees at Bude, Keswick, and Abersoch, and made pilgrimages to Preservation Hall in New Orleans.

Then nearly 50 years after her first venture, she opened her second jazz club, using her connection as a Liberal councillor prominent on the Entertainments Committee, to bring real music back to Blackburn. This was the famous Blakey's in King George's Hall, in Northgate, where she booked her favourite bands and musicians, including Campbell Burnap and John Hallam (who played at her Ruby wedding), Brian Carrick (whose entire band she put up at her house), Paul Munnery, Savannah, the Chicago Teds, and the Harlem Hot Stompers. She even hand-picked her own band, Blakey's Special Six, consisting of Billy Edwards (trumpet), John Hallam (reeds), Paul Munnery (trombone), Alan Butler (piano), Dave Turner (bass), and Chris Pendlebury (drums).

She ran the club for many years with the help of Robin and Mary Duxbury before eventually having to bring it to a close due to lack of support. Today, she still makes a weekly visit to nearby Nelson to enjoy Arthur Stead's Forest Jazz Band, at the KSC.

Locally, Freda is known affectionately as 'the tooth fairy' because she is still a practising dental technician, working from home, ever ready to oblige (even on Christmas Day) when people have an emergency with dentures. A determined lady working in a man's world, as it once was, her whole life seems to have been a series of challenges against the odds. As a councillor, she was one of only three women out of a cohort of 56. She walked the streets, canvassing and electioneering, often long after her male colleagues had gone home. On one epic occasion she even persuaded Barbara Castle, M.P to pose for the press in a sari, in the interests of racial integration, something she feels strongly about. Indeed, as part of Action Aid, she sponsored a child in India and even went to visit him on an incredibly emotional journey, much of it on foot in inhospitable terrain.

Andrew Liddle

A truly remarkable person, Freda was approaching her 85th birthday when this article was written. Savannah turned up to celebrate her 80th and she was all set to celebrate  her 90th birthday on the 6th October 2016 with the Pendle Jazzmen when she fell and broke her wrist, and the event was cancelled.  She recently went into hospital having developed pneumonia, and passed away on 16th November 2016 - Fred Burnett




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