Tuesday, May 29

The Story of Ballyferris....and all that Jazz.

Here comes another chapter of the ongoing story of a nowhere place of great significance.

Otilie Patterson and Derek Cathcart.

I was always encouraged by Derek Cathcart to sing. I was a young teenager sitting at the back of his tiny caravan in the coastal district of Ballyferris ,Co Down.
He sang the blues and black American Gospel to a tinny old guitar.
He was the sophisticated older member of that early seaside gang, who sang in the local pubs and bars... a thing unimaginable to me and my strict church upbringing...and therefore for me, all the more exotic and unattainable .
I mostly remember blues like ...Beale street ,St. Louis Blues or St James's Infirmary. Or country and western songs which are always very popular in Ireland.
I pestered mum and dad for a guitar of my own. I left adverts sitting around on the mantlepiece and the breakfast table.
"Almost new guitar for sale...very resonably priced".
 So it was with great rejoicings and merrymakings that I got my first guitar on my thirteenth birthday.
It's not hard to learn three chords from each of the major keys! So that's what I did... and not much more. But I got the reputation for entertaining my friends when we got together in our family caravan as the teenage years went by.
I don't know what happened to Derek...I lost touch with most of them from the smokey caravan. But I loved the music that he had introduced me to and when the other friends were revelling in Elvis, The Beatles and The Stones...I was listening to late night jazz and buying up Billy Holliday and Peggy Lee records.
I dabbled a bit in the university clubs and sang at some of the student balls and rag concerts and on one occasion was at the same glee club at Queen's in the 60s, as an older singer called Ottilie Patterson took the stage. Being young and arrogant , I can remember being quite scathing about her singing.
....Oh the foolishness of youth!
When she died last year, and I read through the obituary, it hit me like a ton of bricks....she was the inspiration for Derek and therefore myself all those years before in the late 50s.
She was born in Comber...and that's just a spit away from Ballyferris and the caravan. So I realised that Derek must have been following her and listening to her in the early 50s in the pubs and clubs where he himself then used to perform.
She married Chris Barber and sang with his band...but like so many singers, (including Adele) she struggled with a throat problem and eventually disappeared from the scene.

Chris Barber, centre, and his band in 1962, with Patterson, and Ian Wheeler on clarinet.

Thanks Otilie....thanks Derek...thanks for the memory....
...oh that could be a good song title....stop being silly Geraldine!


  1. Yes, the foolishness of youth Geraldine. We have all been guilty of it.

  2. You didn't mention Bert Wheedon... but that's how most of us learned our first few chords. I remember the name Ottilie Patterson, but didn't know she was married to CB. I believe J Dankworth Esq has a famous singer wife too.

  3. Nothing nowhere about this place. This was a good place to be! I was a great Chris Barber fan, right up until the time I no longer had the equipment to play his records. Silly really. Sad - but I was back then. I also remember Ottilie Patterson's singing with some affection. Your post has opened a whole area of forgotten past. thanks.

  4. Chris Barber - through him we pretty much have blues/rock music as we know it today. It was through him and Alexis Korner in the 60s that they exposed a lot of the old blues players to the British scene and people like Clapton, Peter Green, Rolling Stones etc. took that and electrified it and then that was heard and made heavier by the likes of Led Zep, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath... now just think of all the bands and genres of music that list any of those artists as influences and you realise what a catalyst of modern rock music Chris Barber was

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