Barry Sandford promoted himself as Mr. Versatility as he was not just a harmonica virtuoso. He also had exemplary talents in a variety of disciplines, which included (and were not limited to) model making, archery, comedy, magic and juggling. He is however most notably known for being an all round, knockabout good guy. Barry grew up in a number of different residences in the Victorian inner city suburb of Richmond and he often had his mug splashed in the Melbourne daily’s – many in relation to his latest creative meccano models. Here’s a selection of his references in the tabloids – in 1934 he was only sixteen.
When performing on stage in 1945 his act consisted of quite intricate blowing on fifteen different harmonicas (not all at once I presume). Barry would bring out his big one, a two foot long harmonica (probably the one pictured earlier) and later a midget mouth organ fully inclosed in his mouth (no hands Ma).
In that same year Barry found himself in the Adelaide Police court charged under the Masters & Servants Act on the complaint of Henry Orwell Wren, partner in the firm J C Williamson Ltd & H O Wren. Barry had been hired for a five week season at the Theatre Royal in Handley Street, Adelaide. His salary was £15 a week for his opening act that lasted four minutes. After three weeks Barry had convinced management to have him in the second half of the program too. However, after just one performance, management told him he had to reduce this eight minute act as the show was going ten minutes over time. Barry wouldn’t stand for this and refused to go on leaving a very disappointed gallery. Wren alleged that Barry had refused to fulfil a lawful contract and claimed £50 in damages. The result – Barry Sandford, of Adelaide, was fined £10 – with £3 11 in costs. (The Age, Melbourne 8th September 1945)
In 1945 Barry was on the card for the Tivoli production ‘Greet The Fleet’ starring George Wallace and Eddie Marcel in what the Sydney Morning Herald described as, “a bright and entertaining melange of vaudeville and revue acts.”
The Sydney Morning Herald review of the opening night (May 25, 1945) also rated Barry with an honourable mention. “A skating act by Eddie Marcel and mouth-organ solos by Barry Sandford were also popular. Rooklyn the magician won warm applause.”
Looks like Mr. Rooklyn was the star according to The Sydney Sun’s (22 May) glowing report, “He is a master magician and conjuror. From his opening feat, suspending a girl horizontally in mid-air with her elbow resting on a stick, to his finale, in which apparently a power-driven circular saw severs another girl’s body, his presentation is faultlessly clever and entertaining.”
Maurice Rooklyn and Barry would become very close friends as evidenced by this signed flyer of Barry’s.
A harmonica solo was recorded on Process Records in 1945 by Barry with support provided by Lyall Chick’s Hammond Organ on a version of Pale Moon b/w When Day Is Done.
In 1947 Barry had formulated an act titled ‘The Nitwit Of The Airways’. The Dandenong Journal described his performance as, “a great hit, both as a comedian and on his mouth organ interpretation of Danny Boy as played on the Wurlitzer being an exceptional piece.” In 1951 Barry tweaked his production and renamed it ‘The Nitwit Of The Network’.
He had another string to his bow, literally and it looks like he incorporated his skills with the bow into one of his shooting skits. Barry was pictured in The Argus practicing his archery skills in a Richmond park channeling his inner Robin Hood and then the following year he’s photographed in The Herald (12 June 1948) with another archery expert, Jack Perry. They were offering their William Tell expertise to inmates at the Repatriation Sanitarium of Mont Park. Jack Perry was well known as television performing clown Zig, of Zig and Zag. “No – o – o – trouble.”
Barry ventured down to the Apple Isle (Tasmania) appearing on the card for Clem Dawe and Eric Edgley’s ‘The Midnight Frolics’. Thirty five stars of stage and radio featured by arrangement with Tivoli Theatres at the Theatre Royale in Hobart. Barry, like so many other Australian Chromatic Harmonica players, was touted as the Wizard of the Harmonica or as Australia’s Larry Adler.
Here he is displaying his cycling skills in the city of Melbourne. The policeman in Spencer Street was gobsmacked when he peddled past him on his twenty six inch long and fifteen inch high (wheels are eight inches across) bicycle. Barry had just picked up a bike half this size which he carried home on his back. Picture The Herald July 5, 1952.
In 1953 Barry was a member of a Harmonica Group called the Four Octaves, who dressed immaculately in white shirts and black neckties. Peter Day, Ted Edsell, Bon Wells and Barry Sandford constituted each of the octaves. Perhaps Barry was a fan of Hohner’s 64 Chromonica (sixteen holes), which was the first chromatic produced that covered four octaves back in 1938. In the 1948 photo featured earlier, he looks like he might be using a Hohner Larry Adler enamelled (cream & red) Chromonica (ten holes) – not four octaves only two and a half. The Four Octaves had a successful run on radio 3UZ’s competition ‘Are You An Artist’.
Television arrived in the colonies in 1956 and Barry had at least a couple of appearances on the box. On December 21 of 1957 he performed on the harmonica in episode two of a four part variety series that aired on Sydney’s ABN 2 titled ‘Tele – variety’. Other guests displaying their wares on the show were the Gus Merzi Quintet, dance team the Tyrolies, balancing act The Warrens and Jandy the musical clown.
After fifty odd years on the Tivoli Circuit Barry found himself amongst a new wave of standup comedians. Now living in Sydney, he found himself on the same card with well known comedic personalities such as Austen Tayshus, Rodney Rude, Vince Sorentti and Adam Hills. Barry’s stage show had a bit of a makeover and he went under the moniker of Bazza Banana (perhaps so his pension would remain intact) and he could be observed at a variety of venues around the country. He was regularly billed at two popular sites in Sydney – the Comedy Club and the Kiribilli Pub Theatre. Assisted by the ageing process, Barry’s stage craft now consisted of a series of face contortions. Tharunka (1981) described it as thus, “he has the face with the malleability of plasticine under a hot sun – Med students should visit to see what human flesh can do.” One of Barry’s go to jokes was, “I bought myself a greyhound, (and then with perfect timing – usually) and painted a bus on his side.”
On Thursday 30 March 1987 Barry was deservedly recognised by his peers being roasted at The Loony Bin, Kirribilli Pub Theatre. The roasters were Graham McHugh (MC), Alan Glover, Vince Sorentti, Rob McHugh, Anthony Ackroyd, Keith Scott and Dave Gibson.
In 1988, forty three years after his first record, the seventy year old was back in the recording studio blowing a chromatic solo on this cover of Motherless Child for Sydney band Hungry I’s. Producer Roger Mason had vague memories of the recording, however he recalled that the lead singer, Ian Walker, had invited him to the session and he had thought that maybe Barry was a busker. Ian more than likely came across Barry from the comedy circuit in Sydney, maybe even the Comedy Store.
In closing Timothy Hyde (Corporate MC, Magician & Comedian) communicated to HRR the following reflective words on Barry, “Barry was an inspiration to us young guys working the Comedy Store in it’s early days in the 80’s. He did comedy, balancing, funny faces and always a bit of Harmonica. And the young audiences loved him too.” He also previously posted this on the great man, “One of the pleasures of working the early years of the Sydney Comedy Store was working alongside and becoming friends with this gentleman, Barry Sandford. Barry was unique. He had worked the last two decades of Vaudeville in Australia with the famous Tivoli Circuit, then from 1956, the early years of television, then the Licensed Club scene and then rode the 1980’s boom of Stand Up Comedy.”
We Salute You Mr. Versatility
Barry Desmond Sandford 1917 – 1992
Please check home page for copyright details