I must admit that this band was sort of unknown to me until I listened to one of their albums while printing this interview for the blog. And it was better than I anticipated. I knew of Ginger Baker (who doesn`t) from before and his drumming is legendary for a reason. Have fun with this one!
`People thought we were only good for one album.
`But we made another. So there`
Yes, success is getting a little nearer every year for the BAKER GURVITZ ARMY! Report by Chris Salewicz
“The other night I was driving around Soho,” says Ginger Baker, glugging down the last of the milk that`s putting a velvet lining on his stomach, “and I`d had a couple of drinks.
“And I came across this place where there`s blue lights flashing in all directions. There must have been some extraordinary thing going on. And in front of me – in Greek Street or somewhere like that – the whole road`s blocked. I`m sorta leaning out the window and the guy gets out the back of this police car and he comes over and says, `Ah, Ginger Baker.`
“Next thing I`m signing autographs.
Which, if nothing else, would at least suggest that Baker might have a readymade market wherever he might choose to tap a drum. Considerable comfort, certainly, for those flummoxed by the relative success of the Baker Gurvitz Army`s first album and tour at the beginning of this year.
Are they, after all, just coasting the slipstream of “Toad”?
Can one South London drummer a trio of kosher East Enders and a vocalist from Bridlington transmogrify from heavy metal mutants into a class rock band and thereby attain True Credibility? Will the Baker Gurvitz Army provide the sales figures to justify their second album being the first release on the new Mountain label? Are Mountain Management, having succeeded in establishing the octogenarian Alex Harvey as a Major Star, offering themselves as the Financial Phyllosan for the Over-thirty-five Artiste Ginger, is your gig pensionable?
These are the questions on the lips of today`s Rock Generation.
Snips, one-time vocalist with the ill-fated Sharks and now nearly a year into his gig with BGA, looks up from scanning the Mayfair French restaurant`s menu and proffers some verbal: “There is a bad critical feeling about the band… but I think that a lot of people – when they reviewed that first album – thought it was a one-off. I think they thought it was something Ginger had got together with the Gurvitzes and that it would last one album and that was it. I don`t think they understood how serious it was. They thought it would be just one album and that would be it… Like Jack Bruce does.
“But it isn`t that. Because there is a second album. And we`re already on the road and we`re already at work on the third.
“So they can all go blow up a pan, can`t they?”
“I would have given the first album eight out of ten,” adds Baker. “It was a bit of a rush thing, you know. It was the first two weeks work we ever did together. The mixing was done in record time. We`d really like to have spent a lot more time mixing it.
“But it wasn`t bad. I thought it was quite nice.”
Yet the sound of the album did suggest very much a return to the sound of That Archetypal Heavy Trio. Reminds one maybe of West, Bruce and Laing. Cream with lesser musicians. You know, the Bruce band that had “Jack Bruce is clean out of ideas and also probably out of money” stamped right across it.
Are you also suffering from a creative block? Or is this the sound that pays for your studio in Nigeria?
Baker looks up out of the door of the Mayfair restaurant keeping an eye out for traffic wardens. A single member of the Baker Jensen Army is pulled up outside on a double yellow line.
Snips provides a proxy answer: “Three-piece. It was the three-piece line-up that did the last one. This is a five-piece unit that`s done this album….”
Yes, Yes. Yes – but I`m not just restricting my thoughts to your voice and Peter Lemer`s keyboards having been added to the band. I simply felt that after Ginger had been down in Nigeria for four years his musical return would have dripped with African drum sounds. Maybe I`m missing it though….
“I think it`s in my playing,” Baker nods his head at himself. “But when you`re playing….(yawns widely)…. your music`s affected by who you`re playing with. I play to what I hear…. So what you hear is a sound that`s complementing the way I play…”
So the first album was perhaps a case of clearing out your musical past?
“There`s some nice things on that record. Some nice things and ideas which are continuing to happen…”
But on a purely financial level you can`t have had many doubts that the Baker-Gurvitz Army might succeed: the band`s music, after all, just oozes Commercial Success.
“No, really it`s a matter of I wanted to play and it happened – an ohhhh-currence. Turned out quite well. Very enjoyable.”
It`s pretty violent though, isn`t it?
Baker: “Some of it.”
Snips: “We have our romantic moments. There`s romance in there. Tenderness. We know how to do a slow one as well as a fast one.
“There seems to be a fair amount of singing in it now.”
Baker: “`E`s always complaining that`e doesn`t get enough.”
And how does HE feel about the band?
“I like it…”
Compared with Sharks…
“Well… that was me playing my material. This is me being the lead singer. There`s a lot of things going on…” (If this appears hesitant and relatively noncommital then that`s what I thought too. When Baker split at the end of the meal I collared Snips. His tone had obviously been caused by the time of day: “Different. It`s a year later. The Sharks was me expressing totally myself, in this I feel more of a musician).
“I came into rock music as a complete idiot – as a guy who could play the acoustic guitar, really.
“I`m happy within the framework of the group because I get to play live, and I`m doing my own albums” (On the Sharks` former label, Island). “As far as concerned that`s where I`ll express ME as opposed to Baker-Gurvitzing. I`m very happy with it, though.
“It`s the first time that I`ve been in the music business that I`ve been earning money, been enjoying myself and been part of some fine music that I enjoy anyway. Without hassles. Without people on my back all the time.”
You`re obviously aware that there is something of a Baker-Gurvitz anti…
“Whereas the Sharks had a good critical bias but they never made any money.” Ships speaks in blunt and gritty Yorkshire aphorisms.
Baker: “I think it`s good to get that sort of thing anyway. For me, you know.
“If everybody says `That`s great`… well…”
One of the problems with Blind Faith, of course. The initial unanimous critical fervour.
“It was great. The reason that fell apart is one person who was really responsible for that. Who must take credit for things going wrong.
“And that was Eric. Eric decided – and told us when we were on the road – that Delaney and Bonnie were a much better band.
“Now I mean Stevie… Stevie Winwood`s a lovely guy. A very quiet sort of guy. It did it in for him – in fact, it did it for most of us – being on the road. Clapton used to stand there on the side of the stage when Delaney and Bonnie were on stage and rave about it.
“Very, very weird, all that was.
“I thought the world of Eric, you know, for a long time. But like anybody could come up – like Delaney and Bonnie…
I think he found out about that when George Harrison came about. And all of a sudden they all dropped Eric like a hot potato and they were all running around George Harrison licking his boots, you know?
“But he`s a lovely guy. Fantastic guy. But he is very gullible.”
Are you disillusioned by it all – or just philosophical?
“Rather amused by it, I think.”
Because you`ve landed right back in the same rock`n`roll financial circus that you`ve spent years freeing yourself from.
“Well… yeah … But I got a lot of other things as well. To stop me from getting bored,” Baker laughs, and rubs his beard with the back of his hand as the waiter puts a plate of Dover Sole down in front of him and leans across to give Snips a gunshot-riddled grouse.
The drummer hands me a business card. “Mr. P. E. Baker,” it reads, “Trans-Sahara Trucking Company, `Greentrees`, Sandy Lane, Watford, Hertfordshire, England”.
Perhaps in gratitude for Nigeria`s having taught him polo as well as for allowing him to build his Lagos 16-track studio Ginger Baker is now about to gift Nigeria with its first Europe to Africa/Africa to Europe trucking firm. “This is really very, very exciting. We`ve got the Algerian government one hundred per cent behind us. We`ve got the Nigerian government behind us as well.
“We`re opening the overland route to Nigeria,” says this latterday George Chisholm, belching up some of his Bacardi and Coke. “We`re using the SNTR trucks and trailers – Societe Nationale Transport des Routiers. The Algerian National Transport Company.
“We`ve been working on it for years. Getting this thing together. It`s very exciting. We`ve just contacted the Algerian Air Freight Co. and they`re gonna be flying in stuff from the States.
“It`s really going amazingly well. It`s frightening, actually.
“I`m buying Mountain next year.”
Baker digs a spoon into his ice-cream: “You get the occasional odd incident. They built this great motorway in Nigeria… It`s about sixty feet in the air. When they first opened it all they put across the end was a fence about two foot high. And just put a sign saying `Branch off`. They didn`t block the road off… (laughs) … First day they opened it a guy went bombing up and he went straight off the end into a swamp.
“And they never saw him again.
“Then they thought `Well, perhaps we`d better block it off`.”
Conversation drifts into Africa and the Islam religion, and into the polygamy which Islam permits: “I thought it sounded a great idea until somebody told me about this guy who had five wives… He can`t do anything, you know. They gang up on him and they beat him up and take all his money. He`s got a remarkable character, though, because he managed to get them all pregnant at the same time… I went round there and met his wives… five chicks out here (holds right hand some distance in front of stomach) … absolutely amazing. And he was sitting there looking all pleased with himself.”
Baker prepares to split. One of the French waiters arrives with the bill: “Meester Baker – you are the best in the world.”
“Thank you very much,” said the drumming truckster. “Do we get the meal for nothing?
“Very embarrassing,” he stage-whispers. “It happens everywhere. Everywhere man. I thought when I got to Nigeria – great. Nobody knows me. I`d walked a hundred yards down the road then `Ginger! Ginger!` All over. Quite extraordinary.
“In actual fact I`m quite shy of people.”
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Tina Turner, Graham Nash & David Crosby, The Mika Band, Pub Rock Report 75, Melvin Franklin, The Chieftains, The Who, Hugh Banton (Van Der Graaf Generator).
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