Film review: Beware of Mr Baker (15)


Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Drummers are axiomatically the madmen of rock, but there's never been a mad drummer quite like Ginger Baker, subject of this hugely enjoyable documentary profile. It gets off to a magnificent start, with a scene of the 73-year-old Baker attacking the film's director, Jay Bulger, with his walking stick – and just gets better.

What had roused Baker's famously hair-trigger temper was the prospect of the film bringing in others to offer testimony, which they duly do: ex-bandmates (Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce from Cream), ex-wives (three of them), grown-up children, and a variety of rockers, jazzmen and drummers (Charlie Watts, Stewart Copeland, Lars Ulrich of Metallica).

The verdict is more or less unanimous: as a drummer he was blessed with preternatural talent, head and shoulders above the likes of Keith Moon and John Bonham. And as a human being he's been pretty much a disaster. Clapton, in an otherwise fond reminiscence, calls him "seriously antisocial", and even that's putting it mildly.

With his shock of carrotty hair, gangly frame and wild eyes, Baker always had the look of one destined for the life of rock-star perdition, and he embraced it fully. The heroin addiction, the groupies and the screaming rows almost come as standard; whenever archival footage runs short, the film supplements the story with jazzy animated sequences of Baker as a galley-slave, rowing the seas, keeping time.

The voyage has been far from predictable. Having crashed and burned in a series of early-70s supergroups, Baker hied himself to Lagos to join musical forces with pioneer-activist Fela Kuti, pursuing not just his love of roots music, but a faintly bizarre passion for polo. (A lifelong need to have a stick in his hand?).

There is much, probably too much, besides. Still an irascible chainsmoker, Baker now lives in semi-seclusion on a South African ranch with many dogs, polo horses, and wife number four. The sign at his front gate announces: BEWARE MR. BAKER. Director Bulger has braved this dragon's lair, and brought back treasure.