7 -13 June; DCA.
Peter “Ginger” Baker is a London-born, red haired pioneer of percussion, often cited as the most influential drummer of the 1960s. Setting the tempo for bands such as Cream and Blind Faith, and infusing jazz, rock and African rhythms, has won Baker a long list of admirers of his unique drumming style. His personal life was a tumultuous one. Having left school at 16 to tour with local jazz bands, Baker quickly embraced the excesses of the Rock ‘n ‘Roll lifestyle. He has lived all over the globe, most recently settling in South Africa where he owns a string of polo ponies and not much else. This film takes a look at the man behind the drum kit.
“Beware of Mr Baker” reads the sign at the entrance of Ginger Baker’s South African compound. This warning gives the first clue to Ginger’s fiery character. The film’s opening sequence consists of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s ageing elite paying testament to Baker’s character and musicianship. The talking heads of guitar hero Eric Clapton and former Sex Pistols’ frontman turned butter merchant Johnny Rotten, amongst other iconic figures of music, describe Baker as a mad man, certifiably nuts, a loveable rogue, a dope addict, a survivor, a virtuoso drummer, a hammer of the gods, and a man that epitomised what drumming was all about. The most telling testimony comes from Simon Kirke of Bad Company, who declares that Ginger Baker influenced him as a drummer but not as a person. This sums up the world’s relationship with Ginger Baker – a virtuoso drummer of immense talent and a tremendously dislikeable personality in equal measure.
The best that could be said of Baker’s character is that he is an acquired taste, but one to which filmmaker Jay Buglar has warmed — not the least because negotiating his way around Baker’s prickly and sometimes abusive defence mechanisms to his “good side” is a rare and rewarding experience that only few are privy to. Baker offers filmmaking manna with every churlish outburst that he directs towards himself and to his musical contemporaries; Buglar reacts to these brash but erudite eruptions with comically timed cutaway scenes of Baker’s intended targets who are often shown rebutting Baker with a contrary version of events. This creates the effect of a sparring match between Baker and the rest of the world, giving the film a rhythm that echoes one of Baker’s own frantic drum beats.
Segments of the film are filled with animation and augmented graphics that offer a metaphorical telling of Baker’s life story. To show the influence of African music on his unique drumming style, Baker is depicted in chains rowing on a (Roman) slave ship. The vessel sails across the globe to the various locations Baker has lived throughout his life. From London to Lagos, LA and finally South Africa, each place is left burning in flames until what is left is a world map looking like a graphic critique of Britain’s colonial past.
The tenacity with which Buglar endeavours to get to the heart of Baker’s prickly personality, coupled with the director’s style of presentation, results in a documentary that is, above all else, funny. Buglar’s fast paced, star-studded and humorous film is book-ended by a scene that encapsulates the film’s subject almost entirely. As Buglar reveals to Baker that he intends to talk to people from the musician’s past for the film, a riled Baker threatens to put Buglar “in hospital” , whacking him with his cane and breaking his nose. The film both begins and ends with Buglar’s immortal words, “Ginger Baker just hit me in the f*****g face”.