Film review: Beware Of Mr Baker

THERE are probably more foolhardy enterprises than interviewing the aggressively venomous rock drummer Ginger Baker for a documentary, but it’s hard to think of many.

Beware Of Mr Baker (15)

Director: Jay Bulger


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    Taking Nigel Farage for a swift half in the Royal Mile perhaps. Or giving a Great White Shark a tummy rub.

    No wonder that in the first few minutes of Jay Bulger’s shamefully entertaining documentary Beware Of Mr Baker, the filmmaker appears on camera, clutching his nose. Ginger has broken it.

    In a gated community in South Africa, an arthritic 73-year-old Baker fumes from his LaZboy. He invented the kind of drum solo that allowed a gigger to leave the venue, hail a cab, watch Coronation Street, and be back in time for the second half of Sunshine Of Your Love. His demonic drumming style in Cream and Blind Faith inspired a generation, and Animal on The Muppet Show. He wore out Cream bassist Jack Bruce, whose contributions here are a study in unconcealed exasperation, while Eric Clapton is amusing recounting his escape from the supergroup, and his dismay on discovering that Baker had followed him into his next band.

    Everyone from John Lydon and Charlie Watts to the bloke off Metallica turns up in Bulger’s documentary to say what a remarkable, inventive skins-basher Ginger Baker is, but also what an awful human being. The most heartbreaking sequence is a home movie of Baker having a drumming duet with his teenage son, who keeps throwing thrilled covert glances across at his dad. A little later, Baker told the boy he was useless, and a terrible drummer. He hasn’t seen him since.

    Attempts to analyse why Baker burnt bridges, wasted fortunes, and torched relationships gets short shrift from the film’s subject. “Go on with the interview,” he snarls. “Stop trying to be an intellectual dickhead.” At times like this, you silently salute Bulger for having the nerve to stick around.

    Baker’s father died in the Second World War, but left behind a note for his son telling him to “hold your ground; use your fists. They are your best pals.”

    Baker has barely stopped punching since, although often coming off worst in the fight following his mistreatment 
of friends, wives and family, a heroin addiction 
and umpteen rages and rampages.

    You can only wonder what Baker might have achieved if he wasn’t his own worst enemy; away from drumming, for instance, he developed a second string skill as a fearless polo player. And his friendship with Fela Kuti resulted in Africa getting a state of the art recording studio.

    Like Baker himself, this is an indulgent piece of work. But the messiness is awfully compelling. «

    Cameo, Edinburgh, and Belmont Aberdeen, until Thursday; Filmhouse, Edinburgh, 31 May until 6 June; Dundee Contemporary Arts, 7-13 June; Glasgow Film Theatre, 7-9 June