Jay Bulger climbs into the seat of his car after conducting the last interview with the subject of his film. Ginger Baker, mad-eyed and screaming, is doing his pieces, jabbing the heavy silver handle of his walking cane through the open window. “Are you really going to hit me with your stick?” asks Bulger nervously but with a hint of a come-on. “I fucking am! I’m gonna put you in fucking hospital!” WHACK. Blood streams for the bridge of his nose.
If it can ever be considered lucky to get walloped in the face by a crazed pensioner Jay Bulger struck lucky there as it gave a handy framework to his film and underscored (should it need underscoring) what an unpleasant individual Ginger Baker is. The sign at the entrance to his South African home - “Beware of Mr Baker” - was no idle threat.
When Ginger was four his dad died in war but left him a letter to be opened when he reached fourteen. In it he advised, “Be a man at all times. Your fists are your best pals”. As Beware of Mr. Baker unravels (the title taken from the sign that greets visitors to Baker’s South African home) it appears to be the only advice Ginger has ever taken.
The story of his colourful life is mostly told - often begrudgingly - by Ginger himself; propped up in his armchair, shaking smoking and swearing like a thirsty Father Jack Hackett. A raft of famous musicians chip in about what an incredible talent he is whilst a host of family members talk about what a dreadful man he is. His first wife (four and counting) and children deserve credit for telling their parts with such good humour considering the awful episodes he put them through.
Beware of Mr. Baker is no Searching For Sugar Man; no heart-warming tale. It is, however, frequently funny due to Ginger being, how shall I put it, a bit of a character. When Bulger asks a question he doesn’t like he quickly snaps. When recounting his early days in the jazz clubs with Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated he mentions “Graham”. Bulger asks him to clarify, for the sake of the film, who Graham was. An exasperated Baker replies through gritted teeth and thinks of the money, “Graham Bond was a fat guy”. It is left to the likes of Jack Bruce and a debonair Charlie Watts to fill in the gaps.
Blues Incorporated, Graham Bond Organisation, Cream, Blind Faith, Airforce and his later musical excursions get covered as does his restless wanderings and lunatic capers in Hawaii, Jamaica, Nigeria, America, Italy and South Africa where the only things he gave a toss about were his polo horses, his dogs and his drums.
Cream - we are told by a succession of rock star drummers - were the first progressive band, the first super group, the first band to play big arenas, the first band to play long jams, the first band to break away from the chains of pop, the band instrumental in giving birth to heavy metal and Ginger was the pioneer of the rock drummer. If that’s not a terrible rap sheet I don’t know what is.
But do not, under any circumstances, refer to Ginger as a “rock drummer”. He is, he insists, a “jazz drummer” and claims his gods are Phil Seamen, Max Roach, Art Blakey and Elvin Jones who are now dear friends who are “worth more to me than anything in the world”. I doubt his son - who Baker told he didn’t care what happened to him - would contradict that statement. The footage of Ginger playing drums alongside those fellas is brilliant and maybe, just maybe, he is almost as great as he thinks he is. “It’s a gift from God. You’ve either got it or you haven’t; and I had it.”
I disliked Baker after reading his autobiography Hellraiser and there’s little here to change my opinion but as an entertaining subject for a film, he’s box-office gold.
Beware of Mr. Baker, written and directed by Jay Bulger, is in selected cinemas or can be watched on-line (£10) at Curzon Home Cinema.