Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sam Baker at The Cluny 06/12/07

After acquainting myself with, and immersing myself in, Sam Baker's second album Pretty World when it was released earlier this year, I was super excited to discover that he would be visiting us to play live. I booked up at the first opportunity and have been anxiously tapping my foot in anticipation throughout the interminable wait from then until Thursday night.
This gig marked the 22nd birthday of the Jumpin' Hot Club, who are responsible for booking some of the very best Americana, country, folk and world music acts that come to Newcastle. Thanks to them I have had the chance to see not only Mr Baker, but also Sunny Sweeney (and many others)...both names that not many people round these parts seem to have heard of, but whose music means a lot to me.
Whilst waiting in line to get into the venue, I got chatting to the people just ahead of me, one of whom was Sam Baker! No, not the Sam Baker...not the one I was there to see (nor indeed the soul singer or American football player), but a Sam Baker just the same.
Once we got in, first on stage was Otis Gibbs, who looks like a brunette member of a ZZ Top tribute act, a Hell's Angel, or someone who lives on a diet of squirrels and other small woodland creatures. Thankfully he didn't sound like any of the above and was really rather good (save for his original Christmas songs, which were dire). In an effort to sum him up succinctly, he is deep-voiced Americana with well-written lyrics and his feet firmly on the ground.
Suitably 'warmed up' I awaited our main act eagerly. Baker took to the stage alone with just a guitar for company. The atmosphere which, during Gibbs' act, was eerily silent and made me feel like I didn't quite know if he was loved, tolerated or hated by the audience at large (until the hearty applause) was somehow one of instant rapport and warmth. I had half expected Sam Baker to be a quiet, reserved, somewhat serious and sullen character, but I was wrong.
He was extremely likeable, with the cheeky humour and sparkle in his eye of an impish little boy. He was also very good looking, which again came as some surprise...the photographs that I have seen of him online really don't do him justice.
Throughout the set his running themes, banter-wise, were "Canoe Man" and Lucy, a topless model in the godawful paper The Daily Star (which he had been reading, along with "The London Times" since arriving in the UK).
The definite high point of the performance was Broken Fingers, a song which, even whilst listening to the album, is very obviously about Baker's ordeal in South America in the mid-1980s (see my previous blog). With the man, "broken fingers" and all right in front of us, this song was more deeply affecting then ever,
"These broken fingers. Some things don't heal. I can't wake up from a dream when the dream is real."

This brush with death and the ensuing fallout has, understandably (or perhaps not...I certainly can't, and don't want to, imagine what it must have been like), profoundly scarred Baker...and not just in a physical sense. His songs are littered with subtle references. But what I really love about his music is its simplicity, the lyrics showing us a man who revels in the joy of being here, of the small details in life. At times this feels not just grateful, but euphoric.

The whole set was excellent, including those songs from his first album, Mercy, with which I have yet to familiarise myself (there's a story here...foolishly, in a misguidedly British attempt to be polite, I turned down Sam's offer to send Mercy to me after reading my review of Pretty World. I have seriously been kicking myself ever since!)...but which I have now ordered.

Sam Baker is endearingly rubbish at self-promotion. At the merch stand, there were no t-shirts (as there are none in existence yet!), nor had he brought Mercy along (which I had planned to buy at the show). I held back for a while, waiting for the queue to go down, in order that I could go up and say my hellos. He was a lovely, warm man who was happy to chat, sign a poster (which I'd pinched off the wall!) almost entirely illegibly, and tell me "I really like the way you write". Wow! I replied "Thank you. I really like the way you write too"...speaking of his songs and not the aforementioned handwriting.

This night was what a gig should be, and more people really should have heard of this man. I wish I had more clout, as I would love to join Bob Harris in doing some championing here. I have included one download (which I found at another source online) below for you to get a better idea of what Sam Baker sounds like (you can hear further tracks on MySpace), but please please buy his albums...I couldn't recommend his music more highly. He told us during the gig that, after Mercy was released he would sell a copy, on average, around once every 120 days. He was over the moon with this at the time. Go on, help make his day a little more regularly!


Pablothehat said...

Nice write up girl. Sounds like you are a bit like me, sometimes too hesitant in grasping the nettle, should have had that album he offered..You could always flog it on a boot sale if ya dinna like it..LOL

I'll check out his tunes from your recommendations..see you do have the Bob Wall, wait a minute, Bob Wall? American actor who starred in a few Bruce Lee movies? No I meant Bob Harris... LOL

Divinyl said...

Let me know what you think :o)