About Me

"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Thursday, 4 July 2013

SUV menace: Is Ginger to blame?

No secret,  I hate SUVs, and as a cyclist in London almost every day I get that near-death feeling at  the business end of some chunk of over-heated metal driven by some over-cool yummy daddy or mummy  - is it a BMW, and Audi, a Merc or one of the originals, the Range Rover series? - as  they push their chrome-plated noses across the mini-roundabouts of South Kensington.

And then I think back to one of the great heroes of my youth, the jazz and rock drummer Ginger Baker.    And I think, fuck you Ginger - you helped kick off this whole SUV thing in 1971 by driving one of their first models across the Sahara, on your way to the shrine of shrines for all jazz and rock drummers of the time - Fela Kuti's Shrine in Lagos, Nigeria.

So, swerving out of the way of one of these monsters, I had this thought. If you'd stayed back home, or gone by plane,  Ginger, would London today be quite so clogged up with these inflated and unnecessary automobiles?

The new film,  "Beware Mr Baker", is a wonderfully entertaining documentary about that strange period in London's musical history - late 50s through to 1970. Thanks to the producer/director/writer/narrator Jay Bulger's bravery, it was an unusually good film, revising and reviving ideas about these old rock idols, and yet never detracting from the skill and showmanship that made Baker such a natural star in the first place.

But he deals with other stars in that strange 1960s/70s constellation, as well.  Oddly, Eric Clapton came out of the whole thing smelling only of the finest roses.

But Ginger! Oh dear! Now, everyone seems to agree he is a monster, a violent, selfish bully who also happens to be a drum genius. And a bit of a sad case, in his old age.

Well he surely was a great drummer,  even though some of us found those solos a little overpowering. And at least 20 minutes too long. Unless it was live and we were there, moving.

I love drumming, and I love the way Mr Baker, etc, made us all think back to the origins of the rhythms of jazz, just as Miles and a number of others did, in those days, the very early 1970s, that time of Tony Williams, Miles, Sly, James Brown, the amazing wake-up call we were just beginning to get from Jamaica.

By 1971, when that veneer of fame was begining to wear a little thin, perhaps, Ginger decided to check out these roots in person. He would go to Nigeria. He would go in a large British vehicle built by that  British establishment bastion, Rover. And the whole thing would be filmed by the BBC TV arts director of the moment, Tony Palmer.

The resulting film - Ginger in Africa - now seems like half a brilliant advertisement for Rover's brand new offering, the  Range Rover, a gentrified version of their military/agricultural workhorse, the Land Rover – and half a fascinating pilgrimage of one our best jazz/rock musician's search for his rhythmic roots in West Africa.

I love this film.  Watch it if you can. Or, if you can't find it, watch the new documentary - parts of  Tony Palmer's original documentary seem to be in there. But pleae, if you live anywhere in the UK, apart from on a large farm, please don't buy a Range Rover or any other SUV. Unless, like Ginger, you are planning to drive it across the Channel, across Europe, across Algeria, across the  Sahara Desert.

And then on to Lagos.

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