Just back from a post-Christmas trip to my native Derbyshire, where my dad had saved me an article from a local monthly free magazine called ‘Reflections’ about Fred Thelonious Baker. There seems a nice symmetry about publishing something about this, as 2019 started with the Phil Miller memorial concerts, of which Fred, who was very much Phil’s right hand man for so many years, was an essential part.
The Reflections article is here
It also brought back memories of a gig almost exactly 30 years ago in Fred’s home town of Chesterfield, not long after I’d started Facelift magazine. In something of a transitional stage of my life, I’d briefly left Manchester and was camped up for a month or so in nearby Matlock with my parents, and had persuaded my dad, an old jazzer, to accompany me to see Elton Dean and John Etheridge. It was a lovely moment when our musical worlds collided – my dad was intrigued to see Stephane Grappelli’s guitarist, who also happened to be one of two ex-Soft Machinists performing. It was also my own live introduction to Fred, and he clearly made quite an impression. Interestingly enough I talked this year at a Soft Machine gig with John Etheridge about this particular band, although I’m still not entirely sure who the drummer was that night. If it was indeed, as is suggested online, Mark Fletcher, then that is also neat symmetry given his phenomenal performances at the Miller memorial gigs.
Great to see Fred covered in such depth here and given the stories of his own family history, it clears up any doubt as to where his trademark middle name emanates from! And, Fred if you do celebrate your 60th birthday with a solo performance in the Crooked Spire (Chesterfield’s baffling landmark) then I’ll be there…
The review from Facelift Issue 3 is below:
Elton Dean/John Etheridge Quartet – Chesterfield 14th December 1989
Two figures from contrasting eras of the Soft Machine at work here: both are now respected figures in the British jazz scene. The gig itself was billed as ‘fusion’, and indeed, given John Etheridge’s influence over the material, it was some distance away form the type of music Elton Dean performs with his own quintet and quartet. That said, the band appeared to approach the various composite styles in turns, rather than produce a hybrid sound as Phil Miller might. The band played two sets of very lengthy compositions ranging from the free improvisation of a John Coltrane number that I’m certain contained mutilated segments of ‘Seven Drones’, to Etheridge’s flurried, meticulously-structured solos. Etheridge spent the entire gig on his semi-acoustic guitar, producing a sound much closer to the likes of Django Rheinhardt than the strident guitar-hero tones of ‘Softs’ or ‘Alive and Well…’ and sounding all the more accomplished for it.
The real revelation of this band, for me, was Fred Baker: the fretless bassist who succeeded Hugh Hopper in In Cahoots Quite apart from laying down some fairly uncompromising rhythms, two or three times he was allowed to take fairly lengthy solos not only showing a dexterity that most guitarists would have been proud of, but producing some genuinely moving passages, rare for a bassist in an entirely solo environment. One almost takes for granted Elton Dean’s biting intrusions into the line, but no better testament to his talent came during the encore, when, seemingly isolated by an esoteric excursion into the blues by Baker and Etheridge, he almost casually unleashed a ferocious assault on the eardrums on his alto. It’s often difficult to see if there are any new directions left to take in music: this quartet, with the possible exception of Fred Baker, certainly weren’t breaking any new ground, but the music they produced was far more than the tired restatement of ideas that many ‘fusion’ bands seem to be content with.
There are lots more old Facelift articles at http://www.faceliftmagazine.co.uk