And so to the final date of the UK tour where the show signage indicated another sell out. We Brits have taken Sam Baker to our hearts since Bob Harris first played him on BBC Radio 2 back in April 2005; such was the response to Iron that sales of MERCY spiked incredibly and consequently set Baker on a full time career as a singer songwriter.
Known for his keenly observational style, Baker’s writing is sparse, poetic, tender and visual. I don’t think that I can recall a writer who uses words so economically yet manages to be so descriptive – his lyrics really do conjure up images in the mind and transport you to the places he writes about and into the lives of the people who inhabit those places. A whole lifetime condensed into a three minute vignette – Odessa, Mennonite, Waves…….
Many of Baker’s inspirations stem from his struggle to deal with the horrific injuries he suffered after, as he puts it, ‘being caught up in somebody else’s war’. The 1986 bomb in the Peruvian train carriage he was travelling in killed his three fellow passengers and left him with life threatening injuries. Thankfully he survived but not unnaturally was consumed with trying to recover physically and mentally as well as with the process of forgiveness. This is none more so apparent than in Broken Fingers and Snow which tonight were played in sequence being preceded by special guest, Carrie Elkin, singing Dear Sam, her response to his incredible life story “Dear Sam, Dear Sam/I thought of you today/
You were ridin’ a train/And it was safe…” There was also a rare outing for Steel another moving autobiographical lyric.
One of Baker’s own heroes is Dust Bowl Troubadour Woody Guthrie whom he acknowledged by covering Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad. Elkin on vocals and guitar, and Chip Dolan on keyboards, accordion and guitar lent sympathetic accompaniment throughout the evening. Baker was struggling with his voice and if you’ve been to one of his shows you’ll know that he has a tendency to talk (a lot!) between songs. He meanders off at tangents, he pokes fun at his audience and disparages himself but tonight he concentrated on saving his voice for singing.
Just before an interval break Baker joked that they’d play a longer second set ‘if anyone comes back!’ and true to his word they did. Including requests that had been made as well as a new song All Fall Down played with vim by Dolan on keyboards, the 10 song set finished with Pretty World. ‘How beautiful are these days’ it says on the CD packaging and how beautiful indeed.
Just as we were all encouraging Baker, Dolan and Elkin to return for an encore they invited a fellow musician on stage – Rod Picott had been quietly standing at the back watching the performance ahead of his own impending tour. Picott joined in the encore, Truale, as did the audience following which Baker concluded the show with a deconstructed hymn – Go In Peace. Cue more applause and cheers of appreciation; those on seats rose to give a standing ovation. Another wonderful evening of music, laughter, tears and friendship.
Thank you Bob Harris for introducing me, all those years ago, to the beauty that is Sam Baker. Jela Webb
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