We’re dipping into the Far Out Magazine vault to look back at one special show at the Royal Albert Hall, for a special band Cream’s farewell show, which featured arguably the greatest percussionist of all time, Ginger Baker.
There a few certainties in life but showing up to a gig featuring Ginger Baker and being pounded across the face with a barrage of mind-expanding beats is definitely one of them. The late, great percussionist is often in contention for the title of ‘Best Drummer Ever’ but we think this solo from 1968 is proof he was the greatest.
Ginger writes in his memoir of how he started out life as a percussionist: “After sitting in with a band at a party, I’d never sat on a kit before (the kids virtually forced me to play), I discovered that I could play the drums just like that… I heard two of the horn players remark “christ! we’ve got a drummer!” that was it… a light went on… I was a drummer.”
Baker passed away last year with a legend greater than most percussionists can ever hope for, though we can imagine some areas of Baker’s lifestyle they’d like to cut out. He died as one of the legends of drumming, one of the final few who professed to be at the burning beginning of rock and roll, making sure the rhythm of the flame was just right. He will remain a member of the pantheon of rock forevermore.
The main reason being that Ginger Baker was utterly unrelenting. The drummer never took his foot off the gas, on stage or off it, and he drove the bands he was apart of, at 100mph, not swerving for obstacles instead smashing straight through them. Of course, the biggest band in Baker’s life was Cream.
Alongside Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton, the trio formed in 1966 and for two years were one of the most important bands of the decade, laying the foundations for artists like Led Zeppelin and becoming the musician’s favourite band. But all good things come to an end and for Cream, things soured rather quickly as Bruce and Baker continued the fighting they had enjoyed during their previous band. It all came to a close at their farewell show of 1968.
The sets, as part of a two-night residency at the Royal Albert Hall in November of that year, saw Cream fly through covers of blues classics such as ‘I’m So Glad’, ‘Sitting on Top of the World’, ‘Cross Roads’ ‘Steppin’ Out’, ‘Spoonful’ as well as their own tracks such as ‘White Room’, ‘Politician’ and ‘Toad’.
It wasn’t a necessarily vintage performance either, “It wasn’t a good gig; Cream was better than that,” the late Baker said in the documentary Cream: Classic Artists. “We knew it was all over. We knew we were just finishing it off.” At least Baker signed off on his solos within Cream the right way and delivered perhaps one of the most metronomic yet wild performances we’ve ever heard.
As is often the way when finding a YouTube clip of your favourite old artist, the comments will tell you all you need to hear and one person accurately depicted Baker’s style. Nodding to Baker’s idol Buddy Rich, the user said: “Buddy Rich takes you to school on the drums and Ginger Baker takes you to another planet.”
The drummer is incredibly tight, hardly missing a beat, smashing through the skins with a verve and vigour that stood him out from the technically proficient jazz drummer of the day. As well as being on point, Baker was also a wild man. As free behind the kit as anywhere else in his life, he allowed himself to be lost in performances and below is such a show.
In the 10 minute clip, which features audio from the show put to another video, Baker delivers perhaps one of his best solos of all time and a kind reminder to anybody doubting his genius, that you undervalue Mr Baker at your own peril.