❉ Ben Baker returns with another collection of witty essays.
Very much a companion to his collection Kill Your Television, Ben Baker’s latest book takes a look at music. As anyone who’s read his previous books, this is no straightforward look at the music world, instead it takes in such subjects as music choices for funerals, novelty records from the worlds of 2000AD and even his own appearance in a music video.
The book starts with a nod to his previous books, with an essay on the scariest piece of music heard on TV, the Open University fanfare. This is a great start, setting the theme that permeates the book; how music and memory dovetail. We all have music that takes us back to a time or place or moment in our lives, often vividly and sometimes unexpectedly. Baker explores this with many personal stories, most poignantly when the joy of his appearance in the video for Feeder’s Just A Day is juxtaposed with its premier on CD:UK happening just days after the death of his Grandad and bringing a few moments of happiness to the family at a very sad time.
Elsewhere there are happier stories of Baker’s evenings as a DJ, and even the nights that didn’t quite come off as planned raise a smile. I loved the story of a night standing in for a regular DJ in a rough pub which ended up with him being told off for not playing all the songs the usual DJ played and even more so, the New Year’s Eve gig that he was too ill to do in person but lead to his pre-planned playlist going down a storm with the punters, which as he himself commented I apparently did my best work when I wasn’t even in the building AND I got paid for doing it. And if that isn’t the real DJ’s dream, I don’t know what it is.
One of the most interesting chapters of the book takes a look at the Irish charts which are, it turns out, delightfully eccentric. Baker explores the somewhat odd music that made it to the charts in Ireland up until 1992, when they became slightly more homogenised with their UK equivalents. What he finds is a world of novelty records that didn’t trouble the charts in the UK, the strange musical careers of Father Ted stars Dermot Morgan and Frank Kelley, and the surprising songs that unexpectedly made it to the top of the charts in Ireland but not the UK. It’s a fascinating piece of research.
Towards the end of the book there’s an extended tribute to the much missed Chris Sievey, AKA Frank Sidebottom. Over two chapters, Baker takes an affectionate look over Sievey’s attempts to crack the charts. It’s often a tragic story of misfortune from being booked on Top of the Pops only to have the edition cancelled by strike action, misunderstood songs, and cult releases that deserved better, especially those recorded in his Frank Sidebottom guise.
The other chapter on Sievey recalls Baker receieving his gifts from the Chris Sievey Archive, thanks to his contribution to the Kickstarter appeal for Being Frank- the Chris Sievey Story. Here Baker’s delight in the frankly odd stuff he received is wonderful to read and it becomes an affectionate tribute to the man, despite the seven items not really revealing a great deal about the wonderfully eccentric Sievey.
Throughout the book, there’s so much to enjoy, from chart analysis of the surprising bands who never had a top ten single, love for the Super Furry Animals (and quite rightly too if you ask me), a look at Creation Records, a quick glance at the first episode of Later… With Jools Holland and finally a look at Baker’s setlist for his own funeral including a surprising choice to go out on.
As with Ben Baker’s other books, this is a fantastic and fun read that left me wanting more. As always I’ll be looking forward to his next collection if it contains a similarly eclectic set of essays. Take a dip into Baker’s world. You won’t regret it.
❉ Simon Hart is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.