Peter Ormerod reviews Danny Baker: Good Time Charlie's Back at Warwick Arts Centre
You couldn't wish for better company on a Saturday night. Over the course of three and a half hours, with but a 20-minute pause for breath, Danny Baker charmed and enthralled the audience with remarkable story after remarkable story, all apparently true, and proved himself as much of natural on the stage as he is on the radio. And radio for him is like the sea is for fish.
Ostensibly, the show picked up where his last tour ended. Having previously regaled audiences across the land with tales of his early childhood, here we get on to his school life, his adolescent antics and the extraordinary chain of events that conspired to place him time after time on the very pulse of popular culture, from punk to the rise of Michael Jackson to cutting-edge TV shows, returning frequently to one may quaintly term his domestic circumstances, family, pets and all. The evening is structured around a series of projected photographs which are intriguing, poignant, emotive and evocative enough in themselves. Baker tells the story surrounding each of them; but, given the effervescence of Baker's mind and the ebullience of his manner, it's never quite as straightforward as that. Even the digressions have digressions, the tales nested like Russian dolls.
Aside from the terrific entertainment of it all, one is left marvelling simply at the stamina, let alone the wordplay and the wit. Baker has grown into one of our great raconteurs, capable of drawing on a dazzling array of references, from Wodehouse to the Clash to music hall to Bowie to south-east London lingo to Vivian Stanshall to vintage cinema. It's all there, fizzing about in that head of his, and we're just lucky that he chooses to share it all with us.
All roads lead back, of course, to his dad, the irrepressible, incomparable Fred, known as Spud, a colossal force of nature and plainly a huge influence on the boy Baker. But Danny also appears to possess plenty of his mother's sensitivity and thoughtfulness; the show displays as big a heart as it does a head. And his closing remarks on the media's attitude to class are as vital as any spiel from our plethora of supposedly political comedians, the show ending with a stirring exhibition of pride and defiance.
There are still those who associate Baker primarily with lairy photos, dreadful TV shows and adverts for washing powder, and thus find him easy to dismiss. But it's their loss. The rest of us should cherish him while we have him. An evening with Danny Baker is as close as you can come to a guaranteed great night out.
* See dannybakerlive.com for future tour dates.