Oliver Cromwell famously asked Peter Lely to paint him “warts and all*,” but even the Lord Protector might have baulked at Jay Bulger’s unflattering documentary portrait of the irascible Peter “Ginger” Baker, whom even the great Neil Peart acknowledges as the greatest drummer in the world. After exhausting the possibilities of the jazz form, Baker switched to drumming for “prog” and “rock” groups (Baker detests such labels), including the short-lived supergroup Cream, a lightning-in-a-bottle creative enterprise which Baker’s equally legendary drug consumption helped forestall after only a handful of albums and live shows. After drifting through a few other bands, mostly for musos, Baker left his wife and children for an 18-year-old groupie (“Well, she could have been seventeen,” he admits), and decamped to Africa, where he played drums with Fela Kuti and polo with Nigerian royalty. And from there, believe it or not, Baker’s story takes a turn for the weird.
Bulger, the man behind the camera, is more chancer than filmmaker: he fell into Baker’s orbit by pretending to be a reporter from Rolling Stone magazine – who ended up publishing the resulting interview, instantly gifting Bulger with a career in music journalism. Yet he knew that mere prose and pictures couldn’t do justice to Baker’s larger-than-life personality and toxic personal history, so he takes his camera into his subject’s home for a few fractious interviews, illustrating his outlandish backstory with vintage clips, still photographs and helter-skelter animation. Baker’s Cream band mate Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, Johnny Rotten and a dozen other living legends are on hand to balance the terrible tales of Baker’s misdeeds with awe-struck testimony about the fiery redhead’s unparalleled artistry.
The title, taken from a sign outside Baker’s compound in darkest Africa – where he lives with his (presumably) long-suffering fourth wife – isn’t kidding around: Baker is still as ferocious as a pit bull, and Bulger’s film is as compelling as a car wreck, and twice as dangerous. ★★★★
*a story now believed to be apocryphal. Unlike anything in Beware of Mr Baker