My grandad had a phrase. “Everyone’s the same, son”, he’d say. “We all go to the toilet every morning.”
Muhammad Ali said it better: “I don’t trust anyone who’s nice to me but rude to the waiter. Because they would treat me the same way if I were in that position.”
Which is a roundabout way of explaining why I am reviewing a speaking show that I didn’t think I was reviewing at 10.30 when it finished.
The disabled parking at Birmingham Town Hall is outside the venue through a locked door and it’d probably be easier to get into the CIA building to be truthful. So, its about 10 minutes after Danny Baker and Bob Harris have finished that I am getting in my motor. At the other end of the building Danny Baker is walking around the corner and has to climb down a bit of a drop. The security guard enquires as to his welfare: “good as gold, mate, good as gold. Lovely night, cheers for having us.” says one of the stars of the show. Which convinced me to try and put this into words, because its clear from that interaction that everything you hoped they’d be, they are.
That’s not even too much a digression, because this night is all about the minutiae. This is the “Backstage Pass”, but it’s not a wart’s and all exposé. And good. Because this is Danny Baker, he understands that the real fun is in Van Morrison eyeing up the pasties in the TFI Friday Canteen.
And if you understand that too, then Baker has always been your man. I’ll be honest, without the way he broadcasts, I might write in a different way. I try and break down the cliches. I try and adopt a style (like I’ll reference my Grandad in intro’s. Harris’ belief that you talk about music you love and ignore what you don’t that’s mine too. That’s why I only express love for the bands I review, because its genuine.
This is a partnership that seems to have been such a natural fit. Harris is the radio broadcaster that has lived music for 60 years but still champions all the new acts. Along the way tonight he references many of the hottest new Americana acts in the world. Ones we’ve reviewed on these pages with far less eloquence. Given all that it seems crazy to think they only started doing this just before Covid after a turn at the Bewdeley Folk Festival.
Their styles gel marvellously. Baker, is here, there, everywhere. Quickfire. Naturally funny and with a story for everything (he actually introduces Harris as “that’s the way it should be”) while Harris is the man who lives for music. “Whispering Bob”, the best voice in radio, the face of Whistle Test. His stories about the Stones, Zeppelin are gold, but also the energy with which he talks about Southside Johnny, say, or Duane Eddie is telling. He lives for what he does and he could talk about it for hours.
Two halves, with the second half ostensibly to answer questions from the audience – but anyone who’s ever heard Baker’s radio shows or podcasts knows that as he puts it, “one thing leads to another” and about three get discussed. Although in these there are brilliant tales of Marc Bolan and Paul Weller amongst others. There’s also an absolute cracker about Baker’s mate flooring Sid Vicious and the one’s about his old man kicking Jimmy Pursey out and grabbing Harry Enfield around the throat are fantastic.
The two of these “old heads” as it were, shooting the breeze for nearly three hours would never be for everyone, but if you have had these men as part of your life for 30 years or more, as I have, then this is an absolute beauty of a night.
At the end of the night, they play Famous People Poker and after discussing that they’ve both met all of The Beatles, Baker fixes the audience with a smile and says: “And that, Robert, is why we’re up here and they’re down there.”
Thing is though, both of them know how lucky they are. And they just want to share these stories for no other reason than they can. And they’ve got millions. To do this unscripted, though, is a talent.
And 15 minutes later, their ordinary status is proved beyond all doubt. And my grandad would be proud.