John Baker: Oranges and Lemons
After yesterday’s barrage of Delia Derbyshire material (and don’t worry, there’s more to come), I thought this might be a good time to pause and take a look at another of the composers from the first “golden age” of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, John Baker.
Baker was a fantastically talented musician and accomplished pianist who joined the BBC as an SM in 1960, the same year that Delia Derbyshire went to work for the BBC as a trainee SM. He joined the Radiophonic Workshop team in 1963, bringing his jazz training to bear on tape-splicing techniques and producing wonderfully quirky, syncopated works that made free use of samples of ordinary sounds—liquid being poured from a cider bottle, for instance, or a few dropped coins.
(According to Baker’s brother, he was generally friendly with the other composers and engineers of the Workshop, and “reached an accommodation” with Derbyshire whilst privately criticizing her as more of a mathematician than a musician. Both Baker and Derbyshire appear to have been of what one might call “artistic temperaments”, so perhaps a little friction was unavoidable.)
For biographical details, I defer to what his brother, Richard Anthony Baker, wrote for the Trunk Records release of The John Baker Tapes. Though he enjoyed considerable success with the Workshop for some time, his life is not a happy story. His obituary from 1997 reports that “ill health forced him to part company from the BBC in 1974”, which is another way of saying that his drinking had gotten the better of him. Nevertheless, he left a remarkable body of work, and it was difficult to choose just one track to share from the John Baker Tapes collections. I finally settled on “Oranges and Lemons”, a track which gathers together several short mood pieces that Baker composed for BBC Radio London. The styles range from childlike melodies to elegant miniature classical works of art to a bit of swinging jazz—all compositions that show off Baker’s compositional range and facility with tape.
- The John Baker Tapes vol. 1 and 2. Trunk Records, 2008. Liner notes by Jonny Trunk, Alan Gubby, and Richard Anthony Baker.