PUT UP BALDOCK................................................TAKE HIM DOWN
For those who didn’t know him or have never even heard him, here’s my take on Ken Baldock – a great bass player, a hilarious and occasionally infuriating “chap” (as he would say) and a dear friend.
I met him in the summer of 1968, after I’d left university and before I joined the Tubby Hayes quartet. Ken had some freelance gigs with the likes of Tony Coe and Alan Branscombe which he rode me in on and also got me into a regular trio with Colin Purbrook. The trio had a weekly pub gig in Paddington and did a number of broadcasts, two for BBC Jazz Club and a few late night Radio 2-style “easy listening” sets.
Ken became the bass dep of preference with Tubby whenever Ron Matthewson was absent.
A decade later, Ken replaced Adrian Kendon in the Bobby Wellins quartet and we settled in there together with pianist Pete Jacobson for a few years.
Ken had a beautiful sound, a lovely choice of notes and he really swung – a delight to play drums with.
So much for the music. What about the “chap”?
Two episodes from the Bobby Wellins days I’ll never forget.
We had a week’s engagement at the Covent Garden club called “The Canteen” with trumpeter Howard McGhee. On the second night, when the drums etc were set up for the duration, Ken promised to pick Bobby, Pete and me up in his fairly spacious car from my flat in Shepherd’s Bush. He was as good as his word. What we had not bargained on was that he rang the flat door bell in full chauffeur’s uniform – black gloves, grey suit and peaked cap……………….
Then we did a concert in Bradford opposite the Art Ensemble of Chicago which was recorded for Yorkshire TV. (Incredibly, although it was never put out on YTV to my knowledge, a friend brought me back a video tape of it from Australia where it had been shown!)
Anyway, backstage at the interval, Ken accosted one of the Art Ensemble – I think it was Joseph Jarman – and addressed him in exaggerated black jive jargon and tone: Hey my man, you sounded crazy, baby! Jarman eyed him coolly and replied in a cut- glass received English accent: I have to say, I find that rather patronizing.
At some point in that period, Ken became interested in Buddhism and his insistence on chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo etc etc was a pain. Either he would do it noisily in the car or he would keep us all waiting while he got round to doing it in his hotel room after breakfast. Never mind, Ken, we forgive you!
When not feeling the urge to chant, Ken was an absolute master of the kind of surreal fantasy banter which jazz musicians resort to on the road. Because I had qualified as a solicitor, we developed a routine between us in which he was had up in Court for some unspecified but always grave offence.
PUT UP BALDOCK I would say, in the role of the clerk of the court summoning him to the dock from the cells.
I would then become the judge, asking him if he had anything to say before sentence was pronounced. Ken would then launch into a long rant about how he had been framed or he’d only done it for his sick mother or it was a terrible case of mistaken identity or whatever else he could dream up. I would then say This is a truly shocking case/I’d be failing in my duty if I did not pass the severest sentence permitted/It is a matter of some regret to me that the maximum sentence for this offence is a mere X years…..
Followed by a thunderous TAKE HIM DOWN! Whereupon Ken would shout the filthiest insults at the whole criminal justice system as he was led struggling away.
Such, such were the joys of travelling in such creative company!
Ken developed emphysema and then tried frantically to stop smoking. On one gig, I swear I saw him (Bobby would back me up if he was here) standing at the bar with nicorette patches on both arms, chewing nicorette gum and with a lit cigarette in each hand……………
Eventually Ken was also diagnosed with a cancer of the brain which developed slowly but curtailed his playing.
I was by then working as a priest at St.Bartholomew’s church. For those of you who are familiar with Brighton, it’s that huge red brick Noah’s Ark just at the back of the London Road. Every three weeks or so for a few months, while Ken was still driving, he’d motor down to Brighton for Sunday lunch and would always bring a really nice bottle of Claret or Beaujolais even though he himself no longer drank. This was a most enjoyable routine but the funny part is that he would first turn up at St.Bart’s for the Solemn High Mass and, to the bafflement of the rest of the congregation, ostentatiously finger his Buddhist beads and chant sotto voce throughout.
Ken’s funeral at Mortlake Crematorium was neither a Buddhist nor a Christian affair but a humanist one conducted by a compere whose air of well-practised self-confidence slightly grated. There was a fantastic turn-out of the London jazz fraternity however and we listened to some choice Baldock recordings and a very moving speech by John Critchinson.
Yes, Critch. Oh dear, who’s next for that great big-band in the sky?