Me and Danny Baker

I thought you might like to hear about the time I met writer and broadcaster Danny Baker.

It was when I was working at the Victoria Wine shop in Marylebone High Street in the summer of 1980/81 or thereabouts. One day I got a call at work from My Best Mate Aky. He suggested that after we were both finished I join him and his girlfriend Silvana over in Poplar, East London for a few scoops. Say no more.

Now, I must introduce you to Silvana. Like the amplifiers in Rob Reiner’s classic send – up of the Rock business, ‘Spinal Tap’, Silvana’s controls all went up to ‘11’. Presence, Intensity, Tone, Speed, Gain and Volume – all up to ‘11’. I had never met someone who could talk so much, so loud, so quickly, spin such convincing yarns, rip the piss out people in such a way that they didn’t even realise she was doing it. AND have an opinion on everything – even subjects she knew nothing about. Quite frankly, she scared the shit out of me. I simply could not figure out how to cope with this crackling, fizzing, jumping box of fireworks. Indeed, it was some years later, when quite by chance I wound up teaching in the same school as Silvana in South East London that I began to get the measure of her. But she had  a heart of gold, and the abiding image I have of her implanted in my brain is all-talked-out, but refusing to admit defeat, pushing her ‘80’s wide rimmed specs up her nose, the old map cracking into a smile and laughing her throaty laugh.

Anyway, now I’ve trashed one old friend, I’ll move on to the main task of the day. I made my way over to Silvana’s flat in Poplar: Fitzgerald House, one of the tower blocks on East India Dock Road, sixteenth floor, I believe. I think I must have had a few ‘travelling cans’ (usually a 4-pack of beers designed to combat the stress and boredom of travelling on London Transport) on the way over, because my memory of the evening is decidedly hazy from the outset. What I do remember was that we ajourned to some moody ‘estate’ pub behind the flats.

Silvana announced that we would be joined by a friend of hers: “Danny. He writes for the NME” (New Musical Express. At the time the definative voice on music which, during the 70s had a weekly circulation in the region of 300,000)’. Knowing how keen I was on music Silvana intimated that ‘Danny’ and I should have quite a lot in common. Well, I was brought up on the NME! I remember how at school, my mate Baz would get a copy every week, and our little gang: Self, Baz and Beckett would stand around reading it from cover to cover. News, reviews, tours, cartoons and jokes. I couldn’t wait. When Danny arrived we were introduced and left to chew the fat for a while. Thus, ensued one of the most dismal evenings I have ever spent in a public house.

Danny seemed distinctly reluctant to chat, whereas I was keen to know all about the NME, who he had interviewed, what they were really like etc. etc. It didn’t go too well. It seemed every band I liked, he hated “Magazine? Devoto – Twat!” and vice versa. It was a pretty disagreeable all in all and eventually all civilised conversation dried up. I caught the 106 back to our hovel in Stoke Newington, thinking “That Danny Baker’s a real miserable bastard”. And so it was. I could never quite reconcile the upbeat,cheery public persona with what I knew to be in private, a darkly-tortured soul. And a miserable bastard.

Until a year or so ago.

Having been out of contact with my mate Aky for about ten years, we got back in touch. After a few weeks, I happened to mention my memories of this forgettable evening and what a grumpy git Danny Baker was.

“Ah yes” he says. “What you probably didn’t realise was that Silvana and ‘Danny’ had recently split up”

(My mate Aky, it seems being the primary cause of the stoppage.)

Which probably explains ‘Danny’s’ demeanour on the night in question.

“But you’re a bit mixed up” (probably the ‘travelling cans’)

“It wasn’t Danny Baker … It was Danny Kelly!”

The Dannys: Kelly and Baker, or is it Baker and Kelly?

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about:

Kelly is a music journalist, sports presenter, and internet publisher. He began writing for New Musical Express in the early 80s and was its editor from the late 1980s to 1992. After that he edited the British music monthly, Q, and was awarded the title British Magazine Editor of the Year for his work there. He also launched the sports monthly Total Sport. He often works in partnership with fellow sports fan and radio journalist Danny Baker.

Baker worked in record shops before co-founding punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue in 1976. His work on Sniffin’ Glue led to an offer from the New Musical Express  where he stood out for his wit and comic style. He went on to work on London ITV’s The 6 O’Clock Show in 1982. He became the weekend breakfast presenter for Greater London Radio in 1989, then started working for the BBC on Sportscall, Radio Five, in 1990. In 1992 began writing for TV on clip show TV Hell, then  presented Radio 1’s Saturday and Sunday morning show in 1993, as well as a short-lived late night television chat show, Danny Baker After All, on BBC1. Despite critical acclaim, his radio show was cut in 1996. Writing for Channel 4’s hit show TFI Friday followed in 1996, hosted by Chris Evans, which ran until 2000. He also wrote for comics Jonathan Ross and Angus Deayton and became a regular on panel shows such as Have I got News For You. In 2001 he returned to the BBC from Virgin Radio to host BBC London’s breakfast show, winning Sony’s DJ of the year in 2005. In 2008 he returned to BBC 5 Live, taking over the Saturday morning show in 2009. Diagnosed with cancer 2010. In 2012 his regular afternoon Show on BBC Radio London was axed, despite listener protests.

Baker’s autobiography. Well worth a read

So now you know…

© Andy Daly 2012

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