It seems surprising that, having been in the world of showbiz for so long, this is Danny Baker‘s first solo stage tour. But then, despite jokingly referring to the theatre as his “first love” in the tour’s promotional material, few people have perhaps been more synonymous with radio in the past 30 years than Baker himself.
Having got the idea while doing book signings, this show – titled Cradle to the Stage – found Baker on scintillating form, showcasing his fantastic wit and his rarely matched skill as a raconteur; the sort of gift which has made him arguably the UK’s finest broadcaster during his curate’s egg of a career.
Billed as a recollection of stories from his life, underscored by a large screen projecting photos from the family album, this was an evening of exquisitely-told tales – most of which have featured in the first two volumes of Baker’s autobiography, Going to Sea In a Sieve and Going Off Alarming (the third volume, Baker informed us, is running incredibly late), and his co-authored BBC2 series Cradle to Grave, similarly autobiographical and with Peter Kay starring as Baker’s characterful father, Spud.
Much like the books and TV show, it’s stories of Spud which hogged the limelight here, to the audience’s obvious enjoyment, though tellingly, Baker didn’t even make it as far as secondary school in what was intended to be a linear journey through his life but turned into a series of digressions and tangents, with the genial Baker remembering stories to share and triggering chain reactions.
It made for a ramshackle experience – there was, Baker said, no script, though that’s also an approach he prefers for his award-winning radio shows – but with hilarious vignettes from real life, delivered so expertly and vividly, to bemoan the lack of structure would be to ignore the freewheeling verve and joie de vivre of Baker’s entire output.
At the start of the second half, Baker began by lip-syncing to a routine from an old Max Miller LP he owned as a child, and it’s details like that – not to mention his anecdotes about meeting the likes of Spike Milligan, Kenneth Williams and Mel Brooks – remind that, though he was steeped in music and at the forefront of punk rock coverage at Sniffin’ Glue and the NME, he’s always been a connoisseur of comedy as well as a sought-after comedy writer.
Unabashed, crumpled nostalgia it may have been, but Baker’s love of his Southeast London upbringing and the way he fervently described where he grew up powered 90 minutes of high-quality entertainment; joyous and gag-packed, with Baker as a force of nature at the centre of it all. Even the audience questions in the second half, which sometimes reference notable calls or subjects from past broadcasting jobs, indicated just how much Baker’s work has connected with people over the years, particularly on the radio where he’s at his very best.
This show was a great reminder of just how much of a talent he’s been, and undoubtedly still is.