It’s more than 20 years since I first encountered Danny Baker on the airwaves and the experience made an indelible mark. A famed career in front of the TV cameras notwithstanding, it was on the radio where Baker sounded – and felt – most at home, with his hugely popular shows tracing the absurdity of football and everyday life at an almost molecular level. Never had minutiae seemed more vital, or more universal.
In more recent years, Baker’s has turned his enormous skill as a raconteur to books – he’s published three volumes of his autobiography and has hinted on Twitter that there are more to come – and latterly the stage. It’s odd to think that such a masterful storyteller had never graced the boards for a full live tour prior to last year’s Cradle to the Stage outing, but its follow-up Good Time Charlie’s Back has come barely twelve months later.
Missed 2017’s dates? No matter, because Baker kicked off the show with a whistle-stop tour through the highlights of that night’s precursor, to get the audience up to speed. As he acknowledged, it was likely to be a long ride, and he was proved to be correct. At a mere three-and-a-bit hours long, Good Time Charlie’s Back might have challenged the thirst, especially given the weather, but it certainly didn’t tax the patience. In truth, he probably could’ve gone on much longer, and there might have been some truth to the admission that he’s positioning himself as the natural heir in this regard to the late Ken Dodd.
Whereas on his last visit the emphasis was squarely on his early life and family, especially his father, this time it was more obviously about himself, detailing the improbable fortunes and adventures he encountered after leaving school, from working in a record shop frequented by stars such as Marc Bolan, Elton John and Mick Jagger, to his place at the epicentre of the UK punk scene via the fanzine Sniffin’ Glue and later being recruited to work at the NME.
The tales from his life were so often fanciful or ludicrous that they’d be extraordinarily funny on their own, yet Baker’s wit and ebullience imbued them with a scarcely matched comic energy, his life-long love of Milligan, Wodehouse, Williams and Morton among others shining brighter than ever before. Even if you weren’t familiar with Baker’s career away from the spotlight, writing for some of the country’s most celebrated and successful comedians, it was abundantly clear that this is a man who not only knows how to spin a yarn but also wring as many gags as possible out of a set-up, however elaborate. Combining a writer’s knack for choosing the perfect words to construct a vignette, and a stand-up’s gift for impeccable timing, the end result was a show which rattled along, crammed with jokes and sparkle which few could even come close to competing with.
Before taking to the road for Cradle to the Stage, Baker – a revered broadcaster and Radio Academy Hall of Fame member, yet inexplicably only on the air for two hours a week, on his Saturday morning Radio 5 Live show – suggested he was preparing to retire and head to the US for a life away from the world of showbiz. His latest venture, though, ended on a note which indicated more to come, and it’s difficult to imagine a point when Baker will run out of stories to tell. The show must go on, until it doesn’t, and while he’s on this form he’s still one of the hottest tickets in town.