Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Review: Going to Sea in a Sieve: The Autobiography

Going to Sea in a Sieve: The Autobiography
Going to Sea in a Sieve: The Autobiography by Danny Baker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took me more than two decades to realise that Danny Baker isn't a chattering imbecile but is in fact a genius. This revelation came through spending an hour a day listening to the gloriously surreal inventiveness of his BBC London radio show.

Despite being co-founder of the legendary punk fanzine Sniffin' Glue and a major writer at New Musical Express in the late 70s and 80s, where conformity to 'correct' opinions was almost Maoist in its intensity, this is a man who has never denied his love for unhip, old music (such as Steely Dan and Anthony Newley) and who was almost lynched when, aged 20, he leapt on stage to berate a punk audience that was cheering at the news that Elvis had just died. More recently he's been railing against the tyranny of 'cool'.

This covers the first 25 years of his life, and what a fascinating life it is. His father was a docker who supplemented his income - as they all did - by taking a cut of Britain's flagging export trade. Baker sold knocked-off records to the Petticoat Lane traders and left school at 15, despite being top of the class, to work in a hip record shop in Soho, where he met all the stars but chucked Queen out for demanding that the shop play their debut album, which he and the manager hated.

Baker's story isn't a tale of triumph in the face of hardship: it's a story of of a happy, trauma-free, working-class upbringing; staying just the right side of poverty by keeping just the wrong side of the law; being happy by spending every penny as it comes; and succeeding by cheek, talent, wit, blarney and outrageous good fortune.

His warmth and utter lack of pretention keeps the book charming, while his comic talent keeps it fun and sometimes hilarious, never more so than in his record-shop days or his japes as receptionist at the NME. He even apologises for calling Kate Bush Chicken Licken.

My only complaint is that, having never given Nick Kent's testicles a moment's thought, I now have an image of them in my mind that can never be erased.

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