Monday, 10 January 2011

John Baker of The Radiophonic Workshop

"John Baker was my hero. When I was a boy, he was the person I most wanted to be. He was clever, talented, witty, fashionable and greatly popular. John Baker was my brother. We were born into an East End working class family, which, since 1780, had earned its living by making fireworks. Early in the twentieth century, the Bakers sold out to Brocks. The next in line, William [Bill], found another way of entertaining people. He took the name, Will Keogh, and became a minor music hall comedian basing his act on the eccentric Billy Bennett, whom he greatly admired. In 1936, he married a hairdresser's model, Violet [Vi], the daughter of a publican in the City of London. On the back of a truck they hired, they sat on two chairs and, with a few other belongings, were driven to their new home, a small terraced house in the former Essex fishing village of Leigh-on-Sea [122 Western Road]. On 12 October 1937, John was born. For the first eight years of his life, he was brought up by Vi as Bill, who was 35 on the outbreak of the Second World War, was called up to serve, first in North Africa and then in Italy..." Read more from Richard Baker here.

Born on October 12, 1937, Baker grew up in the East End of London and displayed musical talent quickly, sight reading and playing the piano skillfully while still in his early teens.

At the Royal Academy of Music, he studied piano and composition, becoming a GRSM (Graduate of the Royal School of Music) and LRAM (Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music).

After graduation, Baker joined the BBC in 1960, beginning as a studio manager and sound mixer, working on radio programs ranging from the news to music shows to broadcasts of plays. Three years later, he transferred to the Radiophonic Workshop, where he crafted distinctive music and sound effects using meticulous tape editing and manipulation and recordings of everyday sounds such as pulling the cork out of a bottle.

At the same time, Baker was also providing music for commercials and performing with jazz groups, and that jazz background made his work among the most rhythmically interesting Radiophonic Workshop output. The way he combined electronic music with live performances also set his work apart.

However, his busy working schedule sparked a drinking problem and depression that eventually led to his dismissal from the BBC in 1974, after which he didn't compose or perform in public again. After his mother's death, Baker's health worsened, and he moved in with Daphne Walker, an old acquaintance. They moved from London to the Isle of Man, where Baker contracted cirrhosis of the liver, and to the Isle of Wight, where he developed liver cancer in 1996; he died from it on February 7, 1997.

One of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's most prolific and inventive composers, John Baker helped define the sound of the BBC with his themes and sound effects - Heather Phares.

John Baker - Structures:

John Baker - Tomorrow's World:

Further information here, here & here.

1 comment:

  1. Having just purchased The Radiophonic Workshop Retrospective this post is absolutely fantastic. I do intend to get The John Baker tapes 1 & 2 very soon.
    The Biog was so interesting and moving. Thanks for posting this.