Tuesday night saw us hitting the Astra Kulturhaus where the much-loved band Rhye were playing. We weren’t there to see Rhye though, instead we’d come to see what all the fuss is about a young singer called Hak Baker.
An English folk singer. Guitar and voice. Telling tales of the everyday. Yawning already?
Yeah but see Hak Baker is different. Or is he?
Folk singers are and were always people who play music not made for the hoi polloi but for the man in the street. Folk singers came mostly from the beaten down, the broken-hearted. The working man’s poet, the one that came to tell you how it was around the corner, over there, in the next town that’s just like yours, finding a common thread, pulling it together, pulling it tight. The protest singer, the political naysayer. The ragamuffin, the urchin, the people’s poet, the unasked town crier who cries real tears as he tells his tales of the common man’s woe.
Which is what Hak Baker is, and what he does.
What isn’t strange, and which makes perfect sense, but which has been the gist of so many you-what? headlines about Hak, is that he’s a black guy who grew up in modern-day East London, Isle of Dogs, he has dreads and he spent his teenage making music that he doesn’t but that other people call Grime.
But the thing is, that’s not weird, or strange, it’s not something that doesn’t make any sense, because Hak Baker is that working man’s poet, the unasked town crier, the observer of everyday life, the political protest singer, the ragamuffin, the urchin who tells it how it is.
He’s a big fuckoff heart that you can hear, as his spins his yarns, is full to breaking.
And this is modern Britain; it’s not madam george and roses. Today the one that’s best placed to tell the tales of the common man’s woe, the tales from the other side of the tracks, is exactly that Hak Baker, a young man who grew up running from the police and causing mischief and mayhem in East London. Hak Baker at Astra Kulturhaus August 2018. Photo by Mia Morris.
So there’s that.
Then there’s this: He’s got a heart, this Hak Baker. He’s a big fuckoff heart that you can hear, as his spins his yarns, is full to breaking.
just the right mix of anger, resignation, desolation and hope
He also has a way with words, he has a vocal delivery that has been compared to a cockney Frank Skinner…he has that vantage point, he has just the right mix of anger, resignation, desolation and hope. Plus the jokes that pop up here and there.
Anyway where was I, so we saw Hak Baker at Astra Kulturhaus. We chatted with him a bit before the gig, and that interview will be up in the next days. His sense of humour is as on display and as sharp as his observations about day-to-day life in East London.
He had the audience eating out of his lap in under five minutes.
Hak came out on stage, and I was amused to find that the same jogging shorts and polo shirt that he’d been wearing earlier, was his “stage outfit” too. So there he was, a beer in one hand and his guitar in the other, in polo shirt and jogging shorts. After propping his guitar up against the stool, which fell over as soon as he turned his back; and after starting to play before he realised his guitar wasn’t plugged in and appealing to the on-stage sound guy – he proved to be a hugely natural performer, smiling, laughing, grinning and joking. He had the audience eating out of his lap in under five minutes. For the seriousness of much of his lyrics, he’s full of humour and good vibes, engaging with the audience between songs. I only wonder how much of the words the audience got – the three loudly giggling Essex girls standing behind me notwithstanding. HIs delivery is off-the-cuff, a bit mumbly, words tumbling out as if he was bending your ear late at night in a dodgy London pub.
Couldn’t help but think – after the main act, indie darlings Rhye had come on – that it was an odd pairing. The two acts showed in some way what the other lacked. Hak’s show was pared right down, guitar and voice, and the technical side of it kept to a minimum, his strengths being, as I said above, his personable presence and directness; Rhye played with an undulatingly smooth perfection, the singer’s voice crystal clear and plaintive, the carpet of sound behind him lush and rich. But he didn’t talk to the audience at all until three songs in, and that was just a quick hallo. There wasn’t much at all in the way of a performance mentality. I didn’t have the sense that, if I went home and listened to their album at home instead, I would really be missing much. But the music was very…nice.
But hey, the place was packed out and they obviously have legions of fans who love what they do. Fair play. Just, as I say, an odd juxtaposition of opener and headliner.
There you go.
Noel Maurice is one of the founders of indieberlin. Originally from the UK via a childhood in Johannesburg, he has been resident in Berlin since 1991. Describing himself as a ‘recovering musician’, he is the author of The Berlin Diaires, a trilogy detailing the East Berlin art and squat scene of the early 90s, available on Amazon and through this site.