‘Say Grace’ is one of those albums with the ability to creep up on you and worm its way into your subconscious, resulting in you returning to it on a regular basis, and each time it revels something new. With this in mind a trip to London for an intimate show at Dingwalls, hidden away in the bowels of Camden market, was high on my list of priorities.
Sam Baker is performing as a trio on this European tour with Carrie Elkin (vocals, accordion, acoustic guitar) and Chip Dolan (keys, accordion, acoustic guitar) adding their not inconsiderable talents to flesh out the sound. The three are obviously firm friends and have a warm relaxed manner that works beautifully as a counterpoint to the songs which are very much routed in the real world and his personal experiences. Sam, looking very dapper with a long white scarf, ribbed Carrie about her newly acquired accordion skills before telling us she was actually on her honeymoon, as she had married singer-songwriter Danny Schmidt just before the tour commenced and Sam had officiated.
Opening with the haunting ‘Palestine’ featuring a superb solo vocal intro by Elkin, a hush fell over the audience which would remain in place for the duration of the two sets the trio would perform on the night. The first set, later dubbed the happy set, featured tracks from ‘Say Grace’ including ‘Isn’t Love Great’ the nearest thing he had to a love song Sam stated, ‘White Heat’ and ‘Ditch’ alongside two new songs ‘Peace Out’ and ‘Moses And The Reeves’ the latter of which sounded especially fine.
After a short intermission Baker returned and told us about the terrorist bombing in 1986 that almost cost him his life while travelling by train to Machu Picchu in Peru. The explosion killed seven people including the German family seated next to Baker and left him with brain damage, a cut artery and blown-in eardrums amongst his many injuries. The recovery from this event was very long with gangrene setting in and the damage to his arm meant he had to learn to play guitar left handed. The events are referenced this evening in mesmerising performances of ‘Steel’ and ‘Broken Fingers’ before the trio switched mood with the jazzy ‘Button By Button’ featuring some lovely piano from Chip Dolan and a sleek sultry harmony vocal from Elkin.
Sam Baker had a rapt London audience in the palm of his hand with his wry good humour and an engrossing writing style and delivery shaped by his life experiences. It was a pleasure to be at the show and I urge you if Sam Baker is in your town he is not to be missed.