Baker Gurvitz Army: Neon Lights – The Broadcasts 1975, 3CD/2DVD Box Set

The Baker Gurvitz Army – Neon Lights [5 Disc Boxset]

As a drummer, it’s rather embarrassing to admit that I had never listened to Ginger Baker in my life before I began reviewing this release. I had never listened to any music by Cream or Blind Faith and didn’t even know the two bands were connected. I had heard of Baker, of course, but I felt as though I was content with my current drumming heroes and that I didn’t feel like making space for another. Irrational, I know, but I’m glad that Esoteric’s new five-disc box set has pushed me outside of my comfort zone.

As soon as I had finished the first track from this set – the soulful Inside of Me, which incorporates some stunningly technical instrumental sections – I knew I was in for a good time. Baker is an absolute animal, constantly performing very powerful fills and rolls that feel very precise and premeditated, and the rest of the band – both Gurvitzes, Mr. Snips and Peter Lemer – do their very best to match his superstar energy. The resulting blend of hard rock, prog and jazz is utterly infectious, even if it isn’t particularly deep.

While the three CDs of radio broadcasts are wonderful, I had underestimated just how powerful the TV broadcasts would be, providing a clear view of the Army at work and a chance to study Ginger Baker up close. While the rest of the boys look just as serious as you’d expect a rock musician to look, I was struck by Baker grinning like an idiot the entire time. In the last ten years, he had been part of four supergroups, travelled across the Sahara and set up a recording studio in Lagos, Nigeria. It’s quite possible that being in the Baker Gurvitz Army was the easiest he’d had it in all that time. He certainly seems to take things less seriously, joking in between songs and even burping into the microphone.

Of course, I was far more interested to see his drumming technique than his personality; quite fortunately, the camera does pan to his pyrotechnics often. Baker’s arms and legs seem to move as if powered by a machine and the way he can consistently apply force to his drum rolls is astounding. On the other hand, he never dominates a song, leaving plenty of room for his bandmates to fill in with their own solos. I was fascinated to watch his drum solo on the Musikladen German TV performance; on the BBC concert, the editor had the bizarre idea just to show Baker’s face as he did a similar solo, which was highly frustrating. However, I was glad that none of the video footage had any wonky ’70s special effects applied to them.

The material comes from five different sources, all ostensibly recorded in 1975: CD 1 gives an hour-long BBC radio set; CD 2 and CD 3 make up a 92-minute set recorded in King’s Hall, Derby that was originally broadcast by Radio Trent; DVD 1 houses two BBC appearances, including an Old Grey Whistle Test performance and In Concert; and DVD 2 has the hour-long Musikladen set, featuring a couple of songs that were not broadcast originally. Disappointingly, the visual material only adds up to 96 minutes and could easily be housed on one DVD. If this is a move by Esoteric to get punters to pay more for the product, then it’s pretty despicable. At the very least, you can rest assured that the visual and audio materials are from different sources, so you aren’t getting the same thing twice; I still feel burned by Van der Graaf Generator’s The Bath Forum Concert which was actually the same concert three times, and I didn’t even pay for it!

With no official artwork to include, the box art and booklet feature stills from the broadcasts, which do not look good at all; the pixelation and videotape effects are a poor alternative to a proper photograph. Steve Pilkington’s essay is a good introduction to the band for newcomers (such as myself) but I would have liked to have seen more specifics around these particular broadcasts; all mention of them are kept to four brief paragraphs that don’t share any details you can’t find elsewhere. For example, it’s impossible to find the exact date of the BBC In Concert broadcasts, either for the radio or television version. Also, I noticed a misprint in the tracklisting claiming that CD 1 had ten tracks instead of nine. This is hardly Esoteric’s best work.

Packaging quibbles aside, this is a tremendous four hours of music to add to your collection and serves as an astonishing introduction to this short-lived group and the genius of Ginger Baker. It’s pretty unusual to experience a band live before you ever hear their studio work, but the band’s infectious live energy made me a fan very quickly and I have decided to purchase Esoteric’s Since Beginning box set of the group’s studio albums. I just hope that the energy I saw and heard also translated to their studio work.

Disc One – CD: BBC Radio 1 In Concert

01. Inside of Me (6:44)
02. Love Is (3:34)
03. The Hustler (7:33)
04. Time (4:35)
05. Space Machine (6:55)
06. The Artist (5:38)
07. Freedom (5:53)
08. Remember (8:38)
09. People (7:22)

Time – 56:47

Disc Two – CD: Live at King’s Hall, Derby – 21st October 1975
01. The Hustler (9:14)
02. Space Machine (7:00)
03. Remember (14:21)
04. White Room (4:23)
05. Neon Lights (5:00)

Time – 39:56

Disc Three – CD: Live at King’s Hall, Derby – 21st October 1975
01. Inside of Me (7:20)
02. Memory Lane (11:22)
03. Sunshine of Your Love (3:16)
04. The Artist (6:18)
05. Freedom (7:46)
06. Time (5:30)
07. Going to Heaven (10:52)

Time – 52:21

Disc Four – DVD: BBC Television Appearances
Old Grey Whistle Test, 7th February 1975
01. Help Me (4:35)
02. Inside of Me (5:46)
BBC TV In Concert, 1975 (25:24)
03. Inside of Me
04. Love Is
05. Mad Jack
06. Freedom
07. Memory Lane

Time – 35:45

Disc Five – DVD: Musikladen – German TV, February 1975
01. Inside of Me
02. Love Is
03. Wotever It Is
04. Mad Jack
05. Remember
06. The Gambler
07. Freedom
08. Memory Lane
09. 4 Phil
10. People

Time – 60:45

Total Time – 245:34

Ginger Baker – Drums, Percussion, Recitation (on Mad Jack)
Adrian Gurvitz – Guitar, Vocals
Paul Gurvitz – Bass, Vocals
Mr. Snips – Lead Vocals, Percussion
Peter Lemer – Keyboards

Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue#: ECLEC 52854
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 26th January 2024

The Baker Gurvitz Army – Cherry Red Records