[Review] Ginger Baker’s Air Force (1970)

Ginger’s afro-jazz experiment recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall with Graham Bond, Steve Winwood and Denny Laine.

Kronomyth 1.0: Baker’s dozen.

“During this set we’re going to do a few very, very strange numbers.” So begins one of the more interesting chapters in the storied career of Ginger Baker. At the end of 1969, with no future in sight for Blind Faith following Eric Clapton’s departure, Baker conscripted Steve Winwood and Rick Grech for his next project, a 10-piece jam band featuring Denny Laine, Graham Bond and Chris Wood. The group rehearsed new material plus some of Baker’s bits (“Toad,” “Do What You Like”) and mounted a brief tour, including a sold-out concert at the Royal Albert Hall. That show became the basis for Ginger Baker’s Air Force, a weighty and unwieldy double album with a vertically challenged cover and only eight songs, more than half of which clocked in at over 10 minutes.

Surprisingly (or perhaps not, given the state of Creamania), the record entered the US and UK Top 40 and even generated a single in Laine’s “Man of Constant Sorrow.” In many ways, Ginger Baker’s Air Force is the clearest expression of Baker’s clouded muse, mixing rock, jazz and African music in a combustible live setting that covers its sins with showmanship. Given how much Baker was able to achieve in a trio setting, a ten-piece band might seem like overkill. And, of course, it is. That’s the whole idea, really. Baker wanted to play the sh*t out of these songs, and he does. Listening to these versions of “Toad” and “Do What You Like,” Baker’s excessive epics make perfect sense. They were designed as full sonic immersion experiences to be heard long, loud and live. Creation is a messy process, and Ginger Baker’s Air Force is a mess, yes, but also mesmerizing. Far more fun than any of Traffic’s live albums, at any rate.

Original 2LP Version

A1. Da Da Man (Harold McNair) (7:12)
A2. Early In The Morning (Traditional arr. by Ginger Baker) (11:09)
B1. Don’t Care (Ginger Baker/Steve Winwood) (12:25)
B2. Toad (Ginger Baker) (12:59)
C1. Aiko Biaye (Remi Kabaka) (12:58)
C2. Man of Constant Sorrow (Denny Laine) (3:51)
D1. Do What You Like (Ginger Baker) (11:45)
D2. Doin’ It (Ginger Baker/Rick Grech) (5:28)

Original 8-track version
A1. Da Da Man
A2. Don’t Care
B1. Early in the Morning
B2. Toad (part 1)
C1. Toad (part 2)
C2. Man of Constant Sorrow
C3. Aiko Baiye (part 1)
D1. Aiko Baiye (part 2)
D2. Do What You Like
D3. Doin’ It

The Players

Ginger Baker (drums), Graham Bond (alto), Rick Grech (bass & violin), Jeanette Jacobs (vocals), Remi Kabaka (drums), Denny Laine (guitar & vocals), Harold McNair (tenor & flute), Phil Seamen (percussion), Steve Winwood (vocals & organ), Chris Wood (tenor & flute). Produced by Jimmy Miller; engineered by Andrew Johns.

The Plastic

Released on 2LP, 8-track and reel-to-reel on March 30, 1970 in the UK (Polydor, 2662 001), the US (Atco, SD2/TP2/J-703) and Japan (Polydor, MP-9341/2); reached #37 on the UK charts and #33 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on 2LP in Japan (RSO, MWU-9717/8).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Polydor, 837 349-2).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc on February 16, 2004 (Lemon).

1 thought on “[Review] Ginger Baker’s Air Force (1970)

  1. I had the Lemon label cd release of this but found it unlistenable. Not the music, but the mastering – woolly, dulled and sounding like it was from some third generation cassette drop down. Lemon is the appropriate word. Is there a re-mastered release that is actually listenable?

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