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Sunday 5th April
Live at The Loft, (above the Kings Pub), Albert Road, Southsea, PO5 2SE
Doors open 7.30pm - 10.30pm
£7 - General Admission
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Over the past months, Michael Baker has been setting the stage for his pivotal record, Salt. We’ve already heard the poignant ‘Baby Books’, a touching ode to the songwriter’s friend who sadly lost their life to suicide, with It’s All Indie describing it as a “melancholic ballad, which shines with an incredibly emotive honesty.” From there, our ears soaked in the sounds of retrospective love song ‘Past The Evening’, “a tender return, showcasing the songwriter's deftness of touch, and his gilded use of colour,” as commented by Clash Magazine. Then, most recently was the release of timeless recording ‘They Look Just Like They Know’, “a more realistic perspective on mental health and personal reflection” according to Earmilk.
With plentiful press praise and returning fans from Baker’s debut Dust & Bone LP, the Brighton-based musician has now released his ten-track sophomore album, upon which he reflects here:
“My first album was your classic, for want of a better word, heartbreak record,” says Baker. “Coming past that period of my life, I made this album the one where I was able to talk about mental health. I was turning 30 in the music industry, that was hard. You question a lot of things at that age until you start realizing that it’s not all that serious. Ultimately, it was the happiest two years of my life while making this record. I have a wonderful girlfriend, wonderful friends, but still the same mental health problems that I’d been able to blame on other things before. It shocked me that I was still having these ups and downs.”
BIOGRAPHY, by NME’s Andrew Trendell
“I lived in my van for two and a half years to pay for the making of my first record,” casually laughs singer-songwriter Michael Baker. “I moved into the van after a typical period of heartache. I had nowhere to go, but it was pretty good actually!”
From this, you can gather a lot about the Anglo-French troubadour. Mainly, he takes nothing for granted and lives for his music.
Spending his childhood near Brighton (where he went to the same school as Rag N’ Bone Man), Michael got his first guitar aged eight after seeing Oasis live and needing to learn ‘Wonderwall’. In his teens, the songs soon started to flow. It wasn’t long before the purity of his voice, the direct rawness of his writing and the sheer scope of his sound found him regular gigs and a devoted fanbase – one that only grew bigger and more in love with the release of his magnificent debut album Dust & Bone.
A soaring collection of heart-wrenching indie-folk and cinematic sounds, Dust & Bone was recorded with Massive Attack collaborator Dan Brown, and was a staggering first showcase of Baker’s ambition and soulful style. “I’m really proud of the songwriting on that record,” he admits. “I was in such a bad place in my life when I made it, but it got such a great response from the people who heard it.”
After releasing another EP, Baker moved out of his van and back to Brighton, where he found himself gigging and performing with hometown art-rockers Common Tongues & drummer Fred Hills. Their friendship and progressive approach would form the basis of Baker’s magnificent second album Salt. “They’re like a band of brothers to me now,” says Baker of the band, who among them have worked with Lucy Rose. “They sound like Pink Floyd meets Simon And Garfunkel, where prog meets synth meets folk – that really speaks to me. They helped me to create this river of guitars and we play so instinctively.”
Early sessions for Salt started when Baker hit the studio with Dan Brown and Oliver Baldwin, who had recently finished making Aldous Harding’s acclaimed album Party with PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish. While promising Michael says ‘’It felt like I needed more time to experiment than we had scheduled in.” So Baker headed back to Brighton to record and produce the album with long-time friend Ed Martin.
After discovering that his childhood home would be empty for a few weeks while his parents were in the process of moving away. He went in and stripped everything away, begged and borrowed all the equipment he needed, crammed the band in, drank a lot of wine, got a little stoned and naturally just flowed through the album – playing all day and all night. The recordings were so impressive, that Baldwin agreed to mix the record at Real World Studios and gave the songs a whole new dimension (as well as inviting Jack White’s pedal steel player Maggie Björklund to play on the album too).
“I absolutely love artists like Cat Stevens and Bon Iver,” says Baker. “What I did with this album was combine my love of Country and electronic to my sound.” Drenched in harmony and loaded with life and personality, Salt is a record that maps Baker’s journey through darkness and vulnerability to something a lot more hopeful.
Among the key tracks that show Baker’s road to recovery, ‘Baby Books’ was inspired by being in close proximity to someone taking their own life – and totally changing the way he saw the world. Single ‘They Look Just Like They Know’ also deals with how “the mind can be a deadly place” and “feeling trapped in the prison of your own vision”. He’s looking for the sunrise on the horizon, too. Baker’s personal favourite ‘Claire’ celebrates the “the beauty of space in a relationship” and the escapist ecstasy of ‘One Good Damn’ has won over scores of new fans with its feel-good magnetism.
Salt is a towering accomplishment that will win hearts with its adept handling of love, loss and hope, but there’s more to come. Baker has already written and demoed fourty new songs for his next album (including a genre-bending journey into electronica with Bat For Lashes’ collaborator Ben Christophers). For now though, you’re about to get to know the real Michael Baker. “I feel like I have too much of a personal relationship with anyone who says they like my music,” concludes Baker. “I’ve been getting letters and messages from people saying that my songs have got them through a very hard time, and I don’t know how to reply to them other than as if I’d known them my whole life. That’s the way that I would do it. I hope that my music gives them as much as it’s given me.”