Jon Baker was the guitarist in indie mainstays The Charlatans as they rose to success in the early 1990’s. When he was with the band he helped record some of their most iconic and memorable songs including singles The One I Know, Then, plus their debut album Some Friendly. Not much has been heard from Jon since his departure from the band in 1991, but his guitar playing and the songs that he helped to write with the band at that time have made his legacy and whereabouts all the more intriguing. Here’s a interview i conducted with Jon about his time in the band, why he left and what he’s up to now.
Hi Jon. Can you give us some detail’s about your upbringing?
I grew up in the urban metropolis that is Walsall in the West Midlands. Same upbringing as everyone else really. Went to school, got into trouble, found music.
What was the first music you remember listening to?
Growing up in the West Midlands we were bombarded with multicultural musical vibes. For me it was punk to ska and Trojan, ’60s garage, ska to reggae, reggae to blues parties, dub to drum’n’ bass and finally, Bhangra.
What would you consider the first ‘real’ music you got into?
Mid to late ’70s was all about the punk. I was about 12/13 years old and a mate’s older brother introduced me to a lot of the early New Wave coming out of the States, The Stooges, MC5, etc. Strictly speaking, these bands were from the late ’60s but we discovered them in the late ’70s, along with our own punk explosion.
Were you in any bands prior to The Charlatans?
By the mid ’80s I was in a well-known local band, The Violet Slides. At this time, the ’60s garage thing was massive in the Midlands and still is. The Violet Slides built their reputation on doing covers of great songs from the Pebbles series of albums. From there I went on to play with Liquidy Headbox who did a similar thing, ’60s garage. This is the point where my path and the original Charlatans cross. At an Indie night in Walsall, I got the DJ to play a recording, on cassette, of one of our covers from a gig the weekend before. I think it was Action Women. Blunty (Martin Blunt, Charlatans bass player) was at the bar, asked me who this was and I said Me. The rest is history as they say.
Did you see the early version of The Charlatans before you joined?
I saw the early version once at JB’s, Dudley, supporting The Stone Roses. They were OK, but did a cover of ‘Is Vic there?’ I suppose Baz liked that and i suppose that’s why Baz had already left the band by the time i was introduced. The Charlatans were at the time of my arrival Rob, Martin and Jon. They invited me to a rehearsal and off we went. Tim joined about 2 or 3 weeks later.
Early on in your time with The Charlatans you were credited as ‘Jon Day’. Did you change your surname from Day to Baker?
No name change from Day to Baker or vice versa. Martin thought I looked like Graham Day from ‘The Prisoners’ so some songs are credited to Day but mostly Baker, just a record company admin cock up.
What are your memories of the early days in The Charlatans? Were the songs coming together naturally?
Almost all the songs from the early jam sessions when myself and Tim joined went on Some Friendly. Those early rehearsals and first gigs, as you can imagine, were immense and life changing. I was about 22/23 years old and having a blast.
The debut Charlatans release was the infamous 3 track demo cassette. Where was this recorded?
The debut demo with myself and Tim was recorded somewhere in Shropshire, on a farm I think. The demo was well received but didn’t quite hit the mark with the record companies so we recorded Indian Rope and released it ourselves. That’s when it went mental. Because of the success of Indian Rope, we were chased by a lot of record companies.
You then went onto release the classic singles The Only One I Know & Then, then you went on a nation wide tour in 1990 with support band Intastella. I attended one of the dates at Nottingham’s Rock City. The gig was sold out. Intastella were pelted with oranges etc…when The Charlatans came on stage to intro track Imperial 101 the place went mental! What are your memories of this time?
So from Indian Rope to The Only One I Know and the first ‘proper’ tour, including Nottingham’s Rock City, those where crazy times, I’m pretty sure that all venues capacity rules were broken due to our extensive guest lists and fire door sneak-ins. Top Of The Pops was funny. Hall and Oates, Snap, The Farm and us. The Word was ridiculous, blagging it like the rest but it worked a treat.
Pics courtesy of Wendy Stone
Since the passing of Rob Collins (The Charlatans original keyboard player), on YouTube there is footage of Rob and you fooling around on tour in Japan. Was touring alot fun?
I’d not seen that footage on YouTube with Rob and myself until you mentioned it. I think we may have been in the bar the night before by the look of us. Yes, it was a good tour (in Japan) but I think we only did about 2/3 gigs and a few TV appearances.
Some Friendly is an all time classic album of the period. You contributed to some of the tracks on the album. Do you have any memories of recording the album?
Some Friendly was recorded in Mold, Wales. Both a good and exciting time. I think that because we had been touring, a lot of the songs we played ended up on the album and the process was enjoyable with no pressure. We knew the songs inside out and only needed a few tweaks here and there.
The Over Rising EP, especially the Over Rising track has some stunning playing by yourself. Are you happy with your playing on the track?
I think with the Over Rising EP, we had started to find our groove, or I did, if that makes sense. I think all the songs stand up and have their own merits. You’re right, I did enjoy Over Rising, I was allowed to be a bit more free. And yes, it was still enjoyable.
There have been many rumours of the reasons for your departure from the band and in John Robbs book ‘We Are Rock’ there are explanations of why you left the band. You went on tour in Japan and then you were forced out of the band as your playing was seen as ‘limited’ by certain members of the band. Do you want to give your be all and end all answer to what happened? Was this a difficult time for you when you left? In John Robbs book it’s quoted you had recently bought a house and possibly suffered with depression after your departure?
The be all and end all. You asked and you’re the first person I have ever told what really happened.
OK, so after the success of the first album and the subsequent many tours, time came for the second album. This was a difficult time. The pressure was on. During touring at sound checks, as with most bands, you kick around ideas. Some to be built on, others to be discarded. So when we returned from Japan we went straight in to the rehearsal room to make something from the sound check ideas and write new material.
This is where the trouble started. I started to feel isolated, other members of the band had obviously met up and banged out a few ideas. This was fine, there’s always a couple of songwriters/ideas makers in bands. You bring an idea to the room and you work it together. But what happened was the songs came to the rehearsal room and with no time at all I was expected to have my part finished within an hour. With no guidance or interaction from the rest of the band.
This is when the piss-taking and little digs started. I won’t go in to details but it lasted a while. This knocks your confidence. This makes you question your ability. This makes you feel worthless. I started to turn up to rehearsals with a feeling of dread. You start to make mistakes which make the situation worse. Your creativity has been sucked dry due to the way you are made to feel. It came as no surprise that one day, when two of the band sat me down and told me I had ‘left the band’.
Looking back, the only emotion I can remember feeling was a huge wave of relief. Knowing that I didn’t have to endure the piss taking and digs anymore. As you say in John Robb’s book, my playing was seen as ‘limited’. This was the reasons why, they did this, it was their making.
Just for the record, this is me being honest and not bitter. I was and am over what had happened and was playing in another band within a few months.
How did you recover? Did you go on to form Polanski? Were you in other bands before Polanski?
So for a few years after The Charlatans, I played in a band called Spin Playground, then Solo 70, who subsequently became Polanski. Polanski nearly made it. We had a self-financed single out. We toured a lot and got national radio play. Then one member bailed out. End of Polanski.
What was your reaction to Rob’s sudden passing? Were you still in contact with him at this time? Were you in contact with John Brookes (The Charlatans original drummer) before he passed away?
I never got to see Rob before he passed away, so I didn’t get chance to tell him not to worry about what happened between me and the band. There are no regrets regarding my time with the band. I would see Jon once or twice a year. He was still living in the West Midlands and we would bump in to each other in the supermarket or somewhere else equally mundane and have a giggle about stuff we’d got up to back in the early days. Jon was a very sweet human being.
Finally, What are you up to now? Are you still playing guitar?
As for the now. I still play but purely for my own pleasure. I am working on something at the moment but whether it comes to something is another matter. It’s just a bunch of stuff in my head that I might try and record to get it out of my system. Preliminary called ‘Central-Audio-Thrill’ We’ll see what happens. Maybe. On top of that, I’ve been involved in vintage clothing for about 15 years. Selling all over the country and at music festivals. http://kinky-melon.co.uk/
More writing by Matt can be found at his Louther Than War’s author archive.