Hak Baker knows how to make a gig hilarious. Sunday evening gigs are often a tall order; I turned up rather knackered to the Ritz, not anticipating one of the most entertaining performances I’d seen for years. With a huge sense of comradery amongst his band and an impromptu club-style dance about with us after his set ended, Baker truly felt like a member of his own crowd.
Sam Akpro warmed up the audience at the O2 Ritz, playing a couple of tracks off of his EP Arrival, released earlier this year. His sound was notably heavier than Hak’s music, and good, despite overhearing a nearby crowd member comparing some of the songs to Pete Davidson and Timothee Chalamet’s shouty “you never loved me mom” sketch on SNL. Although a bit heavy for some on a Sunday night, he certainly struck curiosity as an artist experimenting with different genres.
Akpro’s music is largely similar, but still with distinct differences, to Wu-Lu. Chatty and confident, he encouraged us all to get a bit closer to the stage whilst we waited for Hak Baker.
Baker has stage presence. Moseying out on stage, whilst tossing a few tinnies to the front few members of the crowd, he immediately got us all giggling. Fondly chatting away about his days of getting “doo lallied up” with his mates in Manchester, he saved a special shoutout for the “beautiful women and too many geezers” of the city. Instantly he was part of the crowd, even asking us who was hosting an afters.
Distinctly jolly, you really did get the sense that somebody had just passed a mic to a particularly chatty pub-goer in the East End of London. A venue-wide boogie to ‘Bricks in the Wall’ from his recent album Worlds End FM ensued. Dropping down his knees to encourage the crowd to sing, the hilarity of the night began there.
A bottle of Sailor Jerry’s rum was being passed around between the band, including the beloved trumpet player. Hak Baker wasn’t afraid to burp, swear, and preach to the crowd; clearly having a right laugh with his mates on stage.
But it’s not all meaningless fun and games. Baker’s music has always involved serious commentary on gentrification and the police. It was best by his own introduction to his song ‘Cop Car’: “a nursery rhyme for f*cking hating the police.” He’s unafraid to tell a raw story with his music, whilst still lacing some of his signature humour throughout the lyrics.
Hak Baker was pleased that we seemed to be enjoying ourselves, exclaiming “What a crowd!” after downing an entire tinny. Although he did note the Scots he’d just encountered at his Glasgow gig were more intense, he assured us we were still a “lovely lot”.
Towards the middle of the gig, Baker kept coming back to his mantra of not letting anybody tell you what to do. Playing ‘Collateral Cause’ off his new album, he kept reminding the crowd not to conform to people’s expectations of them, followed by a cheeky nicking of a pint off a front-row crowdgoer. This is case in point that Hak Baker will never conform, but always defy.
The gig then took a relaxed turn with his less upbeat tracks. Baker levelled with the crowd about going seven months without smoking cannabis. Noting it’s difficult, but acknowledging he’s “mad enough as it is”, he played the slower but nonetheless lyrically lovely ‘I Don’t Know’.
Following on with a few jokes about his plans to indulge in an intense session of escapism after the gig, Hak played his well-known track ‘Wonderland‘. His ability to maintain a fast-paced guitar riff, whilst reciting spoken word, was particularly impressive. ‘Wonderland‘ lends itself to Hak’s gentler melodic vocals, which come out only occasionally among his signature East End jargon.
It’d be remiss if I didn’t give another shoutout to the trumpet player, who stood up on a barrel to hype up the crowd as the gig moved back to the upbeat tracks. Baker talked about learning to play guitar in jail, before bringing out his mate Jake from jail, who I honestly wish was my own mate. After Baker played his renowned ‘Venezuela Riddim’ and ‘Windrush Baby’, Jack ran out in a PC’s hat to chuck miniature pig figurines into the crowd.
Whilst Jack was kicking Worlds End FM branded balloons into the audience, even jumping down into the crowd for a mosh and a dance, Baker reminded us all “I love you lot for making it possible”.
Having finished his encore, Baker got his trusty sound tech to turn the venue into a mini club. 2022’s ‘love me, i’m scum‘ played while he jumped into the crowd. Then, a hilariously wholesome high-five from the headliner was earned by a young boy on his dad’s shoulders. Baker stayed to boogie with the crowd to a bit of Fleetwood Mac, shaking hands and having chats with the front few crowd members when the lights came up. Pleasantly tired but boiling, we were content. But the O2 Ritz could really do with some Air Con.
Turning up to the gig with a heavy dose of the Sunday scaries, I couldn’t have anticipated having that much of a laugh. It genuinely felt like watching your mate up on stage. No doubt Baker felt just as at home with the crowd. I felt particularly spoilt after the ten-minute mini Warehouse Project at the end of the gig, and I’ll definitely be straight on it to buy tickets to see Hak again.