When “Hellraiser” Ginger Baker came to town

ginger bakerThe death of drummer Ginger Baker in October 2019 was covered at length by national newspapers, and the news sparked memories of him by people who encountered him when he lived in Polebrook in the 1970s.

Known for his outstanding drumming skills, fiery temper and a fondness for polo, Mr Baker’s life as a rock star was not short of corruption, drugs, and scandal. In his autobiography, Hellraiser, he breathlessly detailed the numerous scams he claimed to have been the victim of, and the chaos of his professional and personal life. However, he fondly reminisced about his time in Polebrook and Ashton from 1977-78, where he developed his love for polo, horses and the countryside.

He became involved with polo while recording in Nigeria, and despite no previous experience with horses, it soon became an all-consuming, expensive obsession. He was introduced to the area by his friend, Kevin Slavin, and kept his horses on the Ashton Wold estate, where he was encouraged by Miriam Rothschild to set up a polo club. One of the most prestigious matches that he organised was the Robert Stigwood Challenge Cup, but like many events in his life, chaos and mismanagement caused it to be cancelled.

The most amusing anecdote in Hellraiser about his time in Polebrook is his description of accidently finding himself in the Fitzwilliam Hunt. “One day when I was out riding on my young horse Project I met with what seemed like a hundred people on horseback all congregated outside the Chequered Skipper pub in Ashton Wold. I was invited to join the hunt, even though, dressed as I was in jeans and an anorak, this was by no means the correct attire. It seemed churlish to refuse, so I joined them, stayed well back and my horse jumped everything. I was in the middle of a bunch of people saying it was ‘Jolly nice, pip, pip’, hurtling along the tarmac roads to the sound of the hunting horn; then galloping over the plough. We caught a fox on the estate, which can’t have gone down well with Miriam or her sister – they loved foxes.”

Of those who remembered him, some disapprovingly recalled his reputation for outrageousness. “He was not the most pleasant person I have ever met. Rude, arrogant, ignorant and some of the hangers-on were even worse.”

Mr Baker lived large and was not only battling drug addiction at the time, but he overstretched himself buying, selling and keeping horses, and had dodgy dealings with mobsters and stolen polo horses. His Ashton polo club adventure was short-lived. The last straw was when he fell out with Charles Lane, Lady Rothschild’s son, about his horses’ loss at the Blue Coat Cup. In 1978 he abandoned the project.

“My polo dream had gone to pieces and I left Polebrook owing money left, right and centre. There was no way I could pay anyone,” he wrote.

For those to whom he did not owe money, Mr Baker, with his “mucky boots”, was “a legend”. Jon Pywell said: “I remember riding through Oundle on me moped and seeing a strange thin bloke with red hair walking through town wearing purple cord flares and a fur waistcoat. It was Ginger – totally out of place but cool as f***. I did a double take. I’d never seen nowt like him before, especially not in a sleepy Northamptonshire market town! Top man and a fantastic drummer! RIP Ginger!”

Millie Trotter
December 5, 2019