The soul of Baker Street

Hugh Burns Guitarist Hugh Burns records the guitar break for 'Soul Music'

Radio 4 producer Karen Gregor learnt to listen with new ears to a popular music classic when she made a programme for Soul Music which will be broadcast later this month, as she explains here.

When I decided to make an edition of Soul Music for Radio 4 about Gerry Rafferty's 'Baker Street', I gave myself one rule: Bob Holness would not get a mention.*

Apart from that it was a case - as it always is - of starting the research and hoping for the best. Soul Music tells the story of one piece of music: why it was written, what it's about, and how it's weaved its way into people's emotions. The best kind of interviewee is someone closely involved with the track who's happy to speak at a personal level. So, the dream guest had to be Gerry's daughter, Martha Rafferty.

I approached her tentatively because it was less than a year since her father's death (Gerry Rafferty died in January 2011) but luckily she was more than happy to talk. She was a wonderful interviewee, recalling memories of her father practising the Baker Street melody in the attic studio of their Glasgow home; the sound of him strumming on his guitar would drift from the attic into the rest of the house. Martha also talked about her father's inspiration for the track: a book called 'The Outsider' by Colin Wilson. It's about the sense of disconnection from the world that artists often feel, and the song - as Martha said - is the lyrical version of the book.

Another guest was Rafferty's friend, Rab Noakes. He gave an insight into the lyrics, which I confess I'd never considered before: 'Winding your way down on Baker Street, light in your head and dead on your feet, well another crazy day, you'll drink the night away and forget about everything'. Although Rafferty lived in Scotland, he had to endure long meetings at his lawyers in London following the break-up of Stealer's Wheel and Baker Street was where he'd meet friends and drink, and sing, and talk the night away. The lyrics explore the conflicting thoughts and pressures Rafferty faced: he wanted to continue with his music, but - as Martha said - he had a young family to support and there was pressure to get a 'normal job'.

Producing Soul Music always creates spine-tingling moments (this programme had several for me, not least Betsy Cook - who'd been married to Hugh Murphy, Baker Street's producer - describing the track being played at his funeral) and the interview with the song's guitarist, Hugh Burns, was a definite tingler. Locked away, just the two of us, in a small workshop, he played me through Baker Street on his acoustic guitar, explaining how he achieved the fabulous solo towards the end of the track. A one-to-one session with a musical genius: unforgettable.

*just in case you live on the moon, Stuart Maconie started a rumour years ago that Bob Holness played the sax riff on Baker Street. It's an urban myth that's well past its sell-by date! (Sax player Raphael Ravenscroft was the musician involved).

Baker Street launches the new series of Soul Music on Radio 4 at 11.30 on January 31, repeated at 3.30 on February 4.


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