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Fraser Lewry

Watch Ginger Baker enthuse about polo horses before playing a drum solo in a farmyard

Ginger Baker playing drums in his farmyard

On May 11, 1978, viewers watching the BBC current affairs show Nationwide were greeted by an unusual sight, as former Cream drummer and erstwhile hellraiser Ginger Baker invited BBC journalists to his farm, where he regaled them with his plans to create the best polo team in the world before playing a drum solo for the animals. 

The roots of this story begin in Africa. After a near-fatal cocaine overdose in 1970, Baker realised that he needed a break from his less-than-successful jazz-rock outfit Ginger Baker’s Air Force. So he packed his bags and drove his Land Rover overland  to Lagos in Nigeria, where he opened up a recording studio and made friends with Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti. He also joined the Lagos Polo Club, where he got to know a local player, Colin Edwards.

"I’d had about 10 large Bacardi and Cokes and Colin came out and said: ‘Right, Baker, it’s time you got on a horse’," Baker told Mike Dolbear. "Apparently there were bets from around the whole club because everybody knew I’d never been on a horse before."

"I was flying around the track and obviously the horse was used to going around this track exercising so knew where it was going, but it was flying flat out." he continued.  The horse went all the way round the track and when it got back home to the stables it stopped and I was still on it. Colin won a lot of money on that, I think. He said: “Right Baker, report for duty at 8am.”

And that's how Ginger Baker became a polo player. Six years later he was back in The UK but still at it, renting a farmhouse on Lord Rothschild's Estate in the East Anglian village of Ashton, near Oundle, and attempting to get a professional polo team off the ground. That's when the BBC came to visit.  

"Ginger Baker can't remember how many times he's fallen off, but says it must be dozens," reports the presenter. "He's hardy, and nasty, and fanatical, the only thing that stops him being really dangerous is his concern for the horses. One day soon he expects to have the best polo side in Britain and eventually the world."

It didn't happen. Polo is an outrageously expensive hobby (30 ponies arrived by plane from Argentina during the Nationwide film), and by the mid-80s, after a series of unfortunate business decisions and a collapsed marriage had emptied the coffers, Baker found himself working on building sites to make ends meet.

On a more positive note, we'll always have that farmyard drum solo. 

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