You might know Hak Baker from his former incarnation as B.O.M.B Squad grime merchant, but the big news is how he’s been redefining what it means to be a folk singer, overlaying a plaintive two-note guitar picking style with laconic vocal delivery, thick with proper-gorblimey East End slang.
Nifty little kitchen sink poems about friend chicken and cans delivered in gruff cockney cadences over sweet-as-a-nut acoustic guitar backup lines, he’s been touring with Plan B and dropped a verse on hippyish Rudimental summer jam Toast To Our Differences
But despite the smiley geezerish aesthetic there’s breadth and depth aplenty here. Through a mis-spent youth engaged in ‘shenanigans’ he found himself at Her Majesty’s pleasure behind bars, but used the time well, learned guitar, and, well, soon you’re all about to know his name.
Let’s delve into his life...
Gigwise: You have a track coming out called ‘Thursday Thursday’. Does it do exactly what it says on the tins?
Hak Baker: Yeah. I mean, smashing cans. You get the cans, and you smash them. But it’s not just about going out. You see, the problem is going out is a bit of a way of life. Most people are living for the weekend. Thursday, happy hour, a few drinks, a little line. That’s the thing nowadays.
GW: The first track I heard of yours was called ‘Skint’, about nobody having any dosh any more. Think that might be related to the whole cans thing?
HB: For real. I’m happy you can see that. It’s the darkside of the knees-up tunes. People try and find joy any way they can, but it’s a cycle. An ugly pattern.
GW: You still live in the Isle Of Dogs, in Tower Hamlets. Unless people have spent time in those ends it’s hard to see how weird it is to be so deprived, in the shadow of Canary Wharf. Do the two worlds ever collide?
HB: Course they collide, they have to collide, they want it to collide, so they can get rid of us. They don’t want us, but this is our home. We’re out having fun, Old Bill are running us down, sometimes for no reason, sometimes with reason… All these posh cunts looking at us, calling us out, at their new estate. We were there 15 years before, how dare you call old Bill.
GW: You think it’s a class thing?
HB: Put it this way. I’ll give anyone a chance. But here’s the thing. There’s two different classes. I’m working class and that’s where I’m staying, cos that’s where it’s real. Family, mates.
The other stuff is just fantasy, they want to be what they see on Tv, or instagram. Whereas in the working class there’s love and community, and brotherhood, and good times.
That’s what I I want to pursue, and push. I just want to push love. And friendship, and chicken and chips with the boys.
GW: Chicken and chips makes it onto a few of your tunes. What’s your order at the chicken shop?
HB: Chicken and chips is what it is. Drunken night, chicken and chips with the boys. You get it when, when you’re hungry and you’re there. If you ever see me not eating chicken and chips, it’s to cut down the belly. To be a bit healthy. It’s not particularly good for you. Know what I mean?
GW: Absolutely. So you’re playing Reading and Leeds. Excited much? Do you get stuck into proceedings after you play?
HB: We’ve been going festivals since we were kids, since school. My mates are wild geezers. We drink, I don’t do drugs, bit I get stuck in, stay up until mid-day next day, sleep maybe four hours, then wake up and crack on. No time to waste.
GW: So you don’t kit chill out in the VIP?
HB: Why would I want to be with pretentious people who think too much of themselves. Don’t get me wrong, you take the pros, the free drink and free food. Definitely make the most of the clean toilet. But you go in the festival, you’re thee, that’s the whole point.
GW: When you were younger you were in a choir. You don’t sound like much of a choirboy, so did that have any influence at all?
HB: A million percent yes, actually, it had a massive influence. didn’t want to be there, but I didn’t want to look like an idiot once I was in there. So my brain figured out musical logic. To master melody, figure out where stuff can go.
GW: Then you learned guitar in prison.
HB: It was a course they used to put on. Some geezer came along once a fortnight. He really helped. I was always interested in ‘real’ music, but I don’t know if I’d have bothered by myself. They stopped funding that now, by the way.
GW: So a guy like you, in prison right now, wouldn’t get that chance you had?
HB: That’s right.
GW: On your YouTube videos there’s always one or two comments along the lines of ‘THAT’S NOT WHAT I EXPECTED FROM THE THUMBNAIL’. Do you get a kick out of the fact people don’t expect what they hear deem you?
HB: I think it’s laughable. Why should I not be playing a guitar? Black man have been playing guitar and singing about their woes, highs and lows, from time. From ever. From Africa. From slavery times. Who do you think blues come from. A black man with natty hair singing about his pain. What’s the big deal? People are just stupid. Literally, dumb.
GW: So what’s coming up?
HB: I just want to keep making music, playing. I don’t want to be a bloody pinup. I love being on stage and singing, but the rest of stuff I’m not interested in. I want to make music that’s meant to for the people, about truth, about things I want to say but can’t say direct so it has to be with music. Other than that? I just wanna be alone. Go into hippy zen mode. Grow my own food. And keep a few chickens in the back.