Toni Baker

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Anne-Marie meets the man behind the music for Phoenix Nights

Toni Baker - www.sleepyjoe.comToni Baker is the keyboard player with the Dakotas, and his previous group, Shabby Tiger, were very big in Europe in the 70s.

He is responsible for all the music on Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights TV series, and the new Max And Paddy series.  He took time out of his busy schedule while putting the finishing touches to the new series to answer a few of our questions.


A-M: How did you become involved with Peter Kay?

TB: I was a bit broke after a divorce and put an ad in the Loot for teaching piano. After a week or two, Peter rang me up because he wanted to learn to play Dancing Queen for his forthcoming marriage to Susan a year ahead. He said he was free to come during the day as he was a comedian. I asked his name because I know most of the comics on the scene. When he said "Peter Kay" I was gob-smacked, as I'd just finished watching That Peter Kay Thing on TV! I thought it was so funny and clever. We spoke for ages on the phone about music and stuff and he said "This is costing me a fortune, I'll come round now!"

We got on like a house on fire and after a couple of lessons, he asked me if I'd like to do the opening music for his new live video at the Top of the Tower. I thought about it for about a second! YES!!!!!

He wanted something in the style of Reginald Dixon playing songs he should NEVER play! We came up with Sussudio, Shaft, Deeply Dippy and Bat Out Of Hell (later to be used on Phoenix Nights, for the Rumburgers to dance to). We couldn't get music clearance on Shaft though, so we just went with the three tunes in a medley.

The next thing that happened was Peter started writing the pilot episodes for Phoenix Nights (merely a working title at that point) and was too busy to keep up his piano practice!

He then asked if I'd like to get involved in the music for that too .... like I was going to say no! The series became bigger than he'd ever imagined & led to Phoenix Nights series two, and now Max & Paddy on the Road to Nowhere.

A-M: How long did it take you to come up with the Phoenix Nights theme tune, and did you write it after seeing scripts or bits of the show, or was it written without knowing what the show looked like etc?

TB: I get to watch a VHS rough edit of each episode with no music, and together we come up with ideas for music styles to enhance the mood or excitement. The theme tune was a weird situation, because although we were on a tight schedule - doing final editing and inserting incidental music for each episode the week before it went out on channel 4 - the idea of a theme tune hadn't occurred to us!

After the first episode (which started with Yazz's The Only Way is Up) was shown on the Sunday night, Peter rang me the next day and said "We need a title tune!!!! ... for Wednesday!" (the deadline day for sending each episode to Channel 4). "What sort of thing do you want?" I asked. "I'd like something like Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em theme, you know? With maybe a solo instrument playing a catchy tune, but with a slight hint of menace!"

Okay! What more information could I possibly need!!??

I came up with a few variations on the theme with a few different instruments playing the tune, like cello, flute etc, but we finally decided that a glockenspiel had the perfect "hint of menace" - reminiscent of that uncomfortable moment in horror films where a jack-in-a-box opens to haunting music depicting something weird is about to happen! So that's the one we went for!

A-M: How much time do you spend on the music for a typical episode?

TB: That all depends on how much music is needed really, but if you take the "cowboy one" for example, first of all, there are lots of cover versions to record for Les Alanos as well as writing original stuff. With any music, firstly you have to ask the publishers for their permission to use it, explaining the context in which it will be used, (so Shaft's publishers didn't like the idea of a "fun" version of the theme!). Getting this permission can take forever sometimes! You'd think a couple of emails or phone calls would sort it - but no!  I remember Two Tribes used in the Robot Wars scene took about nine weeks to get a "No!" We couldn't use the original recording for the DVD even though we'd used it on the TV, so I recreated the whole record with the help of a couple of very talented musicians! In fact, the guy that sang it and played guitar, is Richard Benson who's standing in for the Dakotas' guitarist Mike Maxfield, who is very poorly at the moment.

In a nutshell, I would say from preparation to realization, the music for each episode probably takes about 60 hours to complete.

A-M: You appeared in an episode of Phoenix Nights as part of a folk band. Were you nervous about the filming, or was it just a chance to show off your talent with an accordion?

TB: I've NEVER been nervous of any performance I've ever done in my life .... with one exception ... Peter asked me to play the organ in church at his wedding!!! That was a first for me... loads of celebs around and having never played a church organ before did make me feel the nerves I didn't know I had! As for TALENT WITH AN ACCORDION???????? You must be joking! I'd never played one in my life before and  I never want to see one again as long as I live!

The original song was already recorded and we were going to mime to it, but on the day of the filming, Peter thought it would be better for the camera angles if we could do it live, playing the song round and round. That was at 11.00am on the day of the shoot! So I spent the next 6 hours practicing upstairs on a double decker bus (used for catering on set) After all that time, I had arms like Arnold Schwarzenegger! Then we filmed from 7.00pm till 10.00pm under hot lights and with a real live audience, not just extras. The funniest part was when we eventually finished and went to the bar for a well-earned pint ..... loads of people came up to us & asked if we had any tapes or CDs to sell!!!!!!! They didn't believe we weren't a real folk group and had never played together in our lives! Funny old world!

A-M: How long did it take you to come up with the theme to the new show?

TB: Quite quickly really. Peter had already used him and Paddy singing the Minder theme and "Amarillo" in Phoenix Nights 2, so he quite fancied the idea of them doing that again in the opening titles of Max & Paddy. Knowing the series was to be called Road to Nowhere instantly gave me the song title to work with, and as it was to be a road movie it needed to have a bit of a good rock groove to it. I came up with the main tune on the spot at my house and after a couple of slight changes, we set about writing the lyrics together. I did (as usual) a couple of different demo versions for Peter to hear and he liked them both so we're going to have them both featured in this series. The main opening titles will be Max and Paddy singing a 30 second chorus, which hopefully will lead to a future release of the full song! (They actually filmed the opening title sequence to my home demo!) We then replaced that music with the "real" version after we had been in the studio with a full band complete with brass section.

A-M: The Dakotas appear in an episode of the new series, was that fun to do?

TB: It was fun and very tedious at the same time. Filming is a very slow process and not for the faint-hearted! The scene is a 40th reunion party so we were all made up as 80s pop stars! You'll have to watch it to see who we are! It's very funny!

A-M: Did you appear on any music shows on the TV when you were in Shabby Tiger? What kind of experience was that?

TB: We did most of the pop shows of the time except for Top of the Pops. We never made that one! We had a few hits in Scandinavia, Germany and Holland so we regularly flew out to do Top Pop which was Holland's version of Top of the Pops. We were on with some great people... I remember being with Sweet, ELO, Pete (16 with a bullet) Winfield, Chanter Sisters, Hello, Thin Lizzy... and loads more I'll probably remember later!

A-M: How do you come up with lyrics like those of the Black Bin Bag song?

TB: The best line I've ever heard in my life, was Sammy Cahn's answer to the question ... "which comes first? The lyrics or the tune?"

His answer was............. the Phone-call!!!!!!!

It's so true! You can have shelves full of tapes & CDs you've recorded with lots of great songs on, but it's a waste of time really, because by the time someone asks you if they can hear what you've written, they all sound so dated.

It's so easy when someone tells you what kind of song they want and how it should feature.

Imagine ...It's easier to write a song for say... Tom Jones, because you know how his voice would make the song breathe, rather than just write a song and have no idea whether it's a girl/boy thing or if it should be aimed at a pop or rock audience etc.

Peter wanted to use Forget Me Not, the Men In Black theme.... to sell Black bin bags in Asda, so that's half the song already written! You know it's about black bin bags, so the rest is just a matter of coming up with funny lyrics!

The Corned Beef song for example, needed the same treatment. The idea of rhyming "chips or with salad" and "Even Buckingham Palace" really tickled my funny bone!

A-M: Anything exciting on the horizon?

TB: The Dakotas are hoping to do another Solid Silver 60's show next autumn and we're still speculating about possible acts for the bill .... watch this space!

I suppose I'm really looking forward to seeing Max & Paddy actually on the screen now. I've been working on it for ages and still have quite a bit of incidental music to write and record. I've got a stack of different edits and episodes on VHS that I've used to time scenes and get inspiration from, so it'll be nice to sit back and see the completed episodes on TV with adverts in as well!

Hope I've not missed anything out! Thanks for asking me!

Toni's Official Site is at -

Thanks to Mike Abbot - for the photographs.

You can see photographs of Toni and the Dakotas in Max And Paddy at Mike's site as well as download the music they recorded for their episode.

 Peter Kay and The Dakotas -

Page Last Updated Wednesday, April 26, 2006 at 00:53:34