Sam Baker was travelling through Peru in 1986 when a terrorist bomb blew up the train he was on. Several passengers died including the German boy he was sitting next to, and Baker suffered brain damage, gangrene, renal failure, a mangled left-hand and shrapnel in his leg.
At the time he was a 32-year-old carpenter: 18 years later at the age of 50, after relearning how to walk, talk and play the guitar, he released his first album.
Now, seven years later, he has built up a small but devoted following and his songs really seem to touch his audience.
It was standing room only at St Bons as he walked out to a heartfelt welcome, carrying seven yellow roses handed to him by a fan onto the small wooden stage.
It took him five minutes to get going as he tuned his guitar, chatted to the crowd and pianist Chip, and the rest of the night continued in the same warm, informal vein.
Opener Baseball is a typical Sam Baker song with lyrics which add up to more than the sum of their parts. Full of everyday images – a man goes to work, boys play in the street, a father brings his family a drink during a baseball game – it starts and ends with a line that hints at a harsher reality: “Soldiers stand in the way of harm.”
There’s no political message, just a reminder to count our blessings and celebrate life in all its details: happy, sad, mundane and heroic.
Big cheers went up for Iron, about a blue collar worker battling alcoholism, and Snow where the narrator snug in a cafe watches a city waking up on a winter morning. Baker’s unusual delivery – half-spoken, half-sung, with deliberate pauses between words, made the songs more memorable and believable. He ran out of time for requests as many in the crowd called out for their personal favourites.
But he did squeeze in Broken Fingers, which deals with the train wreck in Peru and its after-effects. You couldn’t help looking at his clawed left hand strumming his guitar as he sang, and the painful, understated lyrics had a few people wiping their eyes. It was the high point of an emotional rollercoaster of a performance which ended as it began, with Baker smiling and talking to his followers.