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Quickfire Questions #56: Sweet Baboo

 
By on Monday, 4th November 2013 at 11:00 am
 

Stephen Black, better known by his adorable stage name Sweet Baboo, took time out of his current UK tour to answer our Quickfire Questions. Read on to find out which of our questions led him to choose All Saint -or- Hefner…

Sweet Baboo’s ‘Motorhome Songs’ EP is out in one week, on the 11th of November, on Moshi Moshi Records.

What song is your earliest musical memory?
David Bellamy – ‘Brontosaurus Will You Wait For Me’.

What was your favourite song as a child?
Either the above or ‘The Alamo Song’ by Marty Robbins.

What song makes you laugh?
‘Eno Collaboration’ by Half Man Half Biscuit or System of a Down – ‘Toxicity’.

What song makes you cry?
Euros Childs – ‘Parents Place’.

What song reminds you of the first time you fell in love? (It’s up to you if you want this to be sweet, naughty, etc.)
‘Pure Shores’ by All Saints or ‘Love Will Destroy Us in the End’ by Hefner. Both sweet and sexy in equal measures.

What song makes you think of being upset / angry? (Example: maybe you heard it when you were angry with someone and it’s still with you, and/or something that calms you down when you’re upset, etc.)
No idea.

Which song (any song written in the last century) do you wish you’d written yourself?
Today it would be ‘Pink Moon’ by Nick Drake.

Who is your favourite writer? (This can be a songwriter or ANY kind of writer.)
Bill Callaghan.

If you hadn’t become a singer/musician/songwriter/etc., what job do you think you’d be doing right now?
I’d work in transport.

If God said you were allowed to bring only one album with you to Heaven, which would it be and why? (Sorry, but double albums do not count.)
Shit, I would have said ‘Thin Lizzy Live’ and Dangerous but that’s a double album too I think, does a single CD count? If so, maybe no one in heaven would have thought to have brought that album up there yet.

Many thanks to Stephen for answering these questions for us and Jonathan for sorting this all out for us.

 

Live Gig Video: Sweet Baboo performs ‘Motorhome’ at Green Man Festival 2013

 
By on Monday, 21st October 2013 at 4:00 pm
 

Stephen Black, beloved to many people including yours truly under his stage name Sweet Baboo, appeared at this summer’s Green Man Festival. If summer is feeling as far away to you as it does to me at the moment – I mean, come on, you walk into shops now and they’ve got Santas and Christmas ornaments on display, it’s ridiculous – this video from August will do you a world of good. Black performing the ultra sweet ‘Motorhome’? Yes, please. (It reminds me of my Scottish holiday in May when I saw the man at the famous King Tut’s of Glasgow and met him as well. Ah, the memories.) Watch it below.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHdMJ-1Gw6Q[/youtube]

 

Kendal Calling 2013: Day 2 Roundup

 
By on Friday, 6th September 2013 at 2:00 pm
 

Is it just me or was Kendal Calling 2013‘s Saturday on the main stage “Lad’s day”? The Twang, The D.O.T., even Ash seemed to bring the inner Manc out in everybody. At least Dutch Uncles were there to bring a bit of thinking man’s rock to the party. Is it just me or do Dutch Uncles get better with every viewing? Duncan Wallis (shown below) is a frontman perfectly at ease with himself, proudly showing off his pristine, angular moves, particularly on ‘Flexxin’’, where the famous moves from the video are reproduced even more lucidly onstage. The band display a limber structure within which they explore their compositions, with a confidence only a group who have toured together for countless months can display. And they seem to have avoided becoming bored with each other or their songs, as have the audience.

Dutch Uncles Kendal Calling 2013

The D.O.T. came widely anticipated. A joint venture between Mike Skinner, ex of The Streets, and Rob Harvey, ex of Leeds rockers The Music, promises to bring some urban smarts to indie music, to replace guitars with electronics, but still within a knowing framework that appeals to both indie kids and hip-hop heads. In reality, it all falls a bit flat. Certainly there’s nothing here to compete with the intensity of the previous night’s Public Enemy onslaught, but conversely it would be more exciting with a bit of live instrumentation. Harvey strums a guitar every now and again, but they fail to excite the crowd at all; Skinner’s deadpan sneering doesn’t help, an attitude which apparently carries through to his DJ set later in the evening. There are occasional glimpses of the urban tenderness of The Streets, but glimpses is all they are. There’s potential here, but they need to have a bit of a rethink on how to engage anyone other than diehard fans of both The Music and The Streets at the same time. How many of those can there be?

The most surprising thing about The Twang is that they’re actually still going, given a steady decline in album sales over the past decade, let alone how they’ve managed to bag a decent main stage slot at a big festival. Well, the answer’s in the laddism. They appear to have two singers, plenty of guitars and energy, and some singalong bits – who am I to argue that what they actually need is class and talent?

Tim Wheeler (pictured at top) from Ash is lacking in neither class or talent – it takes class to maintain a brand for 20 years, whilst keeping people interested and even devoted to its music; it takes talent to continue to wield a Gibson Flying V with the sort of aplomb which would make a 12-year-old boy say, “that’s cool”. Both of which are achieved within a few bars of Ash’s set commencing. Moreover, they command the rain: it pours down at the first note of their set, and would continue for 12 hours. Clearly God is a fan. Nobody has really taken Ash’s place: as survivors of the tail end of Britpop, their offer is clearly still relevant today, and not just by way of nostalgia. Their songs are evocative of teenage yearning, of big guitars, and simple, overriding emotions still capable of commanding a big festival stage. Carry on, sir.

Sweet Baboo Kendal Calling 2013

Sweet Baboo’s delicate, witty, poignant Welsh ditties bring us back to the Calling Out tent. Such assertively sweet music from such an unassuming chap is quite the contrast. By the time the set climaxes, the horn section is parping as if Steve Cropper were in the crowd, taking notes. Which, in a spiritual way, he was. To be followed swiftly by Sons and Lovers (shown below), who tread that fine line between cliche and true excellence. In the cold light of day, their Mumford-esque sound is their downfall: inevitable thumping floor toms, incessant quiet-loud-quiet-loud arrangements, and hopelessly romantic themes do them no favours, but on this day in history, Sons and Lovers provide set worthy of headliners. Such are the complex vagaries of live music.

Sons and Lovers Kendal Calling 2013

London Grammar remain to be assessed another day – their autumn tour should set the record straight as to whether they are simply xx wannabes, or whether they have something truly original to offer. Now… it hardly needs stating that there’s more to music festivals than stroking one’s chin at bands. So Saturday night was as good a time as any to relinquish any thought of sobriety, any notion of “reviewing”, and simply have a bit of a party. A date had been made for 10 pm to watch a delightful bunch of ladies called the Hooping Harlots perform a spectacular LED hula-hoop display, with the added bonus that they let any old punter (e.g., me) practice their dubious hula skills with some of their less precious hoops. Even though I can keep it up indefinitely (that’s what she said!) I can’t do anything more exciting than that; the talented Harlots, however, can do the lot – spinning around the wrist, neck, and unbelievably, the shoulder, and swapping between them all with a fluid ease that defies description. Add to that the LED light show within the hoops, and it’s a spectacle guaranteed to scramble already delicate festival minds.

The whole thing took place at the well-named Tipple Taxi, a London cab converted into a bijou drinking den, one of many micro-venues scattered around the site, making an evening stumble around the place into a voyage of one exciting discovery after another – from the Chai Wallah’s tent rising from the horizontal for a bit of a boogie finale, to the lucky dip of sounds that is Riot Jazz. The climax of any good Saturday night at Kendal has to be the Glow Dance Tent, however.

Which is where it should, and does, become a little hazy. There are photographs – oh, what photographs. The essence of the sublime confusion of a properly executed night in the company of dance music is expressed therein. Please take a look. Musically, Krafty Kutz expressed their unsurpassed UK hip hop beats and flow, assisted by A Skillz. Needless to say there was dubstep bass all over the house, the constant battle between vocal lines, sub bass, and 8-bit melodies proving too much to bear for some. Check out the Dirtyphonics remix of Pounding for more information, and to experience the enormous bass which sets the level for a Krafty Kutz experience. The level reaches even higher with the introduction of the mentalist blend of wound-up beats, vocals, and samples that comprises ‘Happiness’. Spotify it out.

Suffice to say by the time Maribou State took over at 2 AM, the tent was in great need of a bit of glitchy, soulful techno to rest weary limbs. But even then, the subtle electronica coalesced into an irresistible hole of bouncing heads and knowing looks as the next hour passed in a haze of exhaustion. We were to stagger, spent and silent, to a wreck of flooded, ransacked tents… but that’s a story for another day.

 

Live Review: Sweet Baboo with Callum McConville and Turtle at Glasgow King Tut’s – 7th May 2013

 
By on Tuesday, 28th May 2013 at 2:00 pm
 

It already blows my mind sometimes when a British band makes their way to Washington to play one of our clubs. Earlier this month my brain had something to comprehend entirely: seeing a singer/songwriter from rural North Wales in a venerated club in Glasgow, Scotland. The club I’m referring to is of course King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, or more commonly known simply as the legend that is King Tut’s, and the Welshman in question was Stephen Black, aka Sweet Baboo.

There aren’t enough hours in a day for me to be able to check out every band recommendation I’ve been given by a 6music presenter, but in this particular case, I give major props to Marc Riley, who has always spoken of the Baboo in nothing but glowing terms, as he is the one who urged me to check him out. Black’s latest release, ‘Ships’ on Moshi Moshi released in April, is the first album of his to really capture my imagination, and I was so grateful that after extensively poring over the Glasgow gig listings for the second week of May, there was an artist I really wanted to see and wasn’t American. (Not kidding. Ask Martin; I was whinging to him about this situation days later in Newcastle.)

Callum McConville Glasgow live

Callum McConville was one of two local support acts. He’s a doe-eyed, 18-year old with a nice voice and good guitar playing skills, not to mention pretty boys looks that he could have fit right in on Skins. Not knowing anything about him, I was taken in by the admirable covers he attempted and did well. First was a version of The 1975‘s ‘Chocolate’, which he explained was one of the best bands he’d ever seen play live in Glasgow. Then he tried his hand at a reworked version of the White Stripes’ ‘Seven Nation Army’, which on paper shouldn’t work with a solo artist, but it actually sounded great. However, it was with his parting shot with a version of ‘All I Want’ by his “favourite Irish band of the moment’ Kodaline that he won me over. If imitation is indeed the deepest form of flattery, then McConville did his heroes proud this night.

Turtle Glasgow live

Turtle is the brainchild of one Jon Cooper, and he obviously has a strong following in Glasgow, as the whoops and cheers were immediately evident as soon as he and his backing band took to the stage. On the night, I had trouble getting past the fact that the bass player was seated on a gear box the entire set. Maybe he has a back ailment like Blaine Harrison of Mystery Jets? I dunno. As a bass player myself, I relish being able to stand with my guitar and project my body in whatever direction the music takes me, but post-gig after discovering this bass player was a hired hand and not really part of the entity of Turtle, I can understand why there might be a lack of keenness to stand.

Musically, I am a little confused by what Cooper is trying to do; at first, I thought, ok, this is a straight forward guitar band. But then Cooper would take to his keyboard and kind of go psychedelic. Then blips and blurps would come out, confounding me further. I’m all for eclecticism, but I think not knowing anything about the act before I came into the club, I was left wondering what exactly Turtle’s thesis sentence is. However, judging from the loud crowd reaction, my opinion was not shared by the majority of the punters present.

Sweet Baboo Glasgow live

Or maybe it being 6 days into my 3-week holiday in Britain, I was just itching to see Stephen Black live. The vocals of this idiosyncratic Welsh singer/songwriter can be described as lilting, but only mildly. I can see him being a bit Marmite and not suitable for everyone’s ears, as there is a slight crack to his voice that I find very endearing and incredible emotional in his delivery. I think therein lies his brilliance. He only played eight songs in his main set and two in the encore, and that was nowhere near enough for me. In new album ‘Ships’ (read the review here), songs like ‘Twelve Carrots of Love’ and ‘If I Died…’ make it clear that Black is (or was?) very much in love with a woman, and the object of his affection doesn’t seem to know the level of his loyalty to her. This is obvious on record as well as live. I could feel myself melting into a puddle on the floor as he played these songs, as well as a new one called ‘You’re the Best Beach I’ve Ever Known’, in which, as the title suggests, Black compares his lady love to a beautiful stretch of seaside. In the encore, Black played another new song called ‘Motor Home’, which he explained in his adorable storytelling way is truthfully about his attempts at convincing his girlfriend to use her hard-earned money (because of course as a musician he’s skint) to buy a caravan so they can travel anywhere.

What is not at all obvious is that the Baboo likes to rock out. Wow! You see this cute Welshman on stage, wearing a stripey shirt that made me immediately think of Bert and Ernie, and one moment he’s singing ballads while strumming his guitar. But the next moment? He’s jumping up and down and wailing on his axe, running up to his amp, as if daring it to come back at him with fuzzy feedback. He’s no Ritzy Bryan, but that was truly unexpected to me and made me so glad I saw this show. I think that’s the best part of live shows, really; if a live show is identical to queueing up the album on your record or CD player, then what’s the point of going to see a band gig? I really enjoyed this one at King Tut’s, not just to be able to see a show at a legendary Scottish venue, but I felt Black was letting us in on his personal life, telling stories between the songs and making us feel like friends than just people who had bought tickets to go to the show. I also met him after the show and thanked him for such a great set, and he was so sweet and genuine. The best part of seeing indie acts, surely?

After the cut: Sweet Baboo’s set list.
Continue reading Live Review: Sweet Baboo with Callum McConville and Turtle at Glasgow King Tut’s – 7th May 2013

 

Album Review: Sweet Baboo – Ships

 
By on Tuesday, 23rd April 2013 at 12:00 pm
 

Sweet Baboo Ships coverOne of the greatest pitfalls as a music editor is the ongoing whinge that it will always be humanly impossible to check out every single band I’ve been recommended to check out by all my music business acquaintances. Sweet Baboo, aka the all too cute stage name of Welsh singer/songwriter Stephen Black, has been a longtime favourite of BBC 6music Marc Riley and I’ll be honest, just hearing the name of the act would send me into a fit of giggles.

Surely you can’t be serious, eh? I mean, come now. It conjures up images of Charlie Brown’s sister Sally chasing around her childhood sweetheart, the blanket-wielding Linus Van Pelt, in the annoying, sickly sweet way that only little kids can be in the state of one-way puppy love. But maybe that is exactly what Black was going for with the name, for his latest album ‘Ships’ could be best described as sweet, disarming, idiosyncratic pop. God willing I will be seeing the man at King Tut’s next month and I’m very excited about this, and I will tell you why.

This past weekend, Cheryl and some friends of ours went to go see the Joy Formidable, who, coincidentally enough, has their roots in Wales as well. One of the opening bands had a singer that sung in this high-pitched, baby-like voice that drove me bananas. I bring this up because Black, while you could argue he sings in a somewhat funny, sing-song way, and in an entirely different way than most male vocalists you are likely to encounter these days, it’s entirely endearing. This is achieved also in a way not unlike Camera Obscura, with lush layered instrumentation with many less usual suspects in pop, such as first single ‘Let’s Go Swimming Wild’, a lilting minor-chord organ number that opens its arms wide for the uplifting chorus.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMQ8h42HOJU[/youtube]

The only thing that could be said to be similar to other pop records is the underlying theme of love. But even then, Black takes an unconventional approach to waxing philosophical about the apple of his eye that, evidently, he’s lost. Morse code is hilariously tapped for ‘The Morse Code for Love is Beep Beep, Beep Beep, The Binary Code is One One’. The cheers and heys of the driving ‘Build You a Butterfly’ just sounds like a good time; it would be a good encore number, so I’m wondering why it was placed second to last instead of dead last, as the song ends with “I’ll make sure you’ll be all right”. Sigh.

Black then pledges his love “will always be my baby” in what sounds like an Alice in Wonderland fantasy with “giant ladybugs outside” bring this person back to him in ‘Twelve Carrots of Love’. He dreams of catching a whale for a ride and then drinking coconut milk with his baby in the far too precious ‘Chubby Cheeks’. ‘If I Died’ (video below), the current single, has a fatalist theme: would a former lover remember you after you’re gone? Despite its sweet pop melody and jammy synth bridge, the take home message still is a melancholy one (“if I died / would you remember that you loved me? / if I died / I guess I’d never know”).

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIdc7nUa-CM[/youtube]

However, there are some less entertaining and more overbearing tracks. In light of the previous stellar tracks, ‘You Are a Wave’ is jus hohum. Not bad, but not terribly inspiring either. The same could be said for ‘The Sea Life is the Life for Me (Mermaid Cutie)’ earns many points for actually sounding like it was recorded underwater. (Maybe it was? And ‘Cate’s Song’ as well?) ‘8 Bit Monsters’ has a buzzing tuba and a wonky oompah beat. Despite a song that comes across emphatic with punctuation and potentially exciting, ‘C’mon Let’s Mosh!’ is sonically and lyrically a letdown.

Bottom line though, it’s far too easy to play pop ‘straight’ and that’s why most of the records coming out these days that purport to be ‘pop’ sound too similar. Quirky, fun, and thoughtful, the singles of Sweet Baboo’s ‘Ships’ come across as an antidote to all of that. But there are some challenging numbers that may either leave new listeners disappointed.

7/10

‘Ships’, the new album from Sweet Baboo, is out now on Moshi Moshi, Stephen Black’s first for the label.

 
 
 

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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