Sweet Baboo, or Stephen Black to use his given name, has always been a very busy musician, but even by his own standards, 2018 is proving impressively prolific. Last month saw the release of Hippo Lite, the new album by DRINKS, which he produced, this week he’s releasing the debut Group Listening album, a set of ambient covers performed on clarinet and piano alongside long-term collaborator, Paul Jones, and, on top of that next month there’s a new Sweet Baboo album on the way.
That album, The Vending Machine Project, has a typically unusual back story. Stephen was contacted by Charcuterie Ltd, his favourite sausage manufacturers from Carmarthenshire, they were installing a vending machine full of farm produce from local producers. Alongside the cheese, honey and meats, Charcuterie Ltd commissioned artists and designers, and for whatever reason, they wanted a locally sourced musician. With each purchase the shopper was rewarded with a song – that was originally the only way the music was available – however, now teaming up with another independent Welsh producer, The Bubblewrap Collective, the music will see a more conventional release with a limited edition vinyl run.
Always interesting, never predictable, always pushing the boundaries of what it is to be a working musician in the digital age, Sweet Baboo is building one of the most intriguing back catalogues of any current artists. This coming weekend, he’ll be bringing that array of sounds to the stage of The Victoria in Dalston, headlining the all-dayer we’re co-promoting with Scared To Dance. Ahead of that show, we talk to Stephen about collaborating, staying positive and smashing Take That records with a hammer.
FTR: For anyone who doesn’t know, who is Sweet Baboo?
I am a Welsh singer hitting my stride in middle age.
FTR: What are your earliest musical memories? Have you always wanted to be a musician?
I remember going to the ‘50 years of the Stratocaster’ concert at the NEC in Birmingham. I remember Whitney Houston, Aerosmith and James Taylor records. I loved Batdance and Bill and Ted’s. I remember buying the first Take That album, being embarrassed in front of my older brothers, going to the shed and smashing it up with a hammer. I remember standing in front of the mirror with my yellow tinted fosters sunglasses singing along to OK computer before my maths GCSE. Yes I think I always wanted to make music.
FTR: What can you tell us about Group Listening? How did you come to make an album of ambient piece for clarinet and piano?
Paul, the other half of Group Listening and I have known each other for a long time and over the last few years have made a lot of music together. I went to college to play the clarinet but hadn’t played seriously for a long time. Originally it started off as hypothetical chat, then a one-off gig and before we knew it, we had booked a studio made an album and formed a band. We’re both immensely proud of the project. The album is out this Friday.
FTR: You’re a frequent collaborator, what do you like about working with other people? How does it differ from working on your own material?
Working for someone else or for myself the greatest joy I get is from creating music with other people.
FTR: The Sweet Baboo back catalogue is an increasingly versatile collection, are you someone who has to be working on something new to keep themselves interested?
When I was 18 I made a list of everything I wanted to achieve in music by the time I was 25. One of them was to give up, when I got to 25 I extended it to 30 but since then I’ve been kidding myself I’ve been trying to retire. I like to keep busy.
FTR: You’ve spoken about your last album, Wild Imagination, being an album full of positivity. Do you think you’re a naturally positive person?
I’m always aspiring to be positive.
FTR: You’re playing live for us this weekend, what can people expect from your live show?
We’re an all singing, all dancing extravaganza. The band sound really really great.
FTR: What’s next for Sweet Baboo?
I have an album coming out on the Bubblewrap label called the ‘Vending Machine Project’ which is limited to 150 copies, It’s at least 50% about the sausage industry. I’m really excited for people to hear that, gigs, Group Listening, everything is ticking along I hope.
The Vending Machine project is out June 29th via Bubblewrap Collective. Group Listening’s debut album Piano & Clarinet: Selected Works Vol. 1 is out May 4th via PRAH Records. Click HERE for all things Sweet Baboo.