The Sound of the Summer

“I’d like to see him…and them…and those…”

It only takes a brief glance at this year’s line-up at the Green Man Festival for Sweet Baboo to become enthused. In a summer packed full of festivals promoting his latest album ‘Ships’, the weekend event at Glanusk Park in August clearly holds a special place for the Cardiff-based artist. “I think I’ve been almost every year” he says as he goes on to reel off some of the bands and musicians he’s seen perform there. More importantly, however, seems to be spending the weekend with friends and enjoying the beautiful Welsh scenery. It all sounds like a perfect weekend.

Sweet Baboo, or Stephen Black in everyday life, is playing at the Walled Garden this year and it should be one of the many highlights of the festival. ‘Ships’ might have started off as a concept album about the sea but that “got lost somewhere in translation” he admits.  Still, the sea, “a classic image of escapism and freedom” runs through the album and if escapism is what you’re looking for, then it won’t disappoint.

Even if it’s raining this summer, the opening track, ‘If I Died…’ will conjure those long sunny days with its exhilarating pop. One of the reasons for this is the brass section. It influences every song, a development from his previous work. He matter-of-factly describes making the album, “I was listening to a lot Northern Soul and Dexy’s and Rob (Jones, the producer) happened to have bought a trumpet so we decided to put that on every song.” For a second, it seems as if it happened by chance but ‘Ships’ is nothing of the sort. The album’s success and the amount of airplay the singles have had, which has taken Black by surprise, are testament to that.

i put it to Black that he is the hardest-working-man-in-pop-music. But, despite playing for Slow Club and, amongst others, Jonny, Cate Le Bon, H Hawkline and Islet in the last couple of years, he’s having none of it. Perhaps part of that is because he doesn’t want to make “grown-up music”, he’d prefer to make music with an element of fun, just like those bands he’s always loved: The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Super Furries and Gorky’s. Part of that also seems down to the community of artists in Cardiff at the moment, “an inclusive thing which doesn’t have any egos” according to Black and reflected in the vibrancy of the music coming out of the city.

He doesn’t say it, but Sweet Baboo comes across as someone who thinks that making and playing music is primarily just for the sheer enjoyment of it. The success is just a by-product. It’s no wonder that it’s as if he’s continuously on tour, packing everything into an Astra estate and doing it all on the tightest budget possible or supporting Jonny Flynn on some sell-out dates. He mentions that for smaller gigs where they can’t afford the brass section, they’re trying to work out a way to stop playing for a moment, pick up the trumpet and saxophone, play them briefly, and then get back to the rest of the song. That playfulness runs through the album. It’s no wonder that he adds that his girlfriend tells him that he looks happiest when he’s up on stage, making music.

It sounds as if Green Man will be one of the highlights of the summer for Sweet Baboo. “You can take it for granted in Wales but the setting is spectacular and to watch bands in that atmosphere is pretty amazing” he says. But it also sounds as if Sweet Baboo will be one of the highlights of this year’s Green Man. When he plays, regardless of the weather, he will bring with him a perfect slice of summer pop. It promises to be a joyous occasion.

Sweet Baboo’s ‘Ships’ is available now on Moshi Moshi Records. Buy it from or from your local independent record shop.

This interview originally appeared in the August edition of Buzz Magazine

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