A 500-word history of: Sweet Baboo

The Welsh music scene has undergone some momentous changes over the past decade, with much-loved venues closing even as it continues producing a prodigious number of big-name acts. Amid it all stands Sweet Baboo.

Born in Bethesda, north Wales, Stephen Black spent his early life in Colwyn Bay and Trefriw, before a move to the bright lights of Cardiff aged 18 to study at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Starting with the clarinet aged 11, music formed an integral part of Black’s upbringing and that of his brother, who has performed on several Sweet Baboo recordings.

An inventive and endlessly humourous songwriter, much of Black’s early work constituted collaborations with a number of fellow Welsh musicians.

Cate Le Bon, H. Hawkline and Slow Club are among the extensive list of acts the north Walian has shared his talents with.

His debut release as a solo act, 2008’s The Mighty Baboo finally gave license for Black to fully express his musicality in all its glorious weirdness.

Third album  I’m a Dancer / Songs about Sleepin’ was nominated for the inaugural Welsh Music Prize in 2011, and the accolades have kept coming ever since, with 2017’s Wild Imagination also picking up a nomination for that year’s Prize.

That SB shunned specialist studios and instead created the album at his parents’ north Wales home while they were away on holiday should be of no surprise to anyone even vaguely familiar with his unorthodox approach to basically everything.

His decision to strike out and set up his own cassette label, Amazing Tapes From Canton. Named after his current place of residence, it offers yet another opportunity for Black to work closely on projects he loves, instead of chasing the limelight as you may expect for someone of his talents.

He told Louder Than War: “It’s a chance to release things that would otherwise not get a chance. Economically it works.

It’s cheaper as you can release a smaller amount, like 100 copies. I’ve released an album by my friends from New Zealand, Droor, as well as ‘The Boombox Ballads’ and ‘Sometimes’ as a cassette single.”

If further evidence of his relentless creativity was required, it came in the form of his latest body of work, The Vending Machine Project, released in June 2018.

For an artist so ceaselessly looking to innovative and entertain, becoming involved with a farm shop’ efforts to promote their local produce makes complete sense.

When Charcutier Ltd started selling their produce from a vending machine in Cardiff, they hired illustrators and artists to accompany their work, before eventually deciding to bring Sweet Baboo into the fold and release his music through the machine.

Now also released in conventional form, this latest work shows that a man who has become an absolute staple of the Welsh music scene has plenty more left up his sleeve.

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