Tonight the St Pancras Old Church is handing out wine but this isn’t holy wine, it’s boxed and we’re here to see Sweet Baboo. The crowd is a wonderful mixture of father and son duos, ageing music nerds and mid-30s IT Crowd types.
The church is alight with candles while subtle stage lamps throw a magical blue behind the altar, this venue certainly lends itself to an intimate performance – holy and vibrant. Looking back down the aisle as Tom Williams’ support set comes to a close, I’m amazed to see just how many people are here. Standing in a silent crush at the back and along the sides, could this sold out gig be the biggest congregation this church has seen for a while?
The Virgin Mary and Jesus look over as Sweet Baboo walks onto the stage and begins tuning up. My perceptive plus one points out his likeness to Just William; darting eyes, chubby cheeks and an eternally youthful face. He begins his set with ‘I’m a Dancer’, then as if we were in one of those old Dom Jolly sketches, a phone goes off. Sweet Baboo stops and jokingly scolds the cuplrit, telling us in his Welsh twang that tonight is actually being recorded live. He starts again, this time with no interruptions and we’re off. Standing on stage in a woolly jumper, jeans and boat shoes, he stares into the crowd fixing us with his bug-eyed expression. He looks nervous, almost shocked to find the crowd here but his unwavering performance tells us otherwise.
Born Stephen Black in North Wales, he had basic musical beginnings starting with a Casio keyboard, Tandy microphone, four track recorder and his father’s guitar. He has performed at many festivals including Green Man and Glastonbury, been nominated for the first ever Welsh Music Prize in 2011 and won BBC 6 Music’s Rebel Playlist for ‘Let’s Go Swimming Wild’, the first single from his second album ‘Ships’ – a concept album about the sea or lust disguised in sea laden words.
He introduces his new single ‘C’mon Let’s Mosh!’ as a “slightly inappropriate song for a church, a Prince-esque song about wooing women done by a Welsh chubby guy in a woolly jumper”. A splendid song which ends in the refrain ‘Let us dance and then make love’ giving this track what his Dad describes as ‘a Morrissey ending’.
Sweet Baboo gives each song its own introduction, which he says he has to do otherwise no-one would know what they are about. Understandable when you explain your song as a “medley about squishing your brain into someone else’s brain”. My personal favourite ‘Let’s Go Swimming Wild’ is apparently about Cardiff University’s Library’s electric card system something I forget immediately when he perfomrs it tonight. Black closes his eyes as his voice breaks over the lyrics, totally mesmerising to watch on this candlelit stage.
The next song ‘Twelve Carrots of Love’ he likens again to Prince’s sexy-funk genre, personally I’m not sure that Prince has ever written about ladybugs in his songs but I’m definitely still into it. During ‘The Sea Life Is The Life For Me (Mermaid Cutie)’, his song about finding a mermaid on the coast of Anglesey, he forgets his words but this only wins over the audience more and adds to his endearing likeability. He follows this with ‘Bounce’, a very catchy tune with its 50s twang suited to his high guitar playing stance.
Sweet Baboo finishes his set with ‘If I Died’ the second single from his album ‘Ships’, followed by a new song he has written to convince his girlfriend to buy a camper van.
Stephen Black, tonight as Sweet Baboo, gives a fascinatingly quirky performance looking like a rabbit in the headlights each time he looks up from his guitar. There is a maturity in his lyrics, comedy interjected with sadness accompanied by his self-labelled psychedelic folk. Throughout his set tonight, Sweet Baboo’s vocals have reminded me of Devendra Banhart and Adam Green, yet the live combination of his vocals and guitar give him a truly individual quality. Describing his early gigs as “a piss about on stage…playing four songs on a ukulele in 1 hour” it is hard to think he is talking about himself, tonight he has proven that worthwhile artists really do sound better live than on record.
Sweet Baboo, whose definition of wild is holidaying in a campervan to Northumberland, is someone to pay attention to. Best night.