Euros Childs last week and Sweet Baboo this...Birmingham Promoters are doing more for Brummie / Welsh relations than, well, pretty much anyone. First up though (and nothing at all to do with Wales as far as I know) RickWellings who, when he’s not doing his solo stuff, is also the frontman of Birmingham band The Bombergs. The last and indeed first time I saw him was on a barge during Oxjam, perhaps one of the more unusual places and times (it was early afternoon) for a gig. He ended up playing a mash up of Take That and Nick Cave on the barge’s piano...trust me, you had to be there. Anyway, this evening was a little more conventional with a good half a dozen original tracks and a suitably languid cover of The Smiths’ The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. Somewhat unusually Mr Wellings’ hasn’t got any of his own stuff up online yet but closing track Second City (a homage to dear old Brum) could well become our national anthem whilst It Isn’t Going To Work Out hints at an acoustic Ian Curtis. Promising.
Big Tent & The Gypsy Lantern win tonight’s award for the most instruments played by a band with various drums, several guitars, an accordion, a uke and a trumpet (at times fed through some weird box of tricks that made it sound a little like a Dr Who sound effect) all being employed to create their own unique brand of prog folk. Prog Folk I hear you asking...well that’s how it sounds to me. Take opening number Brightly Coloured Walls for instance. It’s trotting along simply enough then it whooshes off into far more complex territory. It’s a trick they repeat on a number of tracks this evening, leading you gently down a folk path then dragging you down a prog alleyway for a little mind bending. Pick of the set was the more straightforward 24ft March though, an impressive fusion of XTC at their most pastoral and folk poster boy Seth Lakeman.
Despite looking a little like he should still be doing his maths homework Sweet Baboo (aka Stephen Black) is apparently celebrating a decade in the ‘music biz’. I hate to use the phrase ‘baby faced’ of another man but heck, he is. The look fits in with the voice too. I spent a fair part of the set trying to place it and ended up with a cross between a broken hearted choirboy, Mercury Rev’s Jonathan Donahue and Daniel Johnston (who, appropriately enough gets a name check in one of tonight’s tracks). As a relative newcomer to the Baboo-niverse I wasn’t sure what to expect, but from opening number The Morse Code For Love Is Beep Beep, Beep Beep, The Binary Code Is One One (surely a contender for longest / oddest song title of all time) right through to the charming Two Moles you knew you were in safe hands. As love songs go The Morse Code is a bit off the wall but somehow that makes it all a hell of a lot more genuine. We’ve all had enough of “Ooooo baby, I wanna give you my heart and make sweet love honey, oooooh yeah”, how much more refreshing is it to learn that the binary code for love is "one and one" eh? It’s this unique way of looking at love, life and all the stuff that lies in between that makes Sweet Baboo such a great listen. Take If I Died for instance, a love song from the perspective of someone contemplating their own death and the impact it would have on their other half. Okay, break out the razor blades, on the face of it a pretty depressing concept right? But it’s wrapped up in such a jaunty tune (tonight featuring a surprisingly vigorous rock out from Stephen) that it somehow manages to be strangely life affirming too. Speaking of tunes Sweet Baboo (this evening performing as a/with a band) dip their toes into a dizzying number of different styles, adding a little country twang to I’m A Dancer, a touch of afrobeat/tropicalia to brand new song Tonight You Are A Tiger, a dash of new wave to Do The Buzzard and even a little early rock ‘n’ roll in Bounce.
Sure the influences are subtle but they’re there and, like the lyrics, they reward the attentive listener. In between songs Stephen has that easy going but slightly befuddled patter that seems to be a trademark of great Welsh male artists these days (see also Gruff Rhys and Euros Childs). “I’m staying in Perry Barr this evening...in a Travelodge” cue the odd cry of horror from the Kings Heath crowd “I was meant to be staying near Rob (Jones aka The Voluntary Butler Scheme) who lives in Stourbridge...but I got Perry Barr mixed up with Brierley Hill...and I’m not going to lose £30 on the room now”. Or try this one “This is another song about squishing your brain into someone elses” or how about “This song’s like Thin Lizzy...sung by a small fat Welshman” Awww bless. This last quote is just one example of his self deprecating nature, something that often crops up in his lyrics, perhaps most notably of all on the previously mentioned If I Died, “And Daniel Johnston has written hundreds of great tunes...and I’ve got six, so I guess there’s some catching up to do...”. On tonight’s showing I’d say he was getting damn close.