Today we are all astronauts, so let’s get ready to go far from home

This Indian Summer doesn’t know when it’s beaten, does it?

The clocks go back next weekend, Halloween is round the corner and then the miserable trudge into Winter begins. All of which is something of a downer, no? Let us think gaily back to happier times, lighter moments and smoother transitions. Come back with me, if you will, to the sunny uplands of Summer ’18, August to be exact, and lift a glass to sunshine, cobalt skies glinting water and cheerful company.

The more cynical of you will straight away have recognised the whiff of a fancy metaphor when you catch it and spot the tricks of a wily old Blogger, who’s got a couple of things from the Summer he’s been meaning to post for weeks but simply couldn’t be arsed. I choose not to acknowledge your scorn, thumb my nose loftily in your direction and pause only to mention that here are a couple of things from the Summer that I’ve been meaning to post for … a while…

Steven Black, Sea Change

Steven Black (as I’m sure you know) records mostly under the moniker of Sweet Baboo, as well as playing with a number of everyone’s favourite Welsh artists, and has recently released a record of “ambient” compositions with Paul Jones as Group Listening. It’s a lovely record, that I was quite taken with over the Summer and was moved to write these lines about it at the time.

And I saw him in August at Sea Change performing the record in a church as part of the Sea Change festival with Coleser and a number of other chums. It was all part of a gorgeous “festival-without-canvas” if you remember, and a fine time was had.

He’s a chubby, unprepossessing feller who at first glance doesn’t quite have the shambling charisma of Gruff, the gawky eccentricity of Hawkline or the arch surliness of Cate, but is currently producing better records than any of his band leaders. The Group Listening affair is charming, moving back and forth between quirky easy listening and magical (kosmische) enchantment with nods in many a strange and agreeable direction.

And that’s pretty much how the Saturday afternoon went, with Black and Jones deftly running through the songs of the record – carefully, lovingly and artfully preserving the spirit of a collection of songs for which they clearly have a fondness. The venue being a church and all that, you might’ve expected hushed reverence from an audience of chin-stroking devotees, but actually it was all a bit more fun than that – people came and went, a baby cried sporadically, echoes and hums whirled around the stage. It all felt very cosy and seemed to add something to the general ambience of “field recording” there is about the songs.

Coleser’s fondness for a front seat meant we were in the very front pews and the upshot is a certain amount of nervous fiddling and general cack-handery with the recorder, but I like to think it all adds to the feel of the show. Here are a couple of songs you might want to give a listen to:

Happy Whistler

Maryan (it wouldn’t be Partly Porpoise…)

Introducing “Happy Whistler”, they mentioned it was originally a find from a 1963 record by Raymond Scott called Soothing Sounds for Baby. And by the wonders of YouTube, you can hear the original, pretty odd track (One of the comments mentions a similarity to King Tubby, and he’s not wrong. This is a bit of a treat, you probably need to give it a listen…)

 

Rare as the afternoon had been, Sea Change was still to reach its high-water mark (oh yes!) later on that evening, and Steven Black was again the catalyst…

It being quite a small festival with a few big names shoe-horned into two bulging days, there were a couple of ugly timetable clashes that prompted something of a difference of opinion amongst our cheery party. The long and short of it was that yours truly went over to the main hall to see Gwenno while the rest of the group went back to church for Josh T Pearson. A reunion for Sweet Baboo later on in the evening was planned. Gwenno was pretty good (although at this rate I’ll probably never get round to posting) and the hall was packed (including Steven Black himself. And an effervescent Big Jeff spotted at the front, so clearly I win – to be fair, I barely mentioned it…)

Towards the end of the set, I got a couple of urgent-sounding texts from others telling me to get my tail over to the intimate and exclusive surroundings of the upstairs pub room for Sweet Baboo before they closed the doors. An anxious trot across town sufficed and saw me safely bounding upstairs, hailed cheerfully from the bar and a beer thrust in my hand, as the band struck up. A feeling of enormous well-being rushed across my ruddy cheeks and for a moment I honestly felt like I was in a Bacardi Breezer advert. What a life!

Sweet Baboo didn’t disappoint, adding drummer Rob Jones from the excellent Surfing Magazines (who had sounded great the evening before from the warmth of the wine tent), and playing a selection of chart-topping favourites from his previous couple of records, particularly his latest, Wild Imagination. It was actually a very similar sort of occasion from when I saw him in the Prince Albert in Stroud a few years back – boisterous, funny and amiable.

The recordings are also pretty boisterous, stood as I was by the bar, flushed with well-being and generally “in my cups”, but all the better for it I’d say.

Clear Blue Skies

Lost Out on the Floor

The second song isn’t on Wild Imagination but was introduced as being his attempt at making an Abba / Chic style floor-filler that was rejected by the record company but was available as part of a sausage vending machine promotion in Cardiff, and therefore possibly “the best song ever released on sausage”.

Unlikely as this might sound…

Over an ocean away…

My pal, Coleser, has recently hatched a plan for myself and a couple of other like-minded souls to go to the Sea Change festival in Totnes. He’s chosen well as he knows that of recent I’ve come to the conclusion that my days accompanying him to Green Man and End of the Road may well be over. Much too old and too soft these days. The lure of the damp sod, the open air stage and the beer tent no longer sufficient recompense for the dubious pleasures of uncomfortable nights, listening to the rain lashing the canvas and the sound of drunken oafs stumbling over guy ropes. Sea Change is a town festival, however, and as such provides simple luxuries like beds, roofs and comfy pubs. This pleases me immensely and I’m beginning to look forward to the weekend.

Headliners for Sea Change include Jane Weaver, Hookworms and the mythical Damo Suzuki. I’m also becoming quite keen to see this pair:

Group Listening

Paul Jones I do not know but he is apparently a long term, college friend of Stephen Black, whom as Sweet Baboo, I’ve followed for a while and indeed written about him, (here in fact). Over the course of a few years, I’ve seen Black playing bass behind Gruff Rhys, Euros Childs, Cate le Bon and H Hawkline more times than I care to remember (including a good few at Green Man) and also doing his own Sweet Baboo set at the Prince Albert in Stroud.

This Group Listening record that came out earlier this year is different again, though. Clarinet and Piano: Selected Works, Vol 1 sounds like the discouraging title of a John Cage or Brian Eno record, doesn’t it? Not that far off, to be honest. It is indeed a collection of ambient pieces, mostly covers, played in bewitchingly straight fashion on said clarinet and piano.

Something about this title and description made every fibre of my body scream Can’t Be Arsed when I came across it, but a little common sense and open-mindedness has yielded to me a light and beautiful treat that I could easily have missed. I am not clear how many of the tracks are originals and how many are covers, but a brief scan yields songs by Eno, Euros Childs, Dieter Roedelius and a gorgeous cover of Maryan which I really think you should hear

 

I’ve spoken before (at length) about my love of Robert Wyatt and I’m not generally keen on people piggy-backing on the great man’s genius, but here I’m willing to give them a pass. The pair manage to take a meandering, joy-filled, free-spirited original and give me something new. They constrain it a little, painting it in bluer, more directionless tones. Black talks in this interview about “a deep yearning… a positive sadness” about the interpretations and you can hear it here. Childs’ “The Dog” is another uneven triumph.

There’s also something very refreshing about dense, industrial, abstract krautrock compositions transcribed into lighter, more human tones by Jones and Black. You hear this very clearly in the Eno track, “Julie With”, not a song I knew previously. There’s a beautiful video released to go with it too, all bridges and channels, mundane blues and greys:

 

The richness of a slow summer…