Art After Hours: Sweet Baboo
National Museum, Cardiff
29 April 2010
The natural comparison for this proposed synergy between art and music – an evening showing of the Artes Mundi exhibition with music provided by Sweet Baboo, courtesy of local promoters Sŵn – seems to be that of the Velvet Underground playing at Andy Warhol’s infamous Factory in 60s New York. Which leaves Sweet Baboo – a diminutive North Waleian singer-songwriter called Steve – as a rather incongruous Lou Reed. But then the central foyer of Cardiff’s National Museum probably bares scant comparison with Andy’s Factory – being that the Velvet Underground’s sets were more likely to be interrupted by a terrible, drug-fuelled sexual accident than, as is the case tonight, a barista loudly operating a steam arm on an espresso machine.
In all fairness to Mr Baboo, I think the conditions of playing in a cavernous, marble-covered space gave him an uphill struggle tonight. His songs – intimate portraits of failed relationships, self-conscious melancholy and his love of dancing – were made for far smaller places than this; the lyrics wry, inventive and always worth a listen, being lost somewhere near the natural history exhibition. And his voice – on record a charmingly eccentric thing, emanating from somewhere near the back of his throat – bouncing off the marble pillars sounded a little like a frog being kicked down a well. However, I’ve seen and thoroughly enjoyed Sweet Baboo elsewhere in Cardiff before, and would wholeheartedly recommend checking him out anywhere with acoustic properties moderately more suited to live music than a submarine.
As to the art, I’d like to report what this was like, but unfortunately the whole organisation of the evening conspired to prevent enjoyment of both the music and exhibition. I was able to see Fernando Bryce’s series of 195 Indian ink drawings – all meticulously reproduced from early twentieth-century newspapers – and was mid-way through deliberating whether this was a productive use of someone’s time when I was asked to leave for having a drink with me. No problem, I thought, I’ll pop back after the gig – the gig and exhibition taking place on different floors and behind several doors, to prevent any mutual enjoyment of both. And pop back I did, only to find that they closed the exhibition as soon as the music finished.
All in all, two activities organised in spite of, rather than supporting each other. I’m sure the Artes Mundi exhibition, bringing together eight international artists, one of whom will win a £40,000 prize is worth another attempt, at a time when there isn’t also slightly ill-conceived gig taking place in the foyer.