By Martin Popoff
America embraced Sweet briefly but passionately back in the ’70s, as we all roller-rinked to “Ballroom Blitz” and “Fox On The Run” — hits that brought the band a Gold album for “Desolation Boulevard.”
Now, 40-odd years later, half the original band members are gone (singer Brian Connolly died in 1997; Mick Tucker died in 2002). There’s a Sweet in the U.K. run by guitarist Andy Scott (who replaced original member Frank Torpey) and another one in L.A. helmed by bassist Steve Priest. As Scott sees it, Sweet always was and has to remain British. Indeed, the band persevered across the pond in one form or another through the decades, after Connolly’s ouster.
Angel Air Records has refreshed our Sweet memories of the post-“Blitz” material through two archival releases: “Live At The Marquee 1986” and “Solo Singles,” the latter billed to Andy Scott, who sheds some light on this roving band of glamsters.
GOLDMINE: First off, Andy, tell me what we get with these two archival releases. I know “Live At The Marquee 1986” is somewhat of a reissue.
ANDY SCOTT: The music business is a funny old thing. It’s probably why bands are back on the road, because it’s so difficult to kind of shift what you would call identifiable hard pieces of stuff. All this downloading is subject to all kinds of misuse. So having found somebody who is very much into catalog, you need people like this in the business, whereby hard copies of CDs, and possibly even vinyl, for people who want that kind of thing. So having met Peter Purnell at Angel Air, he was sent a few items, and he goes, “Well, I’ll have the lot.”
So over the next few months, there’s going to be a number of releases. But back in the ’80s, I’d been producing a few other bands and still writing songs, for my own good, and for a lot of people. I had a solo career in the early ’80s. But there was something missing. I was getting up onstage with bands in London, just to keep playing, which kind of kept body and soul together as much as anything else. And it just got to that moment where, well, I wonder if this Sweet thing is still kind of viable? And just out of the blue, I bumped into our agent, who’d been with us for the mid-to late part of the ’70s. And he said, “Let’s go for a pint.” He says, “I keep getting phone calls, at least two or three a week, asking, do you still book The Sweet?”
And you know, within four to six months, we were back on the road and touring again. Mick (Tucker) and I always believed that we should carry on where we left off. And that version of the band was, you know, extremely, shall we say, tight and heavy, and we just decided that that would be as good a place to start as any. You know, here we are, here’s the work. And from ’85 to about 1990, that was a very, very, good lineup.”
GM: Many of the songs on “Live At The Marquee 1986” hail — no surprise — from that golden period in the band’s career, sort of ’74 through ’76. What was the magic of the first record from that era, “Sweet Fanny Adams?”
AS: Whenever you to speak to fans, they’ll go back to “Sweet Fanny Adams.” You see, the British version, the European version, did not have any hits on it. It was nine tracks which were very nicely conjoined. And Phil Wainman did a fantastic production job; they were recorded very quickly.
Phil was not the kind of guy to … if it was a three-hour session, right, this is what we need to get done in these three hours. So when you hear the finished product, and when you think how it came together, with no [songwriters Nicky and Mike] Chinn and Chapman around — they were in America, either on holiday or doing a little bit of work. But they did not want to come back to England in the wintertime, so we just got on with it. And so each time, people return to this album.
GM: I would think a close second choice would be “Give Us A Wink,” the third record, after “Desolation Boulevard.” A lot of people love that record.
AS: Sales-wise, maybe, across the water where you are, yes, “Give Us A Wink” was particularly well received in America. But you have to remember, the American “Desolation Boulevard” was the backbone of “Sweet Fanny Adams,” with a couple of tracks from the British “Desolation Boulevard” added, a couple of the singles, such as “Fox On The Run” and “Ballroom Blitz.” America, I’m afraid, got almost like a greatest hits package for the first album.
GM: Why is “Desolation Boulevard,” the U.K. version, a bit of an eccentric record? Between “Sweet Fanny Adams” and “Give Us A Wink,” it’s a bit strange, a bit uncommercial.
AS: We’d done the record with Phil Wainman, “Sweet Fanny Adams,” and it is a very professional job. Everything on there, we got a lot of our own material onto it. Then Mike Chapman stepped forward and said, “I know you’ve just done that record with Phil, but you’re going to need another album in a year’s time. Let me take you in. I’ve got a couple of great ideas (which was “The Six Teens” and “Turn It Down”) with some of your ideas.
Let’s record an album. But let’s do it in a kind of more live way, rather than the way that it was done with Phil.” So we all kind of went with that. But in the end, it ends up sounding rough. It doesn’t quite sound like a regular Sweet record, until you get to “The Six Teens,” for example. Then it starts to sound a bit more layered, and shall we say, a little bit more time spent over it. Whereas, some of the other tracks are extremely bare bones. And in my opinion, as I said to them at the time, the guitar needs to be recorded with … we all need to record together, with a bit of distance miking, if that’s the effect you want to go for. By keeping everything separate, you’ll end up with everything smaller than it should be. You need to have a lively room if you want to go about it that way. And well, as we know, the Americans picked most of “Sweet Fanny Adams” for the “Desolation Boulevard” release. And that speaks volumes.
GM: But then “Give Us A Wink” seems to be where it all comes together; as well, it’s arguably your best record, sonically speaking.
AS: Exactly. The first album that we produced completely away from everybody, as well. Trucked ourselves off to the German studio, Musicland, which, by the way, we went straight after The Rolling Stones had done; I think they’d recorded “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll” there, and we were there just before Led Zeppelin went in and just before Deep Purple went in. And then, of course, about a year or so before Queen went there.
GM: And what years does the “Solo Singles” album range? What are one or two highlights from that?
AS: In the ’80s, I had three solo singles out, and B-sides; there was also two other tracks that were destined to possibly be, you know, Sweet singles, had the career carried on. And also there were a couple of demos of things that were actually quite classic. I also did a TV thing, “Galaxy,” for a TV producer called Mike Mansfield. He said, “I need it by Monday.” So I went to my studio and produced something by Monday called “Galaxy,” and he was over the moon with it. But it only ran in two pilot episodes. Somebody said to me once, “There’s no balance for the future there.” You know, people who have written theme tunes for shows have called it their pension plan. But as there were only two episodes that were ever aired, I’m not going to get rich that way (laughs).
GM: It’s no secret that eventually, Brian Connolly’s alcohol problem got the better of him, and he had to leave the band. How did all of that go down?
AS: I didn’t see it coming. But there had been talk amongst people about Brian’s wayward ways, and not showing up to meetings and being a little bit, luckily, not too drunk, but drunk enough, at gigs and things. And it wasn’t until later, in 1978, when we were on the tour supporting “Love Is Like Oxygen” that it all came to a head, when our manager came to a gig. He rung me up and said, “I’m hearing a couple of funny reports here.”
And I said, “Mate, I’m not the one to talk about this. I don’t really want to get involved in inner-band politics. But when the show suffers, something has to happen.” And he said, “I don’t want you to tell anybody, but I’m going to come to the show in Birmingham, Ala.” We were supporting Bob Seger, I think it was, and he arrived at the gig, didn’t say anything, we went on stage, and within the first song, this is the worst I’d ever seen Brian. He did not know where he was. T
he next thing I knew, two people had rushed onstage and removed Brian, and me and Steve Priest ended up finishing the show as vocalists, and luckily we had a keyboard player with us, Gary Moberly, so it wasn’t as if we were going to be missing any instruments. Brian played bit of a keyboard here and there. And I’m afraid there was still a lot of shouting going on when we came off stage 45, 50 minutes later. And I knew then that something was going to have to give. The band basically came off the road for a few months, to see if there was anything to be resolved here. I thought it was resolved. He went to a therapist, you know, rehab, as they call them now, and I really thought that, well, at least we were going down the road of repair, rather than destruction. But I’m afraid it was very short-lived.
When we started to record the next album, “Cut Above The Rest,” we all knew. We had one of our managers saying, “Brian is complaining that the keys are not in his keys.” And we just said, “Well, they’re the same keys that we’ve been doing everything in all the way through the years.” You know, a guitar player wants to play in E, D, B. He doesn’t want to play in C and F and G. You know, it’s not really a guitar key. It’s more like a country or easy-listening key, a piano player’s key. So we were trying to just say, well, we can try detuning. But some of the riffs are what they are. But I realized that Brian’s voice was shot when we were doing the “Level Headed” album, because when you listen to that album, there’s a lot of vocals on there for me and Steve, because we were the ones who could hit the notes.
GM: Anything else you’d like to divulge? Obviously, you are out playing shows again.
AS: Yeah, we played at Sweden Rock. You know, I’ve now realized that, with regards to anything that’s happened with Sweet along the way, there’s no point now in trying to skirt any issues. You know, here we are, 45 years later, and if you don’t know what’s gone on by now, then you’ll never know. We’ve been slapped in the face a few times, but we’re still here (laughs). GM