'70s - Sweet (2015)
'Own Up, Take A Look At Yourself! The Sweet Story'
Sweet (also referred to as The Sweet) are a British rock band that rose to worldwide fame in the 1970's as a prominent glam rock act, with their most prolific line-up: lead vocalist Brian Connolly, bass player Steve Priest, guitarist Andy Scott, and drummer Mick Tucker.
Formed in 1968, their first hit came in 1971 with 'Funny Funny,' but that so-called "bubblegum pop" style of music quickly changed to a harder rock-influenced style, supplemented by a striking use of high-pitched backing vocals.
With this change of musical tone, the band achieved notable success in the UK charts, with thirteen Top 20 hits during the 1970s alone. 'Block Buster! topped the chart in 1973, and was followed by three consecutive number two hits in 'Hell Raiser' (1973), 'The Ballroom Blitz' (1973), and 'Teenage Rampage' (1974).
The band turned up their rock style even more with their mid-career singles like 1974's 'Turn It Down,' and then their first self-written and produced single, 'Fox on the Run' (1975) also reached number two on the UK charts. Indeed, these results were topped in West Germany and other countries on the European mainland, where the band has always been very popular.
The Sweet had their last Top 10 hit in 1978 with 'Love Is Like Oxygen,' where thereafter Connolly left the group the next year to start a solo career. The remaining members continued as a threesome until disbanding in 1981.
From the mid-1980s, Scott, Connolly and Priest each played with their own versions of Sweet at different times. Connolly died in 1997 and Tucker in 2002. The two surviving members are still active in their respective versions of the band; Scott's is based in the United Kingdom and Priest's in the United States.
I was recently lucky enough to sit down and chat with original member Andy Scott, and taking it from the top, and even though the band were formed in 1968, they first achieved notable success in the UK charts in 1971 with 'Funny Funny.' So, I first wondered, back then, what was the bands agenda for Sweet? "When I joined the others in the summer of 1970, success was the only agenda. The songs that were presented to the band were obvious pop hits with the image that was to be projected. However, the band as musicians had another side and we tried to show that on our B-sides, which were much harder, heavier rock. A little naive at times, but full of energy and, of course, we had a good record producer."
As you say, between 1971 and 1972 your musical style changed from "bubblegum pop" to a harder rock style, but was that totally the bands idea or the people marketing you? "Definitely the band!"
You also began to use high-pitched backing vocals in your songs. So who from the band, at that time, was best at reaching such vocal heights? "I am afraid the super high vocals were from my soprano choirboy voice," he laughs. "We soon realised that multi tracking created an enormous hard-to-ignore sound."
The band achieved highly notable success in the UK charts with thirteen (13) Top 20 hits during the 1970's. 'Block Buster!' (1973) topped the charts and was followed by three consecutive number two hits in 'Hell Raiser,' 'The Ballroom Blitz' and then 'Teenage Rampage' (1974). So what was life like for the band at that time, appearing on many TV shows, playing live to thousands every night, and making more money than you ever had before? "Well, marriages didn’t survive! We were constantly away working so there was no home life. It was gigs, airports, hotels, limos, studios, nightclubs, etc. As Joe Walsh put it, 'Life’s been good'!"
Talking of the money side of things, what was the most lavish thing you purchased back in the bands heyday? "We waged ourselves in the beginning, but by the time 'Blockbuster' was a no 1 hit in the UK we had already had several number ones around the world. We saw the producer and the songwriters driving around in flash cars and moving into bigger flats and houses and we wanted a piece of that. So the shackles were removed and I bought a Roller, a Silver Shadow. I loved that car and in some ways despite the austerity trip I wish I still had it. We all then moved into the stock-broker belt, but then came the heaviest work period of touring, etc. The US Tours took a toll and, of course, eventually you realise that assets don’t make you happy. I do regret selling some of my guitars in the 1980s though, but hey, that’s life!"
After those singles the band turned to a more harder rock style with 1974's 'Turn It Down' and your first ever self-written and produced single, 'Fox on the Run' in 1975. How was it to finally be writing your own songs and seeing them top the charts in many countries? "I was already producing and writing for other acts by 1974, so for me it was the natural progression for the band. Of course, you feel justified when you see the results - 'Fox on the Run' became the band’s biggest seller worldwide."
Throughout this period of the 1970's, the band was known for wearing glam rock outfits, complete with high heel boots! Looking back, what were some of the looks that totally worked for the band, and what would be a look that even today you shake your head at? "I am not going to be drawn into this discussion," he laughs, "but, let’s just say that there are quite a few Sweet photos on the famous band photo website that pokes a little fun at certain eras of musical imagery!"
Wearing those high heel boots on stage, playing live, movin' and groovin', was there ever a night where you came a cropper, shall we say? "Several times," he laughs. "I fell off stage a few times luckily without real injury. There were other things that occurred that involved stage outfits and unexpected nudity and embarrassment, but I think we’ll leave it there!"
Sweet had their last Top 10 hit in 1978 with 'Love Is Like Oxygen', and later the following year Brian Connolly left the band to start a solo career. Sweet eventually disbanded as a threesome in 1981 so my question is, at that time, and after a decade in the business, and hit singles galore, was it disharmony within the ranks combined with a different era of music coming in that broke Sweet up, perhaps? "I think Mick Tucker summed it up when he said “we just ran out of road”. I understood his remark and realised that to be perceived at a lower level was unacceptable. We could have moved to the States and carried on as probably the best middle of the bill act around, but other factors also conspired against us."
"Steve, at this time, had already relocated to New York making rehearsing difficult. Mick was having to deal with the death of his wife and understandably had become extremely introvert and I thought he wouldn’t play the drums again. I believe we all still “loved” each other, but getting it together to reorganise was almost impossible. I missed gigging, playing “live”, that was still the buzz for me and after a chance meeting with our former agent I wanted to put the band on the road again. This became a reality in 1985 and the last 30 years with all the ups and downs has been a blast."
Taking the titles of some of the most well known Sweet songs, what can you please tell us about both the lyrically creation and where you were mentally, as a band, of each one:
'Hell Raiser’ - "This song followed 'Blockbuster' which was not going to be easy, but it slammed up the charts to no 2. Ozzy Osbourne cited it as his favourite song of 1973!"
'The Ballroom Blitz’ - "This song was written after Mike Chapman came to a Sweet show in Glasgow. He sort of wrote what he saw."
'Teenage Rampage’ - "We had turned down two songs from Chinn-Chapman, but we needed a single. Luckily, once again Mike came to our show at the Rainbow in London and heard the fans chanting “We want Sweet” - the rest is history."
'Fox on the Run’ - "Our masterpiece," he broadly smiles.
Still today, which is the one Sweet song that you adore both listening to and playing live - and why? "Well, 'Love is Like Oxygen' still has a special place, mainly because it was a song that I wrote and produced and it won many awards."
And, for the record, just why was the band named Sweet anyway? And is it really still THE Sweet? There are so many versions of these answers online, that we would like to hear it straight from the horses mouth, so to speak! "Either works for me. I think that it became Sweet when the albums started to take off and “the” was a bit passé at the time - though it has always been The Who, for example."
Still playing Sweet songs all these years later, what has kept you going all this time in this sometimes-brutal business? "If you don’t enjoy your life then change it. I am happy right now."
Indeed, when it comes to playing live, how does it all feel now to those live shows you used to perform back in the 1970’s? "The original band was quite a force, but could blow hot and cold. I suppose we all grow up and hopefully temperament is left in the dressing room these days."
3 FAN QUESTIONS:
STEVEN LAY - You've got the rebellion gig coming up which is mainly punk. So are you gonna change your set list? If so, what would it be? "Last time we played Rebellion, we brought in a couple of the heavy tracks and found that the audience were yelling for the “hits”! So ... we’ll see!"
PAUL IZARD - Does Andy plan on touring France ever? It seems like Sweet were not known in France. "We’d love to play France. Any thoughts on a promoter?"
NICK GURNEY - Why do you not play any songs live from the CD Sweetlife? "We do play 'Everything,' once in a while. Thanks for that though as it has got me thinking!"
You've had, amongst others, Joe Elliot (Def Leppard) say "This is the band I wish I had been in," Gene Simmons (KISS) say that "Without The Sweet there would not have been a KISS," and Axel Rose (Guns 'N' Roses) say that Sweet was one of his favorite bands growing up. All these years later, and as much acclaim as you obviously still get, is there anything you would have done differently with regard the band over those 40 years, perhaps? "No, because you can’t change anything anyway."
So, will there be a brand new Sweet CD of music coming out any time soon for the fans to spend their pennies on? "Keep your eyes and ears open, because there is something quite new on the horizon in September - followed by a new studio album in 2016!"
Will you be bringing Sweet over here to the States any time soon? We are based just outside of Detroit, MI and we would love to have you play live here! "The band would come and play anywhere on this earth and have done! After my last US experience we only want to play where everything is organised and traveling takes into account my age, of course," he laughs.
Finally, and yes, we ask every one this question, we here at Exclusive Magazine LOVE penguins. So, we were wondering if you also had any love for them and/or a personal story of meeting any on your globetrotting journeys through the years? "In my experience, Penguins are a bit stand offish," he wryly smiles.
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
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