On Friday I was at a birthday party for Andy Scott, who is the guitarist for English glam rock band, Sweet. Andy has reached that milestone of his 60th birthday. There was a time when it would have seemed impossible that you’d still be treading the boards and recording as a rock musician at that age but Andy made it and 60 of us were invited to help him celebrate. The actual birth day isn’t for a couple of weeks but this was a good date for everyone to get together and a great time was had by all.
It got me thinking…….. Sweet are another one of those bands that I’ve been listening to all my life. It takes me back to when I was a kid growing up in a coal mining town in the north of England. Hard times…. didn’t fit in ….. and music became my escape. Now when did I first hear the music of Sweet?
It would have been about 1972, or even 1971. I would have been at infant school then! My dad took me to visit with my Uncle Colin and Auntie Brenda who lived in a place called Kingstone, near Barnsley. I had a cousin (guess I still have) who seemed to find Barnsley an even harder place than I did. He’d heard a song on the radio called "Co Co" which he went round the house singing. It was by a band called The Sweet. I was 6, he was 5. Long time ago.
Then there was "Top of the Pops". Sweet in Indian get-up for "Wig Wam Bam". Sweet in make-up for "Blockbuster". Sweet sounding vaguely rude on "Little Willy" but I wasn’t sure why. I was 7. I was 8.
My Dad had an old reel-to-reel tape recorder that he used to record the songs from the Top 20. 6 o’clock Sunday night. Number 1 at 7. The Sweet’s songs were always my favourites. Ballroom Blitz. For some reason, he didn’t record "Hell Raiser". I didn’t really understand why. Maybe he didn’t like that one. I was 8.
Holidays in Blackpool. Got my parents to buy me a album on cassette each time we went. 1974. The Sweet’s Biggest Hits. Had all the hits up to and including "Wig Wam Bam". I preferred their newer stuff. I was 9.
By the time I started to follow the charts myself, Sweet had moved on. First there was Teenage Rampage. Then there was The Sixteens which didn’t go as high on the "hit parade", as my Mum insisted on calling it, but I thought it was the best single I’d heard them do. I remember seeing an album in the shops and not buying it because there wasn’t any of the singles on it. It was called "Sweet Fanny Adams". Then I remember them being on a Jimmy Saville-hosted edition of TOTP. He stood in front of the staging and said "Sweet are back with a difference…. And what a difference!". The guys, all dressed in denim, no make-up, glitter all gone, launched into "Fox on the Run". Now that was cool. I was 10.
Sometime around then there was a technician’s strike which stopped Top of the Pops being broadcast. The very visual bands like Sweet began to fade. My new favourite band was the Eagles. It was getting difficult at school to be a fan of Alvin Stardust and Sweet. And nobody else of my age had ever heard of the Eagles. I was beyond criticism. Sweet carried on and there were two more hits…… Action and The Lies in Your Eyes. Great, great stuff. The Lies in Your Eyes only got to number 30 but I saw it on Supersonic on TV and it sounded wonderful to me. Supersonic was to be the glam bands’ last stand. Cue Marc Bolan…… riding on a white swan. I was 11.
Kind of lost sight of the Sweet for a little while after that. I’d checked into the "Hotel California" and everything was so grown up. I was the kid at school who was disparaging of the whole punk thing which seemed to lack seriousness …… and song lyrics needed to be serious. Hey, I was 12.
1978. The local record shop had an album called "Sweet’s Golden Greats" which picked up where "Biggest Hits" had left off. Everything from Blockbuster through to…. through to….. some songs I’d never heard before. It included songs like "Lost Angels", "Fever of Love" and "Stairway to the Stars" which sounded like they’d been great singles but no-one had bought them. I couldn’t understand why no-one had bought them. They should have been hits. Maybe if they’d been hits then the Sweet would still be going I thought……. One morning, it was a Saturday, I was laid in bed, late and my Mum had the radio on. There was a song that caught my attention. Great melody and sad lyrics. Something about Oxygen. The DJ said that’s the new one form Sweet. It was a great song……. but no band should be allowed to hijack another band’s name just because they hadn’t had a hit for a couple of years. I was quite put out. Next time I heard it, close up, and I realised that the voice was the same. Brian Connolly. I went down the record store. A place on the corner of Peel Street in Barnsley. Can’t remember it’s name. They had the album. It was called "Level Headed". Andy Scott had a beard. They looked very mature. Just grown up enough for me. Kind of like the Eagles but from England. "Love is Like Oxygen", indeed. I was 13.
Nothing else from the Sweet the rest of the year and when you’re young six months is an awful long time. I’d moved on. Tubeway Army, David Bowie. If punk was a little too raw for me, then this was articulate, alienated and thoughtful. Just like me. The Eagles also brought out an album called "The Long Run". My English teacher seeing the badges on my jacket told me that you couldn’t like both Gary Numan and the Eagles. I thought he was wrong. I was 14.
I was shopping in Casa Disco in Barnsley. Local record shop. Sometimes I still have dreams about Casa Disco where I fret that it is closing down. When I wake up, it has been closed for years. When I go back to Barnsley, which I seldom do, its not there anymore. This day, they had an album by the Sweet that I hadn’t seen before. Just called "The Sweet", it had a live photo on the cover on which they looked like they did on that Level Headed record. Took it home, the songs were recorded prior to "Wig Wam Bam" and were really not me. Strike one on the Sweet. Another day, shopping in Neales Music in the Arcade. They had a section where you could buy singles that had failed to chart for 60p. The new ones were £1-10. I looked through. Found something called "Call Me" by Sweet. Took it home. Sounded okay. It was like being 11 again. Guilty secret. Found out the "Level Headed" album and tried to persuade myself that the last track sounded like Kraftwerk. In reality it probably sounds more like Pink Floyd. I was 15.
Now life was an endless trawl around the record stores. There was one place on Barnsley Market which had loads of singles and a few albums. It was called "Mary’s". Run by a little woman who always looked dirty which matched the condition of the singles she tried to sell. The albums were always in pretty good condition. Found one called "Cut Above The Rest" by Sweet. The inner sleeve had only three guys on the photo. I’d heard the singles off the album – "Call Me", Big Apple Waltz" – and hadn’t noticed the difference but the album confirmed that Brian, the lead vocalist, was no longer in the band. At least, the other guys had always sung on the other records. Found the next album when I went on holiday (Blackpool, again!). Water’s Edge. A little poppy for my tastes. I was 16.
Sometime around then the three-piece Sweet recorded another album, "Identity Crisis". Good record. I got it on a German import from a shop in Manchester. Sweet went out on tour. I was used to being embarrassed about my musical tastes when my mates who liked the latest hits chided me about them. Even for me, defending something as outmoded as Sweet was a bit of a stretch. Music was moving on, the new Genesis and David Bowie albums sounded poor, Steely Dan and the Eagles had called it a day and I needed to find something that was a little less mainstream. I was 17.
By this time, I’d begun to freelance for NME, Sounds and Melody Maker and was combining that with anything I could write about to keep a decent level of income. I don’t know how you can write a whole magazine about double-glazing but I did it – and on a regular basis. Maybe writing about music wasn’t going to be the only thing I would do. Time to think again and a long time since I’d thought about Sweet. I was 20.
Married man (at least for a while). An article in Sounds. "Sweet getting ready to Blockbuster again". Three guys on the photo. Andy Scott, Mick Tucker and a guy called Paul Mario Day. The article said that Stevie Priest would join them in time for the shows. Got a bootleg from a record fair. Turned out that Steve Priest never made that journey. Sweet were a five-piece and the lead vocalist shouted when he couldn’t make the top notes. Seemed like nostalgia. I was 21.
Something must have kept me checking the "S" rack in the cd stores. 1992. Found an album and a video. Didn’t really recognise anybody on the cover but the sleeve said it was by "Andy Scott’s Sweet". Turned out Mick Tucker had gone the way of Connolly and Priest. But the cd made a good sound and I decided to go to some shows. Sweet still made for a good night out. I was somewhere in my late 20s.
Discovered a messageboard on this new thing called the world wide web. A place called "Home Sweet Home". My name is Darren and I am a Sweet fan. Twelve steps group for those who wished rock music was still a little more glam.
Gig in Shepherd’s Bush. Two venues. Not sure which one the Sweet is playing at. Not the coolest question to ask just anyone. Spotted a guy with long hair and a blue denim jacket. Decided to ask him. He turned around and he happened to be Andy Scott.
Some guy from Peterborough organises a Sweet concert and I get to write a couple of articles for the programme. Hey after all it is one of the things I do.
Invited to attend the filming of the band’s new DVD at a studio in London. Interviews and things. Somewhere along the line it all goes pear-shaped and the band and the studio end up fighting each other in court. I end up on the cutting room floor. I’m not surprised.
After all you learn a lot before you get into your late 30s.
Invited to go to Andy’s birthday party and the band will play live too. All in one weekend.
Not a bad time for a Sweet fan who’ll never see 40 again.
Darren Hirst and Andy Scott