Where: Nell’s Jazz and Blues, Kensington, London
When: 15th December 2017
As we left the venue, some guy stopped us and asked us if the “Sweet – Sold Out” sign outside referred to that band from the seventies. Indeed, it did. But who exactly are Sweet or The Sweet (if you prefer). That would be a question that fans, critics and even the band themselves might have been asking for over 40 years.
Sweet were, of course, the bubbly band who broke through in the very early-70s with hits like “Funny Funny” and “Co-Co”. Sweet were also the glam rockers in stack-heels and glitter who gave us huge hits like “Blockbuster” and “Ballroom Blitz”. But then Sweet were also the heavier band who cut loose from the Chinn-Chapman stable and wrote their own hits with “Fox on the Run” and “Action”. And Sweet were even the band who scored with Ivor Novello prize winning “Love is Like Oxygen” from the progressive / AOR styled album “Level Headed”.
And that’s when things were simple.
Sweet are also the band who parted company with their most recognisable asset Brian Connolly (the blonde haired one that every one remembers from Top of the Pops) and recorded three albums as a three-piece outfit.
But then Connolly (in deteriorating health) started his own version of Sweet whilst Steve Priest moved to the States and Andy Scott and Mick Tucker reassembled their own version.
Tucker was laid aside by his own health issues but Scott and Connolly continued to fight it out over the ownership of the name almost right up until the day that Brian finally lost his battle with ill health. Drummer, Tucker was also to pass away whilst Scott and Priest decided to divide the spoils with Steve Priest touring America with his version of Sweet and Andy Scott doing the same in Europe and Australasia.
So here we are in London, it’s late 2017, so amongst the myriad of “Sweets” we have mentioned who have we come to see. Well, surprisingly, things are mostly settled.
Steve Priest’s version of the band has mostly retired with only the occasional festival show to remind us that they were once on the horizon. Meanwhile, Andy Scott, who once seemed to go through lead vocalists like changing shirts, has been fronting a very settled line-up since around 2011.
Lead vocals and bass fall to Pete Lincoln.
Keyboards and guitars are handled by Tony O’Hora.
Longtime drummer, Bruce Bisland is still behind the kit.
And Mr Scott handles lead guitar duties and the occasional lead vocal. And all 4 members are remarkably adept at the four part harmonies that have long been a trademark of the Sweet-sound.
The other transformation is that Andy Scott who in the 80s was determined to make of Sweet a band whose shows revolved around their “deeper” album tracks is now content (even at shows like this where their harder core fans may gather) to play mostly the hits. Now with any decision like this there are pros and cons but tonight it proves that they have an audience who are with band from the first moment and are only built up to a climactic, joyous conclusion of the evening where there is little slow down in the momentum which begins with the opening bars of “Action”.
From “Action” we went to a song from Sweet’s last studio album which itself was made up mostly of covers and this is one that most associate with Hello and Ace Frehley (from Kiss) but “New York Groove” fits in perfectly to the atmosphere of this show.
Returning to Sweet’s own material we work through the big Chinn / Chapman hit “Hell Raiser” and the slightly less well-know ChinniChap composition “The Sixteens” which here as on the original recording is a towering, majestic edifice which should have done much better at the time.
“Peppermint Twist” was not a single for Sweet in the UK but proved a huge hit in Australia and consequently hangs around in the set for the times when they tour the antipodes and besides it is such a good time song, it needs no excuse.
“AC/DC” takes it from there which leads into “Set Me Free” which allows Scott to show that his guitar work hasn’t slowed at all. He takes up his microphone face and uses it as an impromptu slide to great effect.
In the middle-section, it is time to slow things down a little. Andy takes over lead vocals for the song that RCA tried to make a solo hit for him way back in 1974. “Lady Starlight” is still delicate and lovely and it is a shame that more space is not made for Scott’s lead vocal talents.
From there we move to an acoustic treatment of a song that it still astonishes me wasn’t a hit in ’76. “Lost Angels” was a great rock number then and a nice acoustic treat now.
One of the Sweet identities we haven’t dipped into yet is the bubblegum days and so it is a medley of “Co-Co”, “Funny Funny” and “Poppa Joe” next. Nothing wrong with a bit of harmless fun then, is there Andy?
Somehow we got from there to a big Bruce Bisland drum solo and then back to Chinn / Chapman territory with “Teenage Rampage”. Then comes the second medley of the night reminding us of the days when Sweet were first allowed to flex their instrumental muscles on Chinn and Chapman compositions as we visit “Wig-Wam Bam” and “Little Willy”.
“Fox on the Run” and “Love is Like Oxygen” were two of the bigger hits from amongst the songs that Sweet wrote for themselves and the set proper rounds out with these. “Fox…” gives Andy opportunity to mention its inclusion in the recent “Guardians of the Galaxy” film – more poignantly, as always, “Love is Like Oxygen” is dedicated to Brian and Mick. I’m still not sure why the middle section needs to wander through “Fanfare for the Common Man” when for my money the long version from the album was perfectly good on its own but we can’t have everything our own way.
Andy who has clearly been blown away by the audience’s response notes that there is no way to exit to a dressing room so the band won’t go through the pretense of leaving for an encore. Instead, they tear into “Blockbuster” and “Ballroom Blitz” without much of a break – and very fine they are too.
Some bands save their hits for the encores but Sweet had so many hits that there is enough to fill a whole show and tonight that is just what they did. Almost everyone a hit – and certainly everyone a crowd pleaser. Mr Scott pointed out earlier in the show that 2018 will be their fiftieth year as a band and they have designs on the Royal Albert Hall. Now wouldn’t that be something…