Where: Nell’s Jazz and Blues, West London, UK
When: 19th December 2018
What: Live in Concert (50th Anniversary Tour)
Last Christmas on the 15th of December I was stood just in front of the stage as Sweet tore up Nell’s Jazz and Blues playing to a packed house and delivering an uproarious set. Well, having started a good tradition, why break and so I and they are back just a little over a year later for more of the same.
Now of the glam-rock bands of the Seventies, you don’t associate Sweet with Christmas in the way that you do Slade, Roy Wood’s Wizzard or Mud. In fact, other than a rendering of “Let it Snow” that they released to their Facebook/YouTube audience a few years ago, I’m not aware of them ever having recording or performed a Christmas song. But there can be few bands in existence who can deliver a good time set more suited to the kind of good times we associate with a family season than the Sweet.
So, regardless of the fact that the set-list is largely the same as last year and that the hoped for big venue show for this 50th anniversary year hasn’t materialised in the UK (the band have played some huge shows on the continent where their profile remains higher) we’re all back for a good night out.
All the hits are here. A guy behind me at his first Sweet show is desperate to hear “The Six-teens” and he will not be disappointed. It’s coming up as the fourth song to be performed tonight. The opening pairing from last year of “Action” and “New York Groove” are intact and the audience are singing along at the top of their lungs. Then there is the Chinn/Chapman massive hit “Hell Raiser” and the aforementioned Sixteens.
Last year, we had the big Australian hit “The Peppermint Twist”, this year it is substituted by “Turn it Down” preceded by a story about Mary Whitehouse’s distrust of the band’s intention back in 1973/74. Using this as a lever into heavier and album track territory, the band heads into AC/DC (from the Sweet Fanny Adams album) and Set Me Free with a scorching guitar solo from Andy Scott. For the first of this pair, the band are joined on stage by Paul Manzi from the band Cats in Space who takes over on lead vocals.
If we’re in need of contrast, the Sweet can deliver plenty of that. First, Andy Scott takes over on lead vocals (most of the set is handled by Pete Lincoln) and from a ripping guitar solo we go into a gentle acoustic number. This is “Lady Starlight” from the Desolation Boulevard period which is gentle, subtle and beautiful which is then followed by the three front-line musicians taking on the hit that should have been “Lost Angels”.
As I’ve suggested Sweet can paint in many palates of light and shade and we’re heading into bubblegum territory next for “Co-Co”, “Funny Funny”, “Alexander Graham Bell” and “Poppa Joe”. The band explain that for a long time they used to ignore these songs in their live set and were a bit sniffy and embarrassed towards them – until they figured out a decent percentage of the audience really wanted to hear them. The new inclusion in this section is the minor UK hit “Alexander Graham Bell”. This unlikely song about the inventor of the telephone is delivered with a sterling vocal by 2nd guitarist and keyboard man, Tony O’Hora, who adds so much to this band on so many levels.
Where next on this Christmastime smorgasbord? Well, the obvious place is (not) to a drum solo from the bright and jovial Bruce Bisland. His drum work seems to me to have subtle tones of the old Cozy Powell hit, “Dance with the Devil” but I’m not sure if this is intentional or not.
Next, encouraging the audience to chant “We Want Sweet” the band hit “Teenage Rampage” territory and then jump back a year or two to the energetic pairing of “Little Willy” and “Wig-Wam Bam”. These are a huge contrast to the band’s most “mature” hit “Love is Like Oxygen” which in its usual way features a section of the Emerson, Lake and Palmer hit “Fanfare for the Common Man”. For my money “…Oxygen” is the highlight of the night.
The regular set closes out with “Fox on the Run” which has gained a whole lot of new attention recently by its inclusion on a superhero film soundtrack. After that the band edge to the side of the stage (there isn’t really anywhere to go in this decidedly compact venue) before returning for their pairing of hits from their pomp years “Blockbuster” and “The Ballroom Blitz”. They are joined again for the encore by guests but this time twin guitars from Cats in Space – both Paul Manzi and Greg Hart helping out.
Sweet will be back at Nell’s tomorrow night and back in 2019 for another go around as they entertain audiences the world around. Andy Scott is very much the centre of all that is happening here. He has had his health struggles in recent years. We hope that he and the Sweet may long continue.