|The Sweet: backs against the wall time|
In January 1973 The Sweet were on the verge of glam greatness. They'd just released Block Buster! their clarion call monster of a single which would go to the the coveted Number One slot. A couple of weeks earlier, however, they were giving the press a sneak preview at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club of all places.
For some obscure reason, Chris Welch of The Melody Maker was tasked with providing 1000 words about the event for the paper. And anyone around in '73 would know that The Sweet were definitely not a Melody Maker band.
What goes on inside the mind of a man who wears eye shadow, silver boots and sports voluptuous red tresses? Does he indulge in the kind of excesses that put years on Dorian Gray?
Many strong men upon viewing the elaborately clad youths who make up Sweet, might be forgiven for believing that this highly successful pop group, represent a progressive collapse in the morals of modern society and the final proof that Britain has reverted to the perversions of Ancient Rome.
Most glamorous of all the glam rock bands, Sweet have a kind of outrageous vulgarity that can arouse the ire of the rock press as much as they upset Len Biggles, manly, beer swigging ruffians with biceps of steel. They expose daring amounts of skin, spend as much on cosmetics as they do on guitar strings, and camp about like a row of bell tents. As they flounce on stage there is a great tickling of bottoms and laying of hands on hips.
And yet the great effect created is not so much debauched night at the cabaret in pre-war Berlin, but rather a giggle at the new town hop. Sweet underwent the gruelling experience of appearing before the press at a special reception in their honour at, of all places, London's Ronnie Scott's jazz club, last week. Photographic portraits of Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz peered, somewhat shaken, from walls impregnated with sounds of bebop, while photographers, journalists, PRs and record executives jostled for a good view of the band.
Not only were Sweet to receive a brace of gold discs; they were to perform for our pleasure and display the kind of stage set that turns on their army of fans in ballrooms the length of the land. It was gruelling because Sweet have an act that is difficult to adapt outside the context of mass approval. They found that extracting the 'yeahs' and the 'hey, hey heys' and handclapping almost impossible from the ranks of men and women, who as Kit Lambert once put it, have observed 'one million, five hundred thousand groups.'
They listened and clapped politely, and were in the main unimpressed. But Sweet weren't bad. They weren't awful. They had more guts than one might expect from a band that sing about wams and coco-c0. They put a lot of energy into their brief showcase , and seemed desperately anxious to please, which is more than can be said for a multitude of their heavier brethren.
Their musicianship is not of a particularly high order, but they have dragged themselves, by the silver bootstraps, out of the rut of the average soul-disco band, stomping for the dancers, into a hit making combo.
|And not forgetting Mick Tucker on the drums|
As the stage lights dimmed, Sweet came bouncing onto the stage normally occupied by the giants of jazz, and launched into a barrage of noise designed to wake up the back rows of ballrooms. This was the 'intro' and lasted several minutes, threatening to shatter glassware and damage hearing.
Then came the first number Done Me Wrong Alright
or the B-side of Co-Co
, as it is usually known. There seemed to be lots of changes in tempo, which gave even smiling Mick Pucker [sic], a chance to boogaloo with some dexterity.
Unfortunately Andy Scott's lead guitar was hideously out of tune for the first few bars, which lead to a certain exchanging of glances among the musicians, but this was swiftly corrected, and the band launched into 'Summertime Blues', a tune normally guaranteed to break the ice.
Unfortunately the audience remained immobile, perhaps tapping a foot here and there, but unprepared to fling themselves into an orgy of rock and roll revival. Brian Connolly their lead singer, resplendent in a red zipper suit, and sporting a large cross around his neck, was moved to explain to the audience what should have been happening.
'You'll have to help us out. We're not used to this...' he said with heart warming candour. 'We're used to screamers...' But they ploughed on regardless, with commendable valour. Andy the guitarist, in silver pants and black cloak, hurled himself into a deluge of notes, and proved himself a respectable funky wailer.
A rock medley developed that would doubtless lead to mayhem at the average Sweet gig, ranging from Great Balls of Fire
to a version of New Orleans
in which they placed great emphasis on the 'Mississippi QUEEN'.
'This is very difficult, you're not there are you' said Brian, nevertheless keeping an even temper. Steve Priest, the buxom wench on bass guitar, tossed his red locks and seemed oblivious, doubtless hardened by far worse experiences at the hands of active jeerers and booers. (Although Sweet do insist that apart from the splash of beer thy receive very little barracking.)
'Start the sirens!' commanded Brian. 'Come on!' A few seconds later, a siren began to wail around the club, signal for their final number and latest palpable hit, Blockbuster.
As the piece thundered to a conclusion, Sweet fled the stage, leaving amplifiers feeding back in a painful crescendo that could have been interpreted as a raspberry to their critics, And yet one felt they had very well under difficult circumstances. Nervous and breathless they returned to receive their gold discs for Poppa Joe
from RCA boss Ken Glancy.
'We're not going heavy' said Andy later in Scott's club office, sniffing with a heavy cold that I first interpreted as an emotional relapse. 'All we are saying is don't knock what we do. We've made a few mistakes in the past and we've learnt a few lessons. We started out as a cross between Marmalade and Spooky Tooth. We also did a lot of Motown. We went on to a bubblegum image and it didn't go down too well. After Funny Funny we thought we were finished. Oh well, that's the end of Sweet. But then we had a big hit with Co-Co. And at the beginning of '72 we had to change with the scene.'
If they were going to be camp, then they would go the whole hog. 'We elaborated on the make-up and clothes and it has all got a bit out of hand. But the kids like it and expect it. We know where we are at.'