Andy Scott - Sweet - Uber Rock Interview Exclusive
Written by Jim Rowland
(C) Uber Rock
The good people at Angel Air are ‘Sweet 16’ this year, and one of the things they are doing to celebrate is reissuing a couple of Sweet-related albums in the shape of Sweet’s ‘Live At The Marquee 1986’ and Sweet main man Andy Scott’s ‘The Solo Singles’. Sweet were one of the great British rock bands of the ‘70s, and although perhaps better known for that huge string of blockbustin’ chart hits in the same decade, what makes them special for me is the band’s outstanding catalogue of albums like ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, ‘Give Us A Wink’, ‘Desolation Boulevard’ and ‘Off The Record’, each one a solid gold slice of pure top notch British hard rock. Andy Scott first reformed the band with a new line up not long before the Marquee shows in 1986, and they have been going strong, with differing line-ups, ever since. In fact last year’s successful ‘New York Connection’ album showed that Sweet are still firing on all cylinders all those years later. I recently caught up with Andy Scott to discuss the new re-releases, Sweet’s legacy, and what they’re up to right now. Are you ready people? Alright fellas, let’s go…
So you’ve got the ‘Live At The Marquee 1986’ re-released now. My understanding is that this was recorded at the time that you first got Sweet back together?
AS: Yeah, I bumped into my old agent, literally in the street. We had a pint, and he told me that he heard I keep getting up on stage with people, like I got up with Sammy Hagar at Hammersmith and various other bands, and he said there’s plenty of work out there with the Sweet if you want it. At that point I was getting a bit disappointed that I was not going to be the new Mutt Lange! It was then that I realised that whatever I do, sometimes you have to be at the right place at the right time. And because I had been in a major band, I hadn’t thrown myself wholeheartedly into the production thing, even though I was bloody good at it. I said I would see what I can do, and Mick Tucker jumped at it, Steve (Priest) initially said he would but then he didn’t re-join, and we went off to Australia for two major tours, and decided to ‘in fill’ with some festivals and some oddball gigs in Germany. So having got the band back together, I knew all the guys at the Marquee because I used to go down there fairly regularly. They said “look, we’re going to be on the move soon and the Sweet have never played here”, although I had played there with The Elastic Band, my band before Sweet. When we did it, it just so happened that during that week a video company were sending live broadcasts across to Japan of bands like Echo & The Bunnymen and bands like that. The coincidence is that all our backline is on the stage, so the TV company said if we do a deal where you don’t have to take your backline down and the other bands do their own thing in front of your backline, we can film and record your gigs. I thought that was an offer far too difficult to refuse, and that’s how it all came about, and why there was originally a video, and the live recording. Everything was so loud at the Marquee that it was almost impossible to overdub anything. The only thing that needed a little bit of help because of some microphone issues, was a few of the backing vocals, so virtually everything else is as you hear it.
You say Mick Tucker, Sweet’s original drummer, jumped at the chance at the time. He was a totally amazing drummer, so underrated.
AS: Oh yeah, you know you’re in the presence of something great when the drums, before we were able to mike up kits and all that other stuff, are as loud as you are on stage!
And what was he like as a person?
AS: Well, catch him in the right mood and he was probably my best mate in the band, but as time went on, and I’m afraid with the dreaded alcohol, I could see he had a couple of personalities. I can see why with some of it, when life deals you a few shit cards, and a bit of beer and Jack Daniels goes down, you kind of know when to get out of the way!
And perhaps for similar reasons there would have been no chance of Brian getting it together either?
AS: No. At that point where we were putting the band back together, Brian has been doing some cabaret gigs somewhere in the UK and was going over to Germany as a solo singer, getting a pick up band on these middle of the road type TV shows, and ‘oldies’ nights in the big tent venues they used to do in the summer. We realised that if we were going to have any differential here, we had to carry on where the Sweet left off which was more like a heavy metal band, and that’s what we did.
There’s two ways of looking at Sweet – one is the ‘pop hits’ band who had that string of big hits, and the other, which is more my view, is a band who also produced a string of great hard rock albums from Sweet Fanny Adams right through to ‘Level Headed’. Looking at the tracklisting for the ‘Marquee 86’ album, it seems at that time you were concentrating more on the hard rock stuff.
AS: Yeah, exactly. We definitely wanted to come in at the point of a respected pop/rock crossover, progressive band, kind of where we had left off.
Does it annoy you that perhaps even today, the broader public see Sweet as that pop hits band and they don’t realise what a great hard rock band it was?
AS: Quite frankly I don’t think anyone knows fuckin anything these days! I don’t think it’s going to affect us. I would really like to think that there might be a discerning public out there but the more I see of the internet and what’s going on, well I don’t know. The frustration is that there is no discerning public out there like there was in the sixties and seventies. I fully appreciate that there are people out there who are discerning, but there isn’t the mass wave that there was in the seventies and early eighties. I think we’re quite lucky that we do actually have an audience that we can virtually say “this is our audience2 and we know what we can angle at them. We’ve currently got 30,000 people on Facebook, but does that mean 30,000 people are going to go out and buy your record? Today’s teenie bands like One Direction seem to be having it away all over the world. I cannot believe how massive they are. I’ve just come back from the States and you cannot move without seeing them, and they seem to have taken over the mantle as the teen idols doing the arenas. What we’re dealing now with is that bands like Deep Purple are back in the theatres like we are. The rock bands doing arenas now seem to be three band bills like it is in Europe. When Sweet, Slade and Smokey go out, like we did recently in Sweden, we play to five or six thousand, whereas previously we would do that on our own. It’s the same for other bands like Journey and Whitesnake. It comes to us all!
The other album Angel Air are reissuing is ‘The Solo Singles’, which is certainly different.
AS: That came about because my friend Louie Austin was building the Fleetwood Mobile Studio. It was the best one around at the time and he needed someone to ‘guinea pig’ it for him. I went down and we started fooling around with ‘Gotta See Jane’ first of all. I was getting involved in the rhythms and sequencing. To do any kind of synching, a lot of it had to be wild. It wasn’t like today where you can clock it bar for bar with a computer – a lot of it had to be done live and it had a live feel about it because each of the sequencing units were not perfect. I was playing the bass lines in to a clock from the Linn drum and a lot of the triggers were done live synch. I was still gonna put some heavy guitar in there, because that’s what I am. So we started to write some things that were quite different. Some of it may have sounded a bit dance music, but when the heavy guitars come in it was like something else. It was like a hybrid of different things. It’s quite an unusual album because of that. I don’t know whether that was against it or for it. It did alright in places like Germany when it came out in the 90’s, which was the right time for it then. I think I originally called it ’30 years’ because it was about thirty years before that I first picked up a guitar.
It has a track on it ‘Lady Starlight’ which goes back to 1974 and the days of the original Sweet, so what happened there?
AS: There was a moment when we didn’t have a single. Chinn and Chapman, who were supposed to be writing the songs – this was before ‘Fox On The Run’- were actually in America and we were supposed to be doing a gig with The Who at Charlton which couldn’t be done because Brian had been really stupid. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’d chatted someone else’s bird up at a club in West London and when he went outside there were a couple of kids hanging on his car. When he went to get them off, someone jumped him from behind and gave him a right good kicking so he was in no shape. We had to cancel a tour and that gig, hence we were doing nothing for a month or two and the record company said ‘we need to put something out’. Mike Chapman had always championed the song ‘Lady Starlight’, he said ‘this is a hit single’. Then everyone turned around saying it can’t be released as Sweet because Brian’s not singing it, so it was released as an Andy Scott solo, and did quite well around the world. It got a lot of airplay here in the UK, but it was a radio hit and a hit with a lot of Sweet fans but it was really a ‘stocking filler’ to keep the name around while we re-grouped. The next single was a Chinn and Chapman thing called ‘Turn It Down’ which was a complete and utter flop. It was still a hit in Europe but in the UK it just about broke the Top 30. We thought, well its over if we continue to record stuff like that, and that’s where ‘Fox On The Run’ came in.
So let’s get back up to date with the Sweet now. You did the ‘New York Connection’ album last year which was very good. What are you up to now? Are there any plans to follow that up?
AS: ‘NYC’ has opened a lot of doors again. That has been a technical hit for us and sold well. We are writing again and getting some ideas together. The one thing I will say is that if people are going to expect 12 brand new tracks that are all Maseratis, well that’s not gonna come together in a few months of sitting together and writing. This isn’t the ‘60s or the ‘70s – there a hell of a lot of water gone under the bridge and a hell of a lot of plagiarism along the way. That doesn’t mean to say that I can’t write a dozen decent songs, but a lot of Sweet fans out there are badgering us to play certain songs – certain songs that maybe haven’t been given the opportunity, so there may be three of the old tracks from the old albums re-recorded by this band. We might well find three oddball covers as well – maybe even a Def Leppard track or a Kiss track – bands that have said that without Sweet we wouldn’t have even had a starting point. And then maybe six new songs. We may well write ten fantastic new songs in which case it’ll be a whole brand new album. Having said that, I don’t think we stand a cat in hell’s chance of getting anything played on the radio in England with a new album, but then I’m here to be gobsmacked!
And you’re obviously still busy on the road as well?
AS: Yeah, that’s the mainstay. It’s what keeps the band together, we’re having a lot of fun. We’re having so much fun that I haven’t had in years. I want that to remain the same, so anything that gets in the way of that I will fight against.
I’d like to thanks Andy for taking the time to speak to Uber Rock, and also to Peter Purnell from Angel Air for arranging it. ‘Live At The Marquee 1986’ and ‘The Solo Singles’ are out now on Angel Air.