Andy Scott – Sweet, Interview
Growing up in Wrexham in the early 1970’s, it was highly unlikely that I would pass a celebrity in the street. That didn’t stop the young boy from dreaming but apart from the occasional fleeting glimpse of a Wrexham footballer, or what turned out to be a phantom sighting of Paul McCartney rooting through reduced bed linen in John Lewis on a day trip to Liverpool, it just wasn’t to be. However at this time, Wrexham could lay claim to one of the hottest and coolest guys in the fantasy world of pop – Sweet’s Andy Scott, a man from Acton Park, my very own stamping ground.
He would later appear on Top of the Pops wearing a Wrexham rosette when Sweet performed ËLove is like Oxygen’ in 1978, that’s still big news. I never did see him, but that has never stopped me from nudging whoever happens to be near whenever I hear the opening bars of ËBallroom Blitz’ or ËBlockbuster’ and reminding them of Andy Scott’s birthplace. With this in mind it’s not overstating matters to say that when I heard his voice on the other end of the phone on a wet Tuesday, it was fulfilling a childhood ambition.
When you actually look at the history of Sweet, it’s noticeable that they were only ever really off the scene for a short period of around 3 years from 1981. Further investigation will reveal a continuing discography of strong albums right up to what is their outstanding new album ËNew York Connection’, which is an inspired mix of New York themed covers that incorporate reworked Sweet references.
The first question to Andy had to be Ëwhere did that brilliant idea come from?’
Andy: ËWe do regular TV in Europe and with us being particularly popular in Germany we were appearing on this Sunday morning show which is actually a great production. Basically it’s a three hour show so, as well as asking you to play the older hits, they allow you to play new material too. My son, who’s also my sound engineer, had put The Who’s \’Join Together’ on top of a Foo Fighters style drum loop which went down well when we played it. We then got our drummer Bruce Bisland to record loads of different drum patterns and cut them up, putting them back together to suit particular tracks. We ended up with a list of around fifty songs and it became obvious that a number of them had a connection with New York and, coincidentally there was also a Sweet B-side (of Wig Wam Bam) called \’New York Connection’ so it all seemed to fit. However, I was very clear on one thing, if it doesn’t sound like Sweet, it’s not going on the album. The album came out in March and we went to Australia for a seven night tour and played a few tracks off the album which were well received, so when we played round Europe, we put a few more in the set and its gone really well. The Black Keys \’Gold on the Ceiling, is on there because a friend of mine who is a reviewer in Holland said it sounded like Sweet gone feral and our version is actually played regularly in Germany as a backing track on TV slots.’
Andy: The thing about changes in the line up is they often can’t be avoided. When we came back in 1984, we had a great band but sadly drummer Mick Tucker fell ill and eventually passed away. Offers came in for other people, for example Phil Lanzon joined Uriah Heep, you can’t stand in people’s way. You have to keep the band on the road while you’re looking for that main guy to turn up so people did short stints. Now Pete Lincoln’s on bass and is also an amazing vocalist, Tony O’Hora is a fantatastic guitarist and Bruce has been with me around 20 years. I actually produced him when he was with \’Weapon’ so I knew his capabilities and the thing with Bruce is he just gets it. Vocally the line up has never been better at any stage in the band’s history.
How did you go from growing up in Wrexham to being in a world famous band like Sweet?
Andy: My dad was always very encouraging to my brother and I. He could always see the potential of that sort of career and supported us all the way. I started in a and called the Rasjaks then went through a numer of others like The Forewinds and Missing Links before joining a band called The Silverstone Set, later shortened to The Silverstones and we actually won the TV talent show Opportunity Knocks five weeks running. This led to a support slot with Jimi Hendrix in Manchester and watching Hendrix play live, I remember thinking, \’this sound is amazing, this is the future’. Some of us decided to turn full time professional, while others were happy to carry on as they were. My brother and I were then in a and called The Elastic Band but our singer, Ted Yeadon joined The Love Affair in 1969 so the next move was for us to be the backing band for Scaffold. However they then changed direction and my brother and I moved to London to join Mayfield’s Mule but the money wasn’t really there and we were left struggling to pay for a flat in Shepherd’s Bush. I saw an advert in Melody Maker for a band and the audition was just around the corner from where I lived, in a rehearsal room that my current and were also using at the time. I was worried they may turn up and see me waiting for the audition and as I knew Mike Chapman the guy in charge, I managed to get in early and I got the job in Sweet.
What were the early influences for the young Andy Scott?
Andy: Liverpool is close to Wrexham and had a big influence on us as we were first getting into music. Obviously a lot of sounds were being brought over by sailors ex-servicemen from America and we picked up on that. I loved Howlin Wolf and later The Yardbirds who have had three of the greatest guitarists of all time in Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Paige. Every band in Wrexham did a cover of stuff like \’Dizzy Miss Lizzy’ and I suppose we were just like sheep then following the popular sounds but remember, The Beatles first album was full of covers. Everyone absorbed influences, you develop as you go along.
Is it fair to say that under the Ëbubblegum’ sound of your early singles Sweet were a heavier band trying to break through?
Andy: Definitely! We had all been playing heavier music but Chapman and Chinn (Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, songwriters and producers) offered a sound we felt could be successful. Our singer, Brian Connolly, was asked to put his voice on some new songs they had written and we did backing vocals. That ended up as our first single \’Funny Funny’ and our first album was mostly Chapman/Chinn songs in a similar style or covers but I felt it was important we got some of our own songs on there. We’d been trying to get some heavier stuff written for us and one night Mike Chapman came to see us live. We used to do a Who medley in our live set and it always went down well and after Mike had seen that he was very keen to write heavier stuff for us in the future.
John Robb has said before that the influence of ËGlam Rock’ on punk is constantly overlooked. Do you feel Sweet receive the credit they deserve?
Andy: I’m not really a believer in getting credit; people can draw their own opinions about us. Having said that I do feel it was noticeable that in the Olympics Opening Ceremony, music from the early1970’s was virtually ignored and it does seem sometimes that music history tends to jump from the end of the 1960’s straight to punk. If you actually think about what the rock bands in the late \’60’s were doing, all Slade and Sweet did was dress that up and put a bit of sparkle into the production. If you don’t have that you’ll never get from there to punk. Having said all that, it’s probably fair to say we were the hottest band in Britain in 1973. I’ve met many people in music who say Sweet influenced them, people like Gene Simmons from Kiss and Joe Elliott from Def Leppard and you only need to look at Motley Crue to see who they resemble! We met The Kaiser Chiefs a few years back in a rehearsal room in Leeds and they’d apparently stopped what they were doing to watch us do \’The Ballroom Blitz’. We had a great chat afterwards and it turned out they were fans as well.
To develop what Andy says, take a listen to The Damned’s monumental version of ËBallroom Blitz’ with Lemmy on bass, or read the chapter in Lemmy’s autobiography, ËWhite Line Fever’ that describes the chaotic scenes that accompanied the recording. Better still, enjoy Sweet doing the original:
What was it like being in a band that was so famous at the time?
Andy: Well you need to remember that’s part of the deal when you go into this business and it’s probably hypocritical to be in such a big band and expect no one to bother you. At times it did get a bit much though, people would be all round you if you ventured into a pub or tried to walk round London and in Germany it was even worse. I had people knocking on my door all the time and it does start to get to you. After a while we moved out into the stockbroker belt and our addresses were secret so things improved. I wouldn’t know if things are still like that now for the top bands or if society has changed.
Breaking away from Chapman and Chinn was a brave move considering all the success you’d had with them.
Andy: I suppose it all happened by accident really. It was 1974 and there had been a blackout of Top Of The Pops which I feel cost us a possible Number 1 with \’The Six Teens’ but we needed a follow up single quickly. Chapman and Chinn had moved to LA but the record company contacted me to say there was a track on the album, ËDesolation Boulevard’ that may be a single. The song was ËFox on the Run’ but it needed to be re-recorded. We needed to keep it secret so we shot in to the studio that Ian Gillan had just bought to record it over a weekend and the rest is history. That was a real game changer for us because when people heard ËFox’ they thought Ëwhat’s the next move now?’ It was obvious we couldn’t go back; we’d proved we could do it ourselves
Can you tell us about the circumstances that led to the break up of the original line up?
Andy: The danger signs had been there for a long time before Brian left in 1979. Basically, it was a situation with four guys and one was a serious alcoholic, the other three of us just couldn’t live with it. It was very hard to get anything done and remember, this was soon after we’d had a big hit with ËLove is Like Oxygen’ which was a great time for the band but sadly alcoholism is a terrible thing and the victim can’t be reasoned with. I knew Ronnie Dio who had just left Rainbow and spoke to him about being our new singer but the others wanted to carry on as a \’three piece Sweet’ so to speak. It’s always a dangerous move losing your singer as the dynamics of the band change. This was followed in 1981, just after we’d completed a great tour of America, by Steve Priest saying he was going to stay in the USA and settle down, which shocked me to say the least. Mick Tucker and I had no interest in moving to America so it was basically not possible to carry on with the band. This is all the more frustrating because when Mick and I picked up the pieces and toured America in 1984 with a new line up, it was clear that the audience was still there. Since then it’s been a case of keeping going with the line up changing for the reasons I mentioned before.
So now you’re on tour with Slade in November?
Andy: I’ve known Slade since the 1960’s when they were called The ËNBetweens and I was in The Elastic Band. Obviously we were both at the forefront of Glam Rock but amazingly, after all these years, this is the first proper tour we’ve done together. Anyone who’s seen either band live will know that it’s going to be a great night so we’re all really looking forward to it.
It was a real privilege to speak to Andy and two things left a lasting impression. Firstly was his genuine love and knowledge of music from his childhood influences to the present day; I could have talked to him for hours. The second was his determination to ensure that the Sweet flame is kept alive and burning brightly and it’s this that will ensure audiences who are lucky enough to catch Sweet on their upcoming tour will enjoy a fantastic night of nostalgia and imaginative new material.
Andy Scott is a true Wrexham hero.