Andy Scott is the lone surviving member and he has, as the title of one of their most recent singles states, Still Got the Rock. Scott has assembled a cracker jack lineup that does justice to the old material and the band has recently released a new greatest hits redone by them, to prove it. Slyly titled Isolation Boulevard, it's a play on the title of one of their most famous records recorded during the COVID lockdown.
I spoke to Andy via email to talk about the new record. Here's what he had to say.
antiMusic: First and foremost, how have you and your family been doing during this world-wide health crisis as well as with your other health concerns?
Andy: Ah the most relevant question upfront. 2020 started off with lots of news items concerning a "new" virus in China. I was on tour in Germany with Uriah Heep, Nazareth and Wishbone Ash acting as emcee interviewer on a tour called "Music & Stories" when this was happening. Sweet then went to Denmark for a few dates at the beginning of March and the now named Covid virus was front page news.
After one concert in Denmark everything went into lockdown and we all flew home early and I have basically been in lockdown since then. My cancer is under control but as you would expect, this is another good reason to keep as safe as possible. I am quite happy pottering about not doing too much but my other half is very active - we have the best gardens in our area.
antiMusic: How did the idea for the new record Isolation Boulevard come up?
Andy: We owe our record company a new album. An album of new material. This means the whole band playing together in the same room, same studio, bouncing ideas around. This is how we work best however lockdown put that idea on a back burner. Then we came out of lockdown in September-October 2020 which allowed some limited social mixing and we had a brain-wave, why not use the time to rerecord songs that we perform on a regular basis.
Once that was in motion with the band fully focussed, the project progressed very quickly. The obvious title for the album, tipping a nod to the band's Desolation Boulevard back in 1975 was Isolation Boulevard. My engineer wanted to put a working title on the project and more as a pun, a joke I said Isolation Boulevard and it stuck.
antiMusic: With all the guidelines and restrictions for work etc, how did that affect the recording of this record? I imagine it was mostly done remotely?
Andy: Yes, there was a fair bit of remote recording but as we were allowed some social distancing it was easier to have the various musicians to come to my studio at different times. The end result is quite seamless and digital today is so intuitive and helpful.
antiMusic: Your "new" lineup is amazing and the vocals of Paul Manzi are excellent. Tell us about the new guys and how they came to be present day members of Sweet.
Andy: Paul is in my mind one of the best Rock Voices around and he has grabbed the mic with full force as front man of Sweet. Lee Small, our bassist also has a stunning voice as you can hear on some tracks, especially the "Empire State of Mind" inserts on "New York Groove". Bruce is the longest serving member next to yours truly. He is one the best drummers on the road - his solos are full tricks and humour. We carry extra musician son tours. We are lucky to have two guys who do an incredible job as 2nd guitar and keyboard. Steve Mann and Tom TC Cory.
antiMusic: Most musicians look back at records and go, "Oh, I should have played that note differently. I would liked to have changed the tone here." and that kind of thing. Were you tempted to change any parts of the songs that didn't sit right with you first time around or was the fact that the songs are so well-known, something that you felt you couldn't touch?
Andy: The Sweet hit songs are written in stone. The original band of Mick, Steve, Brian and me used to mess with intros and extend middle sections, more as an expression musically but I learned very quickly performing at festivals in the 80s and 90s that audiences at those big events want the stuff they know played the way they remember it and then be surprised when they hear a song they'd forgotten. So we keep the ad libbing to a minimum and save a lot of the new material for our own Sweet tours.
antiMusic: The first single was "Still Got the Rock" which first appeared a few years ago. It fits in perfectly with your library of great singles. What can you tell us about it?
Andy: I wrote "Still Got the Rock" quite a while ago but it never got to see the light of day. Then our label Sony wanted to put together the "compilation of compilations" called Action - The Complete Story of Sweet. This double set charted the band from the beginning with the 70s original line-up through to the 80s when Mick Tucker and I reformed the band (sadly Steve Priest declined) then on to the 90s and 2000s, right up-to-date.
This meant finding 2 new songs. We recorded "Defender" and "Still Got the Rock" at Peter Gabriel's Real World and the record company were very happy but I knew we could do a better version of SGTR. And we did!
antiMusic: "Set Me Free" is your newest single. While I love all the catchy, poppy songs you've put out over the years, I have to admit, my taste leans to your more hard-charging material and this is a great example. Do you remember writing this one and how it came together?
Andy: The Garage Tapes are now infamous. My demos recorded in my garage 1972-73-74 have yielded many album tracks and B-sides including "Set Me Free" and "Fox on the Run". Maybe "The Garage Tapes" is an album for the future!
antiMusic: The record starts off with "Fox on the Run", your biggest selling single. It seems that you'd hear this song on every single station on the radio in 1975. It was also your first self-written single. Was this transition part of the reason why you parted ways with Chinn and Chapman? How did this song come together?
Andy: As per previous answer Fox started out as a demo then made it on to the first U.K. Desolation Boulevard album. Chinn and Chapman were spending more time in the USA and our label in the U.K. RCA were waiting for the next single and it was suggested that we take "Fox..." back into the studio to rework it as a single. This was my first production for the band so there was a lot riding on it. My ARP synths played a big part integrating a new layer into the band's sound and as we say the rest is history.
antiMusic: Most bands dream of having one hit single. You've had tons. "Ballroom Blitz" is another that dominated America. Is it true that this was written as a reaction to a rare negative gig in which you had things tossed at you? What do you remember about recording this monster song and was that intro in there right from the beginning?
Andy: Mike Chapman hadn't seen us play live for a while so we dragged him along to a gig in Scotland. It was mayhem. Brian and I ended up body surfing having been pulled off the stage by hordes of screaming girls with scissors in their handbags trying to cut a lock of our hair. The security was undermanned and the guys in the audience, mostly shaved heads wanted to beat us up. We managed to escape straight of stage into the limos leaving our crew to the carnage.
We decided to ditch the local hotel and headed back to Glasgow to our usual haunt for sanctuary. Mike later came up with "Hellraiser" and "Blitz..". The drum intro was designed by Phil Wainman our producer. Mick and Phil loved the whole Sandy Nelson "Let There Be Drums" thing and the track just went from there. Weirdly on Mike's demo he says the immortal words "Are you ready Steve...Andy...Mick etc" which we obviously kept. Sweet always had interesting intros!
antiMusic: Your version of "New York Groove" is excellent and I absolutely love the "Empire State of Mind" piece tucked in there. Who came up with that brilliance?
Andy: I had always wanted to record "Groove". At the time back in the 70s I felt it could have made a great single for Sweet. Written by one of the best songwriters around, Russ Ballard. Mick and I got to know him when he was in Argent. Then that light bulb moment of mashing the two songs. Perfect synchronicity - two songs featuring New York - sorted.
antiMusic: With the "new" lineup firmly pieced together, can you see some new songs coming together in the not-too-distant future?
Andy: We owe Sony a new record and as soon as we all feel safe and lockdown rules are relaxed enough we will be back in the studio. We have half a dozen good songs ready to go so I am beginning to look to the future.
antiMusic: Are you prepared to hit the road as soon as it's safe for everybody to get together again? Any special touring plans you would like to have happen?
Andy: The U.K. seems to be trialling events, keeping an eye on things so we all hope that nobody behaves badly or stupidly. It would terrible if even one person fell ill after going to a gig without trying make the situation as safe as is humanly possible. The vaccine is the answer, certainly for the older concert goer and maybe a passport and proof of a recent Covid test for all.
Europe is lagging behind a little so I don't see concerts opening up in a big way over there until next year. I gather there are some socially distanced concerts happening in the US but I'm really not sure how the reaction will be if a venue holds a couple of thousand and the event only allows 600 or so.
However from our point of view, it looks as if the Rock Against Cancer festival (concertatthekings.co.uk) in September is happening. This is a fundraiser for Cancer Awareness and this year is number 8. Last year it was postponed.
We also have our biggest tour to date in the U.K. starting in November through December. All dates can be found on our FaceBook pages and the sweet.com website.
antiMusic: Thanks for this, Andy.
Andy: Many thanks. Stay Safe. Keep Sweet
Morley and antiMusic thank Andy for taking the time to do this interview.