This is a longer full-length version of an interview piece that was originally published by the Hastings Online Times here
Ahead of their gig at Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion on December 21st Darren Johnson talks to the Sweet’s Andy Scott who, along with Brian Connolly, Mick Tucker and Steve Priest, was part of the classic 1970s line-up and continues the band to this day.
DJ: The Sweet are well-known for their glam rock singles but there was always a hard rock albums side to the band’s persona as well. Will both of those elements be represented on this current tour?
AS: Yes – more so on this tour than the last one. We’ve had a slight revamp of the band. This revised line-up is certainly more akin to that. A couple of younger guys who are, shall we say, keeping us on our toes again. I would never, ever recommend changing two members of a band. I remember reading an interview with Mick Fleetwood who I got to know in the 70s just before they went to LA and he was saying they were going out there not knowing where the future lay. And he even said to me let’s see what happens. Then I saw what had gone on about two years later and heard, basically, they were looking for a replacement for Peter Green and they’ve got Christine McVie back in the band. They just haven’t got a guitar player who can sing. And it came with the two of them. Stevie Nicks as well (as Lindsey Buckingham). And just look at the way that burst open. So, in my head, I’m thinking Pete Lincoln left to pursue this outfit he’d been using shall we say as a back-up tool to Sweet with two other lead singers from other bands . And all of a sudden that’s taking off and I could see what’s on the horizon. There’s going to have to be a choice made here. And I knew which way he’d probably go because he’d been playing bass and singing with us. And he’s now doing this – because he’s a terrific guitar player and he’s now with a team of people where they’re all in at the starting point. And I thought – well we’re going to have to replace him. Now luckily we had Paul Manzi on the back-burner because he had depped – he’d come in and done a couple of gigs for us so he was an obvious choice.
And then Tony O’Hora at the end of August the bombshell was, “I’m leaving.” And Bruce (Bisland – Sweet’s drummer) and I, who’ve known him for years, were like – oh God, not again. Because we’d had this with him a couple of times, only this time I said there’s only so much you can cry wolf – you know. So I said – I’ll accept it but you’re gonna have to tell me what’s going on. And he didn’t. And then we were doing a couple of gigs in Poland and the Czech Republic and he just walked. So we ended up doing a couple of gigs with my guitar tech on bass and we managed to get Steve Mann who’d been playing with Michael Schenker to come out and finish the dates with us. It was a revelation to see Paul Manzi standing there with no guitar in his hand as a lead singer so the first thing I had to do when I got back – there was was one person on my list of people to call and that was Lee Small. I rang him and he jumped at the chance and so we now have Lee and Paul in the band. And on a temporary basis – but it could become permanent – we have Steve Mann back in the band as the second guitar/keyboard player. And it’s really, really gelling. And now we’ve done three shows in Denmark, one or two in Germany and four in England. We’ve only done nine gigs and my son who’s my sound engineer – I have to take his word because the sound he gets out is always remarkable – he said ‘It’s the best it’s been, Dad’.
Clearly, the line-up change has given the band a new energy but has it led to a change in the set-list, too?
Yes. The driving force for the acoustic part of the set last time we toured was basically me and Pete. And we felt like we ought to go for a bit more like it used to be in the 70s when we did a festival set. You’d get down to the nitty gritty. You play a couple of the heavier rock tunes that people want to hear so that’s what’s happening. It’s a work-in-progress. There will be a new Sweet album next year and we’ll see where we go from there.
And you’re coming to Bexhill on the 21st December which is the last night of the tour. Is that last night of a tour always a bit special or a bit of a relief – or both?
Well it depends who’s around – but I usually try and get some of my mates and anyone who wants to come to the gig and sing a bit or play or whatever. You just never know what happens on a night like this.
The other surviving member of the classic 70s line-up Steve Priest has his own version of the Sweet in America. I believe you tried to get him to join you on stage for the band’s 50th anniversary last year?
I mean look – we can all be angry young men and even grumpy old men. I just don’t like the idea that you can’t mellow in later life. I just don’t know what gets into Steve once in a while. We have contact – every time that I go over to LA, which I do on holiday these days because we don’t do anything in America – he has changed the dynamic of that. He doesn’t do a lot either – but having spoken to a couple of friends of mine who are promoters and stuff in America I said I don’t want to come back there unless it’s as organised as the gigs we do in Europe. And it seems you need specialist help over there. The country is so big you’re not going to end up using your own equipment. Friends of mine in Uriah Heep still go out there and Mick (Box) says you’ve got to get a different head on.
So you’re in touch with Steve Priest but no chance of you performing together?
Well I think the moment has passed. At the end of 2017 I remember I wished him a Merry Christmas and I then said if something’s going to happen it’s going to be next year isn’t it? You know, the fiftieth anniversary of the inception of the band. And then I never heard anything. Then I got a message from him at the beginning of 2018 saying “We are getting involved with a new agent who thinks it might be a good idea if you and I did something.” And my answer to him was sod your agent what do you think about it? If you fancy doing it then we’ve got a starting point but to just do it because your agent says “you should do this, Steve” is coming at it from the wrong angle, I think. I could see where that was going. I would say yes let’s do something but all of a sudden all the rules and regulations come out. And really, if we’re going to do stuff like this, if he’s coming to Europe we have a collaboration and he does it the European way. And I go out to America and I do it the American way – as long as somebody looks after me. But there has to be some kind of continuity within the band as well. And one of the funniest things was a friend of mine from Germany who contacted him said “Would you be willing to come and do a festival?” And the first thing he said was “As long as I can bring my guitar player.” And so we laughed about that. And that never went anywhere. So now I’d much rather be in touch with him saying “Hello, how are you? How are the knees?” you know. And him saying “How are you? How’s your health?”
Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman (writers of many of the hit singles for Sweet) obviously left a huge, huge impact on the band and left you with a slew of songs that people will always link to Sweet. Do you keep in touch with either of them?
Well yeah, I’m in touch with Mike because Mike is still a little bit of a mentor for Suzi (Quatro) and whenever I’ve been in the producer’s chair I talk to Mike about various things. He’s written songs that were on Back To The Drive which was one of her albums. And I’m hoping, because we’ve got a new album that’s coming out, that Mike and I might sit down together. A few years ago he was angling, “Well that could have been a Sweet single.” And we might be able to revamp or maybe write a song together. There’s a man who’s mellowed a little bit and kind of enjoying life again. And I’ve heard he’s back in the UK so, you know, all is possible. I’ve not fallen out with anybody. Life’s too short!
I always thought that Sweet missed a major opportunity for a come-back ion the early to mid 80s? Slade were back in the charts again. Queen were huge. Glam metal was taking off the States but it was the one time in the past 50 years that Sweet were AWOL?
Well you can look at it from all sides. Timing was absolutely everything. We’d reached a point in 81/82 where Steve was now living in America. He didn’t want to be in England. He didn’t want to come back. He feels, so somebody’s told me – I haven’t read all of his book he never sent me a copy – but it’s in there. I remember Mick Tucker saying to me “I don’t know where he got half of his stuff from.” but I said “Look it’s his personal view, Mick. You’ve got to let everybody have that.” It’s almost as if he’s forced to come back to England to record the last album in a studio in West London and he was put up in a hotel that was like a student hostel in Chelsea. And I thought well he stayed with me a little bit of the time and, yes, he was in that hotel for a while because, you know, it was easier and Mick had his problems with his first marriage. And it was a time when, I guess because we were still living our lives in England – this is the way he probably views it, at weekends we would take some time for ourselves and he would be left to his own devices. And any normal guy would be out having dinner with some mates you hadn’t seen for years but I guess he got the feeling that he was just being abandoned. So from that point of view, when the tour finished at the end of 81 – I think it was Glasgow University – we never heard from Steve for ages. He came back to England and it was that next year when Mick had a tragedy. His first wife died. It was a misadventure where she died in the bath. I think she had a glass of wine and was on some medication and he got back to the house and found her there. Well you wouldn’t wish that on anybody, would you? And so he didn’t want to do anything. And I was still out there – producing and writing and playing on other people’s records. And I managed to get a solo deal – first of all with Virgin then it turned out to be Statik. The guy from Virgin had left to form his own label. So for a couple of years – 83/84 – I was releasing some solo singles. And then in 85 – well at the end of 84 – I bumped into our old agent and he was looking after us in 81. And he said, “Oh I’ve got a bone to pick with you. I keep getting loads of enquiries. Are you still working with the Sweet? I didn’t know where you were.” And it just so happened that his office was literally up the Harrow Road from where I was living in Maida Vale.
Then you did the Live at the Marquee album?
Exactly. I managed to get Mick out of retirement. Steve was even at least saying the right things but Mick said ‘He’s not coming back’ so luckily I rehearsed a bass player. The guy who ended up in Sweet actually Mal McNulty. We were using him to rehearse and I said he may not be coming and he said “you’re a mate of mine. I love this”. And, of course, we went to Australia with Mal and the rest is history. We had Paul Mario Day as singer and Phil Lanzon who’s now with Uriah Heep on keyboards.
And with changes of personnel the band has continued to this day.
Yeah. We’ve had a few people come and go but when you look back over thirty-odd, almost forty years of reformation when you say you’ve had six singers hat doesn’t sound too bad really does it?
Other bands have gone through far more haven’t they. Probably Sabbath have gone through far more.
[Laughs]. Well they had a little concept going didn’t they? A new lead singer for nearly every tour.
You’ve had a couple of major scares with prostrate cancer and you’ve been open about that and done a lot for awareness through Rock Against Cancer. How are things health-wise these days?
Pretty good. In fact, I’m due another PSA test so I’d better get that organised hadn’t I? And the other thing is Rock Against Cancer will be coming back next year. It’s coming back on the 12th and 13th of September in the same venue in Wiltshire at All Cannings near Devizes. So it’ll be Rock Against Cancer 8. And it might well be the last one. We’re looking at the moment to see who can come back from previous years and making a real bonanza of a gig you know.
The Sweet play Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion on Saturday 21st December 2019.