Just over a year ago I had a dream that I had written a book about The Sweet. When I woke up I was more than a little disappointed to release I hadn’t written any such book. But with the idea still fresh in my mind I decided to fire off an email to the publishers Sonicbond to see if they were interested in me writing one. Amazingly they came back and said yes.
Starting work last summer, writing and researching ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ very much became my lockdown project during the latter part of 2020 and the early part of 2021. I finished it back in February, delivered the manuscript and my mind, which had been so utterly pre-occupied with all things Sweet for several months, pretty much moved on to other things. In recent weeks, however, it’s all started to become very real again. There were proofs to read, images and the cover blurb to check through and so on. And although, it’s not in the shops until July 30th I took delivery of some advance copies this week!
I also did an interview for the excellent Glam-themed fanzine Wired Up – talking about how I came to write the book, how I first became obsessed with The Sweet as a teenager in the early 80s trawling through second-hand albums in Preston’s Action Records – as well as a little bit on what readers can expect from the book. You can find out more about the Wired Up fanzine here.
I’ve dedicated the book to my dad. I know he would have enjoyed reading it.
You can order ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ direct from the publishers via the Burning Shed on line shop here
The farewell tour of glam hero and Glitter Band founder, John Rossall, due to kick off in Blackpool on 4th July, has sadly had to be pulled on health grounds.
Following a hugely well-received comeback album in 2020 John shared news with fans earlier this year that his condition was terminal but vowed to say a special goodbye to fans with a final farewell tour.
In an update shared on his Facebook page today, however, John Rossall’s backing band made the following announcement:
“We all travelled up to Manchester to rehearse John Rossall’s Farewell Tour yesterday. Very sadly it has become apparent that John is not well enough for the upcoming shows. It has been a difficult decision for us all, it is with deep regret and sadness that all shows are now cancelled. You should hear from the venues regarding refunds but please contact them directly if not. We are sure you will, like ourselves, send your love and very best wishes to John, Julia and his family at this very difficult time.
Thank you for your continued support. Dave, Chris, Bob and Corrie”
It’s desperately sad that John can’t say goodbye to fans in the way that he had hoped but he can be very proud of his contribution to UK popular music and in particular taking critics by surprise and going out on such a high point with the incredible Last Glam In Town album last year.
“All tribal beats, honking brass, fuzzed-up guitar, sing-along choruses and enough handclaps and chants of ‘Hey’ to last you a lifetime, The Last Glam In Town is a modern masterpiece of the genre.”
When I interviewed John last year he was immensely touched by the swathes of positive reviews: “It’s like I’ve written them myself almost! It’s a surprise. The reviews everywhere – it’s been beyond my wildest dreams really.”
Best wishes to John and his family and thank you for the music you’ve given us.
I catch up with founding member of Slade and drumming legend, Don Powell. Don’s band have just released a brand new single, a cover of the instrumental classic ‘Let There Be Drums’ featuring eighteen of the UK’s leading drummers with all profits going to We Make Events, raising money for crew, engineers and technicians hit by the pandemic and the cancellation of live gigs. Via Zoom in Don’s home in Denmark we talk about the new single, about the old Slade days, about working with Suzi Quatro and Andy Scott, about recovering from a stroke and much, much more besides.
DJ: I want to talk first about the new single ‘Let There Be Drums’ the cover of the old Sandy Nelson instrumental which was released just last week. It’s already made quite a splash I believe. Can you just say a bit about how that all came about?
DP: I tell you what, Darren, it’s funny how these things stick with you. It was before I was actually playing drums it was like in my youth club days when it was first released in ’61. So, I’d be 14/15 then and it was like the youth club. You know playing table tennis and we used to have the old Dansette record player and some of the older members of the club brought this record down and it just freaked me out. I’d never heard a drumming record before – just a solo drumming record. And I thought, blimey, this is incredible. It sort of stuck with me.
DJ: Were you already drumming by then?
DP: No, no, no.
DJ: So that’s what got you into the drums then?
DP: Maybe, I was playing drums in the boy scouts. But it just freaked me. It floored me when I heard it because I’d never heard a drumming record before. Anyway, it’s always been in the back of my mind. Then Craig Fenney, who was the bass-player with Slade when we went back on the road in 91/92, me and him were talking about it. It came up in conversation. I think it was Craig who brought it up in conversation. I said, “Actually, Craig…” What I did I recorded drums – do you remember that solo artist Jona Lewie? He had a couple of hits – ‘You’ll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties’ and ‘Don’t Stop the Cavalry’. Well, he’s got a 48-track recording studio at his house. And he invited me down and I started playing around and I recorded one or two drum tracks. And when Craig brought it up, I said, “Actually Craig, I have got some recordings of the drum track.” Because the way technology’s gone sky-high, I got the old 24-inch master-tapes and had them transferred digitally. And then it was Craig’s idea who said, “Why don’t we try and get lots of guest drummers. Let’s throw some names in between us and do like a cover version.” I said, “That’s a great idea.”
And we started throwing names about and I mentioned Brian Bennett from the Shadows. Because about three or four times a year about 35-40 of us have a lunch in London – like musicians, actors and people like that. And Brian’s always there so we made contact like that. And he said straight away, “No problem.” And the idea was, Darren, was for them to record about fifteen seconds – and also film it so we could put it all together like a montage-type thing. And there was Bev Bevan who was originally from the Move, and then ELO and he did a stint with Black Sabbath. Everybody was so gracious and then we decided to donate all this to charity – for all the road crews and technicians who’ve really suffered with the pandemic catastrophe. And it just came together really quickly, Darren. They all put their oar in and got themselves filmed while they recorded it and sent it to us. And we just put it all together and we’ll just see what happens with it, mate.
DJ: Well it’s a great track and it’s a great cause so let’s hope it’s going to be a real success.
DP: I don’t think people really realise the work that these guys do. I mean without these guys the show wouldn’t go on.
DJ: Hopefully, when things do go back to normal we’ll start to appreciate them more – as ordinary punters.
DP: Can you see light at the end of the tunnel yet? There are a few concerts in the offing but we’re just going to have to wait and see, Darren.
DJ: It’s been quite an exciting time for you because you formed the Don Powell Band last year. You had the project with Suzie Quatro and Andy Scott a few years ago. There seems to have been a burst of new projects that you’re involved in these days.
DP: Yeah. I’ve been pretty lucky really, Darren. The Suzi Quatro and Andy Scott one was quite nice because what it was there was Slade, Sweet and Suzi Quatro band did a few shows together and Suzi, Andy and myself are sitting in the hotel restaurant one day and Andy Scott said, “Now this will make a good band.” And everybody’s sort of yeah, I wonder, I wonder… And we kept on mentioning it and it came about and we said let’s get together and do some recordings. And so what we did we went down to Peter Gabriel’s place. He’s got a massive studio complex over in the west country. And so we went down there and what we did you live there – sort of live, eat and record there. And that’s when we did the album really. We had a great time doing it. And then it got released by Sony in Australia and it charted. So we went over and tour there. Because what we did, Suzi Quatro goes over there every year anyway and she has done for the last thirty years. And we were the opening act. Andy, Suzi and myself were the opening act. It was a great tour. And it helped with the album really.
DJ: So all these new things that you’ve been doing – was it starting to get a little bit frustratingbefore? Because I know you went out with Dave Hill for a good twenty-odd years. Was it starting to get a bit frustrating just going out there and doing the hits? Were you starting to feel that you wanted to do some new things?
DP: In a way yes. Apart from doing the Slade material with Dave Hill – but that’s what people wanted to see. It’s like with any band that’s had an amount of success, it’s hard to get out of that hole that you dig yourself into. I mean, we had it with the original line-up with Noddy and Jim – what do we play or what do we leave out? It’s a hard thing to try and decide. Everyone’s got different ideas or different choices you know but we all have to try and find out or work out what the audience want really. But we came to an end in a way. Noddy Holder didn’t want to tour anymore so it was just a matter of looking for things and Dave Hill and myself were still keen on touring which we did. And actually it was great because we went to a lot of territories like Russia and the old Eastern Bloc which we couldn’t do in the 70s.
DJ: The world opened up more I suppose?
DP: Oh yes. We had some great shows in Russia. It was incredible. And it’s not until you go there that you realise how big that place is.
DJ: You were massive there but at the time you could never really get there.
DP: No, we couldn’t get there. There was no record deal. We hadn’t got a clue what was going on release-wise you know, for obvious reasons. And it’s amazing when you realise – we flew from Moscow to Dal’niy Vostok on the east coast and it’s like thirteen hours. That’s like flying from Los Angeles. It’s incredible – but we’ve had some great times there, Darren.
DJ: Yes, I only saw the original band three times in the early 80s but then I saw you and Dave many, many times after that. But there seemed to be a time, only a year or two ago when it all seemed to be going wrong for you. You had the email sacking you from Dave Hill. That was after your serious tendon injury that put you out of action for a while. And then to cap it all after that, you had a stroke. It all seemed to be going wrong for you?
DP: Yeah. It was a weird thing. There was no reasoning for it. With the stroke it was strange. I was here at home. We all were here at home, and I was just watching TV and I went to sort of grab my cup of tea and I couldn’t get the cup. I couldn’t grab the cup or hold the cup. I had to hold my hand and then I came downstairs to speak to my wife, and it was a problem coming down the stairs and luckily our daughter is a doctor. And she said, “You’ve had a stroke. You need to go to the hospital. Because my speech is a bit blurred sort of thing.
DJ: I thought that was just the Wolverhampton accent!
DP: Oh no! Or it could be my drinking days! That would have been normal then. If it was my drinking days I would understand – but that’s all gone! But we just sent for an ambulance, and they hooked me up to some machines and checked me out and they said, “You’ve had a stroke. We’ve got to take you to hospital.” And that’s what it was. It was just a small stroke, and I was at the hospital. Luckily, it was our daughter who said, being a doctor, who said, “If you were my husband I would send you to the hospital.” Anyway, it was all sorted out and everything was ok. Apparently, it wasn’t that serious but I’m glad I got the advice. So yep, everything’s ok.
DJ: Because there was like a twelve-month period where just everything was going wrong for you. There was your tendon, then there was the Dave Hill thing, then there was your stroke. Was there a time when you just thought about packing it all in and knocking it on the head?
DP: No. No.
DJ: You always stayed positive?
DP: I was very positive. Actually, that came from my wife as well, Darren. My wife, Hanne, she was great you know. She made me practice going upstairs and I had a practice kit and she made me get on that and she said, “I love to hear you play.” And that was ok, actually. It was strange. There was no problem playing drums or anything. And it was just a matter of this little minor stroke happened if you like – and that was it. I’m on tablets for the rest of my life but apparently that’s just like the norm these days. But it’s ok. It was a bit scary at the time.
DJ: And a high point last year, it must have been really nice for you after all these years seeing Slade back in the album charts?
DP: Yeah incredible. You see, I looked at the CD and I thought, “Blimey. It ain’t bad is it? A nice bit of history there.” But also, when it went back in the charts I thought everybody had got this stuff, you know! How much further can you go, you know. It is incredible but I tell you what people always talk about the – we call it ‘that song’ – the Christmas song. No matter where we go around the world, no matter what time of year – they wanna hear that song.
DJ: But do you think this has helped broaden people’s memories and recollections of the band now? I mean, that compilation must have helped.
DP: Oh I think so. I think the general comments I’ve been getting, Darren, is people saying, “Oh, I didn’t realise you had so many hits. Oh, I forgot you had that one. Oh yeah and that one.” I mean I do myself as well. I’m looking thinking, wow I forgot about that. So it’s nice compliments and it’s nice bit of history on the CD really.
DJ: The hit that really got everything going for me in terms of Slade – because I was like 6 or 7 when ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ and those hits came out and I was more into the Wombles than Slade at that age – but by the time I was 14 ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’ came out. That was your big comeback single. That was the one that really turned me into a lifelong Slade fan.
DP: That was a great record. Obviously, with Nod’s lyrics that’s how it came about. It’s all about a concert. And what we did, when we recorded that I just went to the toilet and I made a loud cough and I thought, “Ooh, that’s a nice echo in here.” And I thought, “I wonder, how would it be if we put the drums in here.” Because it was all tiled and everything and it was like a thunderous sound in the toilet – absolutely incredible. But we never thought – I was halfway through this incredible take and the automatic flush went off. I thought, “Oh shit!” you know. And we had to turn the water off – it’s those things you don’t think about. It was a great comeback record that, though. It was a nice record to come back with actually.
DJ: It must be a brilliant record for a drummer, too, because the drums are so centre-stage.
DP: Oh yes. It’s great to play on stage, Darren. Because the thing is I can just keep on playing while the other guys just talk to the audience and just mess around and all that. It’s a great stage song, especially for me anyway.
DJ: As a drummer which is your favourite Slade song to play?
DP: Oh, there’s a couple really. I mean ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ I always love playing and ‘My Oh My’. If you listen to that at the start it’s basically just bass drum and snare drum. And I come in with the drum fills afterwards. It was a great song to play and also ‘Cum On Feel The Noize’ is one of my favourites as well.
DJ: Definitely. That would be one of my favourites as well.
DP: It’s incredible. There’s another one when you think, Darren. We released that in the States at the same time in ’73 and it never saw the light of day – nothing. And then Quiet Riot recorded it and it goes to number 1.
DJ: And then gave your career a boost because you started having hits for the first time ever in America as well.
DP: Oh, that’s what happened there. It gave us a boost. All these record companies over there were after us and we signed with CBS. And MTV had just started as well, Darren, which helped a lot. That video was on MTV all the time.
DJ: The ‘Run Run Away’ video?
DP: Yep. ‘Run Run Away’ was released first because they used that castle as the back-drop. Of course, like typical Americans they all thought that’s where we lived.
DJ: Slade’s castle!
DP: They thought it was our house.
DJ: That’s even more bizarre than Vic Reeves really.
DP: Yes. We just played along with that one, so it was quite good.
DJ: Well, yeah, every rock band in Britain has their own castle.And if we can go back to the very, very early days of Slade now. In the early days you actually wrote quite a bit for Slade at the start but when the hits started coming you stopped. I think that was a shame, personally, because while I could see your lyrics were not hit single material, I would have thought for album tracks they would have been perfect.
DP: I’ve started writing again now but the thing is Noddy Holder and Jim Lea started writing and they were doing it like that [clicks fingers] and they were coming out with the hits, and it was so easy for them, Darren, so I just let them carry on with it.
DJ: Oh right, you just thought let them get on with it.
DJ: They didn’t actually tell you to stop writing or discourage you?
DP: Oh no, nothing like that. They were coming up with this great material, so I just thought, you know, “Let them carry on with it. They’ve got the formula now so great just let them do it.” But I’ve started writing again over the last few years for the solo stuff I’ve been doing so we’ve just got our fingers crossed with the Don Powell Band really when we start doing some more recordings. But then again, Darren, it’s amazing how technology’s changed. Because of this pandemic crap, you know, I haven’t been able to travel. The rest of the guys have been recording stuff in England and sending the files to me and I just go to the studio I use over here, put the drums on and send it back. It’s not the same as all being in the studio at the same time because there’s that rapport you have that sort of feeds itself when you’re all playing together. But at least we can do something while this is going on around us, you know?
DJ: It’s something really positive to focus on.
DP: Yes, there’s a guy in Australia who I met when I toured there with Andy and Suzi a few years ago and he was doing some solo stuff and he asked me to play drums on it and I said yes. And he’s doing the same. He’s sending the files over from Australia. I’m waiting for them. And I’ll put drums on and send it back.
DJ: So can we expect an album from the Don Powell Band then?
DP: Oh yes. For sure. For sure…
DJ: And when..?
DP: Hopefully – they’re all writing stuff, which is all of us – as soon as possible really, Darren. At the moment with this pandemic, as I said, at least they can send me material, I can put drums on and send it back, you know. But it’ll be nice when we can all get in the studio together at the same time. A great bunch of guys and they’re great fun to be with. We only had two rehearsals together before all this lockdown came.
DJ: So you know each other better on Zoom than you do in real life!
DP: Exactly! It’s strange it is.
DJ: Although, obviously, you and Craig (Craig Fenney – bass player) go back many years.
DP: Oh yes. We go back even before we were back on the road – Dave and myself when Craig was in the band – I’ve known Craig even before then. So it’s not like we were total strangers so that’s good.
DJ: And still just on Slade, I’m not going to dwell on the Dave Hill thing, but do you still hear from the other two members of the band – Noddy and Jim?
DP: Yeah, occasionally we speak and like I said we’ve got one coming up in September. There’s like 35-40 of us have a lunch together in London. There’s like musicians, drummers. And it’s great. There’s like Bruce Welch from the Shadows and Brian Bennett. I mean there’s Clem Cattini. I don’t know whether you know of him, Darren?
DJ: Oh yes, big session player – yes.
DP: Oh you know – and he’s such an unassuming guy because you know he started with ‘Telstar’ from the Tornadoes, that’s how it started with him. And he went into studio work and do you know he’s played drums on over 200 hit records? 55 number ones he’s played drums on.
DJ: That’s more than you!
DP: Yeah. It’s phenomenal.
DJ: I mean you’ve not done too bad playing on number ones.
DP: The thing is when you’re talking to Clem, Darren, you talk about records and, “Yeah, I played drums on that. Yeah, I did that one as well. Yeah, and that one.” He was telling us he never knew where he was going in those days. He’d have a contact. Go to so-and-so studio. He said on one day he did ‘Lilly The Pink’ in the morning by Scaffold and in the afternoon he packed his drums away and went to Decca studios and then he did ‘It’s Not Unusual’ by Tom Jones. So he did two number ones in one day. And he got something like sixty quid. [laughs] But that’s what it was then.
DJ: It’s more the legacy than the money.
DP: Yeah, course it is. He’s got some great stories though. And it’s why I like talking to Bruce Welch as well because I asked, and I didn’t know whether Cliff Richard and The Shadows actually toured America – but they did. Back in the very early ‘60s they were on one of those package things with people like Dion and the Belmonts, all those kind of people. But then again, travelling on a greyhound bus. No private jets then. It was just travelling on a bus. But yes, it’s great talking to those people. And those people I look up to those people.
DJ: And Noddy and Jim, do you still hear from them?
DP: Well, as I say, Nod’s always at the lunches.
DJ: So you keep up with Nod.
DP: And Jim – Jim’s not on email. Jim never bothers with email or mobile phones or anything like that.
DP: Oh good. I mainly contact Jim through his brother now. His brother’s on email so I make contact like that through his brother. So I’ll see Nod – if the lunch goes ahead in September, Darren, I shall see Nod there. We always have a good laugh you know. The thing is no-one knows what we’re talking about. We’re just on our own talking and killing ourselves laughing. And no-one knows what we’re talking about. Well when you think, when we’ve been together so long – like I’ve always said I probably knew the rest of the band Nod, Dave and Jim better than I knew my own brother.
DJ: Because you saw a lot more of them.
DP: Oh, just in the back of the van and sharing bags of chips and things like that. I mean we went through so much together really and that can never go away.
DJ: Yes, and that’s a really nice note to end the Slade memories on. And just looking to the future now what next for the Don Powell Band?
DP: Well like I said, it’s all frozen with this pandemic that’s going on but hopefully, as you know, because we’re recording at least we can do some recording. Like I said they send the files to me and I put drums on and send it back. So, hopefully, when all this clears we can get together. We only had two rehearsals together before all this started. So, hopefully, we can just get things sorted when all this pandemic stuff’s done.
DJ: And you are planning a tour then?
DP: Well we would like to, but we will see how it all sort of channels out really. So it’ll be nice. It will be the usual thing. They be asking for ‘that song’. Merry Christmas!
DJ: Presumably, you are going to do a mix of new material and Slade classics?
DP: Oh, I suppose we’ll have to do. Because one of the guitarists is Bob Wilson from Steve Gibbons Band. So we’ve started rehearsing some of Steve Gibbons’ stuff as well. So there’s a lot of material to choose from, Darren.
DJ: And if I can ask one final favour as well. I work for a learning disability charity called Stay UpLate and what we do is help people with a learning disability get out to gigs.
DP: Oh nice! I do that kind of thing over here, Darren.
DJ: Yeah, I knew you did. And one of our participants Daniel is a massive Slade fan, so if you can give a message of support to our charity Stay Up Late that would be brilliant.
DP: Hi there people. This is Don Powell from the Don Powell Band and I’m sending a message to the Stay Up Late people just keep on trucking and keep on going guys. It’s going to be fantastic.
With a name like that, various 70s glam heroes cited as key influences and an album due out in July entitled Rock ‘n’ Roll Glitter Suit it’s probably not too much of a coincidence that the paths of Darren’s Music Blog and Velvet Insane would eventually cross.
The Swedish-based band were formed in 2013 by guitarist Jesper Lindgren and describe themselves as a three-piece gang of rockers that reinvented glam rock by mixing the pop harmonies of the 70’s with the heavy sound of today. There have been changes in personnel and switches in record companies along the way but the band’s fortunes received a significant boost when they signed to a deal with Wild Kingdom/Sound Pollution earlier this year.
On the record deal the band commented:
“It feels inspiring and exciting to have signed a deal with Wild Kingdom. After working our asses off for years jumping around on different record companies it feels like we finally found our home. Wild Kingdom got the distinct rock ’n’ roll vein that we all love. Together we have made this glammy high energy rock ’n’ roll album that we feel very proud of. A wam bam beat that will knock you of your feet.”
An initial single and video, the wonderfully-titled ‘Backstreet Liberace’, from the forthcoming album was released back in May to great acclaim. All pounding piano keys, big handclaps, infectious riffs and catchy choruses there’s plenty to love about this.
‘Backstreet Liberace’ was then followed up with a second single from second single and music video ‘Sound of Sirens’ released 11th June. With a change of pace here they define it as 60’s pop gem made for the modern day.
Of the latest single the band say:
“We feel very proud about this catchy singalong pop gem and that it shows a slightly different side of Velvet Insane. Strongly influenced by The Beatles and 60’s pop music it gives you shivers and shows our passion and love for all kinds of music. A song we really looking forward to playing live and feel the energy from the audience in the future. With the video, we want to celebrate where we come from: the 70’s. Kiss, ABBA, Slade and glam rock/pop in general have meant so much to us in our musical upbringing. 1970’s influences in pictures and music but with the sound of today.”
The track is written by the legendary Sulo Karlsson of the Diamond Dogs who also produced and wrote the tracks together with the band on the upcoming album.
This week I celebrated my 55th birthday which means it’s exactly forty years since a rather significant album first arrived in my record collection. For my fifteenth birthday I had asked for a couple of albums: Status Quo’s latest release ‘Never Too Late’ from my mum and stepdad and Slade’s We’ll Bring The House Down from my dad and stepmum. I was actually away on a school geography trip to Wales for the day of my actual birthday and didn’t arrive back home until the following day but by the time I got home both gifts were waiting for me.
I vaguely remember Slade from my early childhood the previous decade but they had certainly not been on my radar for a long time. Not until I saw Noddy, Holder, Dave Hill, Jim Lea and Don Powell appearing on Top Of The Pops a couple of months earlier. After years of flops the ‘We’ll Bring The House Down’ single had taken Slade back into the Top Ten.
The song immediately grabbed my attention and I was now a firm fan. Asking for this album for my birthday was the obvious choice. Quo’s Never Too Late was very much the poor relation as far as birthday gifts went that day. The Slade album, though, I positively devoured, lapping up the likes of ‘Wheels Ain’t Coming Down’ and ‘When I’m Dancing I Ain’t Fighting’ and the rest.
Before long I was making numerous trips to our local second-hand record store in Preston to seek out Slade’s 70s back catalogue. This was 1981. Everyone else was into heavy metal, punk and new wave or the about-to-be-massive new romantic scene. But I was developing this obsession with 1970s glam rock. And it wasn’t just Slade. During the course of year I’d bought up much of Sweet’s back catalogue, too, not to mention albums by T. Rex and Mott The Hoople.
But the best was yet to happen. In August of that year, I tagged along with my dad and stepmum to see AC/DC headline at Donington. AC/DC were superb, of course, but even more of a revelation were Slade. This was my first attendance at a live rock gig ever but is undoubtedly the finest live concert I’ve ever attended. The Slade component in particular remains the most entertaining sixty minutes of my life.
And so, 1981 was the year that kicked off my Slade obsession and my love for all things glam. Glam was never really my era but musically it will always be my first love.
Followers of this blog will be aware that my love of 1970s glam iconsThe Sweet is pretty well documented. They’ve featured heavily on Darren’s Music Blog over the seven years of the blog’s existence. I’m therefore very pleased to be announcing the publication of my first book due out this summer: ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’.
It’s published by the excellent Sonicbond Publishing who’ve been running the On Track series, where they look at a band’s entire recorded output track by track, and more recently the Decades series, where they look at a band’s history and development through a key decade. I’d already reviewed a couple of Sonicbond publications (on Fairport Convention and Hawkwind) when I had a dream that I’d just written my own book about The Sweet. With the dream still fresh in my head the following morning I thought it might actually be an idea to see if this could perhaps be turned into reality.
I emailed Stephen Lambe at Sonicbond that morning with the synopsis that was formulated in the dream still in my head to see if they were interested. Happily, he came back and said that they were and a contract soon followed. It became my lockdown project starting last summer and after several months of feverish writing, researching and listening I completed it at the end of February.
It’s now available to pre-order direct from the publishers via Burning Shed here
From the Amazon synopsis you hopefully get a taste of what’s in store:
The Sweet’s look, sound and attitude became an instantly recognisable hallmark of the early 1970s glam rock era. But the band did not start the 1970s as a glam band and certainly didn’t finish as one. This book charts the band’s journey through the decade that made them a household name, from their initial rise as purveyors of manufactured, bubblegum pop to their metamorphosis into harder-edged glam rock icons. The Sweet in the 1970s takes a look at both their successes and their struggles in their quest to be recognised as a more serious rock act in the latter part of the decade, once the sparkle of glam and glitter had begun to pale. The decade saw them score fifteen UK Top 40 singles, release seven studio albums and tour several continents. Unlike many bands of the era personnel changes were few. The Sweet begin the 1970s with the arrival of new guitarist, Andy Scott, and end the decade with the departure of frontman, Brian Connolly, and an ultimately ill-fated attempt to continue as a three-piece. This book is an unashamed celebration of the music of the Sweet and charts the lasting impact they had on many of the bands than followed them.
And of the author, Amazon has this to say:
After acquiring a second-hand copy of Sweet’s Give Us A Wink album from Action Records in Preston as a teenager in the early 1980s, Darren Johnson has been a dedicated fan of the band ever since. A former politician, he has written for a number of UK national newspapers but after stepping away from politics, he has been able to devote more time to his first love: music. A keen follower of both rock and folk, he maintains a popular music blog Darren’s Music Blog and has reviewed albums and gigs for a variety of publications. He lives in Hastings, East Sussex, UK
Based in Hailsham in East Sussex, Tim Izzard is a musician who has worked across a variety of musical genres but Starlight Rendezvous, released last month, is his debut rock album. Taking glam-era Bowie as its starting point the album makes nods in the direction of pop, prog, rock and garage, and delivers something that is both creative and original yet unashamedly wears its influences as unselfconsciously as Mick Ronson in his golden Starman costume.
Izzard tells us: “It’s a play-it-loud, 40 mins concept album (remember them!) where the time is 632 AF, we are in a Brave New World and ‘The Visitor’, Thomas Jerome Newton, is still alive and still waiting to find his way home after nearly 200 years.”
Izzard adds: “I wanted to write an album that sounded like what first and still excites me musically and that I’d want to listen to once finished. So back to Bowie playing Starman on TOTP and the album, Ziggy. Roxy Music’s first two albums, Transformer/Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. Bowie’s live Beeb version of Waiting For The Man still does it for me.“
“The chords and melody for Man Who Fell To Earth came easily to me one day, and just sounded immediately like it should be a tribute. So the title Man Who Fell To Earth I chose as he appeared like an alien on TOTP and left us so dramatically two days after Blackstar, almost as if his mission had been accomplished. The lyrics name-check his songs but also the impact they had on me ‘listening in my room’.“
That self-penned Bowie tribute, the excellent ‘Man Who Fell To Earth’ has already been picking up airplay including here on BBC Radio Sussex and in the US on glam rock internet station Dandy’s Stardust Dive.
Tim Izzard’s album Starlight Rendezvous is available on Bandcamp here:
Cult US glam-influenced band The Hollywood Stars, who reunited back in 2018 after four decades apart, have a new single coming out, a live recording of the original band composition ‘Escape’ which was later made famous by Alice Cooper. ‘Escape’ (Live) is released on 15th February.
Formed in 1973 and becoming a regular draw at the legendary Whisky A Go Go club the band’s live shows attracted the the likes of John Lennon, Angie Bowie and Iggy Pop.
“I didn’t used to like The Hollywood Stars, I used to like The New York Dolls. Then I heard The Hollywood Stars play Satisfaction. Now I wanna fuck ‘em.” – Iggy Pop
An album was recorded for Columbia in 1974 but record company politics meant it ended up being scrapped.
“It was a really depressing time,” recalls lead guitarist Ruben De Fuentes. “The sessions were going great and we were so close to finishing the record. Then it all just went away.”
It would take 39 years for the scrapped Columbia album to finally see the light of day. Shine Like a Radio: The Great Lost 1974 Album was released by Last Summer/Light in the Attic in 2013.
However, two of the songs recorded for the scrapped album, both co-written by the band’s lead singer/guitarist Mark Anthony and pop Svengali Kim Fowley, went on to enjoy success with two mega US acts. ‘King of the Night Time World’ would be recorded by Kiss on their Destroyer album released in 1976 and on their Alive II album released in 1977. Another song ‘Escape’, meanwhile, was recorded by Alice Cooper on his 1975 album Welcome to My Nightmare.
The Hollywood Stars split in 1974 but (with a change in line-up) picked things up again in 1976 and kept gigging through until 1978, opening for such diverse legends as rock pioneer Bo Diddley, disco star Sylvester, and punk royalty Ramones.
Forty years after the dissolution of the 1978 line-up, The Hollywood Stars reconvened for a one-off benefit concert in November 2018 at The Bootleg Theatre in Los Angeles. The line-up included founding members Phares, De Fuentes and Rae, alongside the bassist from the band’s second line-up, Michael Rummans, and new guitarist, Chezz Monroe.
The revived Hollywood Stars released a live version of ‘King Of The Night Time World’ last December and are now set to release a new version of ‘Escape’ as a single on 15th February. Recorded live in 2019 when the reunited band returned to their old haunt the Whisky A Go Go this is the Hollywood Stars’ own version of the song made famous by Alice Cooper.
The Hollywood Stars current line-up is:
Ruben De Fuentes — Lead guitar
Scott Phares — Lead vocals
Terry Rae — Drums, vocals
Chezz Monroe — Second guitar
John Schayer — Bass guitar, vocals
‘Escape’ (Live) released 15th February 2021 on Golden Robot Records
I’ve been following Bristol-based acapella group The Longest Johns since they sent me their first album to review back in 2016. Following the tiktok sea shanty viral sensation that is ‘Wellerman’, however, they now find themselves in the Top 40 – with a lovely rather dumbstruck announcement on their Facebook page giving their reaction as follows: “BY POSEIDONS BEARD! It’s only gone top 40! We did it everybody, thank-you to all our families, the mod’s and the fantastic discord community, Thank-you to Anna for singing it with us and thank-you to EVERYONE who bought Wellerman and got a (Can’t believe i’m typing this) SEA SHANTY IN THE CHARTS. Ohhhh!!”
2020 was looking like a terrible year for glam veterans, Slade. Guitarist Dave Hill sacked drummer Don Powell from the continuing (ie: post- Jim and Noddy) version of the band. Bass-player Jim Lea had his prized guitar stolen and Noddy Holder exchanged a few sharp words about his former song-writing partner Jim in press interviews. All that was put to one side, however, as all four original members expressed their joy at their greatest hits compilation Cum On Feel The Hitz going straight in at No. 8 in the UK album charts back in October. This was the band’s highest ranking in the UK album charts since Slade In Flame was released back in 1974!
Only a few short years ago the wheels well and truly seemed to be finally coming off the AC/DC machine. Rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young had tragically passed away, drummer Phil Rudd was sentenced to home detention after an unedifying case involving drugs and threatening behaviour, vocalist Brian Johnson ended up being replaced by Axl Rose following major hearing problems and bass-player Cliff Williams saw the writing on the wall and decided he, too, had had enough. However, with Stevie Young replacing his late uncle, Malcolm, the classic post-Bon Scott AC/DC line-up (or as near as humanly possible to it anyway) was resurrected and a brand new album Power Up ended up reaching No. 1 in twenty-one countries.
Glitter Band founder member, John Rossall, released a wonderfully menacing twenty-first century reboot of classic 70s glam rock with his The Last Glam In Town album. Released back in October last year, it picked up favourable reviews everywhere. All tribal beats, honking brass, fuzzed-up guitar, sing-along choruses and enough handclaps and chants of ‘Hey’ to last you a lifetime, The Last Glam In Town is a modern masterpiece of the genre. “It’s like I’ve written them myself almost!” he told me when I interviewed him late last year. “It’s a surprise. The reviews everywhere – it’s been beyond my wildest dreams really.”
While there has been no big Charlatans comeback (their most recent album was back in 2017), Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties have been one of the bright spots throughout the pandemic. The idea was a simple one: an album and a time would be chosen and fans would converge on social media to exchange their memories, reactions and appreciation of said album. Soon there was a queue of artists eager to get involved and, for me, one of the highlights was when they featured the album by Heavy Load, a band which was composed of people with and without learning disabilities, of which my current boss was the former bass-player. You can find out more about Heavy Load, the award-winning film of the same name that was made about them and the charity that they inspired here.
I wish everyone a happy New Year. My special thanks go to all those who have visited (and hopefully enjoyed) Darren’s music blog during 2020. Weirdly, although I originally started this blog nearly seven years ago mainly to cover live gig reviews, I’ve had far more visits to my site this year than any previous year. This is in spite of all the gigs (and the gig reviews!) stopping in March.
Anyway, as we look back over the year here are my ten most popular blog posts from 2020. Although I’ve covered the usual eclectic range of metal, folk, Americana, brit pop, rock n roll and glam rock this year, it seems that people were particularly seeking out my glam content this year. Glam ended up pulling in eight of the ten top slots. Here they are in order of popularity…
1. Veteran drummer Don Powell out of Slade
When Don Powell announced he had been sacked from Dave Hill’s continuing version of Slade it came as a shock to many, eventually being covered extensively in the music press and the tabloids. I posted the sad news up on my blog within minutes of it being announced on Don Powell’s Facebook page – I was first to report it and for the first 24 hours pretty much the only one to report it. My post went viral and was shared all around the world.
2. Glitter, glam and Blackpool rock: interview with glam rock legend John Rossall
Following the release of his highly acclaimed new album ‘The Last Glam In Town’ I talk to former Glitter Band legend, John Rossall. Our chat covers glam rock, show bands, growing up in Blackpool and, of course, John’s new album and the prospect of touring again post-Covid.
3. Sweet launch video to promote new single ‘Still Got The Rock’ and forthcoming album ‘Isolation Boulevard’
Sweet’s ‘Still Got The Rock’ single was released in digital format in December followed by the digital release of new album Isolation Boulevard. The single is reworking of a song that first appeared as a newly-recorded bonus track on the 2015 Sweet compilation album Action: The Ultimate Story, by the band’s previous line-up. The new version features the current line-up of Andy Scott, Bruce Bisland, Lee Small and Paul Manzi.
4. Before glam: the debut 60s singles of Bowie, Bolan, Slade, Mud and Sweet
When glam rock burst into the UK pop charts in the early 1970s the genre may have appeared all shiny and new and suitably outrageous but many of its lead players had been trying to make their all-important breakthrough in the previous decade. Five of the acts we look at here all released their debut singles in the mid to late 60s.
5. Slade legend Jim Lea releases video footage in bid to locate recently stolen guitar
Founder members of Slade were not having much luck at the start of the year. Jim Lea’s cherished Fender Stratocaster was stolen in central London on 31st January. He released a video in the hope that it will prompt members of the public in helping reunite him with his guitar.
6. Live review: Supergrass at Alexandra Palace 6/3/20
The only live review to make the top ten this year, this Ally Pally gig from the Supergrass reunion tour was actually my penultimate live gig before lockdown. (I managed Glen Matlock at the 100 Club the night after). Without a doubt, for me, the greatest band of the Britpop era, I was at the Brixton Academy on the Supergrass farewell tour in 2010 and ten years later I was excited to be their for the their first of two nights at Alexandra Palace on the long-awaited reunion tour.
Steve Priest, bass-player with the Sweet and an icon of 70s glam rock sadly passed away in June following an illness that had hospitalised him. In an emotional post on his band’s Facebook page, former band-mate Andy Scott paid tribute to the best bassist he ever worked with. A phenomenal bass-player whose harmony vocals were an essential part of the band’s classic sound Steve Priest we salute you – a true glam rock icon.
8. Slade at No. 8 in the UK albums chart – their highest position since 1974!
I was well chuffed to see Slade’s new greatest hits compilation Cum On Feel The Hitz go straight in at No. 8 in the UK’s album charts back in October. This was the band’s highest ranking in the UK album charts since Slade In Flame was released back in 1974. Even during the days of the band’s early 80s comeback, a decade after glam, Slade albums were still struggling to make it to the Top 40, even when they had a second run of hit singles.
The run of bad luck for Slade icons in the early part of the year continued. Don Powell, suffered a stroke on Saturday 29th February at his home in Denmark. Fortunately, his step-daughter Emilie, a doctor, was with him when it happened and was able to act swiftly to call an ambulance and get him to hospital. His wife Hanne released a statement and Jim Lea and Andy Scott both sent their best wishes.
10. ‘Confess’ by Rob Halford – a gay heavy metal fan reviews the Metal God’s autobiography
As someone who became a Judas Priest fan not long after my dad brought home a newly-released copy of ‘British Steel’ back when I was a young teenager, and as someone who has known they were gay from around that same time I was particularly keen to read Halford’s memoir. There is a fair bit of revelatory gossip and down to earth black country humour but there are many segments that are deeply, deeply moving, too. One of the best rock biogs in ages.