Chart music isn’t meant to last, as disposable as the previous night’s takeaway, it’s something you enjoy at the time and then immediately forget about. Sweet obviously missed the memo and, fifty-one years after first forming, continue to perform some of the greatest songs of the Glam Rock era to sold out audiences throughout Europe and beyond, seemingly as popular as ever.
Led by guitarist Andy Scott, sole remaining member from their 70’s heyday in this line-up, Sweet display all the glitz and hard work that made them huge and, with a set full of classics, still thrill to this day. Always a much heavier band than their bubblegum pop/rock image and hit singles would lead you to believe, the band really rocks live, beefing up the songs that everyone knows and loves, adding a heft to the sparkling harmonies.
Opener ‘Action’ typifies this approach, its staccato riff and lush vocals bring a glorious juxtaposition of the rough with the smooth. Famously covered by Def Leppard, the song is the perfect scene setter as it jitters and shakes, rolls and tears along, sending a rush of adrenaline and nostalgia straight to the hearts and minds of everyone present.
The shuffling, terrace chant of ‘New York Groove’ follows before a truly heavyweight ‘Hellraiser’ kicks doors down and feels like a hard, fast punch in the face. This isn’t just an all-out assault to the senses though as Scott, along with keys/guitarist Steve Mann, bass player Lee Small, drummer Bruce Bisland and former Cats in Space singer Paul Manzi, knows how to balance crunching rock rhythms with a sense of theatrical dynamics that would be a huge influence on both Queen and KISS.
A little later in the set ‘Six Teens’, replete with some superb four part harmonies, brings another heady wave of memories rushing back as does the pure rock ‘n’ roll of ‘Peppermint Twist’, the audience gladly joining in with the call and response that Manzi orchestrates.
Whilst the talented singer and Scott are the main focus of attention, this is most definitely a band and Michael Schenker cohort Mann gets to show his considerable chops during the guitar heavy ‘AC/DC’ which sees him soloing and trading licks with his six-string partner at the front and centre of the stage. ‘Turn it Down’ and ‘Sweet F.A.’ continued in this vein, the heaviness climaxing in ‘Set Me Free’, the huge, Iron Maiden-like, charger with added vocal harmonies.
The rest of the set leaned back on their more commercial hits with ‘Teenage Rampage’, ‘Wigwam Bam’ and ‘Little Willie’ adding the sugar to the granite-like toughness of the previous few songs and gave the chance for a mass singalong that filled the beautifully crafted walls of The Apex.
Whilst the bulk of their most well-known hits were the creation of the Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman partnership, Sweet themselves were certainly no slouches in the songwriting stakes and ‘Love is Like Oxygen’ was one of their finest. Their last international hit, it has all the elements that typified the best of the band in its chugging riff, the sumptuous vocals and sense of theatre along with the sort of dynamics that made ELO so huge.
The song segued into an interlude of a rocking version of ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ as Scott and Manzi left the stage, giving it over to Bisland, Lee and Mann to rip things up before their bandmates rejoined them.
A crunching ‘Fox on the Run’ finishes the main set before the band are called back for the unstoppable killer duo of ‘Blockbuster’ and ‘Ballroom Blitz’, the encores ending a perfect evening. Arch–rivals Slade may have had a slightly higher profile at the time but Sweet were the originators of Glam in the country and are still out there proving that they are an unstoppable live act.
Few bands can boast their back catalogue and even fewer touring still with as much fire and passion as Sweet, a band that has set trends, never followed. Hellraisers? Yeh!
Review by Paul Monkhouse
Photography by Laurence Harvey