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The story of Sweet

by Andy Scott, Phil Wainman and Pip Williams

 

 


    
Phil Wainman:  
I was a person who could sniff out a hit. If it wasn't quite a hit when I heard it, I could actually make it into a hit - I knew what the missing ingredients were. Although I couldn't sit down and thump one out on my own, I could always tailor someone else's song. Which was wonderful. And I'd got a reputation for being quite a musical producer. Nicky Chinn came in and played me a couple of songs that he'd written and I said, 'No, no, no, no.' And then he said: 'I met this Australian and he's got this very flash Gibson guitar.' So I kept on hearing about how flash he was and what he was doing, and he was in a band called Tangerine Peel. So I said, 'Well, bring him in.' So he brought in the waiter and he said, 'It's Mike Chapman'. So I said, 'Well fine, play me some songs.' They'd written a couple of songs, that were a bit lightweight, and we talked about the charts and we talked about why hit records were hits. At the time there was a record called 'Sugar Sugar' by The Archies and it'd sold zillions, it'd sold about seven or eight million records worldwide. And I thought: wouldn't it be great to tap into that pop bubblegum market?  I was in a couple of bands [at the time] and we were doing a live broadcast for the BBC, and funnily enough Sweet, who I'd already worked with, popped in. It was actually Brian and Mick and they said, 'Why don't you give us a song like that?' And I said, 'As it so happens, if you come to my flat tomorrow morning, I'll play you something which is every bit as good as this.
    
Phil Wainman:  
The following morning, they turned up at my flat and I played them a song called 'Funny Funny'. And I said, 'It's not the sort of thing that you're used to doing, it's a bit lightweight for you, it's bubblegum, but what do you think?' There were two songs, and they were songs that could be hits but you'd have to have a vehicle. And I said to Mike and Nicky, 'We need a vehicle for your material and as it so happens, it's all starting to come together, because the band I used to work with called Sweet, I bumped into them the other night and I played them "Funny Funny". And they're up for it.'  But they didn't want to leave their present record company and they didn't want to leave their present management company. So I said, 'Look, I can understand not throwing away dirty water until you've got clean water. Why don't we just pay them a session fee to come in and put the voices on the track that we've got.' Cos Mike Chapman had already sung it, and it was pretty good. So they came in and put the voices on and I mixed it all in one hit: the whole lot was done within about an hour, an hour and a half, the whole lot was finished. And it sounded pretty damn good
    
Andy Scott:  
We were all party, all of us, to a production company which we had a share in and they - Chinn and Chapman and Phil Wainman - had a share in. And it was basically a 50/50 split: there's the production side, there's the band. Of course, it doesn't take a mathematician to work out that they were earning more money than we were, cos there's four on this side and three on the other. Less expenses, of course, and I don't mean ours.
    
Pip Williams:  
'Funny Funny' was done in a couple of hours. The bass-player was John Roberts, because he was a mate of mine and Phil said, 'You got a bass-player that I can use?' I said, 'Yeah, use the bass-player I've been working with.' We were then backing Jimmy Ruffin.
    
Phil Wainman:  
I played on 'Funny Funny', 'Co-Co', 'Alexander Graham Bell', 'Poppa Joe' and 'Little Willy'. And the reason I played on them was because of time, cos time was money and studio time was expensive even in those days. I'd go in there with a few of my guys that I'd do sessions with. Pip Williams was my regular guitar-player. I found Pip when he was working with Jimmy James & The Vagabonds, who were the other band that we'd signed. He had great flair, great talent, he would know what I wanted. We were like brothers when it came to music. I made as many enemies as I made friends because I'd upset other musicians, I'd upset other producers that I was working for. Cos I put my team in: 'The only way you're gonna make that a hit is book my guys, we'll turn up and work out your songs.' We did that a lot, we worked on loads of recordings as a team. And The Sweet thing just happened to be another team, as far as I was concerned. It was a team that I had a controlling interest in - you know, it was my company, it was Nicky's and my company. So I would insist on how it was done. And we ended up with a really, really wonderful team of people, a collective of people.
    
Andy Scott:  
The inherent problem all the time is that musicians are not businessmen, the same as sportsmen and a lot of other people. They have what they consider to be an art - I know it might sound bullshit in the pop world, but they still consider it to be a kind of an art - and the worst side of that is you get very temperamental about an art-form. Therefore you can't clear your mind completely, you can't divorce what is good business-sense from what possibly makes good sense as far as what you want to do musically. However, to qualify that, I actually think that the band knew better what their audience wanted than the people who were surrounding them, once it took impetus. But to get it off the ground, it took all kinds of things. The band grabbed a very very bubblegum pop idea because the band was not really an out-and-out pop band, even though the look was. Our heroes were Deep Purple, The Who; as guitar-players, Hendrix and Jeff Beck were my heroes. And it shows in the playing, because at every moment when I was given a place to try and play something, it was an emulation of one of the guitar-players that I absolutely adored, whether it be Jeff Beck - the little picking bit at the end of 'Ballroom Blitz' - or the guitar solos that I was asked to provide. I tried to get in those little notes that were not just standard. I used to sit down and think about what I was going to play.
    
Pip Williams:  
I remember when we were doing I think it was 'Co-Co' with The Sweet, and a couple of guys in Sweet were not very pleasant characters - they had a huge chip on their shoulder, and quite rightly so, about the fact that they weren't allowed to play on their records - and they would give me a hell of a load of stick. This was coming out of the morning session, they were coming in to put their vocals on. I had a real row with Mick Tucker, and I said, 'Don't give me a roasting; I'm a guy who's trying to earn a living and I've been hired to come in here and play on your record. If you've got an argument, have it with your producer, mate, not me.' We had quite a bitter row about it, and afterwards we all become mates and they then saw what the score was. The producer wants to do things in a situation that he's comfortable with.
    
Andy Scott:  
We knew a couple of them. We knew the guitar-player, Pip Williams, and of course we knew Phil, being the drummer. At that time, they wanted to go in and session four or five songs in a day, and then get us to sing them in a day. So what they were basically saying was: there are notes written here, we want the bass-player to play that. They'd worked out the arrangement. They were very much worked out before they went in there, it wasn't a matter of getting the session musicians in to jam. I think that a little more than the other members, even though I was younger, I had been through a few different situations and I immediately saw an opportunity for songwriting that I'm not sure they had 100% thought about. Maybe they had, but I remember us all sitting down and agreeing that the one thing we definitely wanted to do was write the b-sides, because someone had put it in our ears that you earn as much from the b-side as you do from the a-side. And the fact that it would keep us together as a band to carry on doing things - otherwise it could have lasted for a year or two and been a quick killing for other people, with Brian's face and that would have been an end to it. But it was going beyond that, I'm afraid. I wanted it to go a little further than that. When I looked at each of us, I thought: we've got something here. We're all different, we're all young, we all like the same music: we all like The Who, we all like Purple, we all like Zeppelin. We liked vocal bands: we liked Three Dog Night, and we liked - even though we thought the music was light - the vocals of The Beach Boys. We all loved The Hollies as well. And I brought The Beatles influences in, if there ever were any.
    
Pip Williams:  
Both Mud and Sweet earned the right, as far as I'm concerned, to play on their own records. Cos a lot of Sweet b-sides were a hell of a lot better than the a-sides.
    
Andy Scott:  
We had three hours to put a b-side down and we'd come out with all these weird things.
    
Phil Wainman:  
They were a Jeckyll & Hyde band, because if you played the a-side it was one sort of music, if you played the b-side it was the other sort of music. We were going to do Sweet and Sour, the whole thing. They didn't want to be a pop band, they wanted to be Deep Purple, and they tried really hard. In fact they became more Deep Purple than Deep Purple. We had this internal thing with them: the band wanted to go one way. They were a little embarrassed about their hit singles, but they wouldn't want to give their hit singles up. So on one hand they saying, 'Please Mike, will you write me another song.' But on the other hand, 'We want to write something that's heavier, and we want to be taken more seriously.' And the thing was they were a serious band.
    
Andy Scott:  
The story goes that Pete Townsend actually came to a couple of gigs incognito, because he had ideas of what he wanted on this particular show at Charlton. One of them must have been the Rainbow Christmas show in 1973, and in the New Year it was announced that we would be on this bill. This might have been the making of the band in a different way in England.
Maggie Bell replaced us. We were due to play directly after Lou Reed and directly before The Who. And we had a tour of England, about seven or eight dates, leading up to the Charlton Athletic gig. And about a month before the tour, Brian was in a place and somebody in this place didn't like him. And when he left, they were dancing on the top of his Mercedes, on the roof of his car, so he went to have a go at them, and there were two other people waiting for him, and he got really beaten up in this car-park. And one of the things they did was when they kicked him, they kicked him in the throat. And I remember thinking at the time ... none of us were happy at what had happened to him, but all of us were really, really unhappy that he'd put himself in a vulnerable situation at that moment in his career. He was one of the most recognizable people in England at the beginning of 1974.
    
Andy Scott:  
It's probably the wrong thing to be saying, because the biggest hit before 'Fox On The Run' and 'Love Is Like Oxygen' was 'Blockbuster', but when I first heard that mix, I remember Mick Tucker and I walking out of there, gloomy. Because we were at a real turning-point in our career here, where we'd just done 'Little Willy' and 'Wig Wam Bam' and we were trying to shove some musicianship into this one. And we walked away a bit gloomy.
And then, you wouldn't believe this, before our release we were in the office of the guy who was our contact at RCA and he played us the new David Bowie record, he played us 'Jean Genie'. And I went, 'That's the same guitar riff,' and he went, 'Is it?' This is a record company guy and I'm saying, 'Haven't you noticed?' And he went, 'No.' I was horrified, I was thinking: that's coming out first, and we're coming out a week behind it, on the same label, it's got the same guitar riff. I said: well, we don't stand a chance of being #1. That was my thought. And within three weeks we were #1 and he was #2. I've since spoken to Trevor Bolder, the bass-player, and he said, 'Remember "I'm A Man"?'
    
Andy Scott:  
There's varying stories, but I do remember Mike Chapman sitting down and playing us a demo that he'd done, and he said, 'It's going to be a hit.' And Mick and I basically said, 'I'm sorry Mike, but what we think we should be doing is returning to the "Blockbuster" type rhythmic thing.' I'm not saying that with 'Hellraiser' and 'The Ballroom Blitz' we hadn't captured what we wanted, but to come in with something like that ['Dynamite'] after having the three hits that we'd just had? Literally a day or two later he had a new demo of 'Teenage Rampage', basically saying 'This is the Nuremburg Rally,' and we all went: great, right we'll have it then.
    
Phil Wainman:  
You see, Queen beat us to it. Suddenly this little band came along. I went along to see them as a support band - I can't remember which band they were supporting - at the Odeon, Hammersmith. And I went up to Roy Thomas Baker, who was producing them and Roy had been an engineer for me, and I said, 'Roy, that band are phenomenal. I will swap you all the acts I've got for that band.' And he said, 'I can't do that.'
And I watched them develop, mature, and they were wonderful. I heard 'Killer Queen' and I rushed back and I played it to John Goodison and I said, 'Listen to how good that band is.' And he went, 'Yeah, they're fantastic.' And then I played it to Sweet, and all Andy could say was, 'Yeah Phil, we're being ripped off.'  
    
Andy Scott:  
Queen won the battle. Course they did. I even had a conversation with Brian May in that era, when we were in America. I didn't accuse, it was just very subtly talked about that: 'You did like "Action" as a single, didn't you?' Cos the last part of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' is very much like 'Action'. Take it or leave it, and like it or not, as I said at the time, it seems we opened the door, but when Queen came along, we were left holding the handle a little bit.
Remember when a band's been around and gone through changes, it takes time for people to adjust. All through their career, Queen always put in that little tongue-in-cheek, like 'Killer Queen'. They were the first to say all-encompassing: take us or leave us, whether you like just the heavy or whether you like the tongue-in-cheek pop. Our pop was tongue-in-cheek, but nobody took it like that. We started, we moved on, by the time Queen were happening, we were out-and-out heavy metal, no doubt about it. When people used to go to our concerts in Germany in 1977/78, we were extremely loud, we were louder than Deep Purple. That was trying to prove a point in the end. I had two Leslie cabinets the size of people's front doors. And yet here I am, playing through a 50-watt combo.
    
Phil Wainman:  
I had this vision for them whereby they could actually have another two or three lives. Because they were a good band and I kind of knew what they should be doing. And unfortunately the wheels dropped off a bit because they knew best, and a lot of my ideas at the end were overlooked. I was working with other bands, I thought: okay, Sweet, I'm not desperate to work with you anymore. They ended up working with Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. And they made some real duffers. And Mike Chapman also thought: ooh, maybe I can climb on the next stepping stone and also become a bit serious, and I can be taken seriously if I do it with Sweet. But it didn't work, the chemistry didn't work. I wanted to plan a career for the band, and I wanted to go off in a slightly different direction. I wanted to go slightly bluesy, I actually wanted to fill the gap that Cream had left and go in that direction, with the harmonies and guitars - it all sort of fit into place. Cream were gone and they could have gone more in that direction: slightly funkier, a little bit laid-back, it could have been really good. In fact 'Love Is Like Oxygen' in a way was scratching the surface, but I wanted them to become more basic. Because Queen, as far as I could see, had really gone as far as you can go with the vocals and backing and everything was like a big, big production number, and I thought what I'll do is I won't do that with Sweet; I'll go the complete opposite and have basic, real basic, gritty, down-to-earth sort of blues. Sort of, but pop.
    
Phil Wainman:  
And they couldn't understand what I was saying, they didn't grasp it - they couldn't grasp it cos it was going to be a change: it was going to be Sweet like you've never heard Sweet. And it never materialized, which is a real real shame. They needed a plan. They'd gone through pop, then they had powerpop, and then they had rock. And the rock they were coming up with was being topped out of all belief by Queen. And I thought: let's let them have that market. Let's stay out of that, let's look at this market, let's look at a basic thing. Vocally, they were excellent: they were so good and they were all natural. All four of them. They were really good. And I thought: okay, this is where we're going to have to put our thinking caps on and come up with something a little bit different. And they went with Mike Chapman, they went to America. And by then I'd moved on. I co-owned the company, so I figured: well okay, it's nice to have someone else do the work for me, and I still own half of it so I might as well just sit tight, not have to drive myself mad with a band that don't want to work with me anyway. So that's the way I saw it.  
    
Andy Scott:  
The split came because it was a matter of deciding whether to go one way or the other. I remember they were all in America, because they all felt that America was the next place, especially as we'd just had a near #1 with 'Little Willy', and they were over there. The record company said that as a band we had written a hit single - we didn't think it at the time, but we had a song 'Fox On The Run'  - so the record company said, 'Re-record that and see how commercial it can be made.' Well, we went in and recorded it on our own. Next thing we knew, the record company wanted to release it, Chinn & Chapman were being telegrammed in America that 'We have the next Sweet single.' They were back here before you knew it, they heard the single and - whether they liked it or not - they had to agree there was an on-going situation. Now instead of patching it up and saying, 'Alright, regardless of whether we write it or you write it, we produce it or you produce it, we might as well all still mix it in,' I think there were egos to be played here. We just made a final decision to go: well, everything that we do from now onwards, we stand or fall by it.  I don't mean to say that they were right not to interfere; they were probably wrong, because remember their livelihoods were there as well - they might as well have as well have pitched in and said, 'You haven't got a commercial enough single.' Especially when it got to the later years, with the Off The Record album which basically stiffed everywhere except Germany. Over here, from 'Action' it stiffed until 'Love Is Like Oxygen'.  
  

The Sweet epitomised the UK 70s Glam Rock movement with their trademark glitter and glam make-up. The Sweet were also a force to be reckoned with in pure rock music terms too. The Hits stand the test of time and the current line-up with original guitarist Andy Scott still keep the audiences shouting for more!

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