The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

Shane Pinnegar talks with Living Legend ANDY SCOTT,
original and current guitarist with glam titans THE SWEET

 

My call finds Andy Scott at home watching the World Cup cricket match between England and The Netherlands, and despite not being thrilled about being dragged away from the game proved to be talkative, friendly and completely gracious, even in the face of some very personal questions.

 

The redoubtable Mr Scott was even kind enough to agree to not mention Australia’s rather average showing in the recent Ashes series, though he admits that “in the One Day Matches, [England] still have a bit of catching up to do, haven’t we?”

 

Andy Scott second from the right

 

 

I start by asking how many times he has visited Australia

 

A: Uh, yeah, I know we came in the very early seventies. It was ‘73 the first time we came. I know we came about three times in the seventies, but uh, since the band reformed in the mid eighties, I think I must have been to Australia about eight times now.

 

A: Something like that, you know and each time it’s been completely different. I know the first time when we came there Mick Tucker was the drummer, and you know, the band was basically a heavy metal band, we did the bar room circuit, places like Celina’s at Coogee Bay in Sydney and some of these big RSL hall’s and I remember playing both Seagulls and the Twin Towers, I mean, that’s how successful that tour was, in ’85 or ‘86.

 

This brings back some strong memories for me, as that was the first tour I saw Sweet play, as a spotty little 19 year old.

 

A: In fact, the first time we came through, I think our promoter couldn’t believe his luck, cause he immediately ripped up our air tickets and said, if you want you can stay for at least another three or four weeks. And in some other places again, which is exactly what we did.

 

 

There’s no denying this is a testament to the quality of the original band and the plethora of classic songs they gave us. I digress for a while, having discovered while researching this interview that Andy had a serious brush with prostate cancer in early 2010.


A: Yeah I kinda came out of hiding once I knew which way the treatment had gone. I kind of kept it under wraps. Quite honestly, the entertainment world is not known for its forgiving and compassionate nature, so I thought to myself, hmm, right which way do I go? My family obviously knew, the band obviously knew, and people very close to me knew, and we managed to keep it pretty well, you know, hidden. There was a moment, in the early part of last year, my treatment was February - March last year, and I really couldn’t do any gigs. I actually went back on the road in April, and realised this was a bit of a mistake, so I came back off the road until June, and then things... things have kind of settled down a little bit. I think a few people don’t realise the stress of the movement factor on the body and everything, you know, it does interfere with your normality…

 

A: So once I’d got that sorted, I’ve had my first couple of test results back. I’ve realised that what they’ve done, they’ve done a fantastic job, so I, you know I kind of made a statement basically saying, due to the great help [I received] from the place in Bristol, you know the oncology centre there, I seem to have come through this so... this is why I actually came, we came to Australia at the end of 2009 just after I’d been diagnosed, and we played in Adelaide and Melbourne and nobody knew, except for the fact that, I’m sure the lady who was promoting us in Adelaide knew, cause she said, “I’ve noticed you certainly don’t go out in the sun. You take care of what you do, you spend a little bit more time in your hotel room than I would’ve expected ...” and when she heard about it she said it kind of made sense now.

 

A: She said well, if in the end, if you want to continue to do these kind of things, then you have to listen to the people who give you the treatment, and listen to your own body, and now I’m back on the road I know my limitations, but I don’t want to be limited when I get on stage and I perform, so you know, you have to do things slightly differently. So no late night bars for me anymore. (laughs)

 

That’s a shame, of course, to have your lifestyle limited in any way – but I put it to Andy that the main thing is he’s still here.

 

A: That’s right, and you know I still enjoy a beer and a glass of wine, but I really don’t want to be staying up at two o’clock in the morning anymore.

 

With my own father having been diagnosed with the same thing a few years ago, I ask Andy if he pondered his own mortality at all - It’s a very scary thing to be confronted with, after all.

 

A: Well, I have to say to you, it’s the first thing that that they tell you, they say, this could end up being a little bit more mental than physical. You know, if you get to the point where you think, and in some ways you can think yourself either way here, but I always have a fairly positive outlook on stuff, you know I mean, of course that first few days when I was told, it all went a bit hazy and fuzzy, but once you realize that there is treatment out there, and the internet can be a fantastic or a horrible place to look - because, all the worst is there and all the best is there, like sorting out what you want to read.

 

A: And what is actually true, you know, what is the latest in the system here, and once you’ve got it down to that...my partner, Jane, was absolutely fantastic, she researched far more than I did, so when we came to face it, we knew exactly what we were going to be up against, if you know what I mean.

 

Are you on ongoing medication?

 

A: No, most of that has stopped, the only stuff I’m taking now is my own concoction of things like zinc, and vitamin D and, because really you’re not supposed to go out in harsh sunshine, yet it’s that kind of thing, the sun, that will actually help the healing process.

 

A: The radiation from the sun is not really what you want, but you sometimes have to balance it all by, you know, taking the right kind of things that will block and then travelling, because it’s an area of the body which, most men don’t want to talk about or even think about, you’ve got to really work on the idea that, ummm, where is the nearest toilet when you’re at the airport! (laughs) But I’ve always tended to make light of most things, so. I’m not saying it’s a joke, but if you can take the funny sides of life as well as, equally the seriousness of it, then I think lightening the load is certainly a stress buster.

 

I couldn’t agree more, and that’s one of the first things that my Dad and his doctor said when he was diagnosed a few years ago - keep your spirits up, laugh at it... beat it. Positivity is always gonna beat negativity any day

 

A: Exactly.

 

When I mentioned on Facebook the day before the interview that I was going to be speaking with Andy, I had loads and loads of comments from people, all very envious and excited, and the thing that struck me was the messages were from metal heads, death metal fans, hard rockers, AC/DC obsessive’s, pop fans, teenagers, pensioners and everyone in between; what is it about The Sweet’s music that crosses over so much?

 

A: Well there aren’t that many bands who’ve had three or four careers in one. When we first started, I came from an area of music that you would probably consider to be progressive rock now. When I was quite young I was in a band called The Elastic Bands, who’d do gigs in and around London, and the clubs like The Marquee and various other places, and we use to play alongside bands like Yes, and a lot of, kind of progressive rock bands, you know...cause the Marquee was a kind of hot bed of things back then.

 

A: When that band split at the end of the sixties and I moved to London, I got involved with Sweet, Sweet were more or less a pop band looking for some chart success, whereas I’d come from a slightly different angle from that, but having joined Sweet, I realised that the musicianship within was far greater than the couple of records that they had released in the summer of ‘69.

 

A: And I thought, well there’s something to be done here, and plus they were at a point of possibly going under, because they’d had a guitar player who’d left, and none of them, because of the lack of success of the two very, very pop singles that they’d released had made enough of an impact. So, the meeting of Phil Wainman the record producer, and the song writers Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, and me coming into the band, was kind of a big… it’s almost like that, you know when the three lines of the bio-rhythms all meet.

 

A: And that’s really the only way of describing it, so that you’ve now got songs, you’ve got a producer who knows what he’s doing, and you’ve got a band who sound good now; and once that happened, I set about in my head, how can we change this pop music thing, and get into something that’s just a little more serious than that? And of course you can’t do it overnight, but all of us, not being stupid, grabbed success with both hands, as soon as we absolutely could, which is why the first few singles were extremely still pop, probably the kind of thing that when you’re on a summer holiday, you go ‘oh not that again!’

 

A: You know, that kind of a record, so by year two we were making what you would call tongue in cheek, the starting point of ... sort of Glam Rock, where you know songs like, ‘Little Willy’ and ‘Wig Wam Bam,’ all were dressing up. And by year three, we were into you know, the full on stuff that everyone remembers, the ‘Blockbuster’s, the ‘Hell Raiser’s, the ‘Ballroom Blitz’, and ‘Teenage Rampage’, and it was not long after that, where the dressing up had been virtually dropped and we were now wearing mainly leathers and studs and things, which is where the American heavy metal bands in the eighties, took their imagery from.

 

A: So you’ve now gone through pop, glam rock, and you’re now getting into what is probably the commercial side of heavy metal, because the one thing we never wanted to lose, was the fact that you could still chart with a heavy rock song, such as ‘Action’, for example. And then by the end of the seventies we’d moved on yet again with songs like ‘Love is Like Oxygen’ which were being sort of music awards, we won an Ivor Novello award for ‘Love is Like Oxygen’ [a song Andy wrote himself in 1978]. There are very few bands you can sort of look back on and say you know they’ve had a very varied and much changed career. The one that comes to mind is Fleetwood Mac, from the original blues band they were in the sixties to the band that they were in the seventies, with a few new members, they turned themselves from a hardnosed blues band, right the way through to an early American AOR soft rock band, in the eighties; and still just the quality of the band that they come to mind, but they started off as a kind of, one of those pop psychedelic bands in the sixties and turned themselves into a um, a good uh probably one of the best R&B, you know, bands that’s come out of England so, you know, we’re in a small minority here.

 

Andy Scott's Sweet - Andy far left

 

One of the questions I was going to ask was, “What do you think of the supposition that Sweet pretty much invented the late Eighties Hair Metal thing a decade and a half early?” – but Andy has just answered that completely.

 

A: Well, even though he gets it wrong in the book, Nikki Sixx use to ring me up in the early Eighties saying, you know “We [Motley Crue] love your band”. He got my number from somebody, and he’d ring me up at like four, five, six in the morning, you know, just when he’s sort of thinking of going out for the evening, to just get himself in the mood, and he’d say, “Why don’t you come over and produce us?” And he sent me a set of demos that, umm, I kid you not, um, was extremely naive, and it made the New York Dolls sound very good!

 

A: Do you remember that first New York Dolls album?

 

Of course, I reply!

 

A: That by the way, I adored, but it was very um...

 

Basic?

 

A: How can I put it? “Basic” – yeah! And I was kind of saying well, look, I’m into the idea, send me an airline ticket because I thought to myself, you know yeah I’ve heard about people, you know going off on jaunts, but it was at a time when I had a lot of production work in England. But I sometimes look back on that moment now and think …what if I’d gone on that plane to L.A. at that time?

 

I suggest that he could’ve had a whole nother life waiting for him if he had gone, but as it was, Sweet haven’t done too badly staying based in England. The last Sweet album was “Sweet Life”, almost nine years ago – are Andy and the band still writing music or planning another album?

 

early Sweet, Andy kneeling

 

A: Um, yeah. We, how can I put this? The last album was really made with digital equipment in my studio, I mean we had a standalone hard disc system and we had screens everywhere, yet the basis of the album was still recorded on a two inch tape machine, you know, the drums and the guitars and we were using both sides of the technology and I found I hated sitting in front of that screen and in fact I made more mistakes than good, so I was leaving the actual ‘in front of the screen’ stuff to somebody else, and I was never completely and utterly satisfied with the whole thing in the end because I was never sure, that, you see...as a producer and using tape, you can see, you know what’s on the tape.

 

A: With the computer you do not know what’s essentially on each track, you can add things that you may not be aware of, or that you tried and you thought that you’d taken off, but was still there, and it still amazes me now that you can go back in to the computer and listen to something that you did, you know, and you’re not quite sure unless you’ve marked it very, very carefully which mix you’re listening to.

 

A: And going back all those years, see I’m a bit of a dinosaur, when you want to find your mix, everything else got scrapped, because you don’t want twelve tapes of the same title, you know, when someone goes into your cupboard a few years later, which one’s the master? And, and um, I’ve got myself into a mentality here, where because I’ve been playing on the road for so long, nobody shouts for any of the new material.

 

A: Or shall we say there’s a handful of people. So doesn’t that tell you where the careers of bands such as Sweet and Deep Purple, you know, all of these bands, you know what the crowd wants. So where does that leave you with working a new album? I think if we’re going to do anything we might have another gig, if I come up with a new song, we might just record a couple of songs and stick ‘em up on the web, you know? You don’t necessarily have to make it an entire album anymore.

 

A: So you can do this, by filtering in songs as and when you have them. The music business has changed just so much, that it’s almost unrecognisable to me.

 

I’m forced to agree about classic bands playing new songs and mention a recent review of Roxy Music, where the reviewer was saying what a crappy gig it was because they played too many album tracks and not enough singles. In my eyes that’s a terrible attitude, but the fact is that’s what a lot of people want. So where do you balance it as an artist?

 

A: On The Sweet website for example you’ve got maybe fifty or sixty people who go on there so regularly that it’s inundated with them, and of course all they talk about are the obscurities that they like. There’s a very fine line between listening to, or being dragged along by, a small minority, or by sticking to your guns and looking at the two thousand or more people at the shows in front of you who are absolutely gobsmacked at the amount of hits that you play in the one hour ten, one hour and fifteen minutes.

 

A: You know um, while we do intersperse it with the odd album track, you know, for example when we come to Australia we probably won’t be playing the very early stuff, but we’ll be playing everything from ‘Little Willy’ and ‘Wig Wam Bam’ onwards, including a couple of the more interesting album tracks such as ‘Set Me Free’ for example. We will obviously, uh, it’s the only country that we will play this song, [but] we will have to play ‘Peppermint Twist’, I’m afraid!

 

Thanks for the warning…

 

A: Yeah it’s not really one of our songs but it was put on the album because the songwriter /producer, Mike Chapman, it was one of his favourite songs and he said, you’d do a fantastic version of this, so when we revamped it, it did, it sounded like a Sweet song. So it’s great, but there’s a fabulous story here; the first we knew it had been released as a single was when we got a telegram from the head of RCA in Australia, saying congratulations on your number one single!

 

It was a different industry back then wasn’t it?

 

A: It was.

 

Andy Scott's Sweet - Andy far left again

 

Next up I want to know, of the countless cover versions of Sweet songs, what is Andy’s favourite?

 

A: I’ve been asked this. I was very lucky I got to know Def Leppard in the very early days because the engineer that I was working with in the studio was also the engineer on the first two or three Def Leppard Albums. We were recording at the same [studio], at what was Ringo Starr’s house, in Surrey in England. I had to actually leave my equipment there and Def Leppard had no equipment, so that when they were recording their first couple of albums, they used to use my guitar gear to get the guitar sounds, and I think on the first Def Leppard album there’s a big thank you to Andy Scott for his equipment, you know. [Not on my Australian copies of the first two albums – possibly on the English releases?] So I have to say that their version of ‘Action’ was pretty damn good - it was different, but still very good. There’s been quite a few versions of ‘Fox on the Run’, and various others, I think even the Scorpions did it, you know. You have The Hunters in Germany.

 

And practically every Hair Metal band did ‘Ballroom Blitz’ at one stage or another.

 

A: One of the funniest versions of a Sweet song was by a guy called John Otway, I don’t know if you remember him? Well, he did a version of ‘Blockbuster’, where he talks it... almost like a rap version. It’s hilarious and he does this thing where he, he’s making the audience, it’s almost like he’s reading a children’s book at one point, “You better beware!” [In a hushed narrator voice]

 

‘Blockbuster’ panto - it’s behind you! It’s behind you!

 

A: Exactly.

 

Going back to researching this interview and reading through all of Andy’s bio’s online; I was overwhelmed by the myriad of experiences in a life successfully playing rock n’ roll - he must have met practically everyone who was anyone in the rock world from the late sixties through to the nineties and beyond. Does he have plans to write a full autobiography and dish the dirt up?

 

A: Um, I don’t see that. It’s not that I’m [sighs]… I am fairly lazy, and I think the kind of book that somebody would probably want to be written is exactly what you’ve said, Let’s get it down to the nasty, gritty, you know see some of the horrible side of where it’s all come from, because we live in a world were nothing is kept secret. Now I come from an era where, you know what is it they say about rugby teams? “Whatever happens on tour stays on tour.”

 

I agree whole heartedly with Andy – I’m in my mid forties, and the whole ‘everything is You Tubed’ concept is a complete head fuck for me as well.

 

A: Well that’s it, honestly mate, I hate You Tube, and I usually say so when I’m on stage you know, when I think it’s relevant. I usually say millions of videos on You Tube, but ninety nine percent of them are rubbish. You know, because anyone who’s now got a half decent camera, can record a song from a gig and post it on bloody You Tube, [but] the sound would be horrible, they’re from a distance of half a mile, what use is that in any way, shape or form?

 

A: Okay I understand why You Tube is used by people in the advertising world or in a way that you may want to promote your band. In other words, you haven’t signed a record deal, you haven’t done this but you’ve got a very good homemade video of your band, so you stick it on You Tube and you don’t know where that’s going to take you. Such as I think that’s what happened with that band, was it called ‘Let’s Go’? They made a video that was filmed by somebody’s sister, and all of a sudden they’ve got themselves a hit on their hands. You know, that’s...you know fair go, that’s fantastic, but I’m afraid everybody thinks they’re bleedin’ Spielberg and there’s been nobody until well, until the last year or two, there’s nobody belly aching about copyright and things, and you know when people set these websites up there must be something in it otherwise you wouldn’t do it would you? They must be earning money somewhere

 

Once again I agree with Andy, and liken it to the blogging phenomenon. I heard recently there were two hundred million blogs on the internet…


Late 70s Sweet, Andy 2nd from the right


A: Yeah.


…and ninety nine percent of that’s GOTTA be a whole lot of rubbish, absolutely.

 

A: Not everybody can be as erudite or as clever with words as the people who do it professionally, and I think, you know, you’re absolutely right probably some of it is done, more as a fact that they can rather than they should.

 

Of all these amazng people Andy has met over 4 decades in the business, I ask who did he find the most inspiring

 

A: You see, I’ve been quite lucky to sit and chat [with many of my heroes], and they say you shouldn’t meet your heroes you know? Probably my biggest hero, Jeff Beck; I still haven’t done that, I’ve seen him play, but I’ve never been in the fortunate position to sit there and have a chat to him. I WAS in a band in the sixties that supported Jimi Hendrix - and of course, I was too young! I mean, I was seventeen, [too young] to even appreciate where this was going.

 

A: But the devastating affect that he had on that particular band’s career and momentum was, that the singer and I immediately set about saying that we didn’t want to be in this band that was like a seven piece skiffle band, after seeing Hendrix we thought well there’s definitely a future and this is the band that morphed into the Elastic Band, and became a much more heavy rock progressive band.

 

A: But I would say certainly seeing Hendrix in 1967 happened to have a big effect, just the same as seeing Cream soon afterwards had the same effect.

 

There’s no denying that they both would have been a huge experience in such musically and socially changing times. What can live audiences expect from The Sweet? You mentioned that back in the eighties with Mick Tucker on drums it was basically almost a metal sound. What sort of a sound have your band got nowadays?

 

A: I was fortunate to be party to a conversation with Paul McCartney when he was asked how he finds performing, because he was just starting to play some Beatles songs again - I was very friendly with someone who worked with Paul and he basically said, if you’re gonna perform Beatles songs, and it’s only something that I’ve come up with and that I’ve spotted from the way the audience react; if you don’t play the intro to the song the same way they remember it, they’re sometimes bemused, in other words extended intros and making the song come from a different angle. They want to hear the Beatles songs as they were recorded. And I suddenly, it was like a light coming on in my head. This was about ten or twelve years ago, and I set about getting the band to perform, and it was a time when the band had changed from a five piece to a four piece, where the singer was now the bass player. Which was a bit of a radical change, but I always said that the bass player, had to now be the singer which is the way it was at the end of the seventies so that’s what we did.

 

A: But going back to the McCartney thing, he said, you play the songs the way the people remember them, and that’s what we’ve been doing for the last twelve years we’ve been absolutely trying to nail the songs as they are recorded, so they start and finish and they are sung exactly, to the best of our ability, to the way that they were recorded. And there’s no deviation from that template and ever since we’ve been doing that it’s been nothing but going up the escalator rather than coming down it you know?

 

I went on to ask Andy if The Sweet‘s back catalogue was available on CD - one friend popped up this morning and gave me a call and said that he couldn’t find them, especially the latter albums that the band wrote themselves and the Sweet FA albums.


A: Right, um, I guess there would be a place on the Sweet website on the forum somewhere where somebody would have copies and I definitely know that if you put an enquiry up on the Sweet message board that there’ll definitely be people there who could help him. What we’ve done is; we’ve kind of created a kind of merchandise thing. I did a series of re-records about fifteen years ago and then did a new series of re-records about ten years ago - they sound exactly like the original recordings, and they’ve been used in TV adverts and everything around so, you have to be careful as to whether you want the absolute originals or whether you want my versions because it’s very difficult to tell the difference.

 

A: However, A Sweet Life I’m really not sure now whether there are any copies left, and you know what this business is like, once the CD’s that have been produced... I think they’re available, It’s just coming to me they are available online for downloads. Yeah. Maybe not everything’s on iTunes but there are other sites that, I guess if you put in Sweet Life, the Sweet, download, you might be taken to one of these sites.

 

Even with such a hugely influential and amazing back catalogue as Andy has, I still want to know what is one piece of music that he wishes he could’ve had a hand in creating?

 

A: (laughs) Um, somebody asked me this question when Gerry Rafferty died, and they, because they knew that Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’ won the big Ivor Novello award the same year that I won one. This was the best song lyrically and musically, and I’m afraid I have to say that to have had a hand in writing and producing that as well.

 

Surely the best sax solo in a rock song ever, I think!

 

A: Yeah, and do you know it was meant to be a guitar solo? Yeah, but the guitarist didn’t arrive and there was a sax player sitting around in the studio, and they said, do you want to have a go? And he got paid, I would’ve said considering how big it was, quite reasonably…

 

As always, we finish our interviews asking what, for Andy Scott, is the meaning of life?

 

A: 42!

 

And on that Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy reference, I apologise for keeping Andy Scott from the cricket telecast for so long.

 

A: That’s alright - Thanks, yeah I’ll go back to the cricket now.

 

And so it was back to the cricket for the gracious Andy Scott – and a 6 wicket win for England.


Shane Pinnegar
Transcribed by Lana Oldham