With the threat of more restrictions hanging over the live entertainment industry, now is surely the perfect time to catch Sweet in concert? As flashing a vaccine passport at a bouncer gets to be the norm, it’s understandable to ask if things will ever get back to normal again; but that’s a debate for another time. It’s Friday night, the party season is in full swing (cheese and wine, secret Santa, anyone?), Sweet are in town and bringing with them arguably the finest good time guaranteed Rock & Roll jukebox around.
Thin Lizzy tribute act Limehouse Lizzy were forced to drop out due to illness, and for this last run of dates on the lengthy ‘Hellraiser’ tour, critically acclaimed guitarist Troy Redfern answered the call and packed up a few of his impressive resonator guitars and jumped in the van. Last seen with his band opening for The Quireboys, this time around Troy is flying solo, as he did on the recent tour from Robert Jon & The Wreck, and although he doesn’t have his kick-drum with him, he still makes a glorious noise. Latest album ‘The Fire Cosmic’ provides the bulk of the short set and it’s fascinating to hear the material the way that it was probably birthed; stripped back and raw. ‘Waiting For Your Love’ is still the highlight of live sets by both the full band and Troy solo, and it’s a joy to watch Troy’s hands flying up and down the neck of his guitar as he introduces what is mostly an audience unfamiliar with him to ‘The Fire Cosmic’. There is one young gig-goer on the barrier who is paying close attention to Redfern’s guitar work. His eyes sparkle as the dude in the cowboy hat makes each guitar lick look effortless, and it’s plain to see (deliberate, trust me) that he is making mental notes and learning with each flick of the wrist. Perhaps sensing that the audience is here to party, Redfern throws in a throaty rendition of the T.Rex classic ‘20th Century Boy’ (now it all makes sense, eh?) to end his set, and even coaxes some audience participation out of those curious enough to have left the bar to see what’s going on. 2022 is shaping up to be a busy year for Troy Redfern, check out all his planned live dates – here.
Taking to the stage with what else but ‘Action’ as the set-opener (still the best set-opener, ever), Andy Scott and company are playing to a crowd that has swelled in size quite considerably since the interval, and the standing area in front of the stage is jam-packed. With this particular venue starting life back in the 1800s as a chapel, the seating areas downstairs and in the balcony consist of wooden pews, uncomfortable on the arse, but then again this is a Sweet gig so no point in sitting down is there? Sound-wise, the acoustics are perfect, which means that wherever you are in the hall, those famous trademark vocal harmonies are coming at you loud and crystal clear. And what glorious harmonies they are; whenever they kick in, I swear, you could hear angels crying tears of joy.
A show by Sweet is often in a similar vein to an Alice Cooper show. There are the bonafide classics that original member and guitarist Andy Scott knows that if he dropped them from the set then there would be hell to pay. Sweet omitting bangers like ‘Hellraiser’, ‘Teenage Rampage’, ‘Fox On The Run’, ‘Ballroom Blitz’ – Christ, the list is endless – is inconceivable, but Scott is savvy and – like Alice Cooper – knows that there will be long time fans in the audience who won’t have missed many shows over the years, and he throws them a bone or two in the shape of a few deep cuts. ‘The Six Teens’ is well known amongst the Sweet faithful but perhaps not so familiar to the casual listener that might only know the band for the big hits, probably THE most underrated Sweet track, it is genuinely a spinetingling moment hearing it live, especially when those often-imitated-but-never-bettered harmonies kick in. The hard-rocking ‘Set Me Free’ recently received a fresh coat of paint on the latest album ‘Isolation Boulevard’ and live in the flesh it is ramped up to the max with some fantastic soloing from Andy Scott who – despite playing with an injury – still has some serious chops. Not familiar with the heavier aspect of the Sweet sound? Crank up ‘Set Me Free’ and let it rip as vocalist Paul Manzi delivers a vocal performance that can be described as Gillan-Esque. Another track that has benefited from a fresh injection by the current lineup is ‘Everything’, and shout it from the clifftops…this version is one of the best melodic rock moments of the last year. When Manzi, Scott, and bassist/vocalist Lee Small lock into those harmonies if your neck hairs don’t stand on end then check your pulse.
Alongside Manzi, Scott, and Small, there is drummer extraordinaire Bruce Bisland, who although born in Bangladesh, tonight is a semi-local gig for him, and multi-instrumentalist Tom Cory who anyone who caught the last Sweet tour might recognise Tom from the opening act The Novatines. Although the material comes from past decades; this is not simply a nostalgia band putting a false smile on and going through the motions in order to get one last paycheck. This is a band still enjoying playing together (Bisland and Scott have been playing together for 30 years now), and more importantly, this is a band still capable of giving many younger bands a run for their money. Watching Andy Scott roll back the years as he peels off one incredible solo after another is pretty damn special, his playing is at times jaw-dropping, and when Manzi leaves the stage for the others to kick into a jam during a cover of ‘Fanfare For The Common Man’, it’s a joy to watch just how in tune with each other the band are.
The last thirty minutes or so of the set is essentially what legends are made of, take a deep breath and dive headfirst into: ‘Teenage Rampage’, ‘Wig Wam Bam’/ ‘Little Willy’, ‘Love Is Like Oxygen’, ‘Fox On The Run’ (still the greatest song ever used on a Marvel soundtrack), ‘Blockbuster’, and ending on what else but ‘Ballroom Blitz’. Feet are stamping, hands are clapping, fists are thrown in the air, and voices are raised in unison as Sweet proves yet again that class is permanent. One of those shows where you wish it was being recorded for other, younger bands to study and make copious amounts of notes on how to make it a night to remember for the audience.
The ‘Hellraiser’ tour continues on December 17th in Cardiff, with further dates in Manchester and Nottingham before the tour ends in Bury St. Edmunds on December 20th, ticketing information here. Bring your dancing shoes though, you are going to need them.
Review – Dave S
Images – Dave Jamieson