‘SWEET BLITZ UNITY HALL...!’
Sweet & The Steve Lynton Band
Live at the Wakefield ‘Unity Hall’
11th March 1981
Love Is Like Oxygen. You get too much it makes you high. Get too little you wanna die. A lyric as perfectly shaped as a haiku. Playing around inside my head. The stage blackness strangely focuses the mind, ghosted by spectral roadies fenced in by barriers of paint-peeling amps and curly-wire flex-connections. Sweet are due to emerge from that blackness, that cross-stage chiaroscuro of shadows, that murkily infested zone of half-shapes and furtive imaginings. Sweet, even their sugar-rush name tastes crazy after all these years. Seems like an eternity of nothingness has elapsed since that name was on high-rotation radio, on people’s lips, in the press. An imageless void haunted by squirming rumours, laid over somewhat battered memories of the Chinn+Chapman seventies, Glitter-Pop posturing and the intense immolation of tacky stardom. Should I even be here? How can they possibly measure up? Now, in the hard cold relentless striplight glare of the eighties, washed up in the outer reaches of Yorkshire on the revamp-circuit that so recently infused a degree of credibility into those other walking wounded’s – Slade and Gary Glitter.
W-H-A-A-A-M!!! A sudden light-deluge synched exactly to smoke-bomb ignition and a wall of “Ballroom Blitz” volume that simultaneously rapes eardrum and eyeball. As tight a theatricality, as brash a sense of attack, and as forcefully aggressive a presence as anything this side of ‘Hill Street Blues’. It momentarily dismantles your lurking doubts brick-by-brick, assails and lays waste to your critical logics and critiques in a breathlessly euphoric assault of pure ‘Sound & Vision’. Sure the teen fan-mag back-issues flicker like an insistent strobe in the cobwebbed inner recesses of your head throughout the set, but that’s an additive, and by no means the only commodity on offer. Check the faces. ‘Are you ready, Steve? Aha. Andy? Yeah! Mick? OK. Alright, fellas, let's go!’ Andy Scott on guitar. Steve Priest on bass, with no flirty make-up. No Brian Connolly either (‘you better beware if you got long blonde hair’). Brian quit around May 1979 when his life-style issues turned bad. And in truth, they need his Pop edge. But there’s still Mick Tucker on daunting double-Ludwig drum-kit, monolithically high and chrome-gleaming, demanding seven mikes and a full four-kilowatt p.a. of its own. Plus Gary Moberley co-opted for keyboard chores and spiralling synths (lead-in to “Fox On The Run”), and second-guitarist Ray McRiner. They’re tight and fast. Scott and Priest trading a mike for lead vocals, and then the full three-piece front-line zoning in on exact harmonies, with little loss of momentum as they blend the new with an uneven hotchpotch of the old.
These guys – or at least a fair percentage of them, formed the blueprint for the first five-year plan of the previous decade, through which controlling-svengalis Mike Chapman & Nicky Chinn designed their aural cash register. For the first half of the seventies the writing-production duo formed what Howard & Blaikley had been for the sixties (Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, the Honeycombs and The Herd), and what Stock Aitken Waterman would be for the eighties, and they used the untested Sweet as a dry-run for their emerging Pop empire (Suzy Quatro, Mud, Smokie, Racey). Shunting backwards into the charts as early as March 1971 with a flimsy lightweight “Funny Funny” and other awkward bubblepop prototypes designed to test the water. Who now remembers “Alexander Graham Bell”? Then a solid grounding in nudge-nudge novelty hits – “Little Willy” and “Wigwam Bam”. How dare they, how very dare they? You want funny clothes? puerile pubescent double-entendré? lurid drag? you got them with a vengeance. Until the squeaky-clean hit machine up-gears into overdrive with the power-Pop Glam of “Blockbuster”, opening with a siren-wail that gets it restricted-airtime on Radio 1’s Tony Blackburn or Dave Lee Travis shows due to its habit of setting off panic-alerts when played over factory pa’s. Followed into the Top Three by full-on “Hellraiser”, “Ballroom Blitz” and “Teenage Rampage”, their percussive aggression modelled on the Who, their appeal tempered by Brian’s prettiness. If David Bowie made androgyny dangerously subversive, Sweet on ‘Top Of The Pops’ gave it Pantomime camp with vamping sequins and fluttering eyelashes. The ‘Pure Pop For Then-People’ didn’t stop until ChinniChap quit for America with visions of dollar signs, with Knack and Blondie adhered to their retina. By which time Sweet had outgrown their limitations anyway and were striving to write and produce their own sides, seeking credibility. Come the Punk freeze-out of 1976, England forgot, and Sweet were also exiled to tread exclusively on American stage-boards where audiences knew little about the band and didn’t prejudge them on their baby-steps hits. Sweet were rewarded by three massive highly-regarded American hits, “Fox On The Run”, “Action” (‘I was suicidal ‘cos you was my idol’) – which would later be reactivated by Def Leppard, and the aforementioned “Love Is Like Oxygen” which arrived with a complete Prog-Rock extended twelve-inch version. Such late-career vindication must have been very… er, sweet.
Here and now they attract a curious motley of tribal identities drawn from those who first hit adolescence when “Co-Co” first hit ‘Top Of The Pops’. Plus those confused and cut adrift by post-Punk Industrial-bleakness, alienated by the self-idolatry of New Romance, and abandoned by the Pop-wise ‘U’-turns of Antmusic (‘even when you’re mindless / and your braincell count is low / Antmusic gives illusions / that you got some place to go’). They watch bemused as support act – the Steve Lynton Band, go through sub-Hendrix guitar visuals, but find real comfort in the clean harmonies and clean nostalgia of Sweet, remembrance of times when choices and allegiances were simpler. But Sweet have cut the camp and the rabble-rousing, they’re now more ‘Level Headed’. Musically they’re better than either Glitter or Slade. The sound-mix is contemporary with a bass-heavy foundation, Tucker’s percussive arsenal achieving more aural GBH than any other two drummers on raised drum podiums I can think of. They trade on their past, sure, they’d be daft to do otherwise, but they’re not drowned by it. Whether their audience is as equally able to grow is another matter entirely. But to anyone still tuned to the glorious absurdity of Rock, how sweet it would be!
Sweet performed their last live show soon after this appearance in Wakefield, at Glasgow University on 20 March 1981, before breaking up. There would be subsequent partial re-unions with different line-ups, but this was essentially the end of the original Sweet story-arc.