Ipswich: Regent rocks to the sound of Slade and Sweet
They were two of the 70s’ biggest glam rock acts, clocking up 36 hits between them during that decade alone. Now they’ve joined forces for a UK tour. MARTIN HUTCHINSON chats to Slade’s Dave Hill while entertainment writer WAYNE SAVAGE catches up with Sweet’s Andy Scott.
FORTY years may’ve passed, but audiences still can’t enough of Slade and Sweet’s happy, energetic rock.
Both had their origins in the 60s and both charted for the first time in 1971.
Sweet topped the chart with Blockbuster and had five other songs hit the number two spot, including Co Co, Hell Raiser and Ballroom Blitz.
Guitarist Andy Scott is the only original member still in the line-up and handling the lead vocals these days is Andrew Lincoln, who until a couple of years ago was fronting another 70s band – Sailor.
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The man he replaced in Sweet, Malcolm McNulty, now sings lead vocals for Slade and they can boast two original members in flamboyant guitarist Dave Hill and drummer Don Powell.
Bassist John Berry, formerly with Les Gray’s Mud and Les McKeown’s Bay City Rollers, completes the line-up.
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Dave, who still lives a stone’s-throw from the council house in Wolverhampton where he grew up, has only praise for his new band-mates.
“John fits in really well and also plays violin, which is useful as we need a violin in Cos I Luv You. Malcolm is a really good guy.
“He’s originally from Liverpool and has a really strong voice; not dissimilar to Nod,” he says, referring to original singer Noddy Holder.
Slade’s hit-making career included no less than six chart-toppers including Cum On Feel the Noize, Skweeze Me Pleeze Me and the perennial festive favourite Merry Xmas Everybody.
Christmas isn’t Christmas until you’ve heard it.
Some of their hits entered the charts straight at number one, a feat unheard of since The Beatles and achieved when going straight in at the top actually meant something.
Dave tells me Slade have worked with Sweet many times.
“We play a lot of festivals together on the continent – we’re both very big still in Germany and often play in front of crowds of 20,000.”
He is disappointed the same crowds aren’t generated in the UK.
“Promoters won’t take a risk really. Over in Germany for instance, it’s like when we were having the hits. The festivals are just non-stop fun.”
“It wouldn’t happen here, people are too fashion-conscious about music; over in Europe we get whole families coming to the shows.”
Dave was known for his outrageous costumes and it was said that one day in the Top of the Pops dressing room he wouldn’t let anyone see what he was wearing for the show.
He went into the toilet to change and when he came out the rest of the band fell about laughing at what he was wearing.
Dave let them laugh and just said simply to Noddy and Jim Lea “you write ‘em and I’ll sell ‘em”.
Was this true?
“Absolutely,” he says. “No one saw what I wore until we were ready to go on.”
Dave and Don have been in bands together since 1964 and he has no thoughts of stopping; he still enjoys performing.
“Immensely, in fact you’ll realise that when you see us. I’m happy to be doing something I love and that gives so much pleasure to so many.
“I plan things better now and am more relaxed. A few years ago I had a stroke on stage but I’m fully recovered. At 66 I’m not out to prove anything. I enjoy the challenge of each show being different.”
Speaking of the show, can we expect a hit-fest?
“Oh yes, I don’t think anybody will be short-changed with regards to songs they know. All the number ones and probably the twos and threes, but I might drop in a couple of surprises,” he laughs.
“Sweet will start the show, then we’ll come on and we’ll finish with Merry Xmas Everybody. Nobody can follow that,” he says with a hint of pride in his Warwickshire tones.
As for the future, Dave is upbeat.
“Next year we’re hoping to do a new album of new songs, re-recorded hits and some strong covers. I enjoy gardening and doing my own music and retirement? I can’t even spell the word. I’m the Bruce Forsyth of rock”.
This is the first time both bands have played together on any kind of UK tour says Andy, who hopes fans are looking forward to it as much as he is.
“We do a fair bit in Europe so we know each other quite well and it’s a good line-up, putting probably two of the most iconic bands from the era together. So from that point of view I’m looking forward to it,” says the Sweet guitarist, just back from Germany and nursing an uncharacteristically runny nose.
“It’s a really good show because both bands are quite visual. [There’ll be] more emphasis on the rock side of the music rather than the cheesy pop end. Obviously you’ll still get all the hits.”
No stranger to theatre tours like this, it’s their first for three or four years.
“We don’t play that often in the UK; it’s something we do try to redress so a tour is probably the one thing a lot of fans have been waiting for so let’s hope they show up in their droves.
“I don’t remember the band coming to Ipswich before in recent times, so I’m hoping from the point of view of audience reaction it should be one of the best on the tour so please come and make it so.”
“Well, I would have to be wouldn’t I,” says Andy when I bring up the fact he’s the longest-serving member of the band.
“I’ve got a drummer, Bruce [Bisland], who’s been with me for 20 years so you can’t exactly say he’s a newcomer either. Pete [Lincoln] the singer has been with us now six or seven years and Tony [O’Hora] has been back in the band for two years.
“He was with the band in the late 90s through to when Pete joined in 2005 so he’s now back in the band as one of the backing singers and the second guitar and keyboard so we have an incredible vocal line up now.”
What I really want to know is whether both bands will perform together.
Turns out there aren’t plans to; hopefully I’ve planted a seed. Although if both bands are staying in Ipswich rather than hopping on the tour bus straight after their set Sweet may stick around says Andy.
“It is a Christmas tour… basically Slade have probably the most iconic UK number 1 Christmas hit ever.”
Slade and Sweet will be bringing their show to the Ipswich Regent Theatre on Sunday, December 2 and remember... it’s Christmaaaaaaaaaaaaaasssssssssssss!!!