Sweet blitz Islington in a blockbuster performance

Sweet blitz Islington in a blockbuster performance crowd pleasing band timeless music for all ages catch Sweet when they are in town.

Sweet (& Matt Pearce) – Islington Assembly Hall, Sunday 28th November 2021

Opening the evening with much grumbling to be heard that the support band “Limehouse Lizzy” had dropped out.  Into the breach came Matt Pearce on solo acoustic, accompanied by the backing singer from his band the “Mutiny”. The scene wasn’t set for an acoustic performance but he did a decent job, throwing in some covers to keep the crowd sweet (pun intended).  No Lizzy, but a manful version of the Stones’ “Miss You” and a stirring cover of Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away”.  

Sweet blitz Islington in a blockbuster performance
photo copyright Simon Green

I remembered that there had been a really positive buzz about the band’s previous UK tour a couple of year’s back, which I hadn’t caught. This provided all the reassurance needed that this wasn’t going to be some half-baked cash in, which might have spoilt many happy memories of watching the band on Top of the Pops in their pomp back in the 70s when they seemed to be on every week.  Queueing up outside the venue in the cold North London air it was obvious that most of the large crowd were of a vintage to have had similar memories. Sweet have been a bit of an enigma in some ways; in straddling the teenage pop market as well as having heavier rock credentials they defied easy categorization. In the past, there have been several versions of the band touring at the same time, which doesn’t normally bode well.  Now, following the death of original bassist Steve Priest in 2020, Andy Scott is the last man standing of the classic lineup and can rightly claim sole right to the band’s name. He has collected together a proper band of talented musicians with their own personalities that, not only recreate the sounds of yesteryear but add some real crunch and power to what is a priceless catalogue of songs.

Sweet blitz Islington in a blockbuster performance
photo copyright Simon Green

The guitarist propelled these songs on the night with his forceful and precise power chords and riffing, accompanied on the second guitar and occasionally keyboards by a young buck, Tom Cory, on loan from the Novatines.  The other distinctive aspect of the band is their combined high-pitched harmonies, which are pretty unique, and which most acts couldn’t get anywhere near.  Frontman Paul Manzi has the required control on those high-altitude vocals, as well as the necessary stage presence to direct the band’s energy and engage with the crowd, as he did for the introduction to “Teenage Rampage” where he got the enthusiastic crowd to recreate the chant from their youth of “we want Sweet, we want Sweet etc”, which was cheerfully taken up.

Sweet blitz Islington in a blockbuster performance
photo copyright Simon Green

This was a brilliant rendition and was followed immediately by two of their earlier hits, “Wig-Wam-Bam” and “Little Willy”, which are less heavyweight than some of their other songs (to say the least) but, played live, took on a whole new dimension.  It’s a winning combination: classic pop songs with massive choruses, allied to powerful rock.  It’s where a lot of bands fall down; they may rock out with total energy but the absence of any decent songs effectively renders them impotent. Sweet does not have this problem.  As well as playing the old hits they also played a selection of newer material, which, while obviously less memorable than the oldies, were very listenable. 

The recent single “Set Me Free”, in particular, sounded like a classic Sweet number.  The memorable intro’ to “Ballroom Blitz” was adapted to the occasion with Manzi enquiring “are you ready Lee (addressed to Lee Small on bass)?”, “Andy?”, “London?”, a huge roar, at which point the venerable guitarist kicked in with the well-known riff. Magical!  Talking of magic,  Andy Scott caught the eye stage left with his snow-white long hair and severe fringe, which gave him the appearance of a minor wizard, perhaps one of Gandalf’s guitar playing mates.  I was convinced that this impressive mane had to be a wig, but a colleague in the pit assured me that it was the real McCoy.

Half the original band died tragically young and watching documentaries recently about singer Brian Connolly was a sad reminder of how many musicians become casualties of the rock’n’roll lifestyle once they achieve a certain level of fame. Thankfully, Andy Scott at the age of 72, while not exactly doing backflips on stage, looks likely to carry on the Sweet legacy for some time to come.  They played all the faves, “The Six Teens”, “Love is like Oxygen” (an extended version, which segued into and out of a version of ELP’s take on “Fanfare for the Common Man”, which was a lot of fun), “Fox on The Run” (a personal favourite) and more.  Come encore time, of course, the auditorium resounded to the sound of an air raid siren as the band came back out and slayed the audience with a terrific version of “Blockbuster”. 

Sweet blitz Islington in a blockbuster performance
photo copyright Simon Green

On the night, only one band’s performance really mattered and they completely blew the audience away.  Sweet are a band that are definitely worth catching when they come to your town. Timeless music for all ages.

Sweet blitz Islington in a blockbuster performance
photo copyright Simon Green

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