‘Tis the season to be jolly …. or so they tell us (whoever “they” are). The problem with winter is that not everything is all Christmas and fun. These VERY long nights and miserable days can have quite an impact on some of us – especially me, as I am clearly SAD (a sufferer of Seasonal Affected Disorder). Various treatments exist, including light therapy but I always thought the only real cure would be to bog off to the Southern hemisphere for half the year (or hibernate) – sounds fantastic but not wholly realistic right now. Anyway, last Saturday saw me travelling over to Southport to see the latest stop on this year’s tour by two of the biggest bands of the 1970s – could this trip back in time provide some respite to my blues? For those of you who remember this time last year, I have already experienced the glamtastic delights (for that is what they were) of the 2013 incarnations (it’s not just Dr Who that can regenerate and get better with age) and, given that Sweet were wholly responsible for my ongoing love affair with rock and roll and the guitar, spotting them being close by meant I just had to go and check that my 5 Star review last year had been justified.
Southport has always been, for me, the more genteel, upmarket cousin of Blackpool and early Saturday evening in the town seemed to cement that reputation – it was very quiet. However, after a rather lovely tapas banquet at the nearby Finos (if you’re in Southport you must try them) Mrs W and I wandered into the lovely modern foyer of the Southport Theatre which is so much more modern than during my previous visit, to my first ever concert – The Shadows (the support act was magician, Wayne Dobson – the joys of variety, eh?). At this point we collected my photo pass and the anxiety rushed back – I was the ONLY official photographer for the evening. Oh ‘eck! However, this was no time to panic, the house lights dimmed and on came Sweet. Opening up with “New York Groove” from their current “New York Connection” covers album (reviewed by me last year http://www.rock-zone.co.uk/2012/07/20/the-sweet-new-york-connection/ ), for the next hour they hit us with all the big hits and more. Always a band who were more hard rocking than many remember, 40 years (GULP!) later they still rock hard and heavy. Pete Lincoln takes centre stage as lead vocalist and fills the boots left by the late Brian Connolly with aplomb. He doesn’t try to imitate, but the entire band produce a sound that is exactly as I would imagine the 70s Sweet would sound if they were still as they were. Andy Scott introduces “Love is Like Oxygen” by dedicating it to both Brian and his other, late partner in crime Mick Tucker. Adding a blast of “Fanfare for the Common Man” in the middle this is still probably the finest Sweet song of the lot …. but then again what about the rest of the greats. I can’t decide as I love the lot, however I really love the way they cover off the “bubblegum pop” early hits by popping them in a medley. The main thing for me with Sweet was always the vocal harmonies and this lineup really can match the best on that count – in addition to Pete the other three also play their parts perfectly and all of them are present for more than just one job – Tony O’Hora is a wonderful singer (he was, after all, lead singer before Mr Lincoln) but combines that with playing second guitar (not just rhythm as he adds harmony lead too!) and keyboards. Not to forget long standing drummer, Bruce Bisland – he is quite clearly mad as a box of frogs … but is another bloke clearly loving everything that they do. Other set highlights included “Action”, their rather special version of “You Spin Me ‘Round” (yeah, that one!) plus of course Hellraiser, Teenage Rampage, Blockbuster and the rest. The infectious smiles and happiness filled the auditorium quickly and, just like in their 70s hey day, the crowd were on their feet – singing, dancing and grinning as if tonight was the best of their lives.
A quick interval (where the long line of fans waiting to meet and greet Sweet and were rewarded with autographs and photos) was followed by Slade. I’ll be honest, in case you haven’t guessed I was always a much bigger Sweet fan but even I can’t escape the fact that Slade were also MASSIVE. Rattling through all their hits from the early days through to my 80s favourite “Run Run Away”, the next hour and a bit saw the 2013 Slade rock Southport. Originals Dave Hill (and his “Superyob” guitar) and Don Powell are joined by Mal McNulty (previously in Sweet … it’s a small world innit?) on lead vocals and John Berry on bass and, for me, I think tonight was a greater performance than the one I saw last year. John took centre stage to sing two numbers and really makes his place his own. Dave is still, erm, “slightly” bonkers – the thumbs aloft, leg kicking, backwards marching had always distracted me from his talent as guitarist and song writer and tonight’s set changed that whilst still being totally joyful. Unlike Sweet, Slade stuck with the old faithfuls (perhaps they could also consider some new releases?) and the crowd were most definitely on their side. Proudly mentioning the fact that Slade are for life not just for Christmas (back in the charts because of a TV advert) the current hit “Everyday” crosses the timeline from the 70s to now. Singing along from the first song to the last, this was another hour and a bit that flashed past. Suddenly the band were gone and …. er, hang on chaps – you appear to have missed a song out. Not to worry, Dave Hill has a glitter encrusted …. Santa hat on! A roadie hands over some festive headgear to the others and…. here it is “Merry Christmas ….” (do you see what I did there?). Then they were gone and that was it – show over for another year.
From the first bars of the Sweet set right up to the final sleigh bells from Slade, for two and a half hours the Southport crowd all seemed to travel through time. If you looked around the theatre as we sang, smiled and partied you could swear that every last one of us looked younger and younger with every passing song. Of course I think Sweet were the best but this time around, after nearly 40 years I’ve really started to “get” Slade. As for the “winter blues” ….. I left Southport suffering from SAD – Sweet (and Slade) Affected Delight! Never mind light therapy, we all need more nights with these two bands (I could happily go every night!) – their version of time travel really works wonders for me!
Keep a close eye on the Christmas charts…. Slade will be heard everywhere but Sweet are also looking to get back in to the charts with their new single “Let It Snow” …. for more information check out their website (www.thesweet.com or through their Facebook page).
Thanks to Judy Totton and Tony O’Hora for sorting out the night for us.
Photography by DW Music Photography