Andy Connell of Swing Out Sister is downright giddy. It’s the British pop duo’s first American tour, and everywhere they look there’s a new musical landmark to see.
“Last night, we were in Detroit,” the Manchester, England-born keyboardist said during a recent stop in Cleveland, promoting their Mercury album, “The Living Return.”
“Here we were in the home of Motown, and we’re listening to the radio on the way to the gig and it’s playing Smokey Robinson. It’s like, ‘We’re in Motown!’ I can’t believe it.
“This is always what we wanted. Our ambition was always to play in America, because we grew up listening to American music.”
Connell and singer Corinne Drewery are getting their fill their first time out. The crowds have been sizeable and enthusiastic, Connell said, a stark contrast to minimal radio airplay for the single “La La La (Means I Love You)” and slow sales for the album.
“We’ve never known what our audience has been (in America), and neither has our record company,” Connell said. “We don’t know who to target. With someone like Bon Jovi, you know who your listeners are. With us, it’s completely confusing. It crosses all boundaries, genders and cultures, and that’s good, as far as I’m concerned.”
Swing Out Sister began as a jazz-pop trio in 1986, with Martin Jackson (who left in ’90). Connell fondly recounts the band’s formation.
“Martin had a drum machine,” he said. “We were both sick of doing gigs, so we just played around with songs in the studio. We had a manager, who really wasn’t a very good manager, but he told us, ‘No one’s ever gonna release this. You need a singer.’
“We went to London and our manager let us sleep on his floor in sleeping bags. Corinne had a room in the same house. We were auditioning all these singers and we were like, ‘No, no, no.’
“Corinne was a fashion designer at the time, but she came down to sing for us one day. She wasn’t really a singer, not virtuoso or bravado, but she had a very natural way of singing. It’s soulful in her own way. For me, she sings like she means it.”
The trio crashed onto the British charts with the Top-10 single “Breakout” in ’86, and about a year later in America. They’ve had several hits since.
“There’s more of a rapport with the band,” Connell said of today’s Swing Out Sister. “It’s funkier and looser, but the intention is the same. Just the specifics are slightly different.”
BWF (before we forget): Swing Out Sister returned in June 1997 with the album, “Shapes and Patterns,” featuring a cover of Laura Nyro’s “Stoned Soul Picnic.” … The Swing Out Sister album discography – “It’s Better to Travel” (1987, Mercury); “Kaleidoscope World” (1989, Fontana); “Get In Touch With Yourself” (1992); “Living Return” (1994); “Greatest Hits” (1996); “Shapes and Patterns” (1997).
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