Swing Out Sister
Swing Out Sister
Swing Out Sister was a successful cosmopolitan British import to the United States, Europe, and (especially) Japan in the late 1980s. The group became an instant success with the hit singles “Breakout” and “Twilight World,” and their debut album, It’s Better to Travel, which fared well on both the American and British charts. They charted again in 1992 with a remake of the song “Am I the Same Girl,” but the single was their last hit on either side of the Atlantic. With their jazz- and soul-influenced pop sound, the trio—which eventually became a duo—continued to produce albums despite their lack of mainstream popularity. During the 1990s and into the new millennium, the group still enjoyed a cult following.
Keyboardist Andy Connell and drummer Martin Jackson formed Swing Out Sister in 1985 in their hometown of Manchester, England. Both were established musicians, Connell having played with the electronic-pop band A Certain Ratio, and Jackson having been a founding member of the post-punk art-rock group Magazine. The two had just collaborated on a highly successful album called UK Electro. Though they produced and performed most of the music on the record, they concocted a list of fake names to pad the credits. As they formed Swing Out Sister, Martin told Britain’s the Face magazine, they decided to accept whatever popular success might come their way. “We’re good at what we do,” he said. “Why shouldn’t a lot of people get to hear us?”
Corinne Drewery was student of fashion and textiles at St. Martin’s College of Art in London when she joined the group in late 1985. She grew up in a rural village near Nottingham, England, where her mother, a sometime painter and writer, ran a dog-grooming shop. In addition to American soul, Drewery counts popular Welsh vocalist Shirley Bassey—who sang the theme songs for the James Bond films Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, and Moonraker— among her influences. Before joining Swing Out Sister, her only singing experience was a trial stint with the jazz-dance group Working Week that ended when she was replaced with a permanent singer.
Taking their name from a 1950s B-movie, Swing Out Sister began to work its way up the pop charts. Although their music reflected a strong jazz influence, the group described its sound as “electro pop/jazz with Northern Soul influences,” according to the Face. (Northern Soul refers to the sound that evolved out of dance clubs in Northern Britain that played obscure American soul singles during the 1960s and 1970s.) In an online interview with the Metro Cafe website, Drewery said their influences also included the great soundtrack composers and songwriters of that era, including John Barry, Ennio Morricone, Burt Ba-charach, and Jimmy Webb. “From the time we started making records, we always wanted to write a soundtrack,” Drewery continued. “We’ve spent 15 years trying to write the perfect soundtrack to our lives.”
For the Record…
Members include Andy Connell , keyboards; Corinne Drewery , vocals; Martin Jackson (left group, c. 1989), guitar.
Group formed by Andy Connell and Martin Jackson in Manchester, England, 1985; recorded first single, “Blue Mood,” 1985; released top-ten British single, “Breakout,” 1986; released debut album, It’s Better to Travel, 1987; scored U.S. hits with “Breakout” and “Twilight World,” 1987.
Awards: Grand Prix award (Japan), Best International Single for “Now You’re Not Here,” 1997.
Addresses: Record company —Mercury Records, 136-144 New Kings Rd., London SW6 4FX, England. Website—Swing Out Sister Official Website: http://www.swingoutsister.com.
Swing Out Sister recorded its first single, “Blue Mood,” just after Drewery joined the group. At the time, Connell told the Face that they were skeptical of the record industry. The last thing they wanted was a hit single, he said, and the demise that they were certain would follow it. The group wanted to “build an honest following,” he said. “Blue Mood” wasn’t a hit, but it paved the way for their second single, “Breakout,” which was. “Breakout” made it into the top ten on the British and Japanese pop charts in 1986. The group finally released its debut album, It’s Better to Travel, in 1987 in Britain and the United States. “Breakout” became a success in the States as it had in the United Kingdom, and the single “Twilight World” was popular in the United States as well. The group was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy Award in 1988.
On 1989’s Kaleidoscope World, Swing Out Sister moved from “synthesizer-produced designer soul to full-blown orchestral richness,” according to writer Joanna Powell in Glamour magazine. Jackson had faded into the background by this point, and was only a partial contributor, listed in the credits as drum programmer. He wasn’t even pictured on the album’s cover. On the set, Drewery wrote the lyrics and Connell the music. “Andy is always adding and I’m always subtracting,” she told Glamour. Though rumors to the contrary abounded, Drewery maintained that she and Connell shared a strictly platonic relationship. The singles “You on My Mind” and “Waiting Game” were hits in Britain, but the album did not fare as well in the United States.
Drewery became instantly recognizable as the ultra-stylish front for the group. Looking “more like a couture model than a pop star,” according to Powell in Glamour, the singer became as known for her iconic style as she was for her silky-smooth vocals. Her long, lean frame was usually clad in a form-fitting smart black outfit or dress. Her hair was cut into a sharp pageboy, and she was never without bright red lipstick. Fashion editors compared her to Audrey Hepburn. In true unconventional fashion-plate style, Drewery, caught in a time crunch, ended up wearing a thrift-store dress to the Grammy Awards ceremony and came off looking fabulous.
By the time Swing Out Sister recorded its 1992 release Get in Touch with Yourself, Jackson was completely out of the picture. Drewery and Connell climbed back onto American and British charts with a remake of the 1969 Barbara Acklin song, “Am I the Same Girl,” a lyrical version of the more popular “Soulful Strut” instrumental by Young-Holt Unlimited. Their 1994 release The Living Return didn’t even make it onto the charts in the duo’s home country, and the 1996 Best of Swing Out Sister collection was their last United Kingdom release on the Mercury label. The albums Shapes and Patterns (1997), Filth and Dreams (1999), and Somewhere Deep in the Night (2001) were released first in Japan before being released in the United States, where they were enjoyed by a small cult following.
Swing Out Sister remains immensely popular in Japan, where they have enjoyed such a strong following that they released several remix albums available only in that country. Another Non-Stop Sister was released in 1989 and Swing 3, a collection of early tracks and B-sides, was released in 1990. Two more albums, the Swing Out Singles collection and the live set Live at the Jazz Café, were released in Japan in 1992. Long after their star had dimmed in the United States and Britian they earned a Japanese Grand Prix award—the equivalent of a Grammy. They won the award in 1997 for Best International Single for the song “Now You’re Not Here,” a hit on the Japanese charts that was also used as the theme song to a Japanese television show. The duo spend about a third of every year touring in Japan.
It’s Better to Travel, Mercury, 1987.
Another Non-Stop Sister, Mercury, 1989.
Kaleidoscope World, Fontana, 1989.
Get in Touch with Yourself, Fontana, 1991.
Live, Alex, 1993.
Swing Out Sister: Live at the Jazz Café, Alex, 1993.
Living Return, PolyGram, 1994.
Shapes and Patterns, Polygram, 1997.
Live at the Jazz Café, Fontana, 2000.
Somewhere Deep in the Night, EMI, 2002.
Billboard, May 17, 1997.
Face (England), December 1985.
Glamour, September 1989.
Q (England), June 1997, p. 20.
San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, CA), June 13, 1997.
“Corinne Drewery,” Metro Café online, http://www.metro.co.uk/metro/interviews/interview.html?in_page_id=8&in_interview_id=291 (September 28, 2002).
“Swing Out Sister,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (August 28, 2002).
Swing Out Sister Official Website, http://www.swingoutsister.com (August 28, 2002).
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