A night out with your sugar baby love

RESPLENDENT in their white suits and distinctive caps, The Rubettes exploded onto the scene in 1974 with the memorable Sugar Baby Love, which topped the charts for three weeks after entering the Top Thirty at number two.

The distinctive falsetto refrain was instantly recognisable, and the band continued to have hit after hit with songs like Tonight, Juke Box Jive, Foe-Dee-O-Dee, You’re The Reason Why and I Can Do It.

The hits continued until 1977 with the band, having decreased in size from a sextet to a quartet, having nine Top Forty successes and a number of critically acclaimed albums.

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The band eventually split, but was lured back onto the live circuit by a French promoter in the nineties and have been active ever since.

Of the quartet, three of the band: singer/guitarist Alan Williams, bassist Mick Clarke and drummer John Richardson, are still in the line-up and are joined by their latest recruit Steve Innes Etherington on keyboards.

And for the first time in 40 years, they are undertaking a headline tour of the UK.

The band toured Britain recently as part of the Glitz, Blitz and 70s Hitz Tour with Sweet and Mud 2, which went down a storm.

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Welwyn Garden City-born Alan Williams explains to me why the band hasn’t headlined for so long.

“Cos the guys are too lazy,” he jokes.

“Actually, we didn’t feel that we were popular enough up to now,” he says.

“We do the Glitz package tour every five years or so, but generally we don’t work too often in the UK and strangely we have always been a bigger name on the continent and especially France.

“After the UK tour, we are doing a 30-date headline tour in France and it usually sells out. Last year, we played the Olympia Theatre in Paris and sold out all 3,000 seats, in the UK we'll be playing five to 600 seater theatres.”

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Apparently, the demand for concerts from The Rubettes featuring Alan Williams (the band has to be called The Rubettes featuring Alan Williams’ for legal reasons) in Britain has grown.

Alan smiles: “Yes, there's been a great reaction. At first we were only going to do about 15 dates, but it just grew.”

The tour will be in two halves, with dates in April and May then September through to November.

“That’s right. There's a break for the summer, but we'll be doing a lot of festivals, mainly in Europe.”

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Alan can still remember the last time the band headlined in Britain.

“It was in the seventies and we had a couple of opening bands with us; there’s no support on this tour though, and one featured a young kid called Mick Wilson. Little Micky we called him as he was only 15 and had to have a chaperone with him ‘cos he was so young. They also supported us in Europe. Mick is now the singer with the current line-up of 10CC and is doing a great job. He was also part of Jeff Lynne’s ELO at Hyde Park.”

Of course, in the bands’ career, there have been a few highlights.

“Well, there’s the obvious one of being Number One in the charts, but one thing stands out from later on.

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“I’d been talking to Paul McCartney while we were supporting Wings in 1977. At the time he'd just bought his property on Mull and was thinking of building an airstrip there.

“He was asking for my thoughts as I was then, and still am, a pilot. He then told me about something that happened to him in France.

“He was being interviewed by a French reporter and was asked if he knew of The Rubettes. He said ‘yes’ and for the next 20 minutes they talked about us, as we really had massive success there and it’s still the one country where we are recognised wherever we go.”

The idea of headlining the UK again has been around for a while, as Alan tells me.

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“We’ve been talking about it for a few years really and in the end I persuaded the rest of the guys to do it while we still can.” Alan is 67 now.

And like the tour itself, the show will be in two distinct halves.

“That’s right,” Alan says. “The first half is acoustic-based and we’ll be doing a few album tracks and tell a few stories and anecdotes.

“We were all in bands before The Rubettes and we'll do a few songs from those days. I was in a duo with John (Richardson) and Mick was in The Tremeloes for a while.

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“There are a number of songs that we haven’t played before in public so we’ve done a lot of rehearsing.”

He continues: “For the second half we’ll be in the suits and do the hits, plus we’ve all chosen particular favourites.”

As it’s such a landmark tour for the band, I wondered whether any former members such as guitarist Tony Thorpe and keyboard player Bill Hurd might make an appearance.

“No, they won’t be rehearsed in, but they’re always welcome to come along.”

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The foursome are looking forward to touring the country again, none more so that Alan himself, as he tells me.

“We’re all pretty fit and quite excited about it, and if it works than we could possibly do more next year. We’ll see how it goes as this year we are doing more work than we've ever done.”

An Evening With The Rubettes featuring Alan Williams will be gracing the stage of The Civic Theatre, Rotherham on Wednesday May 18.

Tickets are available from the box office and all the usual agencies.