Although Swing Out Sister are currently a duo, they began as a trio in the UK. The group was formed by Andy Connell (keyboards) and Martin Jackson (drums), and they were later joined by Corinne Drewery (vocals). The group's name came from the title of a 1945 movie starring Arthur Treacher, called Swing Out, Sister,
and they claim they chose the name because it was the only thing the band could agree on, in that they all hated it. Both Connell and Jackson had been playing in other bands prior to forming SOS, while Drewery was a fashion designer and model before she became the band's lead vocalist.
Beginnings & Debut Album It's Better to Travel (1985–1987)
Together with their producer, Paul Staveley O'Duffy, they signed with Mercury Records. Prior to their first album, they released the single "Blue Mood" in the UK in November 1985. However, it did not chart.In late 1986, the single "Breakout" was released. It reached the number four position on the UK Singles Chart in November 1986 and number six on the Billboard
Hot 100 chart in the United States in November 1987.Consequently, when they released their debut album, It's Better to Travel
, on 11 May 1987, it reached number one on the UK Albums Chart. The album registered with listeners for its mix of jazz and electropop, with a blend of real horns, synths (arranged subtly, to sound like strings), drums, and xylophones, scored by producer/arranger Richard Niles. The follow-up single to the effervescent "Breakout" was the brooding "Surrender", which featured a trumpet solo performed by John Thirkell. It rose to number seven on the UK charts in January 1987. The next single was the more serious and jazzy "Twilight World". This song was the subject of many remixes and was a dance club favourite worldwide. The final single "Fooled By a Smile" returned to the upbeat pop orientation characteristic of "Breakout".The group were subsequently nominated for two American Grammy Awards in 1988: Best New Artist and Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Group or Duo ("Breakout").In addition to long-time partner O'Duffy as well as Thirkell, Swing Out Sister also have enlisted the talents of saxophonist Gary Barnacle (who with Thirkell also comprise the Henpecked Horns known for their work with Level 42); percussionist Luis Jardim; guitarist Tim Cansfield; trumpet/fluegelhorn master Jerry Hey; and songwriter-arranger Jimmy Webb.
Kaleidoscope World (1989)
Original member Jackson left the group during the making of the second album, Kaleidoscope World
. Although the liner notes give "special thanks to Martin Jackson" and his co-writing credits appear on the songs "Tainted" and "Between Strangers", they also point out that "Swing Out Sister are Corinne Drewery and Andy Connell." Drewery and Connell have been the core group on all subsequent albums. After leaving Swing Out Sister, Jackson later worked for Frank Zappa.Kaleidoscope World
was released in May 1989, achieving critical acclaim and UK Top 10 success. Their turn away from contemporary styles towards retro musical sources on this album would establish the musical path that they would continue to follow with their subsequent albums. The duo found inspiration in Easy Listening music, such as Burt Bacharach, as well as songwriter Jimmy Webb, who arranged two tracks, "Forever Blue" and "Precious Words". The incorporation of an orchestra to their recordings realised their sound in a richer, fuller way than their previous effort which relied more heavily on synthesisers. Consequently, this album featured arrangements and songwriting more classical in inclination. The lead-off single "You On My Mind" featured a more sophisticated blend of musical components (the video was strongly inspired by the 1968 cult film The Thomas Crown Affair
) than their previous efforts while the upbeat tone of "Breakout" was echoed in the lead U.S. single "Waiting Game". Further singles included "Where in the World" and "Forever Blue", which featured a sample from the John Barry score from the film Midnight Cowboy
Get in Touch with Yourself (1992)
Now a duo of Drewery and Connell, Swing Out Sister put out their third album, Get in Touch with Yourself
, in June 1992. With strong dance rhythms reverberating throughout the entire album, tracks draw influences from 1960s and 1970s jazz, pop, soul, and funk, including a breezy cover version of the Barbara Acklin classic "Am I the Same Girl?" (which became their last US hit, reaching No.1 on the adult contemporary chart). The album's title track, a blend of 1970s soul music and modern pop, gained the duo heavy airplay on smooth jazz radio and was a crossover hit, gaining airtime on adult contemporary stations as well. The musical influences of Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, and others would become evident on this album but continue on through their later releases. In line with the album theme, Drewery also grew out her hair from her trademark bob which had become a visual signature for their early years.
The Living Return (1994)
Numerous changes were afoot by the time the fourth album, The Living Return
, was released in September 1994. The replacement of producer Paul O'Duffy after initial studio sessions with Ray Hayden contributed to a looser, rawer feel to the songs that were often the results of studio jam sessions. Though Drewery and Connell still led Swing Out Sister, additional musicians (including former 52nd Street bassist Derick Johnson, Pa'lante percussionist Chris Manis, Jazz Defectors drummer Myke Wilson, and trumpet player John Thirkell) increased their group to ten members that replicate the live performances that had been captured on the Japan-only release Live at the Jazz Cafe
. The album featured the single and Delfonics cover song "La-La (Means I Love You)", which was also included on the Four Weddings and a Funeral
Shapes and Patterns (1997)
Few of the band's releases charted highly on the pop listings in Western countries after the successful debut album (though they became radio-airplay staples on jazz stations). The band, however, became extremely popular in Japan. Their song "Now You're Not Here" (from their fifth album Shapes And Patterns
, one of several released in Japan before other parts of the world) was used as the theme to a Japanese TV program, and was ranked at No.1 in the Japanese chart and received a Japanese 'Grand Prix' (the equivalent of a Grammy Award) for best international single in 1997.Shapes and Patterns
was first released in Japan in March 1997, and then in Europe and USA the year after. Producer Paul O'Duffy, who co-wrote half of the songs, was back at the helm. As an orchestra was once again employed (led by Gavyn Wright), the lush arrangements characteristic of Kaleidoscope World
resurfaced. The liner notes, written by composer/singer-songwriter Mary Edwards, point out the influences of Bacharach, Webb, and John Barry are perceptible in the string arrangements and Latin rhythms, as well as Minnie Riperton, Rotary Connection and The 5th Dimension.The album included a cover of Laura Nyro's "Stoned Soul Picnic" as well as the original version of "Better Make It Better", which appeared in a different mix on their previous album. A pervasive longing marks songs such as "Now You're Not Here", "Somewhere in the World" (their final US chart entry to date), "You Already Know", and "Icy Cold as Winter". This album would also mark the beginning of the duo's use of Japanese musicians in their studio sessions.
Filth and Dreams (1999)Filth and Dreams
, their sixth album, proved yet again that Swing Out Sister were eager to reinvent themselves. The album was released in Japan in March 1999, and it remains the only album not released in any other country. This album featured stronger jazz leanings than some of their early pop-oriented albums, and is restrained in mood. The track "Who's Been Sleeping" was promoted as a single and released with several remixes. For this record, SOS adapted to the growing popularity of hip-hop in the late '90s. "Who's Been Sleeping" kicks off the record with an aggressive beat and a few hip-hop flourishes (such as Drewery's counting and uttering "Yeah ..." in the background.) The rest of the record incorporates such sounds a bit more subtly, through the soaring retro stylings of "Closer Than the Sun" and "When Morning Comes" to the excitable lounge of the title track to the mid-tempo trip-hop of "Invisible" and scratch-laced "Sugar Free." Traditional SOS sounds are challenged successfully with the darkly dreamy "If I Had the Heart" and "Make You Stay." Background noises, from telephone conversations to child's play, also enrich the record and give the listener much more to cue in on. Drewery strays out of the usual love lyrics and colours a portrait of a darker world (as the title indicates) by singing about more urban subjects such as drugs (the eerie "Happy When You're High") and prostitution ("When Morning Comes").Filth and Dreams
is the first SOS record not released in their native England, and is currently the most difficult CD to find.
Somewhere Deep in the Night (2001)
A seventh album, Somewhere Deep in the Night
, was recorded in France, and released in May 2001 in Japan (with subsequent release in Europe and U.S.) It was dedicated to their friend Kazuhiko Yanagida. While it is quintessential Swing Out Sister, with lush, brassy and stringy arrangements, the melodic tunes which often feature melancholic, languid, or introspective atmospherics and is more sombre in tone. Many of the tracks are instrumental, or only feature vocal harmonies without lyrics. One song even features a French spoken-word monologue. O'Duffy, who produced the album, also has co-writing credits on all the songs, and provided backing vocals along with Connell and Cansfield.Due to declining sales, their record label Universal dropped them from their contract in America. Consequently, they signed on with Shanachie Records.
Where Our Love Grows (2004)
Undeterred, the band bounced back with their eighth studio effort, Where Our Love Grows
. It was released in Japan on 28 April 2004 with the UK edition following in July. GQ Magazine reviewed it and called it "indisputably their finest record to date". The album features a return to a rich, upbeat retro-sound that fuses jazz, soul, R&B, Latin, and easy listening music. Samples of Roger Nichols and The Small Circle of Friends and Herbie Mann were incorporated also into some songs.
Beautiful Mess (2008)
Late 2005 saw Swing Out Sister return to their studio in London to commence recording of their new album. The band planned on making a second tour of America in 2006 however due to recording commitments this had to be cancelled. In 2006 they composed incidental music for the ITV1 drama The Outsiders
, which featured Nigel Harman. August 2007 saw a new single "Secret Love", co-written by Morgan Fisher.The new album from the band was entitled Beautiful Mess
and was released by the Japanese record company Avex on 27 February 2008. The title is taken from one of the tracks on the album. Prior to its release in late December 2007, two other tracks were made available for download: "Butterfly" and "Something Every Day". The album was released in the U.K. in August 2008 and in the U.S. in May 2009, reaching the Top 5 on the Jazz Album chart in the US.
2008/2009 Asia tour
In 2008 and 2009, Swing Out Sister went back on tour and appeared at the Jakarta Convention Center then toured several venues in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Fukuoka and in the Philippines.
2012 25th Anniversary
2012 marked the 25th Anniversary of the group's first album, "It's Better To Travel". This album was reissued on July 16, 2012 as a double cd set including the original album plus B-sides, rarities, and remixes. On July 14, 2012, Swing Out Sister performed in its "BIG BAND" form at Islington Assembly Hall. 500 Limited edition 10" Singles of "Love Won't Let You Down (Olympic Mix)" and "Breakout (Fabulous Party Mix)" were released to coincide with this landmark London show.Tokyo Stories, is a DVD from the group's 2010 performance at Billboard Japan. This is a Region 2 DVD and was released on July 18, 2012.Private View + 2 CD was also released in July 2012. Originally, Private View was originally available only through the bands' Facebook page. The "+2" version is updated and includes two new tracks. Private View is a cd that features an acoustic take on some of the group's hits.
2014 A Moveable Feast
In March 2014, the group announced a project entitled "A Moveable Feast" to be released via Direct-to-Fan music platform PledgeMusic, saying "We're making a thing, don't know what it is yet. Come along for the ride and we'll find out together..".