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Swing Out Sister

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  • Formed: Manchester, Lancashire, England
  • Years Active: 1980s, 1990s, 2000s


Biography All Music GuideWikipedia

All Music Guide:

Although Swing Out Sister's music is unashamedly commercial pop, their impeccable indie credentials (keyboardist Andy Connell and drummer Martin Jackson were formerly of A Certain Ratio and Magazine, and singer Corrine Drewery had no professional experience at all before joining), jazz-tinged arrangements, and knack for clever hooks move them closer to the indie dance territory of St. Etienne or late period Everything But the Girl than to the cookie-cutter dance-pop of Kylie Minogue or Paula Abdul.

Connell and Jackson formed Swing Out Sister in their hometown of Manchester, England, in 1985 as a studio-based partnership set to refine the jazzy funk of A Certain Ratio and Magazine's quirky reimaginings of old-fashioned middle-of-the-road pop. Nottingham-born singer Drewery joined the duo just in time for their first single, "Blue Mood," in late 1985. That single didn't do much, but the follow-up, "Breakout," was a Top Ten hit in Great Britain and Japan in the fall of 1986. The trio belatedly completed debut album It's Better to Travel in 1987; its U.S. release scored a pair of hits with "Breakout" and "Twilight World." Jackson demoted himself to partial contributor on 1989's Kaleidoscope World, which emphasized the remaining duo's debt to lush '60s pop by hiring the legendary Jim Webb to arrange and conduct the orchestra. Though the singles "You on My Mind" and "Waiting Game" were U.K. hits, the album didn't attract much attention in the U.S. In Japan, however, both albums were big enough hits that a special Japan-only collection of remixes, Another Non-Stop Sister, was released in late 1989, followed by the similar Swing 3 in 1990, which also collected early B-sides and other rare tracks.

Released in 1992, Get in Touch with Yourself returned Drewery and Connell (Jackson had by this time bowed out completely) to the U.S. and U.K. charts with their cover of Barbara Acklin's "Am I the Same Girl," a '60s pop hit based on the famous instrumental "Soulful Strut" by Young-Holt Unlimited. The single was even bigger in Japan, where Swing Out Sister were by this time one of the most popular acts in the country. Another remix compilation, Swing Out Singles, and a live album, Live at the Jazz Cafe, were released in Japan that year. After 1994's The Living Return failed to chart in Great Britain, the U.K. office of Mercury Records put out 1996's The Best of Swing Out Sister but failed to release 1997's Shapes and Patterns, 1999's Filth and Dreams, or 2001's Somewhere Deep in the Night in the duo's native country -- this despite Swing Out Sister's continued success in Japan and a devoted cult following in the U.S. and Europe. EMI was the worldwide label for 2004's Where Our Love Grows. Live in Tokyo appeared a year later, followed in 2008 by Beautiful Mess, the group's ninth studio album. In 2010, Swing Out Sister issued Private View, a new album that was available exclusively through their Facebook page. The year 2012 marked the 25th anniversary of the band's debut album, It's Better to Travel, which was reissued as a deluxe two-disc set. Later that year, Private View (with two bonus tracks) saw CD release through normal distribution channels.


For the 1945 film with Arthur Treacher, see Swing Out, Sister.

Swing Out Sister are a British sophisti-pop group best known worldwide for their 1987 song "Breakout". Other hits include "Surrender", "Twilight World", "Waiting Game" and a remake of the Eugene Record soul composition "Am I the Same Girl?" Though album sales in the U.S. and Europe have levelled off since the early 1990s, the group continues to attract a loyal fanbase. The group is also very popular in Japan.


History1.1 Beginnings & debut album: It's Better to Travel (1985–1987)1.2 Kaleidoscope World (1989)1.3 Get in Touch with Yourself (1992)1.4 The Living Return (1994)1.5 Shapes and Patterns (1997)1.6 Filth and Dreams (1999)1.7 Somewhere Deep in the Night (2001)1.8 Where Our Love Grows (2004)1.9 Beautiful Mess (2008)1.10 2008/2009 Asia tour


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)[edit]

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)[edit]

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)[edit]

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 used the backbeat from the Young Holt Unlimited song, "Soulful Strut" and became Swing Out Sister's 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, Curtis Mayfield 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)[edit]

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 soundtrack.

Shapes and Patterns (1997)[edit]

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)[edit]

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)[edit]

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)[edit]

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)[edit]

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 UK 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[edit]

In 2008 and 2009, Swing Out Sister went back on tour and appeared at the Jakarta Convention Center, Indonesia then toured several venues in Japan in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka and then in the Philippines.

^ "BBC Radio 2 Interview with Richard Allinson" Interviewed 14 March 2002. Retrieved 4 April 2009.^ "Breakout" UK Singles Chart info Chartstats.com. Retrieved 4 April 2009.^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 8th Edition (Billboard Publications), page 618.^ UK Albums Chart info Chartstats.com. Retrieved 4 April 2009.^ "Surrender" UK Singles Chart info Chartstats.com. Retrieved 4 April 2009.

Recent work[edit]

2012: 25th anniversary[edit]

2012 marked the 25th anniversary of the group's first album, It's Better to Travel. The album was reissued on 16 July 2012 as a double CD set including the original album plus B-sides, rarities and remixes. On 14 July 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, a DVD from the group's 2010 performance at Billboard Japan, is a region 2 DVD and was released on 18 July 2012.

Private View + 2 CD was also released in July 2012. Originally, Private View was available only through the band's Facebook page. The "+2" version is updated and includes two new tracks. The CD features an acoustic take on some of the group's hits.

2014: A Moveable Feast[edit]

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."

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