Sweethearts return in live stream

Ruby Watts with the Sweethearts at Porretta Soul Festival, Italy, in July 2019. (Supplied)

By Luke Voogt

The Sweethearts missed out on their usual festival gigs across Europe amid a global pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped Geelong’s soulful sisters making their mark on 2020.

“COVID was a massive struggle for us at the start because we didn’t know what to do,” said year 12 band member Ruby Watts last Friday, after completing her final VCE exam.

“A lot of year 12s were a bit upset they didn’t get to experience that final year of the Sweethearts.”

But instead, during lockdown, the school-based band created a smooth version of Al Green’s Take Me to the River, with each girl recording their own instrumentals, vocals and videos.

“We all took home a little set of recording equipment,” Watts said.

Sweethearts musical director Michael Fitzgerald then mixed the tracks and clips into a quirky YouTube video.

“We haven’t done a music video like that – not in my time – I feel we achieved the maximum we could in the circumstances,” Watts said.

“It was good to be part of that.”

Now, after the relief of her final school exam, Watts, 17, will join the Sweethearts onstage for their first performance in months and, possibly, her last with them.

The Sweethearts will embark on a musical journey from early R&B and Motown to Stax and modern funk in Soul Train at Geelong Arts Centre on December 8.

Watts hopes the live-streamed gig will include her song Gone For Too Long, along with classics by soul icons such as Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder.

She wrote the song and performed it live in Europe last year.

“I started off with the guitar line, the lyrics and the melody – and a little bit of improv at the end because you’ve got to show off the vocals,” she laughed.

“That was fun, we got to do a recording and everyone contributed to the song.”

With numbers limited due to COVID-19, the show will focus on giving older band members a final live performance with the Sweethearts.

“Normally there would 30 of us switching around,” Watts explained.

She was thrilled to join the girls again for live rehearsals when onsite learning returned for Victorian schools in term four.

“As soon as we got back together everything clicked and it was like we had never left,” she said.

Watts described playing for crowds in Switzerland, Italy and France last year as a highlight of her time in the band.

“It was so inspiring to see them love the music as much we love playing it,” she said.

“A lot of people don’t really expect much from us at the start because we’re a high school band.

“But when they hear us play and how enthusiastic we are, I think they’re surprised by how well we can play.”

Voice contestant Imogen Brough, Geelong Cats AFLW player Rebecca Goring and Alice Ivy have all featured in past Sweethearts line-ups.

Like them, Watts wants to keep playing after school, while studying nursing at university.

“It’s not my main career plan but it’s not something I want to forget,” she said.

“I’m hoping to get a couple of girls from the Sweethearts. It doesn’t have to be serious thing – just something light and fun.

“It’s really great to have so many friends who are into music. I don’t have to look far for people to play with.”