The ambiguity of Sniff ‘n’ the Tears’ synthesis of jazzy rhythms, catchy melodies and tasteful instrumental lines was reflected in guitarist Paul Roberts’ other vocation – that of a highly respected photorealist painter (his artwork commanded upward of $5,000 from an apparently insatiable market).
Roberts had several false starts in the music business. One of the first was a two-piece group called Preston and Calico (“People mistook us for a folk duo, but we were really a hard rock duo who could only afford acoustic guitars”). The two were spotted by Trevor Churchill, then label manager for the embryonic Rolling Stones Records, who put them in The Stones‘ rehearsal rooms and tried – unsuccessfully – to form a band around them.
In 1974, Roberts cut some demos for a French record company and met drummer Luigi Salvoni, who liked his songs and helped him arrange and record the sessions. Salvoni was then playing with a pub rock band called Moon, which signed a lucrative contract with CBS in 1975. After recording an expensive debut album, Moon was put on tour and would up nearly $200,000 in debt.
In 1977, Salvoni dug out his old demos and persuaded Roberts, who had been working on his art in France, to try and form a band again.
Most of the musicians who had worked with them in 1974 were willingly rounded up, including Chris Birkin on bass, Mick Dyche on guitar, Alan Feldman on keyboards, and Loz Netto (also from Moon) on guitar.
They took their demos to tiny independent Chiswick Records, where label boss Ted Carroll made the unexpected offer of recording an album immediately, and Fickle Heart was released to critical confusion in late 1978. Radio DJs loved the single Driver’s Seat but the song only really found success on charts outside the UK (it peaked at #15 on the Billboard Hot 100).
On the eve of the band’s first US tour, the lineup splintered, with co-founder Salvoni departing with bassist Birkin and keyboard player Alan Feldman.
The second album, The Game’s Up, yielded no hits, and Loz Netto left the group to establish a solo career, taking Mick Dyche with him. Roberts – now the sole remaining original member of Sniff ‘n’ The Tears – decided to press on and recruited Les Davidson as the group’s new guitarist and added Jamie Lane as the permanent drummer.
This line-up recorded two albums – Love/Action (1981) and Ride Blue Divide (1982) – but no further hits were forthcoming, and after being dropped by Chiswick, the group broke up in 1983.
Paul Roberts made two solo albums for Sonet Records – City Without Walls (1985) and Kettle Drum Blues (1987).
After a decade of inactivity, Sniff ‘n’ The Tears unexpectedly reformed in 1992 after the use of Driver’s Seat in a European TV advertising campaign pushed the 13-year-old recording to the top of the Dutch chart in mid-1991.
Roberts took the opportunity to assemble a new version of the band – including Jeremy Meek (bass), Steve Jackson (drums) and Andy Giddings (keyboards) – and took them on tour in the Netherlands and Germany.
This line-up also recorded a new studio album in 1992, No Damage Done – the first new Sniff ‘n’ the Tears release in a decade.
The band’s next album release, Underground (2001), featured Roberts singing and playing almost everything. He was credited with vocals, guitars, mandolin, harmonica, keyboards, bass and drum programming.
After another long hiatus, the band released their seventh album, Downstream, in February 2011. The Sniff ‘n’ the Tears line-up for this album consisted of Paul Roberts (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboard), Les Davidson (guitars), Robin Langridge (keyboards), returning member Nick South (bass) and new member Richard Marcangelo (drums).
A line-up of Roberts, Davidson, South, Langridge and new drummer Paul Robinson issued the album Random Elements in 2017. In 2020, Sniff ‘n’ The Tears (now consisting only of Roberts and Davidson) issued the album Jump, which consisted of new acoustic versions of a number of songs in the band’s catalogue (including Driver’s Seat.)