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Members include Brian Connolly (born on October 5, 1949, in Hamilton, Scotland; died on February 10, 1997, in Slough, England; left group, 1979), vocals; Gary Moberley (joined group, 1979), keyboards; Steve Priest, bass; Andy Scott (joined group, c. 1970), guitar; Frank Torpey (left group, c. 1970), guitar; Mick Tucker (born on July 17, 1947, in Harlesden, north London, England; died on February 14, 2002, in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, England), vocals, drums.
British pop rockers Sweet began their career by releasing records that were typical early 1970s bubblegum fare, but they soon became part of the glam-rock scene then taking hold in Britain and North America. Wresting control of their songwriting from a known hit-making duo, Sweet emerged as a surprisingly chart-worthy hard rock act for a brief time. In all, they sold 50 million records before bitter squabbles caused their lead singer to depart in 1979. They officially disbanded three years later, but past hits like "Ballroom Blitz" found favor with 1980s heavy-metal acts, whose emergence Sweet seemed to foreshadow. "Outrageous in facepaint, sequins and towering platform shoes, Sweet were the quintessential Seventies glam rock act," asserted the Times years later. "Behind the flamboyant gimmickry was a band playing punchy, well-crafted and annoyingly memorable songs."
Sweet's frontman was a Scot, Brian Connolly, whose family moved to Middlesex, England, when he was 12. Connolly served in the Royal Navy before falling into the music scene around Middlesex. He became a singer in a soul band called Wainwright's Gentlemen around 1965 and left with drummer Mick Tucker to form what was originally known as Sweetshop. Connolly and Tucker recruited guitarist Frank Torpey and bassist Steve Priest for their original lineup. "There were a lot of bands around called sort of sugary names," Connolly explained to Independent reporter Jasper Rees. "There was Strawberry Jam, Marmalade, Orange Bicycle, Tangerine Peel, Clockwork Orange, after the film. So we thought, to sum it all up, we used a name that instigates all of them."
By 1970 Torpey had left the band and was replaced by Andy Scott, and Sweetshop shortened their name. They landed a deal with the Fontana/EMI label and released four singles, each of which failed to chart. Signing with RCA Records in 1971 and teaming with a hit songwriting duo known for their bubblegum hits, Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, Sweet released "Funny Funny," which hit number 13 on the British charts. From there, they had five other top-40 hits, including a paean to the inventor of the telephone, "Alexander Graham Bell." Other memorable songs from this era included "Little Willy" and "Wig-Wam Bam," both hits in 1972, but the band members were also writing their own B-sides to the singles and album tracks. These B-sides evinced a much harder style than the pop fare.
Taking the cue, Chinn and Chapman began writing harder rock songs, and the band enjoyed a number-one spot in Britain with "Blockbuster" in early 1973. The song's success was slightly marred by a controversy, however: the opening riff bears a strong similarity to David Bowie's "Jean Genie," though Connolly claimed that theirs was the first. Perhaps not coincidentally, both acts were on the RCA label, and both singles were released in January of 1973. "When we took the acetate into the RCA promotion department for the first time to let them hear what their next single was going to be, Bowie was there," Connolly recalled in the Independent interview. "I remember him saying, 'That's a great song, that's definitely a winner.'" Touring Europe a few weeks later, Sweet was surprised to hear "Jean Genie" on the radio; as Connolly told Rees, "the radio was on and we heard the intro and we thought somebody had lifted the siren off and nicked our back-track."
Chinn and Chapman continued to crank out top-ten hits for Sweet over the next few years, including a signature song, "Ballroom Blitz." They became hugely popular in the United Kingdom, with a devoted teen following, and enjoyed the limelight. Sweet borrowed their look from the thriving glam-rock scene at the time, wearing makeup and outlandish stage gear. Connolly, however "was the one member of the band who didn't look like a tree trunk smeared in lipstick," asserted Rees in the Independent. They seemed a tamer version of such glam-rock acts as Queen and Gary Glitter. "Sweet became celebrated for early-1970s glitter, Lurex, Spandex, stack heels and even a Red Indian costume," noted the Guardian's Adam Sweeting. "Screaming teenage girls pursued them."
In the summer of 1974, Sweet fired Chinn and Chapman and enjoyed tremendous success the following spring with their first self-penned single, "Fox on the Run," which also landed in the Amercian top ten. Its success helped "Ballroom Blitz" advance onto the American top ten during the summer of 1975, and the LP Desolation Boulevard sold well on both sides of the Atlantic. Their next effort, Strung Up, failed to do as well, but by the autumn of 1975, a group that copied Sweet's earlier outrageous attire and stage antics, Kiss, was stealing some of their thunder. Yet Sweet had already abandoned much of the shtick and were attempting to position themselves as a bona fide rock band. It proved too late, however, and their top-ten 1978 single "Love Is Like Oxygen" became their last single to chart.
Connolly left Sweet the following year and was replaced with Gary Moberley. Until his 1997 death, Connolly claimed that Andy Scott had upstaged him and worked to oust him. A solo career for Connolly petered out, and he suffered several heart attacks in 1981--according to legend, disputed by Connolly himself, he endured 14 of them in the space of 24 hours. Meanwhile, Sweet kept putting out albums that failed to achieve any critical or commercial success, and they disbanded in 1982. In 1985 a medley of their songs, "It's the Sweet Mix," proved a success in British and European dance clubs, and a Connolly-less Sweet reunited for a time to tour. In response, Connolly formed his own lineup, which toured as BC Sweet.
Connolly, who once owned a rock star-style mansion, yacht, and six Rolls-Royce luxury automobiles, was plagued by ill health for years. Beset by financial woes as well, he was forced to sell his house to pay delinquent taxes, and his wife left him. Adding to his aura of rock 'n' roll tragedy was a complicated parental history: at the age of 18 he learned he had been a foundling and had been adopted by a nurse's family. Later, he came to believe that the man he thought was his foster father may have been his biological father, and that Mark McManus, who played a detective on a popular Scottish television series called Taggart in the 1970s, was his half-brother; McManus died from alcohol-related causes in 1994.
In his day, Connolly had been known to drink with Keith Moon, the maniacal and substance-abusing original drummer for the Who. In the 1990s Connolly's health worsened, and he suffered another heart attack in January of 1997. He checked himself out of the hospital and died of renal failure the following month, on February 11. Sweet's drummer, Mick Tucker, died of leukemia almost five years to the day after Connolly's death. Bassist Steve Priest works as a session musician in Los Angeles. Both Def Leppard and Pat Benatar recorded Sweet songs with some success, and a revival of the 1970s glam scene in the 1990s brought renewed interest in the band's storied past. Actor Ewan McGregor studied footage of the band and copied Connolly's look for his role in the 1998 film, Velvet Goldmine.
by Carol Brennan
Group formed as Sweetshop in London, England, 1968; changed name to Sweet, signed with the Fontana/EMI label, 1970; released four unsuccessful singles; signed to RCA Records, 1971; released six singles, including "Funny Funny," that hit U.K. top-40 charts; "Blockbuster" reached number one in U.K., 1973; released LP, Sweet Fanny Adams, 1974; released "Fox on the Run," first single to reach top-ten U.S. chart, 1975; released "Love Is Like Oxygen," last single to reach top-ten chart, 1978; disbanded, 1982.
- Selected discography
- Sweet Fanny Adams RCA, 1974; reissued, BMG, 1999.
- Desolation Boulevard Capitol, 1974.
- Strung Up RCA, 1975.
- Give Us a Wink Capitol, 1976; reissued with bonus tracks, BMG, 2001.
- Off the Record Capitol, 1977.
- Level Headed One Way, 1978.
- Short & Sweet Capitol, 1978.
- Cut above the Rest Capitol, 1979.
- VI Capitol, 1980.
- Waters Edge Capitol, 1980.
- Identity Crisis Polydor, 1982.
- Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), February 18, 1997, p. 9.
- Guardian (London, England), October 28, 1996, p. 10; February 11, 1997, p. 16.
- Independent (London, England), October 26, 1996, p. 4; February 11, 1997, p. 2; February 18, 2002, p. 6.
- Sun (London, England), October 23, 1998, p. 30.
- Times (London, England), February 11, 1997, p. 19.
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