Glam sham: Priest, left, and Connolly, right, in the Sweet's heyday
Sweet singer Brian Connolly had to quit the outfit because of his heavy smoking, says bassist and close friend Steve Priest.
The frontman’s cigarette habit damaged his voice to the extent that he couldn’t perform any more, leading to his departure in 1979.
And although he had a drinking problem, he didn’t consume as much alcohol as people think, Priest adds.
He tells Focus in the Mix: “A lot of the songs were really up there – and he smoked like a chimney. So he used to lose his voice a lot.
“He wanted to do country stuff. I’ve got some songs of his, but they’re all in a speaking voice. Brian had a huge heart. He’d give you anything. ”
Connolly’s drink problems were a major contributor to his health issues and death in 1997. He suffered multiple heart attacks in 1981 which led to a nervous system disorder and further affected his voice, and he finally stopped drinking four years later. An attempted original lineup reunion had to be abandoned in 1988 due to the singer’s condition.
Priest says Connolly’s metabolism meant just a couple of drinks would render him drunk. “He was Scottish, and usually Scottish people live to have a bevvie or two, and he liked to drink,” the bassist recalls. “But as he said to me, ‘I love to have a drink but I can’t keep up.’”
He got a taste of the pressures Connolly worked under when he shared vocal duties with guitarist Andy Scott following the singer’s departure. “It’s nervewracking,” the bassist reports. “It’s amazing how differently you’re looked upon as a singer. That wore heavily on Brian after a while. He used to have a couple of drinks before interviews. Then he’d arrive and he’d be drunk as a skunk.”
The bassist formed his own version version of Sweet in Los Angeles in 2008 and continues working today, while Scott leads another lineup based in the UK. Priest insists they were never a glam rock band, and prefers the pop rock label.
“We started out sounding like bubblegum rock,” he allows, but adds: “We used to start the set with Done Me Wrong All Right, and people were not at all expecting what we were playing. We were pop rock.
“Glam was one of those silly things that came out of Top of the Pops. Marc Bolan came on with a pink boa and that opened the door – I went, ‘Okay, you want stupid, I’ll show you stupid.’”
And Priest admits the band were never sure of hit track The Ballroom Blitz. “Writer Mike Chapman gave it to us in a very basic form,” he recalls. “We sat in the rehearsal studio going, ‘What the hell are we going to do with this?’ Then producer Phil Wainman came in and said, ‘I’ve got a great idea,’ and we went, ‘Thank God for that, because we haven’t.’ He sat down with the drumsticks and did a Sandy Nelson thing. ‘Oh. Okay…’”