Rockbrat Remembers: Brian Connolly (1945 – 1997)

Posted: August 16, 2010 by rockbrat in Rockbrat Remembers:
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The music world lost one of glam rock’s pioneers earlier this year, when on February 9th, Brian Connolly, lead vocalist from The Sweet, sadly passed away. The Sweet had a string of smash hits during the early seventies, resulting in worldwide success and lengthy periods of chart domination. The group sold over 50 million albums and if there was one band that epitomised the glam-era it was this one. Australia also got heavily swept up in Sweet-mania (culminating in a sold-out 1975 nationwide tour), and when people think of the band and their heavy pop tunes, it is the image of the flamboyant blonde haired frontman that first comes to mind. Born Brian Francis McManus in Hamilton, Scotland on October 5th, 1945, he lived in the region until moving to Middlesex in the mid-’60s, where he replaced Ian Gillan (later of Deep Purple) in a small-time club band called Wainwright’s Gentlemen – an outfit that also featured Mick Tucker on drums. In 1968, McManus (who by this time had changed his name to Connolly) and Tucker split from the band, forming a new group with Middlesex bassist Steve Priest and guitarist Frank Torpey, called Sweetshop – later shortened to The Sweet. They released four unsuccessful singles on the Fontana and EMI labels, when a line-up change saw Welsh born guitar player Andy Scott replace Torpey. Producer Phil Wainman teamed The Sweet up with song writing partners Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who wrote the band’s first single, ‘Funny Funny’, released on RCA in 1970. Their early success was mainly due to anthemic bubblegum pop songs like ‘Funny Funny’, ‘Co-Co’, ‘Poppa Joe’ and ‘Little Willy’. The release of the ‘Little Willy’ single in 1972 revealed a definite heavier side to the band. Their next single ‘Wig-Wam Bam’, saw Connolly and band becoming increasingly camp, appearing on Top Of The Pops in red Indian costumes. While Bowie and T- Rex took their glam seriously, The Sweet, like Gary Glitter, were always slightly tongue-in-cheek about it. The Chinn/Chapman team soon began penning noticeably heavier rock numbers for the band, namely the stomping single Blockbuster, which climbed to the top of the charts here in 1973. The group confirmed itself as leaders of the glam pack with a string of top ten hits that followed….‘Hell Raiser’, ‘Ballroom Blitz’, ‘Teenage Rampage’ and ‘The Six Teens’ – anthemic songs that provided the band with considerable success, slapping them on magazine covers worldwide and filling large concert halls all over the planet. Two albums released during this period – ‘Funny How Sweet CoCo Can Be’ and the surprisingly early ‘Sweet’s Biggest Hits’, were merely compilations of their many chart hits. Also in 1973, Brian suffered a throat injury after a street fight which caused the cancellation of concerts and all recording activities until the following year. 1974 saw the release of ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ – an album recorded without the assistance of Chinn and Chapman. The album showed the band breaking free of their commercially sounding singles, opting instead for a heavier, hard rock style of sound. However Chinn and Chapman rejoined forces later in the year, when the band recorded one of my all time favourite albums in ‘Desolation Boulevard’, an album which provided the band with yet another chart stomper in the blazing ‘Fox On The Run’, which climbed to number one on the Australian charts. Other highlights were the beautiful ‘Sixteens’ and the daunting ‘Medusa’. ‘Give Us A Wink’, ‘Off The Record’, ‘Strung Up’ and ‘Level Headed’ followed, with ‘Level Headed’ – in 1978, providing the band with their last top ten hit in ‘Love Is Like Oxygen’. This song was also to be the last Sweet single that Brian appeared on, before departing the band midway through 1979. ‘Take Away The Music’ was Brian’s first solo single, issued back in 1980 by Polydor. That year he also cut another seven incher in ‘Don’t You Know A Lady (When You See One)’, again on the Polydor label. After a lengthy silence, Brian released the Joe Lynn Turner penned ‘Hypnotised’ on the metal label Carrere in 1982. Early 1983 saw the formation of a new band called Connolly Encore with a UK tour supporting Pat Benatar. However solo success eluded him and he formed one of two rival versions of The Sweet – the other was fronted by guitarist Andy Scott – put together after the original line-up’s demise. 1985 saw a renewed interest in the band here, with the release of the catchy, dj mixed medley single titled ‘It’s It’s…The Sweet Mix’. Taken from the ‘Sweet 16’ compilation LP, the song received radio air play and also managed a chart entry. In 1988 the original line-up were contemplating reforming the band and even entered a studio in L.A for the first time in nine years to cut some demo’s. However due to Brian’s poor health, the other band members deemed the recordings to be unacceptable and rejected them – thus ending any plans of a re-union. Over the past few years Brian suffered from a number of alcohol related illnesses, and his health began to deteriorate. He bravely managed to recover from several heart attacks and it is a credit to the man, who in his condition, still managed to gig rigorously right up until his death. Tragically, Brian’s latter years were filled with more pain as his body was ravaged by a muscle-wasting disease, making him appear older than he was. Brian last toured Australia in November of 1990, undertaking a nationwide club and pub tour. The former glam god was still sick and at times he looked visibly ill. Nevertheless he gave his all, and backed up by a superb group of musicians, managed to put on some electrifying performances. At times their were glimpses of the past – a time frame in popular music history that is very special to many people. In 1995 Brian entered the studio to re-record an album of Sweet hits and at the time of his death, was talking about reforming the original band for a large concert next year to celebrate their 30th anniversary. Brian passed away in a hospital in Slough, Berkshire, late on February 9th due to kidney failure. His funeral was held on February 17th at the Catholic Church in Denham, Berkshire – the service ending in a touching moment when Brian’s coffin was carried out to the sounds of one of his favourite Sweet tracks – ‘The Sixteens’. Rest in peace Brian. 

Note: Article originally appeared in Vicious Kitten Fanzine – 1996

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Comments
  1. John Battles says:

    Brian , as we know , remains an underrated Singer , but , he was often accused of coasting on his looks. If live and TV footage are indication , he was not an overly physical performer , but , he did seem very intent on pleasing his audiences. In The Sweet Documentary (Solid Gold Sweet?) , Brian , Andy , and Mick speak of their hopes to put the band back together for real.. As noted above , Brian reportedly made an attempt , but , his voice was not entirely there. When a US tour was being planned , Steve Priest opted not to participate , as he was busy running the pub he owned in LA. The revamped lineup , with Scott and Tucker , plus new singer , Mel McNulty (Later in Slade 2 …..I’m just sayin’.) , were well recieved. KEVIN JUNIOR EVEN TOLD ME HE WOULD’NT SEE THEM , BECAUSE BRIAN WASN’T SINGING (And for the lack of “Cool duds”. But , they killed it , all the same , returning twice to Chicago ,both times to easily under 100 people. But , they worked their balls off to keepthose people there. Somewhere , halfway across the world , Brian was , or soon would be , doing the same.

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