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‘All That Glitters’: Vintage doc on legendary British glam rockers, The Sweet
10:21 am


glam rock

In 1973, Sweet were the subject of a documentary All That Glitters for BBC Schools series Scene. Being intended for “educational purposes,” the program had to pose a relevant topic for debate among its teenage audience—in this case, “Is the music business really that glamorous?” Over a period of two to three days, Scene followed the band members Brian Connolly (vocals), Steve Priest (bass/coals), Andy Scott (guitar) and Mick Tucker (drums) as they rehearsed for a Top of the Pops appearance (which led to an outcry over Priest’s Nazi outfit) and their (now hailed as “legendary”) Christmas show at London’s Rainbow Theater.

It had certainly been a good year for the band—probably their best: three hit singles (“Blockbuster,” “Hellraiser,” “Ballroom Blitz”) adding to their chart-topping back catalog and tipping their record sales to 14 million sold; sell-out gigs the length and breadth of the UK; and plans to record their first proper studio album—for which they would write most of the material and play all of the instruments. Yes, it had been a long hard graft, and it wasn’t always glamorous, but it seemed as if things could and should only get better.

But fame is fickle and pop careers are measured by the durability of three-minute songs. Sweet’s pop hits had been penned by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who had originally cast the band as sub-Archies bubblegum pop supplying them with such jolly toe-tappers as “Co-Co,” “Little Willy” and “Wig Wam Bam.” However, Sweet were always rockers and had a desire to write and play their own songs. As if signalling their gradual move away from Chinn and Chapman, the band dropped the definite article from their name—changing from The Sweet to Sweet.
Sweet’s audience were still mainly teenyboppers who liked their playground pop and the pretty boy make-up, though there were always some (including music journalist Paul Morley) who preferred the band’s self-penned hard-rocking B-sides. When Sweet started concentrating on their own kind of heavy glam music with the albums Sweet Fanny Adams (1974) and Desolation Boulevard (1975), they lost a chunk of their fan base who were now swooning over the Bay City Rollers while a younger generation were about to replace glam with punk.

Yet the music Sweet produced influenced artists such as Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, Joan Jett and Poison.

Though half the band is sadly now dead (Connolly died in 1997, Tucker in 2002) the world is divided between Andy Scott’s Sweet, which covers Europe and Australia, and Steve Priest’s Sweet, which takes in the US, Canada and South America.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Dueling Sweets: Not so foxy, can hardly run anymore
12:09 pm


Glam rock

The original Sweet

The Sweet are one of the great ‘70s British glam rock bands that, strangely, have not had a single movie or tell-all biography created in their honor. Just one documentary, Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz, from 1990. With their makeup, outrageous stage clothes, and terribly catchy songs, they influenced later bands like Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, Poison, Mötley Crüe, and their own contemporaries like KISS.

Sweet (they dropped the “The” in late 1973) recorded a slew of hits written by the team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman: “Funny Funny,” “Little Willy,” “Hell Raiser,” “Block Buster!”, and “The Ballroom Blitz,” as well as their own compositions like “Sweet F.A.” and “Fox On the Run.”

During the recording of their album Sweet Fanny Adams in 1974, hard-partying vocalist Brian Connolly’s throat was injured in a street fight outside a pub in Surrey. The assault affected his voice for the rest of his life. In the short-term it affected the band’s career prospects, forcing them to turn down a tour opening for The Who. Connolly left the band in 1979 and the others continued briefly as a trio, still calling themselves Sweet.

Here is where the Sweet legacy gets confusing.

Connolly formed another band in 1984 and called it The New Sweet, later renaming it Brian Connolly’s Sweet. He occasionally played in exotic locations like Bahrain and Dubai, but his version of Sweet mainly eked out a living appearing at festivals, resorts (embarrassingly, Butlins holiday camps), and small clubs. His health problems prevented at least one proper Sweet reunion, planned by Mike Chapman in 1988. Connolly died in 1997 from liver failure and multiple heart attacks.

Andy Scott started Andy Scott’s Sweet in 1985 with original drummer Mick Tucker (who died in 2002) and a different line-up in 1991.

Andy Scott’s Sweet

Steve Priest, who had immigrated to the U.S. In 1979, started Steve Priest’s Sweet in 2008.

Steve Priest’s Sweet

Naturally this led to legal wrangling over the rights to the band’s name.

Following Connolly’s death the two surviving members of Sweet split up the world into territories. David Cavanagh of The Guardian wrote:

The two Sweets stay out of each other’s territories. Livelihoods are at stake, and if a promoter is uncertain which lineup of a band to book, he ends up booking neither. Scott has faced a challenge from rival Sweets before – Connolly fronted a few in the 80s and 90s – and is confident Priest will not encroach on his trademark in Britain or mainland Europe.

Scott, who appears to be the fitter and healthier of the two, tours Europe and Australia. Steve Priest’s Sweet tours North and South America. There is no shortage of festivals, small clubs, casinos, hotels, and benefit concerts all over the world that want some version of the band. But depending on where you happen to be, the Sweet you see performing may be comprised of an entirely different lineup than if you went 2000 miles in another direction.

The original Sweet on Top of the Pops, 1975:

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Leave a comment
Art from Chaos: The Sweet and the story behind ‘Ballroom Blitz’

It was art out of chaos. Pop art. The Sweet‘s “Ballrooom Blitz”, Glam Rock’s catchiest, trashiest, most lovable song, came from a riot that saw the band bottled off the stage, at the Grand Hall, Palace Theater, Kilmarnock, Scotland, in 1973. Men spat, while women screamed to drown out the music. Not the response expected for a group famous for their string of million sellers hits, “Little Willy”, “Wig-Wag Bam” and the number 1, “Block Buster”.

Why it happened has since led to suggestions that the band’s appearance in eye-shadow, glitter and lippy (in particular the once gorgeous bass player Steve Priest) was all too much for the hard lads and lassies o’ Killie.

It’s a possible. Priest thinks so, and said as much in his autobiography Are You Ready Steve?. But it does raise the question, why would an audience pay money to see a band best known through their numerous TV appearances for their outrageously camp image? Especially if these youngsters were such apparent homophobes? Moreover, this was 1973, when the UK seemed on the verge of revolution, engulfed by money shortages, food shortages, strike action,  power cuts and 3-day-weeks, and the only glimmer of hope for millions was Thursday night and Top of the Pops.

Another possible was the rumor that Sweet didn’t play their instruments, and were a manufactured band like The Monkees. A story which may have gained credence as the band’s famous song-writing duo of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, preferred using session musicians to working with artists.

The sliver of truth in this rumor was that Sweet only sang on the first 3 Chinn-Chapman singles (“Funny, Funny”, “Co-Co” and “Poppa Joe”). It wasn’t until the fourth, “Little Willy” that Chinn and Chapman realized Sweet were in fact far better musicians than any hired hands, and allowed the band to do what they did best - play.

True, Chinn and Chapman gave Sweet their Midas touch, but it came at a cost. The group was dismissed by self-righteous music critics as sugar-coated pop for the saccharine generation. A harsh and unfair assessment. But in part it may also explain the audience’s ire.

In an effort to redefine themselves, Sweet tended to avoid playing their pop hits on tour, instead performing their own songs, the lesser known album tracks and rock covers. A band veering from the songbook of hits (no matter how great the material) was asking for trouble. As Freddie Mercury proved at Live Aid, when Queen made their come-back, always give the audience what they want.

Still, Glam Rock’s distinct sound owes much to Andy Scott’s guitar playing (which has been favorably compared to Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck), Steve Priest’s powerful bass, and harmonizing vocals, and Mick Tucker’s inspirational drums (just listen to the way he references Sandy Nelson in “Ballroom Blitz”). Add in Brian Connolly’s vocals, and it is apparent Sweet were a band with talents greater than those limned by their chart success.

So what went wrong?

If ever there was a tale of a band making a pact with the Devil, then the rise and fall of Sweet could be that story. A tale of talent, excess, fame, money, frustration and then the decline into alcohol, back-taxes, death and disaster. Half of the band is now tragically dead: Connolly, who survived 14 heart attacks caused through his alcoholism, ended his days a walking skeleton, touring smaller venues and holiday camps with his version of Sweet; while the hugely under-rated Tucker sadly succumbed to cancer in 2002.

The remaining members Priest and Scott, allegedly don’t speak to each other and perform with their own versions of The Sweet on 2 different continents. Priest lives in California, has grown into an orange haired-Orson, while Scott, who always looked like he worked in accounts, is still based in the UK, and recently overcame prostate cancer to present van-hire adverts on the tube.

This then is the real world of pop success.

I doubt they would ever change it. And I doubt the fans would ever let them. So great is the pact with the devil of celebrity that once made, one is forever defined by the greatest success.

Back to that night, in a theater in Kilmarnock, when the man at the back said everyone attack, and the room turned into a ballroom blitz. Whatever the cause of the chaos, it gave Glam Rock a work of art, and Sweet, one of their finest songs.

Bonus ‘Block Buster’ plus documentary on Brian Connolly, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment