Brian Connolly

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Brian Connolly
Brianconnolly.GIF
Connolly's "Best of" album released in 2004
Background information
Birth name Brian Francis Connolly
Born (1945-10-05)5 October 1945
Govanhill, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Origin Harefield, Middlesex, England, UK
Died 9 February 1997(1997-02-09) (aged 51)
Slough, England
Genres Glam rock, hard rock, bubblegum pop, country rock
Occupations Musician, singer-songwriter
Years active 1963–1996
Labels Polydor, Carrere, RCA
Associated acts Sweet

Brian Francis Connolly (5 October 1945 – 9 February 1997) was a Scottish musician, best known as the lead singer of the British rock band Sweet.[1]

Early life[edit]

Brian Connolly was born in 1945 in Govanhill, Glasgow, (some early Sweet biographies claim he was born in 1949). Whilst the true identity of Brian's father was never made public, his mother was a teenage waitress named Frances Connolly who left him in a Glasgow hospital as an infant whilst he was possibly suffering effects of meningitis. He was fostered, aged two, by Jim and Helen McManus of Blantyre and took their family name. In his earliest years Connolly was also affectionately known as "snowball" referring to his almost white blonde hair. In a radio interview, Connolly reported that singing was a large part of growing up since there was no television, and that he was regularly called upon to sing for family and friends. Connolly has credited the Everly Brothers as being his earliest musical influence. When Brian was aged about eighteen he inadvertently discovered his lineage and reverted to the name Connolly. Numerous sources have incorrectly asserted that he was a half brother of the late actor Mark McManus (who found fame in the title role of detective series "Taggart") but they were not related. Mark "Taggart" McManus was actually the nephew of Brian's foster father. (See "Talk")

Early music career and Sweet[edit]

At the age of twelve Connolly moved to Harefield, Middlesex, where Connolly attended school. In his mid-teens he joined the Merchant Navy. On his discharge from the Merchant Navy in 1963 he returned to Harefield and played in a number of local bands, including Generation X, from mid-1965 until about October 1966. The group recorded four tracks but these were not commercially released. The lineup featured Connolly on vocals, Chris Eldridge and Lee Mordecai on guitars, Mark Conway (bass) and drummer Martin Lass. Connolly eventually replaced singer Ian Gillan (later of Deep Purple fame) in a band called Wainwright's Gentlemen, which included drummer Mick Tucker. Tucker and Connolly left Wainwright's Gentlemen in late 1967 and recruited guitarist Frank Torpey, and bassist Steve Priest, naming their new band The Sweetshop.

On the eve of releasing their debut single, Slow Motion, in July 1968, the band shortened their name to The Sweet. They recorded a further three unsuccessful singles; Andy Scott joined the line-up in late 1970, just before the release of their first hit single "Funny, Funny". After this, Connolly was propelled into the limelight, with many appearances on Top of the Pops, with the other members of the Sweet. A flood of very successful singles would follow and both The Sweet and Connolly became instantly recognisable around the world with Brian enjoying a large fan base.

In 1974 Connolly was badly beaten after leaving a nightclub in Uxbridge where he received several kicks to his throat resulting in his being unable to sing for some time and losing some of his vocal range permanently. This event also meant the band missed out on supporting The Who at Charlton Athletic Football Ground. Several songs on the Sweet Fanny Adams album had to be sung by other members of the band.

As time progressed issues between Connolly and other members of Sweet developed and he would find the band excluding him from decisions. Brian developed a significant alcohol problem in the mid-1970s. During 1977, when no tours were undertaken and two of Sweet's most successful albums were recorded, the power struggle within the band became even more apparent. Brian's alcohol abuse further compromised his role with the band as his voice began showing the impact in recordings and on stage during Sweet's 1978 US tour. He played his last British show with the classic Sweet line-up at Hammersmith Odeon, London on 24 February 1978. His final live performance with the band was in July 1978 in Florida, USA when they supported Alice Cooper. His departure was not made public until March 1979.

After Sweet[edit]

After news of his leaving Sweet broke Connolly was interviewed by the German music magazine Bravo in which he said he was taking time off to be with his family, and considering a new musical direction (countrified rock.) By mid to late 1979 he had recorded a few new tracks at Chipping Norton Recording Studios, in Oxfordshire, with the assistance of friend and producer Mick Angus. One of the tracks "Take Away The Music" was rerecorded the following year, with then Polydor producer Pip Williams, at the Marquee Studios, in London.

Also in 1979 was Connolly's first major appearance since leaving the Sweet, at the Bravo Super Disco '79 event, held at the Olympiahalle in Munich on June 22. 10,000 people heard Connolly perform a sneak peek of his first solo Polydor single: "Take Away The Music". It was issued as Connolly's first solo single during 1980, by Polydor. This single is also included on the Polydor Germany "High Life" compilation album from 1980.

In 1981, Connolly was admitted to hospital with bloating, and he sustained multiple heart attacks. His health was permanently affected with some paralysis on his left side which would later develop into a nervous system condition. These problems were most likely related to Connolly's excessive alcohol consumption, coupled with the use of prescription diuretic medicine.[citation needed]

Connolly's next release was "Don't You Know A Lady", composed by Roger Greenaway, was also recorded by British four-piece band Brooks shortly after Brian Connolly's release. Again, the track failed to make an impact. In 1982 with his Polydor contract having expired and Connolly signed with French independent label, Carrere Records. Carrere then released the hard-rock single "Hypnotized", written by Joe Lynn Turner. A Fandango cover, the track was released in Europe with wide distribution by RCA but failed to chart. During this time Connolly recorded a dozen or so new tracks. The original plan was to have a completed album out by August 1983 but this never eventuated.

During January 1983, Connolly supported Pat Benatar for three shows including one at Hammersmith Odeon, London. Connolly's Encore, included most of the members of Verity (fronted by ex-Argent guitarist John Verity) and Terry Uttley, bass player from Smokie. Songs played included "Windy City", "Fox on the Run", "Hypnotized" and new numbers, "Sick and Tired", "Red Hair Rage" and "Burning The Candle". These three tracks are available on a bootleg 7" single and CD. The band and Connolly also played two other dates for the Benatar tour in Birmingham and Newcastle.

The British Inland Revenue served Connolly and the other members of the Sweet with a multi-million pound tax assessment for the income earned off their hit records. Connolly sold his house to pay his share of the tax bill.

New Sweet and reunions[edit]

Brian Connolly's Sweet
Also known as

New Sweet (1984 -1987)

BC SWEET (1993 –1997)
Origin United Kingdom
Genres Glam rock
Hard rock
Years active 1984–1996
Website http://www.bcsweet.net

From early 1984 onwards, despite recurring ill health, Connolly toured the UK and Europe with his band, now under the name of The New Sweet. His most successful concerts were in West Germany every year, before and after Germany's reunification. He visited other countries including Denmark, and he also continued to perform on and off in the UK. Connolly had reportedly stopped drinking in 1985, but separated from his wife Marilyn, divorcing in 1986.

During 1987, Connolly would meet up again with Frank Torpey, who was the original Sweet lead guitarist from 1968 to 1969. Frank Torpey later explained in interviews that Brian Connolly was trying to get a German recording deal. The two got on very well and Torpey subsequently invited Connolly to go into the recording studio with him, as an informal project. After much trepidation and as always, running very late, Connolly turned up and the track "Sharontina" was recorded. However, this recording would not be released until 1998, when Frank Torpey's 1998 CD album, "Sweeter", became available.

In 1988, Connolly reunited in Los Angeles, California, with former band members Mick Tucker, Steve Priest and Andy Scott, to rework studio versions of "Action" and "The Ballroom Blitz". This was to be trial to see if a full reunion and new album could be arranged. This was for America's MCA Records. Connolly arrived having had troubles with a local rental car and getting lost on the way to the studio. This Mike Chapman-produced reunion floundered quickly due to problems with Brian's voice, and Brian went back to performing with his band, "The New Sweet".

During 1990 Connolly reunited with the original Sweet line-up, for the promotion of a music video documentary in London at Tower Records and again there were rumours of a full band reunion which, ultimately, came to naught.

By July 1990, plans were made for Connolly and his band to tour Australia. A number of dates were planned with the tour starting in Adelaide. This proceeded and took place during November. However, during the very long flight to Australia, Brian Connolly's health had suffered and he was hospitalised in Adelaide Hospital. This was allegedly for dehydration and related problems. The rest of the band played a show in Adelaide without him, so as not to disappoint the waiting fans. After being released from hospital, Connolly joined the rest of the other band members in Melbourne for the first gig, which was at the Pier Hotel, in Frankston. After several other shows, including one at the Dingley Powerhouse, Connolly and his band played the final Australian date of the tour at Melbourne's Greek Theatre. It was felt at the time that Connolly's health was sufficient reason for the tour not to be extended, and some of the later planned dates were abandoned. Brian Connolly went back to England and his band appeared on The Bob Downe Christmas show, on 18 December 1990.

During the early 1990s Connolly played the European "oldies" circuit and occasional outdoor festivals in Europe with his band. However his plans would suffer a small setback when on 22 March 1992, a heavy duty tape recorder was stolen from the band's van whilst at a gig in the Bristol Hippodrome with Mud. It contained demos of four new songs, totalling about 20 mixes.

Legal problems were still going on in the background over the use of the Sweet name between Connolly and Andy Scott. In something of a truce, both parties agreed to distinguish their group's name to help promoters and fans. The New Sweet became Brian Connolly's Sweet and Andy Scott's version became Andy Scott's Sweet. Without the previous difficulty with Andy Scott, Connolly and his band continued to tour, both in the UK and Europe.

In 1994, in somewhat of a departure and proving he was no stranger to a challenge, Connolly and his band played in Dubai. He appeared at the Galleria Theatre, Hyatt Regency. He also performed in Bahrain.

By this time Connolly had well and truly healed the differences with Steve Priest and Mick Tucker, as shown when he was invited to the wedding of Priest's eldest daughter, Lisa. At the private function, for which Priest specially flew back to England, Steve Priest and Brian Connolly performed together.

In 1995, Connolly released a new album entitled Let's Go. Available on CD, this was backed up at the time with merchandising as well. Also that year, his partner Jean, whom he had met a few years earlier, gave birth to a son. Also in 1995, Connolly performed in Switzerland.

During 1995, Connolly's partner Jean finally managed to track down his missing biological family. It emerged that he had an aunt in Ontario, Canada. She was able to reveal that Connolly's true birth mother had died in 1989. However, she was also able to inform him that he had a living brother and sister. Both flew almost straight away to England to meet Connolly during November 1995, the result giving him some closure to an issue that had haunted him since the age of eighteen.

On 2 November 1996, British TV Network Channel 4 aired a programme "Don't Leave Me This Way", which examined Connolly's time as a pop star with The Sweet and the subsequent decline in the band's popularity, and its impact on Connolly and the other band members. The show revealed Brian's ill health but also that he was continuing with his concert dates at Butlins. Much has been written about the fact he was touring Butlins. In fact his appearances were nothing new. Connolly and his band had appeared at Butlins consistently a number of times on tour during the early 1990s.

Connolly's final concert was at the Bristol Hippodrome on 5 December 1996, with Slade II and John Rossall's Glitter Band Experience.

Death[edit]

During January 1997, Connolly had another heart attack and he was hospitalised in Slough. After a week in hospital, he discharged himself, but he had to be readmitted the following week. This time there was little more that could be done. He died late in the evening of 9 February 1997, from renal failure, liver failure and repeated heart attacks, attributed to his previous chronic alcoholism. He was 51.

He was cremated after a ceremony at Most Holy Name Roman Catholic Church at Old Mill Road, Denham, Buckinghamshire on Monday 17 February 1997 and his ashes were scattered over the water by his adult daughters Nicola and Michelle. He also left an ex-wife, Marilyn, and a two-year-old son called Brian Junior (BJ) by his partner Jean.

Fans then organised a memorial concert for Brian at The Camden Palace, London on Sunday 11 October 1998. Money was raised to pay for a plaque dedicated to Brian at Breakspear Crematorium, Breakspear Road, Ruislip, Middlesex. It was unveiled on 9 February 2000.

Band member timeline[edit]

Mid-1965-October 66

Generation X

1966-67

Wainwright's Gentlemen

1968-78

The Sweetshop/The Sweet/Sweet

1979-1982
Brian Connolly Band
  • Brian Connolly - lead vocals
  • Brian Willoughby - guitar
  • John Verity - guitar
  • Dave Lambert - guitar
  • Chaz Cronk - bass
  • Tony Fernandez - drums, percussion
1982-1984
  • Brian Connolly - lead vocals
  • John Verity - guitar
  • Clive Barrett - guitar
  • Terry Utley - bass
  • Steve Rodford - drums, percussion
1984
The New Sweet
  • Brian Connolly - lead vocals
  • Brian Rawson - guitar
  • Phil Ridden - drums, percussion
  • Geoff Roots - bass
1984–1990
  • Brian Connolly - lead vocals
  • Phil Ridden - drums, percussion
  • Gary Farmer - bass
  • Steve Turner - guitar
  • Michael Williams - guitar
1990
  • Brian Connolly - lead vocals
  • Steve Berry - bass
  • Neale Haywood - guitar
  • Martin - drums
1990–1992
  • Brian Connolly - lead vocals
  • Steve Turner - guitar
  • Michael Williams - guitar
  • Dave Farmer - drums, percussion
  • Gary Farmer - bass
1992-1993
  • Brian Connolly - lead vocals
  • Steve Turner - guitar
  • Dave Farmer - drums, percussion
  • Gary Farmer - bass
1993–1994
Brian Connolly's Sweet
  • Brian Connolly - lead vocals
  • Bjorn Hurrel - bass
  • Mel Johnson - guitar
  • Steve Mulvey - keyboards
  • Phil Ridden - drums, percussion
1994–1995
  • Brian Connolly - lead vocals
  • Steve Mulvey - keyboards
  • Martin Cook - bass
  • Dave Farmer - drums
  • Drew Murphy - drums, percussion
  • Glenn Williams - guitar
1995–1996
  • Brian Connolly - lead vocals
  • Steve Mulvey - keyboards
  • Dave Farmer - drums
  • Glenn Williams - guitar
  • Dave Glover - bass
  • Russ Mahoney - drums, percussion
1996–1997
  • Brian Connolly - lead vocals
  • Steve Mulvey - keyboards
  • Glenn Williams - guitar
  • Dave Glover - bass
  • Jeff King - drums, percussion

Discography[edit]

With Sweet[edit]

As Brian Connolly[edit]

Singles[edit]

Albums[edit]

  • Brian Connolly and The Sweet - Greatest Hits (1986) – new recordings of Sweet singles – Success Records
  • Let's Go (1995) – Sweet re-recordings and three new post-Sweet tracks – Bam Records
  • Take Away the Music (2004) – compilation of solo singles and demos – Malibu Records

Appears on[edit]

  • Closed (Belgian psychedelic band) - guide vocals on "My Little Girl From Kentucky" and "Spider"
  • "Rememer December" by Paper Dolls - backing vocals (1970)
  • High Life 20 Original Top Hits (1980) Polydor Germany - Features "Take away the music"
  • Sweeter (1998) by Frank Torpey, CD Album - Notable for Brian Connolly's 1997 lead vocal track, "Sharontina" - Frankie Dean Records

Books[edit]

  • The man who sang Blockbuster (2009) Brian Manly - Published by Somehitwonder Books

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sweeting, Adam (11 February 1997). "Bitter end for Sweet". The Guardian (London). p. 16. ISSN 0261-3077.  (subscription required)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]