We were saddened to hear of the death of Steve Priest, bassist and co-founder of The Sweet, a band destined to be labelled as typical frothy 70s novelty, completely missing the fact that they routinely released powerhouse singles and albums and helped to pave the way for British heavy metal in the 1980s.
Priest was born in Hayes, West London, in 1948, and became a musician after building his own bass guitar in his teens. After playing in bands like The Countdowns and The Army, he formed The Sweet (then known as Sweetshop) in January 1968 with vocalist Brian Connolly, drummer Mick Tucker and guitarist Frank Torpey.
Following a few line-up changes and a false start on Parlophone Records, the band signed to RCA in 1971 and teamed up with songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, whose bubblegum melodies and power-pop riffs propelled them into the charts, with no fewer than thirteen top 20 hits throughout the decade. Countless appearances on Top of the Pops (and even more on Top of the Pops 2) saw them intrinsically linked with the gregariously excessive costumes of the glam era but with their music reduced to throwaway pop. In fact, albums such as Sweet Fanny Adams (1974); Give Us a Wink (1976) and Level Headed (1978) show a band growing in confidence and volume with each subsequent release.
Despite an ill-advised appearance on the Christmas edition of TOTP in 1973 where we donned a Nazi uniform (the BBC’s complicity must be questioned) alongside the glitter and hotpants, Priest and his band mates built themselves to such a level of popularity in 1975 that they were able to abandon their bubblegum image and eject Chinn and Chapman. Seeing themselves as either natural successors to The Who, or at least comrades in arms, they worked tirelessly, with album after album and lengthy tours.
It was these sustained periods of work which led to Connolly’s voice to suffer and lead to cancelled shows, though a huge tour of the US in 1976 so that audiences failed to share the band’s views and they returned deflated, skipping on an opportunity to share dates with young upstarts, Aerosmith. A change in record labels, a mixed vision of where they were headed and, most strikingly, their lead singer’s sad decent into alcoholism, led to the announcement of Connolly’s departure in 1979. The band doggedly continued until 1981 as a trio before an almost Drifters-like assembly of different versions of The Sweet, all in competition with each other, bothered small venues until the early 2000s.
The BBC reports that the band and Steve is still held with huge affection across the musical world:
Tributes to Priest have poured in since his death was announced, with many sharing their memories on social media.
“When Sweet were on [TV] you sat there in awe thinking, ‘sod the school careers adviser that’s the job for me,'” wrote The Damned’s guitarist Captain Sensible. “And they wound your parents up something rotten too, which was a bonus. Steve Priest RIP.”
David Ellefson of Megadeth said that Priest was “without parallel“.
He added that Sweet “gave me one of my earliest memories of great hard rock on the radio as a kid and [1974’s] Desolation Boulevard still holds up as one of rock’s greatest albums from that period.”
“RIP Steve Priest,” wrote Nancy Wilson of the US rock band Heart. “A brave glam rocker and man.”
“As you might imagine, I am definitely a Sweet fan,” said Dee Snider, lead singer of Twisted Sister. “Sad that so many of the original band are now gone.”