February 9, 1997 – Brian Connolly was born on October 5th 1945 in Govanhill, Glasgow. Whilst the true identity of Brian’s father was never officially 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 from 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. After inadvertently discovering his lineage he eventually 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)
At the age of twelve Brian’s family moved to Harefield, Middlesex, in the greater London Area, where he played in a number of local bands before eventually replacing singer Ian Gillan in a band called Wainwright’s Gentlemen, which included drummer Mick Tucker.
In his mid-teens he joined the Merchant Navy. He got a tiger’s head tattooed on his right arm during his Navy service. 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 who went to Deep Purple 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 and soon Sweet was born. They had a string of hits “Block Buster” topping the chart, followed by three consecutive number two hits in “Hell Raiser”, “The Ballroom Blitz” and “Teenage Rampage“. Their first self-written and produced single “Fox on the Run” also reached No.2 on the UK charts.
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 Staines where he received several kicks to his throat resulting in his being unable to sing for some time and permanently losing some of his vocal range. 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 a purist rocker I enjoyed Sweet’s approach to commercial success, even though Glam Rock was never my style. Interestingly however, the flip sides of the charting glamrock singles, always offered some amazing music.
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.
According to Sweet bassist Steve Priest, singer Brian Connolly had to quit the legendary glam band because of his serious smoking habit. Priest claims that his nicotine habit caused serious damage to that golden voice. “A lot of the songs were really up there – and he smoked like a chimney. So he used to lose his voice a lot.” Apparently, Connoly’s metabolism prevented him from holding his liqor. “He was Scottish, and usually Scottish people live to have a bevvie or two, and he liked to drink,” said Priest, “But as he said to me, ‘I love to have a drink but I can’t keep up.”
Over the next three years he released a few solo singles “Take Away The Music”, “Don’t You Know A Lady”, and “Hypnotized”. In 1981, Brian was admitted to hospital with illness and bloating. Whilst in hospital, he had 14 heart attacks in one day. He survived but 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..
The face of glam rock, Brian Connolly was one of rock’s great performers and despite numerous health problems he continued to play right up to his death. With his Polydor contract now expired, he had more freedom and from early 1984 onwards, despite much re-occurring ill health, Brian would tour the UK, Europe and Australia with his band, now under the name of The New Sweet till his death. Even though he also had a few reunions with the original Sweet, in the UK and the USA, they never actually reunited.
Connolly, who once owned a rock star-style mansion, yacht, and six Rolls-Royce luxury automobiles, was plagued by ill health for years. Beset by financial woes, he was forced to sell his house to pay delinquent taxes, and his wife left him. Adding to his aura of rock ‘n’ roll tragedy was a complicated parental history: at the age of 18 he learned he had been a foundling and had been adopted by a nurse’s family. Later, he came to believe that the man he thought was his foster father may have been his biological father, and that Mark McManus, who played a detective on a popular Scottish television series called Taggart in the 1970s, was his half-brother; McManus died from alcohol-related causes in 1994.
In his day, Connolly had been known to drink with Keith Moon, the maniacal and substance-abusing original drummer for the Who. In the 1990s Connolly’s health worsened, and he suffered another heart attack in January of 1997. He checked himself out of the hospital and died of renal failure the following month, on February 9 at the age of 51.