The Sweet bassist Steve Priest dies aged 72

By Mark Savage
BBC music reporter

Published
image source, Getty Images
image captionSteve Priest (far right) with his bandmates Brian Connolly, Mick Tucker and Andy Scott in 1974

Steve Priest, the bassist and co-founder of glam rock band Sweet, has died at the age of 72.

He was known for his playful humour and outrageous costumes when Sweet played hits like Blockbuster and Little Willy on Top of the Pops in the 1970s.

Priest also sang the memorable lines "there's a girl in the corner that no-one ignores, 'cos she thinks she's the passionate one," in Ballroom Blitz.

His death was confirmed by the band, who shared a statement from his family.

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Bandmate Andy Scott paid tribute, describing Priest as the best bass player he had ever played with. "From that moment in the summer of 1970 when we set off on our musical odyssey the world opened up and the roller coaster ride started."

"I am in pieces right now," added the guitarist, who is now the sole surviving member of Sweet's classic line-up.

"His wife Maureen and I have kept in contact and though his health was failing I never envisaged this moment. Never. My thoughts are with his family."

Controversial costumes

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.

In total, they scored 13 Top 20 hits in the 1970s, with songs like Teenage Rampage, Hell Raiser, Wig-Wam Bam and the number one single Blockbuster.

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As the band became a regular fixture on Top of the Pops, Priest became the epitome of glam rock androgyny, known for his flamboyant outfits and heavy make-up.

"The make-up thing, I can't remember what started that," he told the Phoenix New Times in 2018. "Marc Bolan, maybe? Top of the Pops was a stupid show in some ways but it was like, um, you had to outdo everyone else."

"I was the first one to wear hot pants on Top of the Pops," he added. "A year later, Bowie did it and everyone went, 'Wow, David Bowie wore hot pants on Top of the Pops,' and totally forgot the fact that I did it the year before."

image source, Getty Images
image captionThe band wore Native American headdresses when they played Wig-Wam Bam in the 70s

But the bassist landed himself in hot water when he appeared in German military uniform and sporting a Hitler moustache on the 1973 Christmas edition of Top of the Pops (the song they were playing, Blockbuster, was named after an Allied bomb).

"It's amazing how everyone still talks about the Nazi uniform," he said in 2010. "Good old BBC wardrobe department. People always want to know if I was serious. I mean, a gay Hitler. Hello?!"

Sweet parted ways with Chinn and Chapman in 1974, determined to write their own material. Influenced by The Who, their new sound was harder, and yielded hits like Fox On The Run and Action.

After Connolly departed the group in 1978, Priest took over lead vocal duties and Sweet continued as a trio until 1981.

'A brave glam rocker'

In recent years, there had been two competing versions of Sweet: Priest had the right to use the band's name in the US, where he lived, while guitarist Andy Scott toured the UK with an alternate line-up.

Their biggest songs continued to get radio play - while Ballroom Blitz, a song inspired by a Scottish gig where the band were bottled offstage, gaining a new lease of life in the 1990s after featuring in the movie Wayne's World.

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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."

Priest is survived by his wife, Maureen, whom he married in 1981 and their three daughters. No cause of death was given.

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