Steve Priest, musician.

Born: February 23, 1948;

Died: June 4, 2020.

STEVE Priest’s most telling moment on Top of the Pops came during their performance of their chart-topping 1973 hit, Blockbuster. During the chorus, singer Brian Connolly would briefly give way to Priest who, camping things up with page-boy haircut, false eyelashes and full make-up, would gaze into the camera and trill into the microphone: “We just haven’t got a clue what to do!”

Priest and his colleagues certainly knew what they were doing: they were selling outrageous androgyny to teenagers while alarming their parents, all the while heading in the direction of 55 million record sales. To the Black Sabbath singer Ozzy Osbourne, however, the Sweet in 1973 “look like builder’s labourers with make-up”.

Just as, later in the decade, safety pins and piercings characterised punk, eyeliner and glitter were the USPs of the pop bands at the beginning of glam.

The Sweet were determined not merely to keep up with the high-camp approach but to win out – and this in an era when David Bowie wore a frock, Alice Cooper carried a live snake on stage, and Slade’s guitarist Dave Hill wore glitter on his cheeks and a silver stovepipe hat. Priest himself declared that he was the first man to wear hot-pants on Top of the Pops, a year ahead of David Bowie.

The group, which had top 10 hits including Hellraiser, Teenage Rampage and The Ballroom Blitz, also enjoyed a classic sex, drugs and rock’ n’ roll lifestyle. “After downing up to a dozen bottles of wine at dinner, we would rush to the pub and imbibe some of the local brew,” Priest recalled in one interview. “The rest of the evening was spent fornicating.”

The drugs, drink and girls lifestyle was heavily referenced in Priest’s autobiography, Are You Ready, Steve?’, a reference to the opening line of The Ballroom Blitz. “This is not a Girl Scout manual,” he said of the memoir. “There are some very steamy accounts of some close encounters of the sexual kind.”

All very rock star of course, but perhaps the Sweet had to try a little too hard to suggest rock star credentials. By a twist of fortune, the band had found themselves making bubblegum. It was very good bubblegum, but it was not the sort of music that the young Steve Priest, a fan of Cream and Jimi Hendrix, imagined himself playing.

Stephen Norman Priest was born in Hayes, Middlesex, to a father who once played in a Hawaiian band. From the moment he saw Jet Harris of the Shadows play live, the teenager knew he wanted to play the bass guitar. He joined a series of local rock/blues bands, playing youth clubs and bingo halls, and later in Germany. At one point he worked with legendary producer Joe Meek.

In January 1968, Priest joined with Scots-born singer Brian Connolly and drummer Mick Tucker, to form the nucleus of The Sweetshop. They would later add guitarist Andy Scott and drop the ‘shop’ part.

It wasn’t until the band teamed up with pop writers Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman that they enjoyed their first hit in 1971. Funny Funny was followed by Co-co and the likes of Little Willy and Wig-Wam Bam. The band loved the limelight and their 13 Top 20 successes. Priest in particular loved the devilment he could create by dressing up. At one point he wore a Wehrmacht uniform and a Hitler moustache. “People always want to know if I was serious,” he said later. “I mean, a gay Hitler?”

The Sweet loved the mild anarchy they created but were determined to let their power chords loose on their own material. Music writer David Cavanagh has observed: “Musically, Sweet shared the same aspirations as Deep Purple – gigs in city halls to denim-clad audiences – but found themselves playing Top Rank and Mecca ballrooms where hysterical girls would pull them from the stage and hack wildly at their hair with scissors smuggled in their handbags.”

What to do? The band dropped Chinn and Chapman and in 1975 had their own hit single, Fox on the Run, with Priest singing backup. As is always the case, however, the band took to infighting and had their last Top Ten hit in 1978 with Love is Like Oxygen. As punk, new wave and disco arrived, Sweet suddenly looked old-fashioned.

Connolly and Sweet parted company in 1979. In 1981, the remaining three decided to disband; later, there were three Sweets for audiences to choose from, with Connolly, Scott and Priest all fronting their own versions. Priest’s Sweet were based in America – he had remarried and moved to Los Angeles with his second wife, Maureen, a record company director.

Brian Connolly died in 1997 and cancer took Tucker in 2002. Priest never gave up on music, however, and formed his own bands in the States, only wearing a little make-up “because I’m old now.”

He certainly loved the “magical 70s”, telling one reporter; “They were like the 60s, only crazier. God knows how we got away with it.” Not only did they get away with it, but time has seen the Sweet recognised as the excellent rock musicians they were. Desolation Boulevard (1974) still holds up as one of rock’s greatest albums of that era. Some, such as the Damned’s Captain Sensible , knew that all along. He tweeted that when the Sweet were on Top of the Pops “you sat there in awe thinking, ‘Sod the school careers adviser, that’s the job for me.’ And they wound your parents up something rotten too, which was a bonus”.

Steve Priest is survived by his wife, Maureen, and three daughters, Lisa, Danielle and Maggie.