Sparks @ O2 Institute, 24th September 2017

Sparks @ O2 Institute, 24th September 2017Sparks @ O2 Institute, 24th September 2017Sparks @ O2 Institute, 24th September 2017Sparks @ O2 Institute, 24th September 2017Sparks @ O2 Institute, 24th September 2017Sparks @ O2 Institute, 24th September 2017Sparks @ O2 Institute, 24th September 2017Sparks @ O2 Institute, 24th September 2017


Sparks are back again. Five years have gone in a flash and the first thing they did was answer the question that was posed in our review from 2012 of the Two Hands, One Mouth Tour: “what more a full band could have added to the performance?”. More of that later.

Sparks are one of those bands that stay in your peripheral vision most of the time, particularly when you are of tender years like me. The memory of seeing the Mael Brothers on Top Of The Pops in 1974 is more than enduring. In fact it’s probably a seminal moment that disrupted the development of my taste in music. Those that know me would say it explains a lot. With a few noteable exceptions, pre-punk 1970s was a wasteland of mundane packaged pop delivered from production teams that would have given Stock Aitken and Waterman a run for their money in the 90s. But in amongst the banality of Andy Fairweather-Low, Paper Lace and Showaddywaddy (I know – you young people. Look them up, that’s what google is for) were the shining lights like Roxy Music, Alex Harvey, Cockney Rebel and of course Sparks.


The thin, angular guy with his piercing falsetto and jerky dancing and his surreal brother complete with Chaplin/Hitler moustache, were invigorating and disturbing in equal measure. There was no need to simulate capital punishment on stage or have singers cut themselves with broken glass in order to shock. Bands like Sparks were just weird enough to leave that lasting unnerving impression. Having a drummer called Dinky Diamond didn’t hurt the cause either.


Fast forward several decades, over the course of which Sparks popped up into the limelight regularly with something special before retreating into the twilight again. They have composed and performed music in a bewildering variety of styles but becoming arguably more avant garde in the process. This has culminated in their current album Hippopotamus. Like many of their works it is like nothing else and it was good to see that it was well represented in the set, and well appreciated by the crowd tonight.


The hallmarks of their style are all there but later compositions have an operatic feel to them and the use of repetition would have Mark E Smith doing a happy dance. The result is that everything seems to move so quickly; the tunes fly by. It’s a bit of cliché to mention how fit Russell Mael must be to keep up the pace but he drives everything from the front, leaping around, prompting the band and teasing his brother who is like a statue in comparison.


It is sobering to think that the last time we covered Sparks was that Two Hands, One Mouth tour. The Brothers look the same but the audience looked a tad older. They were the usual crew of people aching for the 70s and a few who may be in their 70s.. An eclectic bunch they display a bewildering array of musical tastes, at least judging from the t-shirts on show. – T-Rex, Kiss Napalm Death, Z Z Top. This is probably testament to the fact that people like Sparks for what they are and they are so difficult to pigeon-hole. In fact there were precious few Sparks tees on show apart from a few Dick Around specimens.

To a man and woman they love Sparks. The reception that they gave the band seemed almost overwhelming. At the end of the main set the Brothers stood there taking the applause, but not quite basking in the glory. They looked a bit awkward and Ron in particular seemed to be eyeing the wings furtively. But they were sincere in their thanks and Ron was persuaded to talk to us, thanking us for the response to the new material, and looking ahead as usual he stated that they were most proud of their most recent work. But that didn’t stop them delivering a varied set covering the whole span of their career. As with their last appearance they made a big deal of the role Birmingham played in their early success; Muff Winward and their second UK-based chance at fame.

Mister Goodnite

So what about the band and my earlier question? The first glimpse we had of the musicians was the somewhat idiosyncratic Mister Goodnite, support for the evening and AKA Tyler Parkford, Sparks keyboard player in the full band. Imagine Mike Flowers crossed with Super Bad Brad with an added layer of LA sleaze and a natty line in lyrics about drugs, drinking, sex and more drugs. This wasn’t straight Karaoke; he was using standards as the base for his own lyrics He had a great voice but, as with Mike Flowers, after I got the joke the routine paled a bit as it seemed to do for the majority of the crowd.


So, what the band added to Sparks was power! A song like This Town Ain’t Big Enough for The Both Of Us was made to rock and as good as it was in the duo it had the impact that I remember from the early days with those five extra guys pitching in. New songs like What The Hell Is It This This Time? were given the full treatment and reminded us that as well as being clever song writers and composers, the brothers are fronting a rock band.

Sparks set list

What the Hell Is It This Time?
At Home, At Work, At Play
Good Morning
When Do I Get to Sing “My Way”
Probably Nothing
Missionary Position
Sherlock Holmes
Dick Around
Scandinavian Design
Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)
Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth
I Wish You Were Fun
My Baby’s Taking Me Home
The Number One Song in Heaven
This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us
Hospitality on Parade

Johnny Delusional (cover of the FFS song)
Amateur Hour


Review: Ian Gelling

Photographs: Stephanie Colledge

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