In 1974, hot on the heels of my first Bowie gigs, I heard and instantly loved ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of us.’ I bought their third album ‘Kimono My House’ and, at last, I had a band I’d discovered on my own. Then, on holiday in Westgate, shortly before being bitten by a pug on the beach, I found their first snuggled in a local record shop. A memorable weekend.
Eventually, I went to see Sparks in 1976, at sweet sixteen feeling superior to the screaming 13 year olds going crazy for Russ’s sweet face and curly mane – and slightly creeped out by his odd expressionless brother with the Hitler moustache.
I lost touch with my loves through the 80s and 90s, but the flame was re-kindled in the 21st Century, when Ron and Russ kept coming back to play in London in various guises – Li’l Beethoven at the Festival Hall, the amazing 21night 21 album tour in 2008 (we managed 4), and more. Always with a great band, a huge orchestra, a dazzling display of sound and vision.
Last night at Bush Hall was a new project. Two hands, One Voice. The brothers on the stage alone, a couple of lights, a glitter ball – and some terrific songs.
A quick word about the crowd (you know me): mostly middle aged, some offspring, no discernable look other than the fervent flicker of fandom in their eyes. Sparks have a huge and loyal following, and as we found out from a bit of eavesdropping, they range from obsessives who have come over to London from as far as Vienna, to ex screaming teens and well-versed music fans, totting up all the legends they have seen.
Back to the gig. It started with Ron coming on alone, his image as disturbing as ever, deadpanning his way through an ‘overture’ of songs to come, to shouts of ‘Ron Ron Ron’. Then along hops Russell. And again I am struck by his own special weird look. He is in a double-breasted jacket and stripy tie, with a mass of raven black straight hair on his head – and it occurs to me yet again that he is just as odd-looking as his brother, but manages to carry it off by strutting like a pop idol.
It’s all about the wit and intelligent of the lyrics. I can’t imagine who else would open with a love song to the Metaphor, explaining how girls dig them and imploring us not to mix them. To songs both familiar and obscure, the audience knew all the words and there was almost no discernable difference in reaction between ‘Sherlock Holmes’, a short piece from the Bergman opera, ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of us’, and ‘I Married Myself’. Forty years of clever wording, precisely sung in Russ’s extraordinary falsetto and as clear as a poetry recital. Comparisons? Ian Dury, Victoria Wood; even, with huge affection, Hinge and Brackett.
Not a lot of a chat, but all of it heartfelt. An early thank you bounce, a moment of animation from Ron in the form of a dance, and words from Russ acknowledging London’s contribution to their career, allowing them to experiment, and in this case, find a format that lets Ron’s lyrics shine through.
And I grinned from beginning to end. As the song says: ‘I hope it’s just your smile that’s infectious.’
Words: Susie Innes