Sparks first tour of Europe - Netherland 1972


Review by Constant Meijers, first published in Aloha Magazine Netherlands in 1972.
English translation by Ruud Swart - Photos by Jarti Notohadinegoro
First published on line by FanMael website - Published here by courtesy of Carl Van Breukelen

Fanmael site - Ron Mael Pic/photo
Fanmael site - Russ Mael Pic/photo
Fanmael site - Harley Feinstein Pic/photo
Fanmael site - James "Jim" Mankey  Pic/photo
Fanmael site - Earl Mankey Pic/photo

It was Friday November 10 1972, that Sparks were in Holland for a day. We were given the opportunity to accompany the band for a day we fell for it.
At nine o'clock a.m. we are at Schiphol airport, where it has just started to rain heavily. The day will be gloomy. When a plastic voice from the ceiling announces that the plane from Zürich has just arrived, we get a bit nervous, because that's the one that brings them! We are to repeat carefully the names of the band members again, as memorized the night before and wait.
After a couple of minutes, the five plus one (manager Larry Dupont) appear to introduce themselves, sit down and order lemonade. The brand name of the lemonade has the effect of a bomb :...Sparks, complete with stars and all... "That's for the next album cover", Ron Mael says...
We start chatting, mainly about the remarkable success Sparks have with the Swiss young ladies. Remarks on the interview to be given to Radio Veronica, are full of understatements. "Beethoven would have been a lousy lead guitarist",
Harley Feinstein roguishly remarks: "First we played the blues and now we pay our dues". The replies to the questions remain jocular and soon enough Ron Mael appears to be the leader of the band. Earle makes some feeble efforts to take over this role but without any success. Questions are raised about Todd Rundgren (that will go on for the whole day) and their connection to the Kinks. To the first question Ron Mael replies that Todd Rundgrenis doing very well and to the second he says that, just like the Kinks they're very interested in the nature of both their songs and of that of the band.

Constant Meijers : Why did you change your name from Halfnelson to Sparks ?
Ron Mael : Halfnelson is the name of an obscene Japanese sex act and our manager thought this would jeopardise commercial success. Sparks is a more accessible name, sparkling.....lemonade....known everywhere.

Constant Meijers : Who is the leader of the band ?
Ron Mael : Just wait and see who will talk the most...

Constant Meijers : What did you play before ?
Earle Mankey : Jim and I used to play blues but that's out now. We were also involved in the underground scene but we got enough of that.

After the photo session, we hit the road in the direction of Naarden, to the studios of Radio North Sea. During the trip Russell Mael & Earle Mankey describe their peculiar experiences in Switzerland, where they have been confronted for the first time ever with an incredible popularity between so-called teenyboppers.
Dozens of girls had been fighting over an autograph. One of them requested an autograph on her forehead. This sort of audience was totally new to them and it utterly surprised them. With a camera in his hands Earle Mankey is ready to take photos of the first windmill he sees but the only one that we actually come across is by a curve of the road.
Russell Mael tells us that the band has been travelling throughout Europe for the past six weeks and have taken England as the temporary headquarters as his parents are living there. To my question whether there will be a second album, the answer is affirmative. They have just received the first copies in France and they promise me one as well.

Russell Mael : This record is different from the first one, because we did not record it with Todd Rundgren.In retrospect we were not all that happy with his production. I start to suspect that the subject of Todd Rundgren is not amongst their most favourite ones and decide to refrain from this subject for the time being.

We arrive at the North Sea studios, where Todd Rundgren-fan Alfred Lagarde is rigging his three master. Sparks are allowed to help him with this. Ron Mael is talking with a sonorous voice and twinkling dark eyes, while constantly busy with a cassette recorder : On - off - on - changing tapes, etcetera. I don't see any microphone but cannot hear a sound either. A weird act, I think to myself...
he same questions about Todd, the Kinks and their single "Wonder Girl", during which I notice again that Todd Rundgren is being avoided. After having improvised a cheerful Christmas jingle, the group can go to Hilversum. Manager Larry urges to reserve some time to take a shower and to wash their hairs as the boys always want to look immaculate during a television performance. And rightly so.
The television recording is for "Top Pop" and there might be a chance to go to the radio station Hilversum 3. It all appears a bit strange to me as these boys do not strike me as trying to build up a busy career. They just seem to be genuinely friendly to one and other, constantly seeing things in perspective and analysing pros and contras of all that is happening to them.

Ron Mael, whose moustache and twinkling eyes remind me of Chaplin - some say Hitler but according to Ron Hitler only influenced him on his piano techniques - does not say much, sees everything and replies with cryptic remarks. Like to Felix Meurders' question, what the title of the song "No More Mr. Nice Guys" means... "Look, this title wants to express the fact that there are not that many nice guys around nowadays, like you for instance"... Felix Meurders looks at him confused but then screams the song's title into the microphone. Felix Meurders as well starts talking about Todd Rundgren, but without any result.
Meanwhile Ron Mael is still playing with his cassette recorder and now I notice that it does have a built-in microphone. He has actually been recording everything that has been said today ! Then we return, in the pouring rain to the television studios where the others have used their time to change into neat suits, which is part of the dandy-look. A colourful wide tie finishes the job.
On the way back to the studio I tell Ron Mael that I do not find their image to be in line with their music, especially when it concerns their lyrics. Those lyrics have quite unusual subjects and are not easy to understand instantly. Ron confirms this, they do have a problem to determine for what kind of audience they are making music. Their experience in Switzerland has made him think again. Moreover, the British audience are comparing their music with that of T. Rex. The band was quite surprised about that comparison.

Constant Meijers : How do you write your songs ?
Ron Mael : I first make the music and after that the lyrics. For the lyrics I don't have any specific subject, except for the fact that they shouldn't be common.
Constant Meijers : Why was your new album (A Woofer In Tweeter's Clothing) not produced by Todd Rundgren ?
Ron Mael : Well, actually the first album was also only partly done by him. Todd Rundgren is extremely nice, but if you had to work with him, you wouldn't have much space for your own ideas. We did not feel his way of producing was suitable for our music. However, he could not be convinced otherwise. We started to behave a bit nasty and aggressive towards him and finally he didn't turn up anymore. Thaddeus James Lowe, the engineer finished the job and he's also produced our latest album.

Well, that's quite some news. Todd Rundgren was frozen out. With the deadly sense of understatement and humour of Ron Mael, this doesn't even seem impossible to me. Now I understand why they preferred not to talk about him and got kind of itchy about all those questions from people who were not specifically interested in Sparks, but rather in him.
During the make up session before the television broadcast, I read my Aloha story to them outloud. When I mention the fact that it's unbelievable, that a band with a name like Halfnelson and such a lovely album cover, has to try again with a much simpler name and approach, there's a lot of affirmative mumbling.
Ron Mael: I wish Mr.Grossman had read that phrase. He was against our old image and wanted us to change radically. We could not convince him otherwise, so we just had to do it. After all, he's the big boss.

...So it turns out that Grossman was the ugly guy and not their (and Fanny's) manager, Roy Silver, as is mentioned in the biography from the record company.

...To be continued HERE

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