Cast your mind back to the early 70s. In an era of striking acts on Top Of The Tops, comfortably among the most striking – and certainly the most original – were brothers Ron and Russell Mael, better known as Sparks.
40 years on from their debut album, they are back in Britain on Their Two Hands, One Mouth Tour taking in venues including the Concert Hall, Brighton Dome on October 25 (www.brightondome.org).
“40 years, I guess that’s quite something,” says Russell down the line from his LA home. “But we don’t like to talk about time passing too much!
“But it was certainly a different era back then, full of such vitality and freshness. It just seems like a whole other time when there was a real healthy rivalry between the bands trying to outdo one another, and there was also the strength and power of Top Of The Pops.
“There was nothing as singular and powerful where the whole nation was glued to the TV. Partly it was the lack of choice! But also it was also the nature of the show.”
An appearance on Top Of The Pops would do wonders for record sales; it would also be a big boost to attendances at gigs.
“There was nothing comparable to it. The media is so fractured now and there are just so many options.”
Certainly it was all a more adventurous age, Russell recalls: “It was a time from our perspective where you could explore all sorts of avenues. There was less conservatism at that time. It seems rather odd to think that the world has gotten more conservative in all sorts of ways. Groups are more conservative. The media is more conservative. Regrettably there are fewer adventure-seekers just wanting to push it!”
A big part of the attraction for Sparks’ fans was the look: “But actually it was that not calculating. It was Ron in a way not wanting to compete with being the archetypal rock person. He cut his hair short and wanted it slicked back. People said that Sparks was a pop star and a banker! It was really striking at the time. Obviously Ron on the keyboards was less mobile on stage, but those close-ups on his face were unforgettable!”
It’s been continuous for the brothers ever since. As Russell says, at times when they have been less visible in the UK, they have been more visible elsewhere – and so it has continued.
Now, in their anniversary year, they can look back – and have found a special way to do so. Their Two Hands, One Mouth Tour is exactly that, Russell’s vocals and Ron’s keyboard, plus nothing else.
It’s a stripped-back approach that Russell is hoping will focus attention on the quality of the lyrics, always a key part of their appeal.
“We wanted to try something that we had never done before, hopefully something that will be a bit exciting for Sparks’ fans and really show them the essence of Sparks, Ron’s really strong lyrics and my vocals.”