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Sparks, Christian girls, drugs & lemon meringue pie: Meet obscure new wavers Gleaming Spires
11.24.2014
06:10 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Sparks
Gleaming Spires

Re-Dux album art work for
 
As much as the mainstream clamors for something truly unique and edgy, the minute they get it is the minute that they typically do not want it. It’s this cultural miasma where cult artists are born and a perfect example of this is the early 1980’s band, Gleaming Spires. The seeds of the Spires were first planted in a Los Angeles new wave rock band called Bates Motel, but it took the fertile ground of joining Sparks in 1981 to help sprout one of the better—albeit obscure—cult bands to have emerged out of the post-punk musical landscape.

While they were together for only handful of years, ending with 1985’s Welcoming a New Ice Age, new label Futurismo have been working with the two brilliant minds behind Gleaming Spires, vocalist and bassist Les Bohem and drummer David Kendrick on a re-release and remastering of their first album originally released on the legendary Posh Boy label, Songs of the Spires. Available as both a digital download, as well as 180 gram vinyl album (colored either lemon meringue or blue movie, depending on your preference), Songs of the Spires has never looked or sounded this good. It’s a pitch-perfect debut album with that mix of quirky humor, emotional angst and sonic layers that could have only come from the dynamic duo of Bohem and Kendrick.

So in honor of this release, here is an exclusive interview with the Spires themselves, the first since their final album in 1985.

What was the big inspiration early on to get into music? Was it anything encouraged or discouraged by your family?

Les Bohem: Well, I took guitar lessons when I was a kid – my mom’s family was deep into Pete Seeger and I saw him at a Unitarian church when I was maybe seven. I had a subscription to Sing Out and an older cousin who was very cool and knew about Bob Dylan. In fact, I can remember that we thought it was lame that Peter, Paul and Mary covered “Blowin In the Wind.” My first performance was said “Wind” at my grammar school graduation. Aldous Huxley was in the audience. He told my Mom I had a nice voice. This either means he was old and deaf, not paying attention, or was on Psilocybin.

The Beatles during my first year of Junior High and that was it. The Kinks, Them, the Stones, the Who – We did “Substitute” in my first band at the 8th grade talent show – American lyrics ‘cause we didn’t know any better. Then my folkie roots began to show and I wore striped T-shirts and a vest and glasses, which I didn’t need, so I could look like the Lovin’ Spoonful.

My mom was always forgiving and she tried hard to like what I was doing. My dad never really got it. I broke his heart a bit when I left college to become a rock star. Having both worked as writers in the movie business, they had a healthy suspicion of any career in the arts.

David Kendrick: Both of us had artistic families. My father was a sculptor. I won’t say I was “forced into music” but was definitely encouraged. I mean, I had a very loud drum set in my bedroom. I was in bands outside of school.

How did you two meet? What events led to the formation of Bates Motel?

Les Bohem: I formed Bates Motel with Bob Haag and Alan Slater somewhere around 77-78, and we added Bob Beland somewhere right after that. We had a drummer who was a friend of Alan and Bob Haag’s. He left to join another band and then Bob Beland left. We were playing around L.A. and I don’t remember how we put the word out for drummers. I feel like I’d met David once at the Troubadour before that. He wore funny shoes. He was the first really good drummer and still far and away the best that I have ever played with. I remember how good the songs sounded the first time we practiced with him. Alan was gone by now, by the way, since he formed another band, and we had added another guitar player, Dave “the Rave” Draves. He and Bob Haag were from Lancaster, a town about 60 miles into the desert from L.A. We practiced there in a studio space that was in an arcade, which had been owned by Judy Garland’s father. On the long drives up and back, David and I become friends quickly. We’d bring tapes of favorite songs. We’d talk about books, music. We were still young. We’d get heavy.

David Kendrick: Bates already existed. I joined after they fell for my lamppost drummer propaganda. I liked the film reference name too
 
Les Bohem playing behind the Mael Brothers. Note Ron's smile.
 
It’s been written that the Mael Brothers discovered you after becoming familiar with Bates Motel. Where you fans of Sparks beforehand?

Les Bohem: It all begins with a screenwriter named Bill Kerby. I liked their album covers but had only heard a few songs. David, I believe, was the bigger fan. In those days, there was no place to get espresso in Los Angeles and the thing that David and I really bonded over was espresso. I had been going to the Belgian Waffle stand at the Farmer’s Market on Fairfax for years to have coffee with Bill, a writer who I’d met through my friend Miranda when they were dating. So this actually all begins with Miranda. Anyways, I would meet Bill for coffee mornings. Then, in the Bates days, a whole bunch of us would go in the afternoons and we would see Ron and Russell, who hung out there most afternoons. It was a celebrity sighting. “Look, it’s those guys from Sparks.” After a while, we developed one of those nodding relationships. One day, I went over to their table. We were trying everything to get signed and I thought that maybe they’d produce us. I said, “You guys are supposed to be the fathers of New Wave, how about you come see your kids,” or something equally lame and gave them a flyer to a show we were doing at Blackies, a club in Santa Monica. They came. They did not want to produce us. They asked us to be their band.
 

 
More after the jump…

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Sparks: This karaoke bar ain’t big enough for both of us
04.21.2014
08:00 am

Topics:
Amusing
Music

Tags:
Sparks
Russell Mael

lessurleam11.jpg
 
I have to admit that Sparks are my most favorite band in the whole wide world. But you don’t really need to know that. All you need to know is that Russell Mael visited a karaoke parlor in Tokyo last year during Sparks tour of Japan, when he noticed they carried the Mael brothers’ classic hit “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us.” What else could Russell do but have a go?

Mr. Mael’s rendition is certainly superb, and would definitely pass any audition for a Sparks tribute band. He may also have hit upon a new trend for touring bands: visit karaoke bars and sing along to their hits. Russell Mael has certainly thrown down a gauntlet that will be difficult to better with this performance.
 

 
With thanks to Michael Gallagher

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
First Class Mael: Sparks release ultimate box set collection ‘New Music For Amnesiacs’
10.16.2013
09:23 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Sparks


 
I’m rather delighted to hear that Sparks are to release New Music For Amnesiacs, a five-disc “ultimate box set collection” on October 21st.

The Brothers Mael themselves have curated this definitive guide to Sparks’ extraordinary career, which includes a four-CD set, containing 81-songs from 21-albums that “are the most significant in terms of their career (which spans four decades) or that resonate with them on a more personal level.” There is also a 64-page hardbound coffee table book featuring photographs and memorabilia (much of it from the band’s own archives), which in accompaniment with the music tells Sparks story from the late 1960s (when they were first the Urban Renewal Project and then called Halfnelson) to present day.

Think of it as a mixed-media autobiography, as told by Sparks.

The box set also includes some of Ron’s never before seen handwritten lyrics; an oversized envelope stuffed with a proof-sheets of photo outtakes of the Big Beat photo session shot by renowned photographer Richard Avedon; and a second envelope filled with memorabilia that “you can proudly pin on yourself or stick on your wall to flaunt your fandom and totally irritate your still-not-converted friends.” If all this weren’t enough, there is a bonus CD containing new studio tracks commemorating two of Sparks’ unique live events, “Islington N1” from the Sparks Spectacular (21 albums in 21 nights), and Two Hands One Mouth from the tour of the same name.

All this goodness is currently available in the UK at £99.99 (GBP). US release soon.

New Music For Amnesiacs coincides with Sparks tour of America and Europe. And if you haven’t already, I thoroughly recommend you do go and see them—they are truly brilliant. Then maybe you can ask Santa to bring you the box set.
 
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maelsprks22.jpg
 

 

 
More classic Sparks after the jump…

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Sparks: Ron Mael says he’s a better song-writer than George Harrison

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Fun with Ron and Russell Mael, interviewed by Julie Brown on Music Box in 1985. Ron (as one commentator notes) is particularly “perky,” perhaps due to the excellent review in Sounds that claimed he was a better song-writer than Lennon and McCartney. Ron disagrees, but admits he is maybe a better song-writer than George Harrison.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Excellent Sparks live footage from 1974


When Sparks Met Comedy genius Jacques Tati in 1974


Ron and Russell Mael: Documentary on Sparks made from found footage


 
Bonus interview plus vintage Sparks comic strip, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Paul McCartney spoofs Ron Mael of Sparks, 1980
01.23.2013
03:05 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Paul McCartney
Sparks
Ron Mael
Music Video


 
I never knew this existed until now, and I wonder what Ron Mael thinks of it?

I assume McCartney is a Sparks fan if he is willing to spoof Mael in his own video, or maybe it was just an easy impression, even if he does it well. He also does Hank Marvin, but not so well, and I assume some of the other “band” members—they’re called The Plastic Macs, geddit?—are spoofs of other musicians from the period, too.

I’m not a McCartney fan really, but this IS a cracking tune:

Paul McCartney “Coming Up” (1980)
 

 
H/t too Wallace Wylie.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
‘Thank God It’s Not Christmas’: Sparks on French TV, 1974
12.19.2012
12:49 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Christmas
Sparks


 
Sparks with their sleazy anti-Yuletide number, “Thank God It’s Not Christmas,” on French television in 1974.

From their classic breakthrough album of that year, Kimono My House.
 

 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Sparks do ‘When I’m With You’ on a French kids show, 1980
12.12.2012
12:13 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Sparks
Giorgio Moroder


 
Sparks, the great brothers Mael themselves, performing “When I’m With You” on a French kids show in 1980. Odd that the set shows the duo standing in front of a “sex shop.” The French!

The number, from their underrated Giorgio Moroder and Harold Faltermeyer-produced Terminal Jive album, spent six weeks at the #1 spot, but only in France (The album was largely ignored everywhere else, so Sparks spent a year there promoting the album).
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Ron and Russell Mael: Documentary on Sparks made from found footage
11.12.2012
04:53 pm

Topics:
Heroes
Music
Pop Culture

Tags:
Sparks
Ron Mael
Russell Mael

ron_mael_russell_mael_sparks_1970s
 
I do love Sparks, those delightfully talented brothers Ron and Russell Mael, whose music has made the world so much better. They arrived in my life at the moment The Bonzos left, and offered a similar wit and sophistication with a syncopated beat. This documentary is made from found footage, for a journalism class in 2010, by jedenobel. It’s seems somehow right that Sparks should have a homemade fan documentary, and this one doesn’t disappoint, being both entertaining and informative, and with plenty of clips.

The fab image of Sparks above comes via the lovely Lady Is Lingering site.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Ian Dury and The Blockheads: Live in Paris 1981

ian_dury_paris_1981
 
Ian Dury looked like he could have been your Dad. Well, that is if your Dad was cool enough to front a band, and write songs that stuck in the head like a needle in the groove. I suppose it was because he looked like an old geezer and sounded like a cab driver that made him look like your Dad, but in truth Ian Dury was the Poet Laureate of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The Cor-Blimey Bard of Pop Poetry, whose exuberant lyrical dexterity at writing short memorable couplets, made him one of music’s best loved and most respected writers and performers.

In 1977, it seemed everyone had or had heard a copy of New Boots and Panties!!, the album that gave Punk and New Wave its very own T S Eliot, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Edward Lear or W H Auden. We went in-and-out of class rooms reciting “Clevor Trever”:

“Just cos I ain’t never ad, no, nothing worth having
Never ever, never ever
You ain’t got no call not to think I wouldnt fall
Into thinking that I ain’t too clever
And it aint not having one thing nor another
Neither, either is it anything, whatever
And its not not knowing that there ain’t nothing showing
And I answer to the name of Trever, however.”

Or, singing “Billericay Dickie”:

“I had a love affair with Nina
In the back of my Cortina
A seasoned up hyena
could not have been more obscener.”

It made a change from singing “Sha-na-na-na-sha-na-na-bop-de-diddle-de-bop, baby.” And if there had been an O’Level in the lyrics of Ian Dury, then we all would have passed ‘A’ band one. It wasn’t just that The Blockheads’ songs were the bollocks, it was Dury, who was the most literary thing that had happened to music since Ron and Russell told us about “Khaki-colored bombardiers…” over Hiroshima, or, Vivian sang “Sport, Sport, masculine sport. Equips a young man for society.

Here is Ian Dury and The Blockheads with ex-Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson in the line-up giving it their all and then some in Paris 1981.

01. “Wake Up (And Make Love To Me)”
02. “Sink My Boats”
03 “Delusions of Grandeur”
04. “Dance of the Crackpots”
05. “What a Waste”
06. “Hey! Hey! Take Me Away”
07. “Hit Me (With Your Rhythm Stick)”
08. “Sweet Gene Vincent’
 

 

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Pop Stars in Drag

freddie_mercury_great_pretender
 
A selection of pop’s bold in beautiful in drag.
 
roy_harper_robert_plant
Robert Plant and Roy Harper.
 
annie_lennox_whose
Annie Lennox in “Who’s That Girl?”
 
 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Film footage of The Rolling Stones in drag from 1966


 
More beautiful people after the jump…
 

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Sparks: 4 Blistering Tracks ‘From the Basement’
01.02.2012
03:14 pm

Topics:
Heroes
Music
Television

Tags:
Sparks
Ron Mael
Russell Mael

sparks_russell_ron_mael
 
Sparks perform a selection of excellent songs on From The Basement, in 2009.

The tracks in no particular order are:

“Propaganda” / “At Home, At Work, At Play”
“I Can’t Believe That you Would Fall (For All the Crap in this Song)”
“Good Morning”
“Strange Animal”
 

 
More joy from Sparks, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Sparks: Live in Concert, Isle of Skye Festival 2006
11.15.2011
04:26 pm

Topics:
Heroes
Music

Tags:
Scotland
Sparks
Ron Mael
Russell Mael
Skye

sparks
 
Opening with “Happy Hunting Ground” and finishing with “Suburban Homeboy”, this is fifty minutes of sheer bloody joy, as brothers Ron and Russell Mael take us and an audience, at the Isle Skye Festival, from June 2006, through the glorious history of Sparks.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Rarely Seen 1974 Promo for Sparks ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us’


When Sparks met Jacques Tati in 1974


 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Rarely seen 1974 promo for Sparks ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’


1974 NME Sparks cover - uploaded by Sparksmael.
 
Yes, it’s an original 1974 promo clip for Sparks’ classic glam-era chart topper! Not enough people know that this video exists, which includes even a lot of Sparks fans - I only discovered it myself quite recently. It’s not amazing but it is fun, and is worth a watch to see Russel’s uber-camp flying leap at 0:35. Not to be too down on Queen, but a lot of people assume that “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both Of Us” was a cash in on the opera-pop of “Bohmenian Rhapsody”, which is not the case. “This Town…” was released a whole year before Queen’s smash, and this video pre-dates their “Bohemian Rhapsody” promo too - in fact Queen supported the Mael brothers on some of their first ever UK dates in 1973, so it’s pretty safe to assume the influence was the other way around. But, hey, this isn’t a competition, both bands were high-class acts, I’m sure Queen fans will find a lot to like in this clip:
 

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Excellent Sparks live footage from 1974


 
Man I love Sparks! They are simultaneously the geekiest AND coolest band in the history of rock. We need to be showing more love to the brothers Mael and their highly literate, fun, sexy and intelligent music here on DM - they are California boys after all. This bizarrely brilliant short concert film is the perfect excuse to post about them.

Sparks always move with the times, and frequently they were well ahead of it. In 1974 they took baroque opera-pop to the top of the UK charts, a whole year before Queen did the same thing to more acclaim. In 74/75 they pretty much invented New Wave (the proof lies in this film)  and 4-5 years later when it had caught on Sparks had already moved on to inventing that staple of 80s pop, the synth-duo (through their incredible work with Giorgio Moroder). That’s not even taking into account the theory that 1976’s Big Beat album paved the way for power-pop. By the early 80s the brothers had settled down and repositioned themselves as perhaps THE quintessential New Wave band, hooking up with uber-fan Jane Weidlin of the Go-Gos along the way, and delivering the MTV staple “Cool Places”. Sparks were on the ball with their music videos too, recognising that the moving image was going to be key to music in the coming decades, and hiring a certain director called David Lynch to helm the promo for their classic 1983 stomper “I Predict”.

And that brings us back to this concert film. It is of course a brilliant look at the Sparks live set-up of the mid-Seventies post-glam era, but it also gives us some unintentionally funny moments too. It must have been a bit of a nightmare for the record company to position this brainy, sarky, odd-looking band as being another teeny-bop pop product, but boy did they try. See the over-enthusiastic reaction from the crowd to every single move the band make! Hear the roars that sound like they were from a different concert! Feel the prodding from assistant directors for bored audience members to get up and dance! Still, none of this hides the true, what-the-hell weirdness that shines out of Sparks, and particularly Ron Mael. Just check the moment at 1:40 when Ron gives a wry smile to an audience member and we see her shocked reaction.

This film is pretty short and only features four songs (“Something For The Girl With Everything”. Talent Is An Asset”, “B.C.” and “Amateur Hour”) and pop spotters will also be interested to see that Sparks are given an introduction by none other than Keith Moon and Ringo Starr:
 
Sparks Live 1974 Part 1
 

 
Part 2 after the jump…

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
Rock Cameos: When bands guest star in films

image
 
You can picture the scene, lunch somewhere, another glass, and then the producer says. “I know this band, they’re hot, they’re what the kids want, let’s get them in the movie.”

It’s a win-win situation. Surely? The band starts their film career and receive major media exposure; while the movie has cachet from the group’s fans. This, of course, all depends on the quality of the film and the songs.

Does anyone remember what The Yardbirds were playing in Blow-Up? All I recall is Jeff Beck going Pete Townshend on his guitar, while a white trousersered David Hemmings intently joined a rather bored-looking audience.

Amen Corner had topped the UK pop charts with “If Paradise is half as Nice” and must have seemed a perfect call for the Vincent Price, Christopher Lee schlock fest, Scream and Scream Again. Singer Andy Fairweather-Low is beautifully filmed in the background as loopy Michael Gothard prowls a nighclub in search of fresh blood. The trouble is the song’s a stinker.

Sparks were allegedly second choice to Kiss for the George Segal, Timothy Bottoms, Richard Widmark dull-a-thon, Rollercoaster. The brothers Mael had moved back to the US after four successful years in the UK, and had just released their album Big Beat, from which they played “Fill Her Up” and “Big Boy” to a wildly over-enthusiastic crowd. The audience obviously hadn’t read the script, as the film is turgid, and the band’s cameo is its only highlight. When asked about the biggest regret in their career, Sparks said appearing in Rollercoaster. Understandable.

Brian De Palma stopped copying Hitchcock form a few minutes in Body Double to make a pop promo for Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Relax”, right in the middle of the movie. Surprisingly, it works. But perhaps the best, almost seamless merging of pop singer / artiste in a film is Nick Cave in Wim Wenders in Wings of Desire. Cave is perfect, as is the film, and he was a resident in West Berlin at the time, writing his first novel And the ass saw the Angel.

Of course, there are plenty of others, (Twisted Sister in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, The Tubes in Xanadu, anyone?), but oddest may be Cliff Richard and The Shadows in Gerry Anderson’s puppet movie Thunderbird Are Go. Difficult to tell the difference between puppet and the real thing.
 

Michelangelo Antonioni originally wanted The Velvet Underground for ‘Blow-Up’ (1966), but a problem over work permits led to The Yardbirds, with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck playing “Stroll On” in the cameo.
 
More pop and rock cameos after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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