Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Conversation with Martin Gordon!

Kimono My House at 40: The Second In A Series

Boston 2007In this, the 40th anniversary year of the groundbreaking 1974 Sparks album Kimono My House, there was no question that I needed to talk with one Martin Gordon, who plays the brilliant and distinctive bass on that album.

We talked extensively about his time in Sparks, focusing on the great music that the band made when he was a member. Martin also provided a song-by-song analysis of each of the songs he performed with Sparks, entries from his personal diary detailing the rehearsal schedule for Kimono, and unique insight into Chris Townson, Sparks' "audition" drummer as they were forming the Kimono band. These follow the interview, along with rare photos and videos hand-selected by Martin for this project.

We also talked about the solo work that Martin has steadily released since 2003. If you have heard it, you know how good it is. If you haven't, give it a listen. It is brilliant, and well worth hearing. I highly recommend it.

Martin Gordon has had an accomplished career but I am not going to summarize his Wikipedia page here. Instead I suggest that you take the time to dabble on Martin’s website. It is a gem, full of information, inspiration, and history, all written with Martin's characteristic wit and insight that makes the site extremely addictive. I hope you’ll agree.  And best of all, you can easily find his music there.

I want to thank Martin for his generosity of time and energy, and I hope you enjoy our conversation.

Getting Started With Sparks

Photo: How it began.Monte: What were you doing when you saw the Melody Maker ad for Sparks?

Martin: I was in school, and it was right after college that I decided that being a musician for a living would be quite a good thing. The thing was, I didn't have a telephone. It became clear after reading the small (musicians wanted) ads in Melody Maker that it was really the only access that anybody had to the music business if you didn't live in London. My parents were firmly against having a telephone

So I decided to look for a job that was connected to a telephone, which would give me a number where I could be reached. The first job I got was with this Maritime Engineering company looking for a technical author so I thought, “yeah I can do this.” So I was working as a technical author, writing operational manuals about inert gas systems for oil tankers.

I got a desk with a phone number and I then began phoning various ads in Melody Maker and leaving that number.  (I made calls) and one of them was Sparks. One of them was Roxy Music, and the other was Supertramp.

I went for an audition with each of these three and the Roxy Music one was fine, but I didn't get it, and the Supertramp thing – well, they weren't very good at that time. They (later) became great, but at the beginning it was kind of hippie-ish country music, it wasn't anything that I was particularly interested in.  Later, I thought they were fabulous, when they were doing focused, intelligent pop music. But this was a bit before that period.

Monte:  You have a connection to a different Sparks bassist in that regard. (Roxy Music bassist) Sal Maida worked with Sparks in 1976, on their Big Beat album.

Martin:  I have another connection with Sal, which was with Milk N’ Cookies, with Sal and Ian North. (Sparks manager) John Hewlett, after he got Ron and Russell to come to the UK, followed the same business model with Milk N’ Cookies. In the US they had an album out but he only brought the main songwriter over to the UK, and I hooked up with Ian North. But the bass player they left behind in the US was Sal Maida.

Kimono My House

Adrian Fisher, Ron Mael, Dinky Diamond, Russ Mael & Martin Gordon
The KMH Llineup - Adrian, Ron, Dinky, Russ, Martin
Monte:  You use a wonderful phrase to describe Kimono My House on your website – you refer to it as an album of “unearthly beauty.” 

Martin: I’m a big fan of Kimono. I do prefer the first side to the second side, and some tracks to others. The approach that the band took at the time was, “here’s some new material and let’s bash it into shape.” But there were these hangover songs from an earlier edition of Sparks, and it was extremely difficult to do anything with that material.

Monte: I Like Girls and a couple of the others?

Martin: Yes – I Like Girls, which we had recorded but never released, and the version that was released is not the Kimono version.

Martin: There was another song, In My Family, that was set in stone. I remember really trying to free that arrangement up from the earlier template but we didn't manage that.

Monte: The album had a great production team. Can you talk a bit about working with (Producer) Muff Winwood, and (sound engineer) Richard Digby-Smith?

Martin: There were two engineers - Tony Platt was also there. Muff Winwood was not so much a technical producer, he was a creative producer. He didn't do any engineering. My point of contact was directly with the engineers, at the beginnings of the sessions, when you bring your equipment in and try to get it sounding the way you want it to sound. I probably made myself a complete pain but I had a sound in my head, which took some time to achieve. But fortunately they were prepared to humor me long enough to achieve the sound.

So in terms of my bass stuff I would work with the engineers, and eventually I’d say “it sounds good to me,” and then we’d say to Muff, “you think this sounds ok?” So, that was kind of the work flow so to speak.

Monte: Adrian Fisher was quite a guitarist.

Martin: I remember at the guitar auditions there were quite a large number of oddballs who were struggling to master the art, shall we say. I recall that when Adrian  turned up, he was clearly in a different class, and his general attitude was appealing. He clearly didn't really care very much whether he got the gig or not!

He was great, and it’s amazing to me now, listening to his playing, how idiosyncratic it was. I could really recognize his style.

Monte: You and (drummer) Dinky Diamond communicated so well as a rhythm section. 

Martin:  Yeah, it worked very well. He was fine, and probably perfect for the record. But more to my tastes is somebody like Chris Townson. Chris was involved in the very early Sparks auditions before Dinky arrived so I had the experience of playing bass to Chris’s drums with Ron’s piano and Russ’s vocal and that was very nice. For me it was not quite the same when Dinky came. But Chris didn't want to take part in that stuff anyway so there was never any question of him being in the band. But my personal, “organic” preference was more toward Chris’s style than to Dinky’s style.

Monte: They were lucky to have musicians of the quality that they had, and there is no question that within Ron Mael's arrangements, you all brought significant creativity and innovation to the process. 

Martin: The songs would arrive as piano songs, and anybody that was interested in playing flashy bass lines would immediately carve out an area where you could play flashy bass lines within the song.

There’s a lot to be said for having to defend your musical ideas if you have someone else there who also has ideas, and the result is probably going to be better if you discuss the thing. I think it comes from an approach that I've rediscovered in recent years, which is that the people who are best at creating parts for their own instruments are the ones that are going to play those instruments. It is unlikely that if you are a non-guitar player, you will get the best out of a guitarist by creating the guitar part for him to play. The way to do it is to paint a broad picture, a frame, and then say “ok, these are the parameters and please come up with something amazing,” rather than being prescriptive about it.

Monte: What led you to the Rickenbacker over the more traditional Fender and how did that turn out to be controversial?

Martin: I played a Fender for the audition and the initial rehearsals because that was all I could afford. In those days a Rickenbacker would be something like six months wages or something. So I was trying to make the Fender sound as much like a Rickenbacker as I could. It didn't sound like a Rickenbacker but the job it did was comparable.

John Hewlett came along to me and said “Okay, we've got some money, what do you want to buy?” I told him I was quite happy with the Fender Mustang but he said no, you've got to get something, so I ended up with the Rickenbacker.

And then events took their course. When the complaints came about the sound of the bass, they were without foundation on sonic terms. The complainer was complaining about something else but he chose to use the bass sound as the vehicle for his complaints. It was on In My Family. I remember Ron Mael saying “Jesus, the bass sounds really wimpy!” which struck me as an extremely inaccurate statement. The sound of the bass on that song was the sound of the bass on all the other songs. What was different was the context – it was the sound of the song itself, which I pointed out.  There was some wimpiness going on, but I disagreed that it was actually coming from the bass.

I don’t think the song is as good as some of the other songs on the record. It was also stuck in this fixed arrangement from which it could not be prised so eventually one gave up on that one.

Monte: You've expressed dissatisfaction with the bass sound on Amateur Hour, but to me it sounds just fine.

Martin: The playing is (fine) but I don’t think the sound is so great. It sounds kind of thin, and it doesn't have a sense of presence. I’m focusing not so much on the bass line, but on the sound of the bass line.

I think Here In Heaven has a very nice, dominant kind of bass sound. It is quite a defining part. Thank God It’s Not Christmas has a very nice bass part.

Monte: Everything in that song comes together so well, so emphatically. Everything gels perfectly. 

Martin: For me, the whole album hangs together from the first track through Talent Is An Asset. For me it tails off a bit then.

MonteTalent Is An Asset really gives the bass an opportunity to shine though.

Martin: Yeah! I’m not particular bass-centric (though). I think songs like This Town Ain't Big Enough For both of Us or Hasta Manana Monsieur, for example, are great arrangements even if they’re not particularly great bass showcases. They are very successful renditions of the tunes.

I never particularly enjoyed playing Equator because it was so long and drawn out. My heart would sink as we launched into it. But I know people like it, and it’s clearly a very idiosyncratic piece of music.

Barbecutie I like because of the bass part, not necessarily because of the band’s performance or anything like that. It’s a nice tune. It really is a very nicely recorded bass sound. All the way through the album, that’s how it sounds. 

Monte: They brought the song back when they did the 21x21 performances in London.

Martin: I saw the YouTube video of Barbecutie and I noticed that the bass wasn't quite right. Ironically, it was the Rickenbacker bass. I've always been a bit curious about that. If various people weren't happy with the bass sound, then why would they continue to support it?

Looking Back

Monte: You were learning some pretty quick lessons about the music industry, weren't you?

Martin:  In actual fact I didn't learn those lessons at the time, I only learned them later. Because at the time, I just tended to believe what people told me. It didn't occur to me that people were telling me things that weren't correct, for reasons I wasn't aware of. Adrian, of course, had a different view, because he had been in bands already. He was in Andy Fraser’s band Toby, and he had already been through this record contract deal. I remember when John Hewlett came into the studio one day and said “okay, we've got a record contract from Island Records, sign here,” and four of the five band members immediately rushed over and fought over who would be the first to sign the contract. (But) Adrian very sensibly said, I have to take this to my lawyer, whereupon the other four band members and the manager were quite pissed off!

He took about six weeks, and his lawyer negotiated Adrian’s contract very well. I think he signed a separate contract. I know that his lawyer negotiated refinements, whether they affected us all or not, I’m not sure.

Monte: In retrospect, how would you weigh the positive aspects of your experience – the fact that you were a critical part of a seminal album – against the negatives?

Martin: I think there are three dimensions. There’s the music dimension and my basic position is that most of it is great, and it’s still great to listen to. There’s a career dimension, I suppose, which is that I’m grateful that that enabled me to carry on making music. Had I not been in that situation I would not have been able to form Jet or Radio Stars, or any other things that I've done. And I learned a lot about production and engineering at that time.

And the third dimension which is not a pleasant memory, because it’s not just a thing that’s in the past unfortunately, is that the longer the life of that album, the more irritating it becomes to me that I won’t be able to pass on my share of the artist royalties to my small boy when I kick off, as a result of some shady practices.

But two out of three is not bad though!

Monte: At the time did you feel like you were creating something special?

Martin:  I thought it was the most amazing thing! I was enormously excited and took great pleasure in the whole thing. You know, there are those spectacular moments in a rehearsal when somebody brings in this rough idea of a bunch of chords, and a melody and some lyrics, and at the end of that rehearsal you have turned it into an object – a band object. That is really satisfying. I felt involved in that and felt somehow fulfilled by the end result. I felt, you know, I contributed to this, and it wasn't just doing the job for somebody else, it was much more integrated.

Monte: Was John Hewlett right (in saying that had the Kimono band later reformed), they would have been bigger than Roxy Music?

Martin: The context of what he was saying was that they had a good thing there, they didn't realize it, they went on, and things changed and they became less successful – but if they went back to that original formula they would have a chance at being bigger than Roxy Music – something like that. I think he’s right in that (with) the Kimono version of the group there was a lot more to-ing and fro-ing, a lot more discussion and argument about musical stuff.  Because of the nature of the individuals involved, they would argue their corner.

At least in the version that came after me, argumentation and discussion were not part of the job description. I think that had an effect on the music. You talk about a creative process that involves multiple inputs. If you can reach a position that was acceptable to all parties, it will always be better, I think, than a single kind of overriding vision (imposed on the other musicians). Occasionally that works. Todd Rundgren is probably an example where that kind of process works. But usually it doesn't work for me.

Monte: The counterpoint to that would be that Sparks have quite successively found ways to reinvent themselves over the years.

Martin: Which I think is admirable. Very few people manage to completely reinvent themselves. I don’t know if there’s a great deal of connection between what they do now and what they did then. I’m not sure that there is. The thing I don’t find so compelling about the recent stuff…I listen to Terry Riley and Steve Reich and Phillip Glass, so I hear what they’re doing from a slightly different perspective, maybe.

Solo Work

Monte: So, the more I listen to your solo work, the more I enjoy it.  What led you to make your own albums?

Martin: Well, I've always considered everything I've done after Sparks to be my own album anyway, like Jet and Radio Stars. So I thought “why do I have to call it by a group name if I’m writing all the songs anyway?” I probably should have done it earlier.

Monte: Did you actually have it in mind to do three albums as a trilogy?

Martin: Well, there’s continuity in terms of the vision of the thing, but I must admit the trilogy was retrofitted – it was an idea that came up after I had done four albums!

Monte: How would you describe the continuity and theme from the first album through the sixth?

Martin: It’s the stupidity of mankind…that’s what actually prompted me to start writing the stuff down. I think having a child later in life has made me become much more aware that the stupidity of humanity is more than (just) funny.

Monte: You have that great song about the politician who said “If English is good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.”

Martin: It was some years go and it was (attributed to) an American politician. You couldn't ask for a better definition of stupidity.

In my own way, I pick out those individual topics that enrage me so much that they transform themselves into a set of words. But I don’t think my stuff is at all significant, except that occasionally people will say to me hmm, that’s kind of an interesting thing you said there. So if it even raises the consciousness of even one person, that’s ok, I suppose, by me.

Monte: But it’s fun music to listen to as well. The evolution I noticed is that it seemed to be a little harder rocking at the beginning, but as the albums went on, they became a bit broader.

Martin: That’s right. I discovered that acoustic instruments could be just as rock and roll as loud electric instruments. And then I wrote brass parts, and got a brass section to play them. Then on the last album I wrote string parts and got a string section. So yes, it has become a bit more acoustic I suppose. In terms of the themes, though, nothing has changed.

There are no synthesizers, it’s all live playing. That was really the only rule I imposed upon myself. There were going to be no reproductions of other instruments. It’s all real people playing the real thing. That doesn't mean the technology isn't involved, of course, but it is invisible.

Monte: It’s pretty prolific to do six albums in a decade. You had a lot you wanted to say.

Martin: That’s true. I discovered I had a vehicle for it. I found a distributor for my record company, and then I found an audience, through the internet really. In previous times, one was always subject to the whims of record companies that would be prepared – or otherwise – to pay promotional budgets. Now, of course, if you spend a bit of time you can do the promotion yourself, or at least at very low cost with other people.

Monte: And of course, the trademark Rickenbacker sound is fully intact.

Martin: I bought a new Rickenbacker just the other day. The contemporary version of the one on the record. That was the 4001 and this one is the 4003, and they’re pretty much the same. I got a hold of the Kimono My House expanded version, which has Barbecutie on it – for doing A/Bs, for comparisons on bass sound. It’s perfect. I worked on it for some hours to get (the new Rickenbacker) sounding the same. 

Current Projects

I have one final project which I think is going to be a kind of bookend. The first recording I made was playing someone else’s music where I was just playing bass, and helping on arrangements. That’s also going to be my next recording. I hesitate to say my last, because I thought the sixth Trilogy album was going to be my last recording but that’s not the case.

I’m putting together a Gilbert and Sullivan album – this is the bookend analogy where I’m doing something with somebody else’s music and lyrics. All I’m doing is just playing bass and arranging. And there will be no arguments about, “how can you do this to my music!”

Monte: Why would you want to stop recording? You seem to be reaching creative peaks in many ways.

Martin: I have to do a calculation of the time and money spent and the satisfaction it returns. The time and money spent is enormous, but sometimes the satisfaction I get is diminished by the fact that nobody buys the things. After the fifth album I thought, “do I really want to do this again?” But then I was kind of forced into doing the sixth one, just because of all these fantastic topics…it was kind of hard not to put all that down again.

So yeah, that would be the reason I think, is it really worth spending all the time and money to do stuff that doesn't really make any difference, that nobody buys.

Jamming With The Stones

Monte:  As a big-time Rolling Stones fan, I have to ask: how did you end up almost becoming a Rolling Stone – or is that an overstatement?

Martin: Well, that’s what the headlines said! I was working for Barclay Records, Radio Stars' French record company in Paris, and a friend said, I have a friend who is part of the Rolling Stones road crew. Might have been the head of the road crew, I think, so my friend went to see him and I went along and one thing led to another. You kind of progressed through this sequence of ante rooms. And in each one the people inside are slightly more important than the people in the last one, but not as important as the people in the next one! We managed to make our way through. I had no intention of doing anything than accompanying my pal. But we found ourselves somehow in the control room of Pathe-Marconi (recording studios, where the Stones' Emotional Rescue was being recorded). We were welcomed in a very friendly manner, and when it became clear that they weren't going to do anything because there was no bass player, well that was my cue.

Monte: Bill Wyman was out doing things that a man his age should not have been doing.

Martin: Well I was very pleased he was doing that at the time, because it gave me an opportunity!

Final Thoughts

Monte: Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

Martin: I will be enormously happy if people visit the website and engage in social media, as people are doing these days. I get very touching correspondence from people who, for example, tell me that at the age of 13, they were prompted to go out and build their own Rickenbacker from corn flakes boxes after having seen mine. Forty years later they’re writing Facebook messages to me telling me about this. I think it’s great.

Exclusive For The Blog – Martin's Song By Song Commentary!

Martin kindly took the time to provide new commentary on each and every Kimono My House (songs 1-10) and two B-sides. And the picture to the right? That's the photo that Martin originally submitted for Kimono My House! It was not used and publicly released here, for the first time. In Martin's words, "This pic is the one that, at the request of management, I chose for the back of Kimono. It was replaced by a different one, in which I look like an alien."

1.This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us
I remember when Ron Mael brought the tune into the rehearsal room in Clapham. He played it over a few times, we worked out some parts. I picked out some of the piano inversions as a bass line, which Adrian doubled on guitar. We developed the stop-start stuff, and I contributed the instrumental syncopation as a middle section.

It sounded great in rehearsal; when we moved to King's Road to continue, Muff Winwood and John Hewlett came over, and they concurred. I was trying at one point to follow Adrian's bent notes on the second half of the riff, but couldn't do it efficiently, as the bass strings were too heavy. I think everyone was relieved when I went back to the earlier way of delivering the riff. Ron noted that he "hadn't thought about the piano change being a riff like that," The gunshots came as a surprise on hearing the final mix, but I thought they worked very well. Not that anyone asked what I thought, be that as it may.

2. Amateur Hour
My memories of this one are not of rehearsing it but of the recording, when I was requested – nay, instructed – to replace my bass part. I used a Fender Precision in place of the Rickenbacker, with null enthusiasm and a DI. I leant against the wall and looked through the circular porthole-style window in the door to watch the secretarial activity in the office beyond. By this time, I think Mole Central needed someone who would happily do what he was told. It's a jolly tune, though, with definite outbursts of lyrical wit.

3. Falling In Love With Myself Again
When all the recordings were finished, the artisans  – namely the musicians – were banished from the studio during mixing. Upon our eventual return, some weeks later, I pointed out that, amongst other things, that in this tune the guitar 'answer phrase' was too quiet, compared to the bass and tympani. A tumbleweed rolled silently down the hallway as the wind whistled through the virtual telegraph wires above. A solitary vulture observed the scenario below and calculated his chances.

4. Here In Heaven
Some nice bass on this one. The unison guitar bends are a key part of the whole thing, and the low clavinet was a nice idea.

5. Thank God It's Not Christmas
One of the three high points (along with This Town and Hasta Manana, Monsieur) of the album, for me, with mellotron flutes and good performances all round. We introduce the bass/drums accents thing again, and the 'double-time over half-time' vibe thing works well.

6. Hasta Mañana, Monsieur
Another high point. One of Winwood's creative contributions came for the coda. We stopped playing the main tune and had a brief break for bacon sandwiches and herbal tea. Then, when we resumed, he came into the studio and counted us back in, but deliberately (or so he indicated later) a couple of bpm faster. A neat trick, along with the spaghetti western castanets.

7. Talent Is An Asset
The xylophone overdub was another Winwood suggestion, and the playing was rock'n'roll enough to offset any lurking tweeness. I like the wordy fade.

8. Complaints
The album begins to drop off somewhat from this point. Perhaps this tune was performed too slowly; it's a bit turgid. I had offered a coda for this one but, after some overnight thought following rehearsals, it was announced that it 'overshadowed' the song and it was removed. The song was overshadowed no more but it still wasn't much fun to play. I think it was probably at this point that the Telegraph appeared. Rockin' guitar widdling from Adrian, though.

9. In My Family
This one, I think, had been recorded by an earlier edition of the band, and it was impossible to pry it free from the limpet-like grip of its earlier arrangement so, after some effort, I gave up. It was done like that once upon a time and that's how it stayed. Listening it today, it sound like it was recorded in an entirely different room to the rest of the album, and one padded with anoraks.

10. Equator
Not a great favorite. I didn't much enjoy playing this in rehearsals as I felt it was too ponderous and overlong. And I'm not a big fan of sampled saxophones, Mellotrons or not. It goes on a bit... This was the only song on the album that we had to have two separate attempts at (see here).

11. Barbecutie (B-side to This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us)
One of the best 4001 recordings, I have read on various bass forums, and who am I to dissent? The Rickenbacker and the H&H combo certainly got the job done here. This tune was first recorded as a demo, with John Porter on bass, before the UK band was around; I remember doing handclaps on this version, and admiring the acoustic tiles in Basing Street studio, which I knew from the cover of a Mike Harrison album. On this later version, with the cooperation of engineer Richard Digby-Smith, we got the bass sounding pretty good.

12. Lost and Found (B-side to Amateur Hour)
Wisely consigned to a b-side, I didn't feel that this tune was quite up to scratch, compared to most of the others.

Martin was kind enough to share his diary notes which provide a historic record of some key dates in the making of the Kimomo My House album: 
  • 28.08.73: bass audition with Ron, Russell and Chris in Barnet cricket club;
  • 09.09.73: Ron and Russell come up to my place in Hitchin to check out a guitar-playing acquaintance of mine, but we all agree he's not up to the job;
  • 22-23.09.73: demo session - "Barbecutie" recorded at Island Basing Street, with John Porter (bass) and Paul Rudolph (guitar). I handclap;
  • 06.10.73: guitar auditions - Ron and Russell and me and Chris again on drums;
  • 13.10.73: drum auditions - Ron and Russell and me;
  • 20.10.73: "test" rehearsal in Clapham with Adrian and Dinky along for the first time, to see how it would sound;
  • 22.10.73: daily rehearsals begin, for exactly one month;
  • 22.11.73: recordings begin at Ramport.
Martin Gordon on Sparks "audition" drummer Chris Townson!

Jook shared a manager with Sparks, the enigmatic and mysterious John Hewlett, and it was John who roped Chris into various Sparks auditions before the arrival of Dinky Diamond.

Chris was sitting in on drums when I finally got around to playing bass. The audition was in the Barnet cricket club, where Jook also used to rehearse. I found him initially rather scary, due to his carefully cultivated thug image, but pretty soon realized that he was a fine fellow and a great player.

His style was free-flowing. He tended not to pay any great attention to whatever else was going on at the time but would just crash through whatever he was inspired to do at the moment. And if he felt like suddenly switching to high-hat in the middle of a chorus, then that by God was what he was going to do. Rather like me, he also tended not to repeat himself from take to take, so on every run-through of a piece he would come up with something new. I remember (Producer) Roy Thomas Baker asking me, rather peevishly, whether I couldn't just play the same thing every time, but I couldn't really see the attraction.

When digital recording technology emerged, Chris was in his element as, during the recording of my Mammal series, I could just take his good bits and put them where they should have been. This was not the case in 1975 when recording the jet album, way back in linear times. There was a good deal of frayed nerves during those sessions, despite the fact that all other unpredictable elements had been removed from the picture and we were beginning the album with only bass and drums.

Chris felt strongly about his bank Jook, with whom he was still playing when the Sparks thing developed, and of course there was no reason at that point to dismember one unsuccessful band to provide personnel for another equally unsuccessful one. Things would soon change, of course. He told me that on one occasion he had punched Russell Mael in the face for being disparaging about the band, and it was this sort of thing that made me initially wary of him. Later, I saw it as an admirable strategy.

But then Chris was always outspoken. Another example: when Jet began their initial recordings, our guitarist, who had once been in the Nice, brought his (extremely accomplished) drummer pal from that band, one Brian "Blinky" Davison, down to Trident Studios, where we were making the world's most expensive demos. "Blinky" at once began, rather insensitively I thought, to instruct Chris "intemperate" Townson on how Chris should approach the particular tune we were working on. "Well, you can fuck off for a start!" responded Chris, and stormed back into the studio to begin demolishing his kit in rage!"

Chris didn't also take kindly to people setting up his kit for him, even if twas to alleviate his (predictable) lateness. I myself observed him entering the rehearsal room and sighing deeply once he realized the unspeakable act had been committed. He would methodically, but very slowly, dismantle it, and then retire for a didactic cup of tea, to make sure that we all understood his point. Eventually, we did. We never did it again. When Chris and I reconvened in Germany some decades later, I was quite nervous about actually having a kit ready for him in the studio. But times had changed!

He was one of my best pals.

Last but not least...enjoy this fantastic version of Barbecutie from Jet. It was recorded in 1999 with Martin - AND Trevor White on guitar, AND Chris Townson on the drums! Presented here for your enjoyment courtesy of Martin Gordon!

And this: 

Some pictures are from Xavier Lorente-Darracq's tremendous Graphikdesigns website, and are used by permission. If you want to learn the early history of Sparks, this is the first place to go.


  1. What a really interesting article its a great insight into the making of a classic album

  2. Your interviews are always wonderful. Sadly, no amount of wit or humour can make fans forget that Martin Gordon chose to troll Sparks fans on the Sparks forum which is a pathetic thing to do for a grown man and a musician of his renown. Worse yet, some years later he continues the same behavior through other outlets, targeting even his own devoted fans. He did it to a dear friend and I think there is a special place in hell for those that choose to treat their fans this way.

  3. Don't know precisely when, but in the meantime John Hewlett slipped the surly bonds of Earth.....