My recent article on the Sparks album ‘Introducing Sparks', finished with a demo of the Silvery track ‘Horrors’, as I genuinely felt fans of Sparks would appreciate their sound. Anyway, one thing lead to another, a few e-mails went back and forth, and within a fortnight, I’m interviewing Silvery!
So many thanks to lead singer\guitarist James Orman for taking the time out to do this interview, in which we chatted about everything from Silvery past, present and future, Sparks, Debut albums, Blow Up records and the Pete Doherty\Kate Moss sex tape! Here’s how it panned out:
Looking at the current indie scene, I think Silvery have a really refreshing sound. There is certainly a bit of Sparks in there, but who else influences the bands sound?
I’d like to think we are in that seam of English eccentrics pop: Gilbert And Sullivan, XTC, Cardiacs, “Modern Life Is Rubbish”, Billy Childish, Syd Barratt, early Suede. But lyrically almost anything goes: From “The Fortean Times” and old Underground maps to The Far Side and the Victorian Diarists.
So when did you first discover Sparks and how?
It was a gradual thing really. I was into Bowie and Queen when I was about 7 or 8 and read so much about the UK music scene in the early 70’s. I invested my pocket money in some compilations tapes with names like “Glam Slam!” and “Glam Crazeee!”. They all had “This Town Ain’t Big Enough” on, which I recall already being aware of at the time. I remember being very young and they were on TV and my mum saying something along the lines of “Oh dear God they’re not still going are they?” in an affectionate way, of course. I had them written off as a one hit wonder, like so many of those other bands, and was pleasantly surprised to see them reappear in the mid 90’s with Bernard Butler playing guitar on Channel 4’s “The White Room”. The “Now That I Own The BBC” video was on TV a few times and I though that was brilliant. It was then I started finding out more about them, and was able to fill in the gaps in my understanding. My first purchase was of course “Kimono My House” and it wouldn’t be an understatement to say it totally and utterly BLEW MY MIND. I very quickly bought up everything, puzzled that I’d never started earlier.
So what is your favourite Sparks album then?
Crumbs, that a tough one. As a glib answer I’d say either “Kimono My House” or “Propaganda”, but I will always have time for “Number One In Heaven” and “Whomp That Sucker”. I lived inside the original Halfnelson demo album for ages, it fascinated me. “Lil Beethoven” was an absolute joy to see live so many times. I really really like the budget “In The Swing” compilation which was a perfect introduction.
And your 3 favourite Sparks tracks?
RIGHT THIS MINUTE, my favorite 3 Sparks songs are: the Plagiarism version “Change” (a beautiful sentiment, with a fantastic vaudeville feel), “Waterproof” (reminiscent of Glam era Sparks) and the 1973 demo version of “I Like Girls” from the Profile boxset which is as powerful as anything on the first two records. Can I have “Cigarettes And Politics” too? The best song they never released.
I recently did a piece about the ‘missing’ Sparks album ‘Introducing Sparks’, which was finally released on CD this week. It certainly is a very different album to their other 19. Reaction to it has always been a bit Marmite (‘love it’ or ‘hate it’, with nothing much in-between) What do you make of it?
“Introducing” and “Big Beat” were the last two albums I was able to find, albeit on original vinyl. Both Curates’ eggs, I think. “Introducing” has its moments, of course… “Those Mysteries”, “Occupation” and “Goofing Off” were favorites when I first had the record, but I’ll be honest, it’s not an album I listen to much. I will definitely reappraise it on the new CD though.
So will you be buying the Ron or the Russell cover??!
I’m sorry to say I’ll probably buy both. And put them side by side on my mantelpiece.
One of the things I have always loved about Sparks is their unique image. Fuck trying to compete with the pretty boy preening of all the glam bands around at that time, Ron and Russell went full on odd-ball! As a kid, I think the first thing I noted was just how scary Ron looked as he stared eerily in the camera! A maniacal cross between Hitler and Blakey from ‘On The Buses’! Every kid in the 70’s could do a Ron on ‘Top of the Pops’ impression! Then there was the opposite end of the scale with the ever animated Russell. It was compelling viewing. Take a look at this footage of Ron and Russ from 74:
That’s the Top Of The Pops clip isn’t it? The one I remember seeing as a little chap. The early deadpan delivery is the key here, I’m not too sure about the later stuff with Ron dancing etc. That said “Mickey Mouse” on Saturday Night Live is extraordinary. My favorite clip of them remains “Get In The Swing” on Top Of The Pops … Russell in little shorts and Ron dressed as a lab assistant, Absolutely brilliant.
And then there were those crazy album covers too! Some of which made you feel a little uncomfortable (Ron and Russ as a bride and groom! An angry looking Ron wearing a Russ puppet on his hand). You were never quite sure where they were coming from and what that relationship was like (which was exactly the idea of course). Do you think and edgy, odd-ball image such as the boys had back then could work these days? Or in the 21st century media friendly world, do you have to have a cool image to make it?
The major difference between Sparks album covers and those of other similar 70’s and 80’s rock band ‘comedy’ sleeves is that the Mael’s have a genuine artiness, which raises even their wacky sleeves beyond tacky to something more knowing. Like all the best bands, they are totally aware of the absurdity of being in a band… even someone as po-faced as Bowie has the ability to laugh at how ridiculous he is. We are following that kind of idea, which I have a feeling no one else is at the moment, obsessed as they all are trying to be the new Libertines or The Jam. I’d hate to think anyone thought we were trying to be cool… we’re too busy just pleasing ourselves!
So are we likely to be seeing a bound and gagged Silvery being kidnapped on the cover of the new album then??!
I think we agreed a long time ago that we’d never appear on our own sleeves! Keep a bit of mystery!
Lets talk about the new album – I hear it’s all recorded now? Where did you record it and how did it go?
We spent a week in a little place called Pinna in East London with a chap called Kev who we did some previous demos with. It was a beautiful experience creating it… there were so many songs to choose from, but we selected the ones that fit into some kind of narrative.
So it’s a concept album?
Yes… but in a very very curious way. We’re that kind of band.
And do you know who is going to be mixing it yet?
We’ve been mulling over mixers … currently we are talking to Martin Gordon.
Personally I think Martin would be an inspired choice! He will ‘get’ what Silvery are about, that excitement and energy you create live, and capture it. He must be someone you’ve always admired?
His work has brought me much joy. I’d urge everyone to track down a copy of the album by his post-Sparks band Jet. It’s basically a slightly more ridiculous Kimono My House, a real Junk Shop Glam classic. Even his most recent solo stuff has some absolute corkers on it. I always play his version of “My Gallant Crew” from The Captain Of The Pinafore when I DJ around town.
And you are signed to Blow Up records right? That’s a cool label! How did that deal come about?
I’ve liked Blow Up for a long time, since Paul’s days in The Weekenders. And when we met earlier this year we had some great chats about Sparks and Bowie. I sent Paul a CD of Silvery and he said he’d like to release our music.
Do you have a title for the album yet? When’s it due out?
I really wanted to call it “Railway Architecture” or “There May Not Be Another Time Forever” (a lyric from “Orders”), but as it’s a first record, I think everyone is happy just to call it “Silvery”. We are looking at April for the full release, which will be lovely, just as it starts to get warm again.
Any plans for a single in the near future? And if so, what format(s) is it likely to be in?
Being a great record collector I can still see the romance of vinyl singles so hopefully a couple of them before the album. And of course on Itunes. I’m not sure you need anything else these days. There are so many possible singles on the album it’s difficult to choose, although I think we’ll start with a nice new mix of “Horrors” in the new year.
So take me back to the beginning, when did Silvery form and how did you guys get together?
I'd been writing songs for a while, playing gigs with whoever was around... having a decent drunken time around London and not really achieving much, dreaming and dreaming. I met Simon the organist at Piccadilly Circus about 3 years ago and we got on immediately... so much so that I got him to join the loose ‘band’ I was in at the time and something clicked straight away. We got Alex on drums a few months later and went through a few bassists each time getting better and better. By the time Joe played his first gig with us at the start of this year we were fully formed.
I love the Silvery look, how did that come about?
It’s just a symptom of the band pleasing no one but ourselves. The sound and the look works perfectly together, it’s a great big worldview we have of this Olde London thing. I remember even NME called us the indie “Victorian Constabulary”, which I loved. We’re much less theatrical than we used to be though… I remember we’d be doing bizarre things like presenting each other medals mid song, or doing handstands instead of guitar solos. As we got more confident in the music that side got neglected, but we have kind of rediscovered it recently.
What plans for Silvery in the future? Any shows coming up?
Once the album is mixed we’re really looking forward to people hearing it. Our Christmas party at The Metro on Oxford Street on 13th December is our last gig of the year so that’s going to be a lot of fun.
Most Rock 'n' Roll moment to date?
Basically 2006 was one massive rock n roll cliché that will one day make a brilliant film. Death by Strongbow and Stella. It was like if Chris Morris had written Spinal Tap. My favorite episode was when I spent a fortnight fending off e-mails and phone calls from tabloid journalists because the Popbitch gossip website reported we had a copy of the Pete Doherty / Kate Moss sex tape. Totally insane.
What’s playing on the Silvery iPods at the moment?
I like the current Cardiacs single “Ditzy Scene” very much and am looking forward to their new album. I’ve been rediscovering David Devant & His Spirit Wife which is always nice to do, and also the Tindersticks second album, which is a record I will cherish until I die.
Apart from Silvery, who is one to watch in 2008?
Very tricky to say…. The band that I was most recently impressed with was We Are The Physics. Utter mayhem live.
Finally, have your 3 favourite Sparks tracks changed again?
Yes. I’d have “That's Not Nastassia”, “Tearing The Place Apart” and “Falling In Love With Myself Again”, which when they played the whole of Kimono My House at Morrissey’s Meltdown in 2004 was the highlight for me. Excellent arrangement.
Thanks again James for a tip-top interview!
Silvery have been kind enough to allow me to host the demo version of 'Orders', the track that started it all off for me. Enjoy!
And just because it's you, here is 'Horrors' again in all it's glory!
Link to Silvery on MySpace
Silvery play the Metro Club in London on 13th Dec 2007