Kimono My House Sessions

sparks-kimono-outtakeI was prompted to dig out an ancient notebook to see if there were any ‘Kimono My House’ outtakes. Well, guess what. Here are my recording notes from the time:

title location engineer date notes
Amateur Hour Island Basing Street Richard Digby-Smith Feb 1974
Barbecutie Ramport Tony Platt Dec 1973  B-side
Complaints Ramport Richard Digby-Smith Nov 1973
Equator Island Basing Street Richard Digby-Smith Jan 1974 scrapped
Equator Island Basing Street Richard Digby-Smith Feb 1974
Falling In Love With Myself Again Ramport Richard Digby-Smith Dec 1973 overdubbed at Island Jan ’74, eng. Tony Platt
Hasta Manana Island Basing Street Richard Digby-Smith Jan 1974
In My Family Ramport Richard Digby-Smith Nov 1973
I Like Girls Ramport Tony Platt Dec 1973 outtake
Lost and Found Island Basing Street Richard Digby-Smith Jan 1974 outtake, later B-side
Profile Island Basing Street Richard Digby-Smith Feb 1974 outtake
This Town Ain’t Big Enough Ramport Richard Digby-Smith Nov 1973 overdubbed at Island ’74, eng. Richard Digby-Smith
Talent Is An Asset Ramport Tony Platt Dec 1973
Thank God It’s Not Christmas Ramport Tony Platt Dec 1973 overdubbed at Island Jan 74, eng. Tony Platt

There were heated discussions over arrangements. For example, the tune ‘Complaints’. I proposed an outro section, which was rehearsed and recorded to cassette. The following day, after it had been Mole-digested overnight, there was a reversal of position. My outro, to which I had become unfortunately attached – always a mistake – was deemed to ‘overshadow the rest of the song’. My work ethic at the time was, and indeed still is, to make the weak bits better, rather than chop the good bits out, but this solution was not realised and the outro was chopped.

There were confrontations about mixes. The proles – i.e. those of us who actually played the music – were excluded from the mixing process. Thus there were various surprises in store upon hearing rough mixes. On ‘Falling in Love’, for example, there’s a break where the guitar is clearly too quiet. My remark about this did not go down well. However, and obviously prior to rough mixes, the ongoing problem was about how much time to spend getting a decent bass sound, about which I naturally had certain opinions. I suppose it depended upon whether you were attached to the notion of a good bass sound. I was, very.

Here, in response to regular queries, is how the bass was recorded. I had the sound figured out before I joined the band but I was playing a Fender Mustang, given the unattainable price of a 4001 in those days, and even more so in these, actually. But once unlimited budgets were in the air (ha! the innocence of youth), I finally got hold of a 4001. Round-wound Rotosounds, one gauge thinner than the standard, a plectrum and an H&H amp. This was a transistor amp, which I turned up very loud to get some distortion. It was miked and DI’d, but the mic was where the sound came from. There was some compression in the control room, but not much. The H&H in fact had a ‘sustain’ switch, which probably did the job. I always used to find that the closer I was to the amp and cabinet, the more responsive the bass felt, so that was what I used to do. The mystery of where my amp went – along with my royalties, it also ‘mysteriously disappeared’ – was recently revealed by Hungarians.

H&H amp

Hungarians & Hungarians

The studio engineers (Richard Digby Smith and Tony Platt) were probably rather bemused that a bass player would be so finicky about his sound, and possibly some of the band were as well, but they duly indulged me, and the bass on most of the recorded tunes sounded just fine to me.

My sonic requirements were sometimes achieved, as on the track ‘Barbecutie’, and sometimes not, as on ‘Amateur Hour’. On this latter tune, I was requested to replace the (to my ears well-recorded) amped bass by my D/I’d retake using a plonking old Fender Precision. Having to replace a well-performed part on sonic grounds was the ultimate indignity, given the sound which I was aiming for, and which I was generally achieving. The bass part itself was identical, although performed with perhaps less enthusiasm. Actually there is no ‘perhaps’ about it; I did it standing in the control room, fuming, and immediately went home as soon as it was done, without waiting for a playback.

The Precision belonged to a bass player who later replaced me. The gold disc for Kimono, awarded to each band member some weeks after my departure, mysteriously disappeared (“It might be in my loft, I’ll have a look”, said a bass-playing alumni, who promptly did nothing of the sort. However, a mere forty 40 years later, guess what? Armed only with a credit card, I was kindly allowed to purchase my own gold record. And they say that capitalists are hard-hearted bastards and that Beethoven was deaf. It’s a funny old world and no mistake.

The bass playing on ‘In My Family’ was described as ‘really wimpy’ by the head Mael, an adjective which I initially presumed was ironic, given the nature of the underlying composition. Plus, when the critique was delivered, I must admit I construed it as complimentary; something which is ‘rarely wimpy’, in my book, is no bad thing. Better to be rarely wimpy than often wimpy, I thought, and still think. However, dialect played a role in our discourse. There was no retake. Listeners can judge for themselves, no doubt.

Other than that, I think the rehearsal process, which was where the arguments/discussions/whatever took place, was a positive process which improved the final result rather than detracted from it. In my recent ‘solo’ life, I have returned to the notion that those musicians who know what to do are best at knowing what they CAN do.

On the KMH album, I generally I tried to shoehorn in as much as I thought relevant/possible, which included extra-curricular poly-rhythmic stuff from the realms of prog rock and jazz fusion, much to the stylistic horror of some. Playing three chords in the space of four, for example – I offered these kind of musical tricks from other genres. In the event the result was a (kind of) synthesis. As we now know from Hegel, this can only be A Good Thing. But if only he had Told Us Earlier. Or if only We Had Known About It At The Time”.

14 thoughts on “Kimono My House Sessions

  1. Paul

    “Kimono My House” was utterly brilliant. Gordon’s Rickenbacker sound was essential.
    “Propaganda” apart from “At Home At Work At Play”/ “Reinforcements” / “Mother Earth” /, was a letdown.
    No surprise Sparks mania waned . They lost that essence of “Kimono” .
    Russel’s idiosyncratic voice became too much of a good thing , the never ending silly Ron act 🥱.
    Too bloody clever for their own good.

  2. Martin Gordon Post author

    Hi David,

    Thanks for your comments! I too like the crunchiness, although I must confess that some of the bass and drums stuff on that particular tune (and a couple of others) was inspired by the Yes peeps, who were specialising in that sort of thing at the time. I seem to remember that Adrian used a Les Paul on everything; the Flying V looked great but it was always tricky to get it also sounding great, as we also found later in Radio Stars.

    The rhythm section did indeed gell in the studio. We rehearsed the stuff exhaustively, and that always has an impact on the end result. In fact, rehearsing in a room with other people is the one thing that I miss in today’s music-making environment. I was about to adopt that approach again for some current work, but then COVID appeared and that was, unfortunately, that.

    Onwards and upwards!

  3. david thomas

    Hi Martin
    KMH was the first album I ever bought.
    You say it only became a ‘classic’ over time, well maybe, but to me it always was, and always will be, because it was the first.
    Probably my favourit track is Thank God It’s Not Christmas, the bass and guitars seemed to have a ‘crunchy’ sound which I hadn’t heard before on a pop record.
    Presumably Adrian’s guitar was responsible for that tone, the Flying V he used, as seen in the video on YouTube.
    I wondered if you had any thoughts on playing with ‘Dinky’ Diamond as a rhythm section, did you ‘get on’, it certainly sounds like the band gelled in the studio.
    Thanks for all your music over the years

  4. Martin Gordon Post author

    Well, I think that was only my view of L&F in performance, others might have different opinions.

    As for Adrian: of course the KMH album only became ‘a classic’, as you note, over time – when we were rehearsing and recording it, it was just a bunch of songs that we were working on. I think that, like me, Ade enjoyed playing the stuff greatly, or at least most of it, seeing as it had been worked up into something that all parties approved of.

    He was indeed a great player – Sparks manager John Hewlett suggested to me, following Jet but before Radio Stars, that Andy Ellison, Chris Townson (both from John’s Children), Adrian and myself get together and see if we could make JCv2 a reality. We did this for a couple of days but were restricted by the JC dimension, so we didn’t pursue it any further. It sounded great but when you only have one chord to play with, or two on a good day, then things are a bit restricted.

  5. Robert Elliott

    I have since read that Lost and Found was considered a bit of a tedious song to play in a live context. Shows you how much I know!
    Is it really true that Adrian Fisher didn’t really like the music of Sparks? He must have thought KMH was pretty good surely given its ‘classic’ status and the apparent joy in his playing.
    Was he ever considered for Jet or Radio Stars?

  6. MG

    I have to say that nothing really sticks out in my memory. I imagine the reason it was left off the album was that it didn’t really match up quality-wise, but I think there are worse things in life than as a B-side, i n my experience.

  7. Robert Elliott

    Lost and Found is one of my favourite Sparks tunes. Do you think it deserved to end up as a b side? Any particular recollections or thoughts about that track?

  8. Martin Gordon Post author

    Well, I kept all my info about that period, so certain parts of it (my parts, of course) are pretty well documented. I might bung my recollection up on the website when time allows. I saw one pic which captures Studio 1 as it looked at the time of KMH:

  9. Tony Machin

    Hi Martin thanks for the reply, much appreciated. I’m glad you kept your notes. I find the period between Woofer and Kimono the most interesting as there was a lot going on, but it’s not very well documented. A couple of years ago I managed to get inside the Basing St studios for a look around, before it closed. It was great to see where some of those fantastic recordings were made. All the best, Tony.

  10. Martin Gordon Post author

    Hi Tony

    According to the notes, these were the only tunes recorded by that line-up. I do recall rehearsing a number of other tunes which fell by the wayside but ‘Alabamy Right’ rings no bells at all.

  11. Tony Machin

    Hi Martin, did you play on any other Sparks songs apart from those listed in your notes? I was wondering about Alabamy Right and Marry Me, they ended up as B sides like Profile and Barbecutie? Thank you.

  12. MG

    In sequence:

    No, ILG is not a KMH outtake, in as much as it’s not me on bass.
    I haven’t heard that version of ‘Profile’, so I can’t say.
    There were no band ‘demo sessions’ before KMH. All KMH outtakes are indicated above.

  13. skippy o'nasica

    Thanks for these interesting details!

    ¿The Allmusic review describes the version of “I Like Girls” on the “In The Swing Compilation” as a KMH outtake. Is that correct? (Soundclips included:

    ¿The “Profile” released on the flip of “Get In The Swing” is a (“Propaganda”-era?) re-recording, not the one you played on?

    ¿The rumored KMH outtakes “About To Burst”, “Green Thumb” and “She’s Getting Funnier” (the latter a Mankey/Feinstein-era live track IIRC) don’t appear on your list. Did you by any chance keep a notebook of any demo sessions you may have taken part in before the album itself was recorded?

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