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Dave Goodwin in 'Vinyl Stories' talks to Stuart Avis, member of Brighton prog/electro collective Servants of Science, about his love of Sparks, their records and their associated memories.
Stuart Avis one of the brains behind the Brighton based outfit Servants of Science whose excellent debut album ‘The Swan Song’ we reviewed last month. A proggy, electronic and occasionally noisy musical collaboration, the group are heavily influenced by the likes of Pink Floyd, Sparks, Grandaddy, the Flaming Lips, sci-fi author Ray Bradbury and vintage horror director Val Guest.
Alongside Stuart the players include Andy Bay, Helena DeLuca, Adam McKee, Ian Brocken and Neil Beards of indie outfit the Amber Herd. ‘The Swan Song’ was largely recorded at Black Bunker Studios in Brighton, which Stuart has owned for the past five years. Formerly an underground Victorian toilet, the band rehearse in what was formally The Gents, with the Bunker serving as Servants HQ and Stuart’s income when hired out to other bands.
Primarily a rehearsal studio, the nitty-gritty of recording is often taken on board too. A well-established rehearsal and recording studio facility based in the town, the location has a solid 17 years plus reputation.
Stuart is a massive Sparks fan. You remember Sparks. They had probably their best output in the late 70s early 80s. Two American brothers Ron and Russell Mael that looked nothing like each other and also behaved nothing like each other. One taller with a Hitler-style moustache, the other smaller with curly hair and constantly mobile. They were however utterly brilliant. They had only had fleeting success with the Top 40 until 1979 when the maverick pop duo returned after a short break with a completely new look and sound.
Their previous two albums, ‘Introducing’ and Big Beat’ had met with little recognition so it was time for a change of strategy. They teamed up with disco and electronic music pioneer Giorgio Moroder and delivered their opus ‘No. 1 Song in Heaven’. The first UK single from the album, the track saw the Maels crack the Top 20 for the first time in four years, but our story starts with the album’s second single, ‘Beat The Clock’. An infectious slice of non-disco that was both awkward, yet catchy. Stuart was introduced to the song at the age of five by his uncle, which began a lifelong love affair with the band and music in general.
Following the electronic path laid out by Sparks came Depeche Mode, OMD, The Human League and many more of that ilk. This music became Stuart’s passion throughout the 80s, leading to creating his own electronic music with various projects. Servants of Science began life with just a few synth sounds and grew into a six-piece prog/electronic crossover band during the course of the seven-month writing and recording process.
Stuart’s first musical experience was ‘A Big Surprise’ from their ‘Introducing’ album in 1977. They have been a massive part of his life since as far back as he can remember. He always thinks back to his uncle’s car, who to this day remains big Sparks fan, and that’s where he inherited it from. He remembers riding in his car where he had a little portable tape recorder, this being prior to the era when cars were fitted with cassette players as standard. Playing ‘A Big Surprise’ on the machine he would get a young Stuart to sing along when he was probably about three years old.
The next album Sparks did after that was ‘No. 1 in Heaven’ and obviously they went electronic and had a hit with ‘Beat the Clock’. They had a return to the charts after a four-year absence. The first release of ‘The Number One Song In Heaven’ was in Germany but in the UK they released it on different coloured vinyl. But more amazingly the second single from that album ‘Beat the Clock’ had no less than seven different 12” singles released from it and different coloured vinyl too. Stuart still remembers as a kid of about five or six when it came out and he was just about to start school. In the school holidays he used to go to where his Auntie and Uncle where staying and he would play their blue copy of ‘Beat the Clock’.