In my piece about Paper Sun, Traffic’s debut single from May 1967, I noted that the song might have climbed higher than #5 had it not been for Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale, which hogged the top spot for several weeks and could not be budged.
As part of my Paper Sun research I looked for Procol Harum’s original performance on Top of the Pops.
Watching this old black and white footage, a faint and disturbing memory stirred: another group of the era, late sixties or early seventies (despite Sergeant Pepper, this was before groups started being called ‘bands’). Probably, like Procol Harum, they had been pushed into the limelight by an unexpected success, because I only remember seeing them on TOTP once or twice.
I couldn’t name the group, nor the song. What I remembered about them was not their standard shaggy haircuts and pop star flamboyance, but their keyboard player: a gaunt man with a strange little toothbrush moustache and slicked back hair. He wore trousers hitched well above the waist, a white shirt and tie, and apart for his hands on the keys never moved at all. He stared straight ahead, oblivious to the beat and the capering of his band mates. Whenever the cameras found him he would give the TV audience a creepy leer.
Who was he and what was the group? I asked my wife if she remembered anything like that. It rang a bell, she said: someone who looked as if he had stepped out of a Monty Python sketch. Why didn’t I look on the internet. Yes, but where to begin?
This note takes its title from the search terms I typed into Google – 60s pop group squinty man with toothbrush moustache.
This brought up a great many references to Hitler, Charlie Chaplin and moustaches. I tried an image search. Bingo!
My man was in five of the first fifteen images! His name is Ron Mael. He and his brother Russell founded the band Sparks. The song was This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us, written by Ron and sung by Russell. It was #2 on the UK singles chart on 5th May 1974. Here they are as I remember them off the telly.
Coming soon: THE STRANGE GENIUS OF RON MAEL
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