English songwriter's solo tour celebrates 40th anniversary of 'Squeezing Out Sparks'
When Graham Parker was readying his 1979 album, Squeezing Out Sparks, he had no idea of the impact the album would have. It was his fourth record — just another bunch of songs from a London pub rocker.
And yet, Parker did notice that this batch of tunes felt a bit strange in some way he couldn't quite put his finger on. “I wasn't confident in the songs, particularly. I found them a little odd,” Parker said recently by phone. “I thought there were immensely creative chord progressions. Even playing them now, it's like, ‘These are pretty fantastic chord progressions on some of these songs.'”
When it came time to record the album, Parker and his band opted for a more stripped-down, New Wave-inspired sound, ditching the horn and string sections from previous records. The new approach worked. Squeezing Out Sparks was a hit with critics and went on to be Parker's best-selling album; it also managed to connect with American audiences for the first time in Parker's career.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the album, Parker is embarking on a solo tour, which will stop at Natalie's Coal-Fired Pizza for a sold-out show on Saturday, April 20. The singer/guitarist also recently released a solo acoustic rendition of Squeezing Out Sparks.
To make the 40th anniversary acoustic record, Parker recruited engineer Simon Edwards, who played bass on Parker's most recent studio album, Cloud Symbols, and who has his own home studio. To honor the muscle-y sound of Squeezing Out Sparks, Parker didn't want to merely stick a mic in front of his acoustic guitar. It had to sound bigger, even with one guitar and one voice.
“I had this tiny Ibanez acoustic amp. I bought it in a junk shop on the coast in England for 25 quid,” Parker said. “We put a microphone on the amplifier, and Simon put two microphones stuck together in front of my guitar. So you get three signals. And that was quite impressive.I said, ‘That's it. That's the sound.' I just kind of believed in this amplifier. … You just have gut feelings about these things.”
Parker was also struck by how the songs held up — a fact reinforced by Edwards, who wasn't familiar with the original 1979 version of Squeezing Out Sparks. “It didn't come with that kind of thing where the engineer is a huge fan and he's going to overdo things a bit. He had no preconceptions,” Parker said. “His jaw was dropping when he heard ‘Passion [is No Ordinary Word].'''
Aside from Squeezing Out Sparks, one of Parker's biggest crossover moments in the states came several years ago when the songwriter was prominently featured in Judd Apatow's 2012 film, “This is 40.” But while Parker's role as a plot point in the movie brought all sorts of attention to his music, Parker isn't convinced it sold any records for him.
“I don't think it works like that for someone who's been around since 1975,” Parker said, laughing, though he admitted the film has put him on the radar of a younger generation. “In London, my next door neighbors, they've got three kids, and they were watching the TV one night and ‘This is 40' came on. The kids are watching and they're saying, ‘That's Graham! From next door!' These three little kids now think I'm a movie star.”