29 June 2015

FFS (Franz Ferdinand Sparks) at the Troxy easily exceeded my high expectations

Few, if any, bands have the capability to surprise as much as Sparks.

For many they are just the odd electronic duo that had their fifteen minutes of fame in the early seventies with songs like This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us. For those of us that stayed following them we have seen them take their pop songs in several directions and have seen them tour with various band formats and as just a duet.

Then they announced that they were working with Franz Ferdinand.

The first fruits of this was the album FFS, the deliberately provocative combination of Franz Ferdinand and Sparks. Then even better news and FFS became a band too and they started touring to promote the album.

I have a simple rule for Sparks concerts in London - Go.

Sparks have also surprised with their concert venues in recent tears and I have seen them as place as geographically and physically diverse as Barbican, Union Chapel and Bush Hall, amongst others. The venue this time was Troxy, a converted cinema in Stepney, a part of London that I knew little about and had only been too on a few lunchtime walks when based at a project at Aldgate East.

Citymapper showed all sorts of interesting ways to get there but in the end I took the easiest option of the District Line all the way from Richmond to Stepney Green. From there it was a fairly simple walk more or less due South, past an unexpected city farm.

Troxy was easy to find and a lot of other people had found it too and there was a long queue down the side of the building. It moved pretty quickly and I was inside within ten minutes or so. Obviously all the best places had been taken so I settled for a central position about six "rows" back.

There was a support band and  they helped to pass the time but while they were harmless they were also largely forgettable.

As promised FFS hit the stage at 9pm.

I had the album and had been playing it so I had some idea of what to expect musically though I had little idea of what their stagecraft would be like.

It was obvious from the very first number, Johnny Delusional which was also the first track on the FFS album, that FFS were one band, not two bands playing together. The synergies and the energy were amazing.

Leading the charge, so to speak,  were Russell Mael (ex-Sparks) and Alex Kapranos (ex-Franz Ferdinand) who matched each other line-by-line and  step-by-step, much like the walk-off in Zoolander. They swapped lines and swapped moves like twin brothers that looked a little different. The voices had the same timbre too so the sound they produced was consistent no matter who was singing.

Russell cannot keep still on stage and, if anything, Alex out did him. Russell probably bounced a little more while Alex put in more dramatic crouches and arm salutes.

There were plenty of other antics from the rest of the band too. There was the Ron Dance, of course, and we also had some crowdsurfing from Nick McCarthy while he carried on playing guitar, a few swapping of positions and instruments and massed drumming for the introduction to the Number One Song In Heaven.

From that you will have gathered that they played a few tracks from their previous bands as well as most of FFS. Everybody there seemed to know the FFS album well and also all of the songs by one of the original bands, Sparks in my case. I worked on the assumption that anything that I did not recognise was a Franz Ferdinand song. I did recognise their biggest hit single Take Me Out but I had forgotten that it was by them.

The music was poppy and bouncy so we bounced along with them. It was hardly a mosh pit but everybody was dancing, even me (just a little bit).

I do not know how FFS wrote their songs but there were a few that had the easy repetition of more recent Sparks albums and these were my early favourites from the album, songs like Little Guy From The Suburbs ("You'll know I didn't, I didn't make it like I hoped we would...") and Save Me From Myself (er "Save Me From Myself"). Of course I liked the very poppy songs too and had to sing along to things like Call Girl ("Why don't you call, girl?") and Police Encounters ("Bomp bom diddy diddy").

There was much to like about the new FFS material but my highlight of the evening, as it often is, was When Do I Get to Sing "My Way".

Every time I see Sparks I marvel at just how good they are live and FFS more than lived up to my very high expectation of the evening. The sell out dates and the five star reviews are all easily deserved.


  1. Oh lucky you! I already had a ticket for Everyman at the NT so missed this. I do have the album though.

    1. That has happened to me before now and one of the things that I like smaller theaters is that you can usually book them at short notice, I booked the Park Theatre yesterday around 5pm for a performance that evening.

  2. PS Did the friend who accompanied you to Sparks at the Barbican also go?

    1. Yes, Pete was with me, He goes to far more gigs that I do but we always go to Sparks, Stackridge, Space Ritual and a few others together. Next one is Strawbs on the 25th.

    2. Strawbs postponed due to hospitalisation.

    3. I was very disappointed to hear that but reassured that the gig has been pencilled in for April 2016!

  3. Yay! I (Julie Bowdler) have tickets for FFS at the Forum

  4. We are in the balcony. Not been to Forum before so I hope OK.

    1. We're in the pit and may end up dancing. That happens. I have been to a few gigs at the Forum but never upstairs so I have no idea what that is like.

    2. I dance at the slightest opportunity but my friend prefers to sit these days. But the balcony is both seated and standing so maybe both will be happy.


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