Thursday, 26 November 2009

Sparkie Williams

Here's a good pop quiz poser : Which 'fifties British recording star was stuffed after his death in 1962 ? The answer : Sparkie Williams (, the red labels of whose Parlophone single (Philip Marsden Introduces Sparkie Williams ; 45-R 4475), offering up the info that he was, "The 1958 Champion Talking Budgerigar". On this disc from that year, "The T.V. budgie man" Philip Marsden introduces himself, then has an amiable cut-'n'-paste chat with Sparkie, who reveals his address as, "34 Garden Drive, Forest Hall" (Newcastle); comes out with a few phrases ("Mama's precious pet"; "Mama's little treasure"; "Mama's beautiful little bird"); and states that he loves his "mama" and "daddy". A requested cup of tea is gently denied him by Marsden, who puts the talking wonder through his paces, encouraging him to recite various short pieces of poetry before the beverage is finally forthcoming in sympathetic response to Sparkie coughing. One poem is rendered in Sparkie's local Geordie dialect.
The flip Sparkie The Fiddle spoofs an American thriller, all D.A.s and "dames", and sees the budgerigar "acting" (i.e. with recordings of his voice dropped into the story). Each side has a "Peacock" composer credit, which gives the game away rather as regards the topside, the notion of Mr. Marsden and Sparkie having a cosy natter together in the studio. I wonder if there were any earlier records of talking budgies, back in the 'twenties and 'thirties, the heyday of novelty 78s ?
My first encounter with Sparkie was on the Caperns Pretty Talk ! flexidisc (Printed Sound Limited) (, on which he demonstrates his prowess on the final track, the other seven being devoted to his "mum" Mattie L. Williams (who provides helpful back sleeve blurb) repeating phrases over and over so that your budgie might pick them up. Michael Nyman's 1977 piece Pretty Talk For George Brecht (unheard by me, alas) made use of material from that flexi. More recently, Nyman produced an opera based on the brief life of Sparkie :; and Recordings of
Sparkie have also appeared on a 1967 Philips label budgie tuition L.P., Talking Budgerigars With Philip Marsden (BL 7824); and on the British Library's essential Bird Mimicry CD (
I've no idea as to whether budgerigar-keeping is still a popular pastime, or if there's a ban in force these days... it feels very much something from a bygone era - perhaps a bit Beanoland; from a climate in which some features and attitudes are in aspic, like mortarboard-wearing schoolmasters : one can easily imagine a first frame in which Biffo says, proudly, "Isn't my new budgie a beauty, Buster ?", as said creature greets the bear's bereted sidekick to his amazement and pleasure.

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