Sparta was formed in late 1979 by Tony Foster on lead guitar. The line-up was completed by Tony Warren on bass guitar, Karl Reders on vocals, Steve ‘Snake’ Reders on guitar and Paul ‘Radge’ Reders on drums. Steve explains how the band made their first steps: “Karl, Paul and Steve started a novice band in late1978 and had started following/assisting local Mansfield band Xerox. Xerox split up in 1979 leaving Tony Foster and Tony Warren. Karl, Paul and Steve joined up to form Sparta. Karl laid down his bass guitar to concentrate on vocals.” Sparta came from Mansfield (in Nottinghamshire), back in the early ‘80’s a town with a healthly local scene. According to Steve, “there were a good number of local pub-based venues to play at the time and local bands to play. Savage and Tyrant being among them (as featured on the ‘Scene Of The Crime’ album).
After having established a healthy local following, the next step for Sparta was to have their on vinyl out. In 1980, Nottinghamshire-based label Suspect Records put out Sparta’s debut single pairing “Fast Lane” with “Fighting To Be Free”. Steve explains how the single came about: “Suspect Records was formed to allow us to release our first single, financed by the band. 1,000 copies were pressed primarily for promotional purposes, a single always impressed more than a demo tape.” The band decided to put “Fast Lane” and “Fighting To Be Free” on plastic but there were other hot contenders: “I cannot remember how many Sparta songs we were playing at the time, but I think ‘Boy King’ and ‘Rock Don’t Roll’ were also candidates.” “Fast Lane” was named ‘Single of the Week’ in Sounds magazine. This gave the band some kind of promotional push as Steve explains: “It’s always uplifting to read positive stuff about the band. The single coupled with cuttings from the Sounds magazine allowed us to get interest in the band outside our local area. This, as well as the ‘Angel Of Death’ single, allowed us to be able to secure support slots at bigger venues in the area with Diamond Head, The Ken Hensley Band (former Uriah Heep keyboard player), Praying Mantis, Lionheart, The Groundhogs and Budgie. Budgie were excellent as we were all Budgie fans in Sparta."
A year later, in 1981, Sparta unleashed their second 7" single “Angel Of Death” (with “Tonight” on the flipside), once again on Suspect Records. In retrospective, Steve prefers “Angel Of Death” in comparism to “Fast Lane”: “It was definitely a progression but also a demonstration of a harder edge and different style of songs that we played. It was again released on the same basis as the first single: 1,000 copies were pressed.” My personal copy of “Angel Of Death” features a photocopied wraparound sleeve. So is this an original copy or did initial copies have a printed sleeve? Steve explains that this was not the case: “All sleeves were photocopied due to cost.”
After “Fast Lane” was voted ‘Single of the Week’ in Sounds, England’s most popular weekly music paper at the time, the Heavy Metal bible Kerrang! stepped in and printed an article about the band in their famous “Armed and Ready” section (named after a tune by the Michael Schenker Group). Sparta were happy to be featured in Kerrang!: “Kerrang! was THE Metal magazine of the time, so we were very pleased to have been picked out from the many bands that sent in their details.”
Still in 1981, Suspect Records published a compilation of local bands under the name of “Scene Of The Crime”, the original vinyl sells for anything up to 100 English Pounds nowadays and there also exists a (supposedly Greek) bootleg CD. Steve gives us some inside knowledge on this legendary piece of New Wave of British Heavy Metal history: “’Scene Of The Crime’ featured five bands: Panza Division, Tyrant, Savage, Manitou and Sparta. Each band had an allotted time on the album and contributed their share of the costs. We did not have two songs at the time that fitted the slot, so ‘Lords of Time’ was picked as our sole contribution. ‘Scene Of The Crime’ was our compromise to releasing a third single. Recording was expensive back then.”
Sparta also recorded a session for Radio Hallam (like Phoenix Rising and Seventh Son), you can hear songs from this session on the album. Steve remembers: “There was a session at Radio Hallam after the first single but any tapes have long since been lost. The session put forward for this album is from the second session recorded with new vocalist Trev Morgan after Karl had left around 1982. Initial interest was a result of sending the first single to the Colin Slade Rock Show at Radio Hallam. The studio was not really set up for serious band recording. The material was recorded basically live in a limited time. The recording for the album was done on a cassette on the night - hence its raw sound. Everything sounds better in the studio on the big speakers!”
Sparta carried on through the mid- to late 1980’s with Mark Henshaw on vocals then Steve on vocals but did not make it into the next decade, they disbanded around 1990. There were rumours about further recordings under the name of Richter Scale but Steve sets the record straight: “This was really the last line-up of Sparta with Karl on bass and vocals, Steve on guitar/vocals, Paul on drums and Dave Drury on guitar. Under the name of Richter Scale we recorded a studio demo, a good recording, but lack of gig opportunities and Dave leaving the band caused it to fold.”
Malc Macmillan wrote in his fantastic book “The N.W.O.B.H.M. Encyclopedia” that there was a band named Sparta who released a track on the late 1980’s “Full Force” compilation on the Reaction/Ebony label. By then, Ebony themselves were not putting out any new Metal releases but had branched out into Rock and Indie stuff (releasing obscure compilations on even more obscure sublabels such as Reaction Records). Steve confirms: “If the track is ‘Lord and Master’, then it is us. We bought a slot for a track on a compilation album. The song was written specially as we didn’t have a three to four minute song. We had the recording session, a cassette recording of the session. After that the company went bust, so we thought there was no album. But it seems that this was not the case!”
In 2003, the two Sparta 7" singles were bootlegged by Brazilian label Phoenix Records, each with a circulation of 250 copies, “Fast Lane” on sky blue vinyl and “Angel Of Death” on transparent blue vinyl. For obvious reasons, Sparta are not too happy about this illegitimate release: “Whilst we feel it’s wrong for them to release the singles without any consultation it’s good to know someone thought it was worth releasing. It also shows how far around the world a limited release from a relatively unknown band can go, even without the aid of the internet.“