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POPsided magazine's exclusive interview with STEPHEN CUMMINGS

Although they didn't find mega-stardom outside their homeland, Australia's The Sports certainly did cause a stir with their radio anthem, "Who Listens To The Radio?" (from their second album, Don't Throw Stones), way back in the glory days of '79. After four impressive albums and a farewell EP, The Sports disbanded in '81, allowing each member to carve out their own niche in the music world. The most prolific has been vocalist Stephen Cummings, an artist who has refused to make the same album twice and who has musically travelled great distances from the 'sound' that brought him to our attention in the first place. Outside of Australia, little is known of this enigmatic vocalist, The Sports or the Australian music scene in general. In order to get the facts, the fiction and the memories, Spaz sat down with Stephen (who is finishing up his second novel) to discuss his musical life: past, present and future.

When you first put together The Sports, did you think that in 20 years time that you'd still be involved in the music business, trying to remember exactly what went on?

How did The Sports first come together and sign to Mushroom?

The Sports' first album, '78's Reckless ($$$), introduced a band that was hard to pigeonhole. There were hints of rockabilly and R&B mixed with pop and rock all dolled up in a pub rock rumble. Was this the sound you had envisioned when forming the band?

Guitarist Andrew Pendlebury co-wrote a good portion of the songs with you. How did that songwriting relationship work?

What are your personal feelings about this rough but impressive debut?

The following year, the band released the album Don't Throw Stones ($$$$), which introduced the Sports to an international audience. Were you aware during the recording of the album that this was gonna be THE album?

Did the addition of Martin Armiger as guitarist and co-songwriter have any effect on the band's chemistry?

What was your reaction to the critics comparing The Sports to Graham Parker, Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson?

Like your countrymates Mental As Anything, you were a rock band being branded as 'new wave' and 'punk'. Was this annoying?

What was the Australian music scene like back in these days? Did the bands generally get along or was their alot of jealousy towards the bands who actually had success outside of Australia?

Was the success of Don't Throw Stones a hardship when it came to following it up?

1980's Suddenly ($$$) was another fine album but you had lost a few members by the time of it's US release. Did the band's success cause friction amongst the ranks?

Were you happy with the album or would you have preferred a bit more time in preparing the songs?

By the time Sondra ($$$) was released in '81, the band seemed to be going through musical changes. At the time, this fourth album seemed very eclectic but has actually stood the test of time. What was your frame of mind while recording this often jarring musical experience?

After this album and the Sports Play Dylan EP, the Sports disbanded. Was the parting amicable?

In '84, your first solo album, Senso ($$$$), was released. This album was keyboard-dominated and embraced a more commercial sound than any Sports album. Did you purposely try to make an album that was different enough without alienating Sports fans?

Why did it take so long to put out your first solo release?

This Wonderful Life ($$$) came out in '86, followed by A New Kind Of Blue ($$$) in '88. Both of these albums mixed pop and R&B successfully but your music was becoming progressively darker. Were you conscious of this change?

On A New Kind of Blue and '89's Lovetown ($$$), you were writing with Andrew Pendlebury again. How did you two hook up for the second time?

Lovetown was another change, musically. You seemed to have gone back to a more basic sound, getting reacquainted with your roots again. Guitars were more dominant and elements of folk and blues were more apparent. Had you become disenchanted with the limitations of keyboards?

You also seemed to be more relaxed and emotionally attached to the material. Were you more comfortable taking this 'laid back' approach to the music?

'90's Good Humour ($$$) added a few dance-oriented tracks, but the best moments lay hidden in the darker tracks. Do you think you confused the listeners by putting these dancey numbers upfront on the album and then hitting them with the softer emotional tracks?

Unguided Tour ($$$), from '92, was more consistent musically and packed an emotional punch. Did you still feel the need to stretch yourself or were you finally feeling comfortable with the material that you were recording?

The compilation Rollercoaster ($$$$) from '93 wrapped up your career nicely at this point. Did you feel it necessary to close a certain chapter on what was and what was to come?

The next phase in your career came with the two most consistent albums you've ever recorded, '94's Falling Swinger ($$$$) and '96's Escapist ($$$$), both produced by Steve Kilbey. How did you hook up with him?

Both of these albums are classic solo Stephen Cummings yet Kilbey tends to leave his fingerprints over everything he touches. Did you have a lot of input on what was happening musically on these two albums?

Do you intend to work with Kilbey again?

In '97, there were two compilations released of your material. This Is Really Something ($$$$) was a 2CD Sports anthology and Puppet Pauper Pirate Poet Pawn & King ($$$$) was a comp of your later solo work. Were these released to coincide with your 20 year anniversary in the business?

How does it feel looking back (and listening in) on two decades of music-making?

What can we expect from Stephen Cummings in '98? A Sports reunion perhaps?

Thanks to Spaz at POPsided magazine for this!

the Stephen Cummings site - email: feedback AT