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In Top Gear With Stephen Cummings

by Robert Dunstan

from Rip It Up magazine, 1997

It's not often a contemporary Australian artist has two "best of" collections released almost simultaneously, but such is the case for Melbourne-based singer songwriter Stephen Cummings. Material recorded when he was lead vocalist for The Sports in the late '70s through to the early '80s has now been released by Mushroom Records as a 2CD anthology under the title This Is Really Something, and a compilation of eclectic solo material (featuring three new songs) is just about to be issued as Puppet Pauper Pirate Poet Pawn King by Polydor.

The singer is also in the process of writing a new novel to follow his well received Wonder Boy - now in its third print run! - and about to hit the road with guitairist Jeff Burstin (of Black Sorrows) and bassist Bill McDonald (of Frente).

The Sports 2CD set includes all the band's well known songs along with obscure material, unreleased tracks and Stephen's enlightening liner notes.

"Billy Pinnell, who was quite a fan of the band, put it all together and I just helped him track down some of the old tapes," Stephen says of his involvemnt. "Some of them were rotting pretty badly so we had to bake them and remix them. Quite a few were badly water damaged.

"But they've since found some more after putting the album together," he laughs. "And there's lots of good quality live tapes we've still got."

Stephen had decidedly more control over a new, 18-track compilation album of solo material, Puppet Pauper Pirate Poet Pawn King.

"Yeah, I had more of a hand in that one," he says. "And it's got three new songs. One's an obscure Vanda and Young song, Waiting For A Train, and the other two (Slowly Going To Pieces and Somewhere) are soul pop things. I did one with Robert Goodge and Somewhere with this band Bill McDonald had going, Four Hours Sleep, which also had little Danny Luscombe from The Blackeyed Susans on guitar."

"And I've got a brand new album kinda vaguely worked out in my head," Stephen says, adding that he's currently considering setting up an acoustic label to release his own material and that of other song writers. "[My album's] going to be a full-on singer song writer type of country record called Spiritual Bum [laughs]. My own Nebraska."

Following the pleasing success of Wonder Boy, his debut novel, Stephen is once again banging away at his old, but ever-trusty Apple Mac ("Err, the monitor blew up last week," he laughs, "but I'm getting another one tommorow.") on a new tome, Stay Away From Lightning Girl.

"It's about a song writer who's been living overseas and he comes back to Australia to look after his mother who's had a stroke," he explains. "It's about him being sick of music and everything but, by some strange and fortiuitous circumstance, he gets involved with some twins and gets dragged right back into it. There's some sex and drugs and rock'n'roll in this one.

"It's actually an idea I had for a third book," Stephen continues, "but because they take so long to write, and are so tiring [sighs], I thought I'd stick two stories together just in case I never get the time to write another one."

Stephen is touring with guitarist Jeff Burstin (of Black Sorrows) and long time cohort and bassist Bill McDonald, who is currently with Frente.

"Well Frente have kinda basically sorta broken up," Stephen declares in his own characteristic way.

"But Bill and Angie [Hart - Frentečs vocalist] have formed a new group. When they were in America, Angie met and married the guitar player from Alanis Morrissette's band [laughs], so they've all formed a group with this Mexican drummer. And they're going over to the US to make a record later this year.

"It's a weird world," he concludes.

Stephen Cummings plays The Governor Hindmarsh on Thu Aug 28. The Sports 2CD anthology set, This Is Really Something, is out now thru Mushroom, while a new compilation of solo material, Puppet Pauper Pirate Poet Pawn King, is due to be released by Polydor in early September.

© Rip It Up - reprinted with permission

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