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Stephen Cummings

by Stephen Munchenberg

from Rip It Up magazine, 1997

Legendary Melbourne singer Stephen Cummings returns to Adelaide this week, on top of trying to finish his already overdue second novel. The success of his first book, 1996's Wonder Boy, prompted him to attempt another, Stay Away From Lightning Girl, which is about a week from completion.

"Writing a book's not really a money pit," he laughs. "You don't get paid until you deliver it and then you don't get paid that much anyway. It's not something I advise anyone to do for monetary reasons.

"I thought I'd do another one - now it doesn't seem like such a good idea. I think I'd forgotten how much hard work it is. And monotonous. With music you can be a bit more slack, you've got other people helping you and you can think, 'that's kind of alright, nobody will notice that.' But with a book all the dumb things add up."

Those who missed his recent August shows here (his first here in a while) shouldn't miss the coming SA visit (his last in a while). Again he brings Jeff Burstin (ex-Black Sorrows) and Bill McDonald (ex-Frente, which has now all-but split up).

"Bill has actually got a new group with Angie [Hart]," Cummings said. "He's been in America, where Angie married the guitar player from Alanis Morissette's band and they've formed another group called Splendid. They're getting organised to make their first album, so Bill's not going back until after Christmas. We're old friends, so we're just playing and doing stuff now."

Cummings has just seen two best-of albums released, one of his former band The Sports, and an excellent solo compilation Puppet Pauper Pirate Poet Pawn & King. While his last two solo albums were recorded with Steve Kilbey of The Church fame, both are happy to move on (Kilbey since having moved to live in Sweden). And while he has no immediate plans to record, he does plan to set up a home studio and do the next record "in bits and pieces over the next nine months".

I asked whether there were different levels of achievement between writing music and novels.

"I've written songs for so long I don't even think about it," he said. "I still get a real kick out of it - the most fun I get is putting the song together at home. With the book, I don't know really as much about it and it's more an endurance test.

"I also like to think most modern novels are more like films. Before I got involved in music I went to film school and for me, in some ways, this is almost like a film, except I don't have to have all that money or get all those people involved."

Cummings also has one more ace up his sleeve before the year's out.

"I've recorded an album with a guy in Melbourne called Chris Marshall. He used to have a group called Harem Scarem, a very wild bluesy group. He gave up music to become a professor at Melbourne Uni. Now he's come back and we've made a record with Barry Palmer, the guitarist for Deadstar and Hunters [& Collectors]. We wrote the songs between the three of us."

The group, under the banner Christopher Marshall's Wildest Dream, will release its first single in under a month, with the album due early next year.

"It's a five piece group with bass player Mark Ferrie who used to be in The Models, as well as a young drummer," Cummings said. "It's kind of quite different to what I do - much heavier - and Christopher is a very full-on front-person. I play rhythm guitar and sing back up harmonies. We're kind of somewhere in between Tim Buckley and The Faces."

Stephen Cummings plays the Governor Hindmarsh on Thu Nov 20. A new compilation album of solo material, Puppet Pauper Pirate Poet Pawn & King is out now along with a definitive Best Of The Sports 2CD anthology set.

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