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4 August 1999 - Time Off magazine

Stephen Cummings began his career in show business singing rockabilly and looking like a film star. After the demise of his seminal Melbourne outfit The Sports, Cummings set about crafting a solo career that has earned incredible critical distinction.

This week sees the release on Cummings' new solo album, and his first in four years, Spiritual Bum. Certain tracks on the record have been described by the author as 'Al Green meets The White Album' or 'a soul pop love song, somewhere between Todd Rundgren and Bobby Charles'.

Stephen Cummings returns to the public arena at the height of his powers. Chances are, in years to come, Spiritual Bum will have earned the same accolades as Lovetown, This Wonderful Life and The Sports' swansong Sondra. Songs for the project were written relatively quickly.

"They were all written a month or two before I started recording," Cummings explains. "I keep working at it all the time. I'm always making little tapes. I don't necessarily always finish them all up. I don't work at doing incredible demos all of the time. I just kind of make tapes, so that I can remember ideas. Then... I lose the tapes (laughs)."

To record the album, Stephen installed some vintage gear into his Melbourne studio. Other tracks were overdubbed at other small city studios. Friends dropped by to lend a hand. The music is generally quiet. In some parts, drums are absent. No solos were required.

"It was good recording at home," he offers, "and it was good recording in Melbourne... just because I could do things at my own pace. That was one of the pluses."

Cummings last two outings, Falling Swinger and Escapist, were recorded in Sydney with Steve Kilbey at the production helm. For Spiritual Bum, Cummings was blessed with a clear vision of what was required. The likes of David Bridie, Robert Goodge, Rebecca Barnard and Dan and Peter Luscombe were on hand to help fill in the blanks.

"[This time], it felt more like a direct record," he continues. "I just wanted to stick the voice up loud. I guess that was a reaction to a more produced kind of sound that I got from working with Steve Kilbey. On the second record, I let Steve be Steve. There was probably a lot of him on it, but... you know..."

It's apparent that Cummings enjoys collaboration. A generous artist, he allows others to flourish. Despite the stature of his accomplices, the Cummings' vision for Spiritual Bum never wavers.

"We've got a good rapport. I feel in safe hands. I can talk to them in short hand. By the same token, I had a very strong idea in my head, before we started, about what I wanted. The record turned out pretty much like the idea I had in my head. You have to be focused making a record. If you're distracted, they never come out as they should."

Prior to recording commencing, Cummings would relax in his studio by listening to old vinyl albums.

"I was listening to The Band, The Faces and John Martyn. I was listening to things that were [also] direct and simply recorded."

The bulk of the tunes on Spiritual Bum were written by Cummings alone. There's the odd collaboration. One of particular interest is 'It's Raining'.

"As a teenager," he explains, "I would often visit The Source Bookshop at the top end of Bourke Street in Melbourne. It was here that I found a slim book by French Symbolist poet Guillaume Apollinaire. 'It's Raining' is an adaptation of one of his poems. Shane O'Mara plays 12-string acoustic guitar, and David Bridie plays toy piano."

An added bonus for anyone who purchases Spiritual Bum is the CD-ROM component. Put together by the people who run the Lovetown fan site on the web, the CD brings with it a barrage of information.

"They're both computer boffins," explains Cummings fondly on the CD-ROM creators. "They offered to do it for the hell of it. It was very good of them."

The disc features an extensive biography of Cummings, lyrics, notes from the author on the songs themselves, an introduction from Stephen about the project and further comments from his long-time workmate, Robert Goodge (I'm Talking/Filthy Lucre). The CD also contains a short story from Stephen, dubbed 'A Hole In My Soul'.

These days, writing fiction is a big part of Stephen's creative life. A couple of years ago, his first book Wonderboy appeared on the shelves. Next week sees the release of his second novel, Stay Away From Lightning Girl. The book details the life of a fallen rock star, Robert Moore. At one point Moore confesses to being a 'popular singer, who's not popular'. The book is a tremendous read, with Cummings' witty asides and sage like observations rolling off the bat at will.

© 1999 Time Off Publications. Reproduced with permission.

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