The first half of 1980 was a massive time for much-loved Melbourne band, The Sports and their Mushroom Records label mates Split Enz. As we've previously looked at (read here), Split Enz released True Colours in January and it went through the roof. The Sports released their third album, Suddenly, in March 1980, and then the two bands hooked up for a ground-breaking, sell-out national tour dubbed Sporting True Colours.
While Suddenly wasn't as critically acclaimed as The Sports' first two albums Reckless (1978) and Don't Throw Stones (1979), nor as successful as the latter, it was a strong follow-up to their breakthrough and featured a couple of their most loved songs, Martin Armiger's hyper-jangling "Strangers On A Train" and Stephen Cummings' soulful and catchy "Perhaps". It was however, overshadowed by the out-of-the-box success of their label mates' Split Enz's True Colours, which had been released a couple of months earlier, and was dominating the scene.
"Strangers On A Train"
The release of Suddenly followed a period on intense and nerve-wracking activity for the band. Following the release of Don't Throw Stones, they toured the UK with Graham Parker & The Rumour and signed to London's super-credible Stiff Records label. The band even re-recorded much of their second album for UK release at the request of Stiff – recordings which were finally unearthed in 2014 on Festival's deluxe reissue of the album. Check them out here.
The UK sessions also produced the OK UK EP, which gave the band an Australian hit with a cover of The Easybeats' "Wedding Ring". But then things went haywire. Interest from the legendary Arista Records boss Clive Davis led the band – or more to the point, their label, Mushroom – to pull out of the Stiff deal and sign with the US label. A US tour ensued, and the band had something of a hit with "Who Listens To The Radio", the last few bars of which – and a back-announce by DJ Dr Johnny Fever (actor Howard Hesseman) - appeared at the beginning of an episode in Season 2 of top-rating sitcom WKRP In Cincinnati. (Check out also the Sports poster appearing in the background on the studio door!)
Things went from weird to worse when the band played a showcase at New York's famed Bottom Line in front of a star-studded audience and blew it. The story was recounted with lingering horror some three decades later by Stephen Cummings in his book Will It Be Funny Tomorrow, Billy?; the band took to the stage and counted in, then Cummings started singing one song while the others guys started playing another. They stopped, tried to get their shit together, counted in, and then Cummings started singing the song the band had initially started, and visa versa.
Amidst the frenzy of activity, the band recorded Suddenly, again with English producer Pete Solly, in England. It was released in Australia in March 1980, and subsequently in the US and elsewhere, where it did nothing. Peaking locally at #13 (Don't Throw Stones had reached #9) it was considered something of a disappointment, and history has it that it was too slick. If anything though, it's a puncher sounding record than its predecessor, and some of the songs, including the previously mentioned singles, the more frantic/less romantic title track and the chugging power popper "Between Us", are amongst the very best things the band recorded.
The Sports | "Suddenly"
Sports | "Between Us"
Immediately after the album's release, Sports hooked up with Split Enz for the month-long, 25-date Sporting True Colours national tour from March 10 till April 13. With theatre shows in Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney and Canberra, it also took in regional areas including Byron Bay, Bathurst, Rockhampton, Townsville and Tamworth before coming back to Melbourne for a second big show at the Palais. While it had perhaps seemed like an ambitious project when conceived, Split Enz's massive record sales and radio and TV ubiquity ensured its success. Although Sports still had great support and one more album in them (1981's Sondra), the tour would represent the pinnacle of Sports' success as a concert act. For Split Enz, on the other hand, it was the beginning of a massive few years.
The Sporting True Colours tour was a major event, so much so that Countdown presented a nearly 8-minute report which featured the hitherto untapped acting talents of Michael Gudinski. Enjoy!
Sporting True Colours Tour Report
True Colours is the most commercially successful album of Split Enz’s career and will be reissued in numerous formats to celebrate its 40th anniversary in July, 2020.
Four coloured vinyl editions of True Colours will be released in sleeves matching the striking original colour combinations issued in January 1980. The CD and digital releases will feature bonus material not included on the original 11-track album. A limited-edition picture disc will also be available on June 19. All are available to pre-order here.
Listen to Suddenly by The Sports on Spotify:
Listen to The Sports on Apple Music: