Stephen Cummings Announces Retirement

Member for

5 years 9 months
Submitted by Site Factory admin on Wed, 04/10/2019 - 13:15

Stephen Cummings Announces Retirement

Posted 10 Apr 2019
stephen cummings the sports
The Sports (Photo: The Definitive Collection album cover)

Much-loved Melbourne singer-songwriter Stephen Cummings has just announced he’ll retire after his present run of dates in support of his new album Prisoner Of Love, plus a 50-track, 4-CD solo career anthology, A Life Is A Life. To commemorate, ILYOS looks back at Stephen’s unforgettable work in the 70s and early 80s with The Sports through our dozen favorite tracks.

Having first made a name for himself around Melbourne in 1974 with the inner-city cult band The Pelaco Brothers alongside Joe Camilleri (and somewhat under the wing of Ross Wilson), Stephen Cummings – or Steve as he was known years ago – is both a uniquely Melbourne figure and a national institution. A suburban music fan rubbing shoulders with the arts & theatre connected ‘Carlton’ scene, Cummings mixed rootsy pop and rock with a literate and wryly humorous observational sensibility that made for some great and lasting pop music. 

Cummings has had a long and fruitful solo career; having started exploring contemporary soul and dance rhythms in Sports' final days, he went headlong into those areas in his solo career before returning to more rootsy styles in more recent years. But of course, it was his late 70s and early 80s work with The Sports that resonated most with the music buying public, and we present here more than an album’s worth of classic tracks that we reckon stand amongst the best that Australian pop has produced.

1.    Boys! (What Did The Detectives Say?) 

The early Sports were steeped in rockabilly and rhythm'n'blues, and by the time they signed to Mushroom, Steve and co-founder guitarist Ed Bates had accumulated a great set of tunes. “Boys” with its references to Melbourne police HQ Russell street, was their first Mushroom single and a classic slice of 70s urban rock.

2.    Reckless

The Sports knew their way around a ballad, and this is one that would’ve done Steve’s early heroes Van Morrison and Graham Parker proud. Co-written by Cummings-Bates and recently added second guitarist Andrew Pendlebury, who gave the band a more contemporary edge. Reckon James Reyne might’ve listened to this one.

3.    When You Walk In The Room

A perfect cover of the Jackie De Shannon 1964 hit by Liverpool’s The Searchers showed that Steve and The Sports were hip to the 60s revival that helped drive New Wave in the late 70s. They were children of the 60s after all. 

4.    Who Listens to the Radio?

Their first real hit, early evidence of the great Cummings/Pendlebury writing partnership, and one of Australian rock’s all-time great singles. The picture that Cummings put into the lyrics – of a school girl having a sly ciggie out her open bedroom window and listening got the radio while she half-heartedly does her homework – was one of the numerous times that he captured perfectly miniature portraits of suburban Australia life in song.

5.    Don’t Throw Stones

The title track of The Sports' breakthrough second album featured an irresistible use of loud-quite dynamics and hooks galore. I’ve been trying to comprehend the meaning of the line “You were standing naked in your uniform” for 40 years... Anyone got a clue?

6.    Suspicious Minds

The second single of the second album, written solely by Ed Bates’ replacement, Carlton scene prince Martin Armiger. A perfect slice of late 70s power pop.

7.    Wedding Ring

A gutsy Easybeats cover, recorded in the UK while on tour there with Graham Parker & the Rumour in 1979. About to sign to Stiff Records who thought the second album was too slick, they rerecorded pretty much the whole thing and some other tracks in London, but only a handful of things were released. The remainder came out a few years back on a deluxe reissue of Don’t Throw Stones, and it may well be the best stuff they ever recorded.

8.    Strangers on a Train

First single off the third album, with its title taken from a 1950 novel by one of Steve’s favorite authors Patricia Highsmith. Steve would late try his hand at writing a crime novel himself, but curiously this one is credited to just Armiger. Dig the loudly ringing (12-string?) guitars – this is pop! 

9.    Suddenly

The title track from said third album. It’s hard to know if this  was influenced by quirky new wave popsters like XTC or quirky Aussie early 70s proggers like Company Caine. Either way, it shows the similarities between the two and is a cracking tune to boot.

10.    Between Us

Another excellent pop tune from Suddenly; I’ve always figured they were trying to capture a bit of Split Enz’s “I Got You” magic with this one. Should’ve been a hit but wasn’t even a single.

11.    Perhaps

A great Cummings/Ross Wilson co-write and yet another gem from the vastly under-rated Suddenly, this one showed a great modern soul sensibility and also deserved to be a much bigger hit than it was. Has only gotten better with age.

12.    Stop The Baby Talking

Better than the plastic pop of “How Come,” this was the highlight of Sports fourth album Sondra and was written (by Cummings/Pendlebury) and recorded around the same time that they’d taken to covering Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” live. 

While we’re not clear if there any dates still to be added, fans should check out Stephen while they still have a chance at the following shows:

April 12 Memo Music Hall, StKilda
April 13 Darwin Railway Club, Parap, NT
May 3 Memo Music Hall, St Kilda    
May 4 The Gov, Adelaide

Listen to The Sports on Spotify

Listen to The Sports on Apple Music 

Related Posts