Love Letter To A Record: Sean Sennett On The Sports’ All Sports

Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.

In this series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

Sean Sennett: The Sports – All Sports (1982)

I can’t tell you the day, the week or the year … but I can recall the exact moment I heard the opening bars of The Sports’ All Sports compilation. I was at a Chandlers record bar in Springwood (QLD). It was a school day and I usually dropped by, in the afternoon, to flip through the racks whenever I could.

The lady behind the counter dropped the needle on the vinyl and the opening strains of ‘Boys What Did The Detective’s Say’ ricocheted around the room. I rocked back on my heels.

That voice, the lyrics … the attitude of the band. I didn’t move. I just stood there listening and waited for song two to kick in. It was their cover (previously unreleased) of Jackie DeShannon’s ‘Walk In The Room’. Killer riff, the band again sounded great … and the singer – who I later found out was Stephen Cummings – seemed to spit the words through the speakers.

I was hooked already as they dropped a gear with the ballad ‘Reckless’. I was a massive Australian Crawl fan at this stage of my record buying life and The Sports sounded like they worked in the same vernacular, but The Sports’ pop sensibilities, mixed with a new wave attitude, were razor sharp … and I discovered … they got there first.

The title was a play on liquorice all-sorts, and the cover was a pop art representation of that. It was designed by Paul Worsted who’d done some work for Mental As Anything. He was one of Australia’s great visual artists of the period.

Flipping the cover over, the band – lots of them – were pictured on lolly wrappers. The compilation had sixteen tracks over two sides of vinyl and told the story of a group that released four albums and a couple of EPs between 1976 and 1981. All Sports came out in 1982.

Standing in Chandlers, the album was my gateway drug to the world of The Sports and their enigmatic frontman, Stephen. The next five songs were lifted off their most popular album to date Don’t Throw Stones. 

After the title track came the Martin Armiger-penned ‘Suspicious Minds’, followed by ‘Live Work And Play’, ‘Big Sleep’ and their biggest hit ‘Who Listens To The Radio’. The latter was so big I’d heard it on the American sitcom, WKRP In Cincinnati. The next day I went back and bought the record. It was a big decision. The album was $10.99 – the sticker is still in the corner – and this was the first time I’d broken the $10 barrier on a new album. Ouch! But it was worth it.

I took the record home and immediately devoured the liner notes written by Stuart Coupe and Toby Creswell. Stuart had typed his and Toby’s were handwritten. Both men shared their love of the now defunct band and crammed in as many references to popular culture as you could possibly want in their 12” x 12” word count.

Toby referenced Priscilla Lane’s cradling Jimmy Cagney’s head in the snow. Stuart told us how Johnny Thunders “reckons you can’t put your arms around a memory”. I sat in my bedroom and read these notes a million times, I copied the tempo of their prose and stuck the odd uncredited quote into my high school essays.

The Sports were done and dusted by the time the record hit the shelves. Side two opened with a previously unreleased version of The Easybeats’ ‘Wedding Ring’, followed by their killer ballad ‘The Lost And The Lonely’, and a co-write with Ross Wilson ‘Perhaps’.

Next came the hit single ‘Strangers On A Train’. Like the previous two songs it was from their album Suddenly. That’s what I meant about a gateway drug. I became obsessed with the band and obsessed with finding their albums which were quickly going out of print.

Their debut album, Reckless, is the Sports doing their version of rockabilly with Ed Bates on guitar alongside Andrew Pendlebury. Don’t Throw Stones (with its classic cover) is still around the second hand shops of 2020 in a couple of incarnations: the local edition and the US edition.

Suddenly came with a cover that had a venetian blind on the front and you could flick between images of Stephen at the mic stand. (I defy you to find one that isn’t torn).

Sondra saw them utilise the artistry of Worsted for the cover image. I love the design so much I’ve got a large scale screen print of it in my lounge room. That’s where the album ends, with four tracks from Sondra, ‘Black Stockings (For Chelsea)’, ‘Blue Hearts’, ‘Stop The Baby Talking’ and the brilliant final single, ’How Come’. It’s here Stephen writes about sending a ‘seventeen page letter, just to say good bye’.

As my love of the album and The Sports grew, so did my appreciation of Stephen Cummings as a singer and writer. His voice was one thing, but his lyrics left most of his contemporaries in the shade. When his debut solo album Senso landed my teenage self was perplexed as to why it wasn’t ‘bigger than Paul Young’s No Parlez.

If you’ve read this far, I hope I’ve pricked your interest… so next time you’re out there doing some crate digging … keep a look out for All Sports.

The Sports have released compilation records since – or, I should say, their record company has. But nothing matches the seamless beauty of this retrospective. The flow of the songs, the liner notes, the art … it’s the mighty Sports from the beginning to the middle to the end.

Sean Sennett

Kate Ceberano, Steve Kilbey and Sean Sennett’s ‘The Dangerous Age’ is out on February 7th. Rob Hirst and Sean Sennett’s ‘Driver Reviver’ EP is out now.

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