The Sports took to pop music with a vengeance. Intelligent and original, the Australian band were Melbourne’s reigning pub champions in the late 70s.
Singer Stephen Cummings was an enigmatic front man, and his songs had a perceptive pop feel and a novel quality. The phrase “well-crafted pop songs” was designed for The Sports.
Formed from the remains of The Pelaco Brothers (which had also contained Joe Camilleri of Jo Jo Zep fame), The Sports released an independent EP and in 1978 signed to Mushroom Records.
Their first single for Mushroom, Boys (What Did The Detective Say?) went Top 40 in Australia, and their debut album Reckless (1978) helped them win the title of Best New Group at the TV Week King of Pop Awards.
The band scored another hit with their version of the Jackie DeShannon song Walk In The Room.
Martin Armiger replaced guitarist Ed Bates in August 1978 and his song Who Listens To The Radio? became an anthem for the band’s large live following, reaching #25 on the national chart. It was to eventually climb the American charts the following year.
The Sports second album, Don’t Throw Stones (1979), was produced by English producer Pete Solley and the band toured Australia with Graham Parker & The Rumour to promote the album.
So impressed were Parker and his manager that on their return to London they urged their label, Stiff, to sign them. They were the first Australian act to be signed to the ultra-hip label (home to Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe) who compiled their first two albums.
Arista records released Who Listens To The Radio? in the USA and the band played to a celebrity crowd in New York to promote it.
In 1980, the single Strangers On A Train charted, followed by the album Suddenly. The line-up by now had changed, with keyboard player Jim Niven and drummer Paul Hitchens leaving.
Only Hitchens was replaced and the band toured constantly, enlisting former Skyhooks guitarist Red Symons to play keyboards on one tour.
Another tour saw them unite with Split Enz to perform a series of concerts called Sporting True Colours. The Sports last album, Sondra, was released in 1981 and was followed by a mini-album called The Sports Play Dylan (and Donovan) which was exactly what it said on the tin. But the band had tired of touring and soon dissolved.
Stephen Cummings enjoyed a modicum of success with a subsequent solo career while Martin Armiger forged quite a path in the fields of composing and production.
Armiger passed away in November 2019, aged 70.