Fresh off their riotous show at the Nags Head, Camberwell, where drummer Al Greenwood required a first aid kid mid set. Sports Team are on a non-stop road to success, after years of hard graft touring the UK, notoriously filling the Forum with more fans than they have on social media. They have built a fan-base like no other, who have annual coach trips to Margate, and communicate with the band via a WhatsApp group. The anticipation now lies in there debut ‘Deep Down Happy’ released on April 3rd. I chatted to Alex Rice, lead singer of Sports Team around the importance of these venues, the fan base and the sense of community involved in a Sports Team show.
When playing certain values over the last few years, have you been conscious of the bands that have graced its stage before you? and is there any venues that hit home?
Yes for sure! I’d say King Tuts in Glasgow, with all the names going up the staircase. I feel this is where Oasis is meant to be signed. We have just been put on the stairs there, which we are quiet excited about that! There is a lot of energy going round when looking at the people that have played there and its more curiosity in that sense. I feel its about seeing your peers one generation before, so the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch, is always one, we remember seeing some great bands there. The Portland Arms in Cambridge has given us significance to our career. Like it was only three years ago we were seeing Wolf Alice here, it feels like we are on the right track.
If there was one venue, that you have either visited or played at, that you would love to protect, what would that be?
I’d say it was The Portland Arms, Cambridge as it has that significance to us as a band where we met, but i’d also say the Forum, Tunbridge Wells which we never went to that many gigs at, but we always knew it from lyrics and legend, I think there’s an Arctic Monkeys lyric about it. As it used to be an old public toilet. I’d say ones where we went to as kids and formed that personal history.
Mark Davyd, the owner of the Forum is also the CEO of the Music Venue Trust, along with some voices from Jeremy Pritchard from Everything Everything, it’s great to see that many voices stand out about that one venue and that it means so much to so many people.
For us i’d say it was Slaves who we’ve seen at the Forum, one of the other ones we saw as kids.
You’ve talked in previous interviews about wanting to play Knebworth at some point. What is symbolic to you about Knebworth? Is it the bands in the 90s or Oasis? and would you consider this is a site to be protected and recognized?
I’d say it represents the ambition of guitar music in the 1990s. Oasis, Stone Roses and even the Robbie Williams show there, for me more than anything else, it’s more of a joyousness. The Oasis show was something like 10% of the population applied for tickets, its more about joining that movement to get guitar music back to that scale is very inspiring for us.
It’s very easy to pat yourself on the back when you sell out a Scala, and everyone declares the return of indie rock, but you’ve not touched the charts and you’ve sold around 600 tickets to just your mates. But Knebworth, to sell tickets to 10% of the population is a benchmark.
You’ve talked in a previous interviews about Cambridge not having a scene, and when you played at the Sports and Social Club and made a scene for yourself. Do you feel that scenes are important for towns and cities to embrace and to remember? and how do you feel the legacy of forming within a scene would have shaped Sports Team in a different way?
I’d say it helps to have the infrastruture there, in Cambridge this was mainly around the Pink Floyd connection. The college we were at, when it was an arts college, Pink Floyd had all gone there and we were amazed that these bizarre people had been there and we’d missed that in our generation. When you get to a place like Cambridge with the connections of London you see music in a different way. You get that London drain so spending time in different cities definitely makes you think differently.
Do you feel that certain scenes isolate or encourage bands forming in those areas?
You need these points of reference, we get sent demos from kids who are taking inspiration from us in those areas and it’s the best thing in the world. You do realise there is a lack of self awareness of what else is out there, as you are not meeting 10 other bands when they are playing more varied venues.
Your fan base is a community in itself, the dedicated base and the notorious ‘Margate coach trip’. How do you feel your fan base has been established?
That was always something that was born out of gigs being very expensive for some people, as our fans are usually pretty young, they can’t necessarily get to some venues so we built a tour around our fan base locations.
We then did a coach trip for our release of the single ‘Margate’ in 2018, which is growing year on year on its anniversary. This was all around us putting on a coach, turn up and we’ll sort you a day out and also make a night of it. It’s a great place we also have a strong connection to, we wrote there, played there and it feels like an event. It just gets bigger and bigger, we’ve got a double decker this year, we played a record store called Elsewhere in Margate, that really added to it. The venues linked to the record stores build this wider connection.
You guys also have a WhatsApp group where you all speak to your fans, so the memories made at gigs and the way these are remembered and communicated, do you feel this group is a form of a memory archive?
We try and link fan connections to physical things, like vinyl releases or impromptu shows, like the Electric Ballroom. Having markers, making sure we have an afterparty, to link the whole experience.
If it wasn’t for the intimacy of your shows in the last few years, do you feel your fan base will be as loyal as it is?
Completely, a lot of their identity now is drawn on being a fan of Sports Team and meet like minded people like us, slightly odd kids who like guitar music. It’s not super cool to like guitar music at the moment, and to form those connections really means something. I remember going to see Wu Lyf at the Village Underground which is a similar memory for me.
To summarize, what are the reasons why these venues need listing?
I’d say the whole experience needs looking at, coming together around a shared love for artists and it gives people a sense of identity, the outfits people wear and its about how this one experience fits it much more broadly around their life.