“Remind me of what the group called again,” he asked, eyebrows raised, probably wondering why I would give up a job in a competitive industry for the London pub scene.
“Sports team,” I replied, gritting my teeth. The irony of the name has not been lost.
There were six of us forming a group of friends at university with little expectation and even less musical ability.
We had no problem getting home from our respective jobs at 6 p.m., repeating until midnight and then getting up at 7 a.m. to start all over again.
It had simply become untenable to request another appointment with the dentist so that we could check in time.
I had already missed the group’s first concert on foreign shores to cover, among other things, the world judo championships in Paris. The offer of a five-week European support tour with the Spanish group Hinds was the “now or never” moment that forced a decision.
Two years and more than 200 concerts later, with our first album released this week on Island Records, there are no regrets.
Traveling with your friends in an unreliable van, meeting all kinds of wonderful people, is the best thing in the world and we are very fortunate to be able to do it.
I loved my time in the press room – from the summits to interview Pelé and Pep Guardiola to a feature film about a racehorse in a three-piece tweed suit – but the opportunity to be in a full-time group n wasn’t gonna come and hit again.
Having once viewed the Portland Portland Arms as the pinnacle of our live aspirations, it is slightly surreal to have performed at legendary festivals like Glastonbury and headlines as far back as Los Angeles.
That’s not to say it was a glamorous job change – as any touring musician whose diet consisted mostly of service station sandwiches for weeks at a time can attest to.
No longer able to afford the rent in London, four of us spent most of 18 months sharing a room which also doubled as rehearsal space.
An unfortunate “commuter belt tour” culminated in a concert in the small market town of Bishop’s Stortford where there were more people on stage than in the audience.
Waking up to a severe headache in the morning after supporting Two Door Cinema Club at the O2 Arena, we discovered that our van had been robbed in broad daylight and all of our equipment was stolen.
And yet it is worth it.
I know a lot of bands are bored with life on the road, but there is really very little like crackling anticipation before a show – whether on a main festival stage for 10,000 people or in your pub local for a few hundred children.
To this end, the road traveled since the end of the day is probably illustrated by a series of increasingly ambitious titles in London, starting from the Scala of 800 capacities in September 2018 (where we sadly had fewer followers on Twitter than room capacity, but somehow we sold it a year later) at the O2 forum of 2,300 capacities.
Such concerts are what we are all about – making the evening an event worth booking the next day for work – and it is encouraging to note that a decent contingent of former colleagues attended not only at first out of service, but keep coming back. (And subsequently not done in the office in the morning).
The plans for the next big event in 2021 have been cut back because apparently you can’t just phone and book Wembley.
To this day, I still don’t know why we settled on “Sports Team” – all I know is that with “Comfort”, “Lady Mandolin” and “Tony Blair Witch Project” among the contenders, it could have been worse.
However, despite no visible sporting prowess for the most part, the group sometimes honored its name.
In May 2019, we sort of ended up playing an intimate show for the England cricket team before their victorious World Cup campaign – much to the chagrin of players who didn’t know who we were.
A few months later, the six of us appeared in the football and culture magazine Gaffer, dressed as a team of five Renaissance members, thanks to designer Sophie Hird.
And, aptly enough, our live TV debut was made on Soccer AM. Although the only one who emerged with a touch of credibility from the “John Arne Riise Arena” – where the guests aim to return a ball to the upper corner – was our drummer, Al.
Lockdown has provided a whole new set of challenges – from canceling an entire summer of festivals to delaying our debut album, originally slated for release in April.
As I write this, we should be halfway through a five-week tour of the United States, Canada and Mexico with Bombay Bicycle Club. Instead, I am back home with my mother.
Concerts are the cornerstone of almost all groups in 2020; without them, we find ourselves in the shoes of the sports journalist without any sport to cover.
Virtual concerts can only bridge the gap so far, just as World Cup reruns and the latest “alternative sport” to go viral on Twitter can’t hold your attention forever.
Meanwhile, up to 80% of UK’s small and medium-sized concert halls are threatened with permanent closure – putting the debate over whether to end the Premier League season into perspective.
We have no recourse but to announce the postponement of shows already postponed and to start working on the second album before the first is equal.
We rent a house together in Camberwell – a situation no different from coming home from work to find your colleagues sitting around the dinner table. It can be hectic at times, but in truth, having our own rooms again is like a luxury.
We also created our own label, Holm Front, organizing a series of crazy events (including an annual bus trip for fans to Margate), while launching great new bands like Walt Disco, Ugly and Personal Trainer. This is something we want to continue to develop as our own platform grows.
I might even try my old boss to pick up a guitar.
The sports team’s album – Deep Down Happy – was released on Islands Records (Bright Antenna Records in the United States) on June 5.