A R T I C L E
Interview with This Sporting Life – Alms for Children
with Ian Duggan
A number of years ago I bought the compilation “It's Bigger than Both of Us (NZ Singles 1979-82)”, and one of my favourite songs quickly became ‘Danny Boy’ by ‘Alms for Children’. But, like I imagine is the case for many others, that pretty much became my entire experience of the band. A little later I bought another wonderful little compilation called ’Biding our Time’, released by Failsafe Records, which included a song called ‘Point to Point’ by ‘This Sporting Life’; that cassette got well and truly thrashed in my Walkman and, again, ‘Point to Point’ was a favourite. It wasn’t until I received the new release, ‘This Sporting Life - Alms for Children’, that I finally made a connection between the two intimately connected bands. This release compiles the released, and previously unreleased, recordings from these bands into a single CD or digital download. We talked to members Ben Hayman (bass) and Daron Johns (drums) about the release of the compilation, how they feel their songs have stood the test of time, memories of their time together, Hamilton gigs, and more!
HUP: You started out as ‘Alms for Children’ in 1980, disbanded, and then reformed as ‘This Sporting Life’ until 1984. Both bands largely had the same personnel, except for a short period in the transition period. Firstly, how have you come to be releasing the new CD, compiling all these recordings?
TSL: Rob [Mayes] from Failsafe tracked us down and said he had always wanted to do a release of all our material. A bit of a bookend to the Failsafe label and the fact that he named the label after a song on our first 7” [Fail Safe off Alms not Arms].
HUP: It has been 34 years since ‘This Sporting Life’ disbanded. When you listen back to the songs on the compilation, how do you feel about them now, all these years later? Which songs do you feel stand up the best?
TSL: The first 7”, [Alms not Arms], is probably the release we are all most fond of. It’s a less thought through approach to making our music because we were that bit younger and had less of an idea of what we were aiming for. It was just a bit more energised maybe. Back in the day though, we all felt a bit sheepish about the song Danny Boy that’s on that first record. Maybe because it’s the one that was seen as the A side, and then was the one that got air time as it charted. All these years later I think we feel ok about even that track now. 1981 is a long time ago…
The songs we played with two bass guitars, or when Paul and Ben [Fogarty] swapped bass and guitar duties were always memorable because we shook the sound up. ‘Total Loss’, with the two basses, being a bit of a favourite out of those.
Sometimes we wish we had recorded the This Sporting Life album on something bigger than four track, but at the time, it was the right thing to do. And if it hadn’t been for studios like Lab and Chris Knox’ trusty Tascam, a load of us would never have made vinyl at all. Some of the live tracks that have come out of the woodwork we had totally forgotten about. They were recorded by people in the gigs on cassettes or off the mixing desk to cassette. It is unfortunate that there are no more Alms for Children recordings, but we are just grateful we have managed to save this lot. [continued below]
HUP: What was behind the name change? With name recognition being important, do you think in hindsight it was a good decision to make the change, especially considering ‘Danny Boy’ had charted, and the ‘Alms for Children’ moniker would have been fairly well known?
TSL: We never really thought anything much through in those days to be honest. We simply started a band, played, got some people that liked coming to see us and then stopped. The concept of recognition or building anything ongoing was never in our minds. We played because we kind of had to. It was important to having a sense of being part of something - anything. AFC stopped for a bunch of reasons that happened at the same time - Daron wanted to move back to Christchurch for a while, we might also have been over doing the gigs a bit (I recall it was pretty full on), and we’d started to become ‘a band with a sound’. What I mean is that we had created something and I reckon we needed to work out if it was a thing we wanted to continue. Paul and I were listening to quite different stuff and I reckon we were trying to figure out if this band was the right container for whatever happened next. We spent some time not playing and then decided to try a different thing for a while with a different drummer. That led to us creating a new band in our heads that we then called This Sporting Life. Then a while later [AFC vocalist] Gary [Charlton] joined, and then after just one show Phil Jackson who was drumming with us left and Daron joined to pickup the sticks. So in many ways it was a new band rather than a name change – its just that all of AFC eventually signed up for it!
HUP: I’m sure the release of this album has led to a lot of retrospection. What are some of your favourite memories from your times together?
TSL: Yeah a ton of things are coming back. It’s been the best part of doing this. We’ve connected with a few people and a bunch of stories that had been lost.
Playing with The Chills and The Clean and so many others at places like the Rhumba Bar, [Auckland]. Getting to play at Christchurch Town Hall and Christchurch Uni, and Mainstreet in Auckland with The Fall is a big one. A venue that was always a bit intimidating and strange was the Reverb Room at the Edinburgh Castle pub on Symonds Street. Pretty sure we played there with Nocturnal Projections and Childerns Hour. We had a rehearsal studio in the cellar under it that you could only just stand up in and was shared with Dance Macabre.
A New Year’s visit to New Plymouth sticks in the memory as well. The New Year’s Eve event was in a huge warehouse. [The Herco Pilots’] Harry Ratbag was MC and a bunch of people played including Fetus Productions, Verlaines, Childrens Hour, [and] Chris Knox. It was a bit chaotic in the crowd but a great weekend.
It was a really productive time for New Zealand independent stuff; Bands, Comics, Design, Radio, Venues all sorts. It seemed everyone was starting something. We all had jobs as well as the band. And sometimes that was super useful like the fact Daron was a printer – posters and covers resulted. Ben worked in a stationary warehouse so an envelope was used for the covers for the first 7”.
HUP: Both bands were based in Auckland. Did you ever make it down to play in Hamilton, and if so, do you have any particular memories of playing here?
TSL: Memory is in short supply about a lot of that time. So long ago, but yes we did play in Hamilton. At a farm. It was a day time gig in the outside if I remember right. We also played Hamilton Uni with Childrens Hour, and think that was Children’s Hour’s second ever gig. [continued below]
HUP: How well have the band members kept in touch since the split of ‘This Sporting Life’?
TSL: Gary, Paul and Ben all moved to the U.K. in the late ‘80s and Daron to Sydney. Paul and Ben saw Gary a couple of times in the first few years in the UK before he moved to Australia and everyone lost contact. Fifteen years later Paul and Ben reconnected. Being in the UK they had the chance to go see some of the bands that influenced the early sounds of AFC – Wire, Magazine, Gang of Four and a bunch of newer bands. The odd jam session was had as well with Paul’s son playing drums. The two reconnected with Daron - who is based in ChCh now - around 2010, and then with Gary - still in Aus -in 2015. We have Rob Mayes at Failsafe to thank for giving us a really great reason to start talking again and its great – thanks Rob!
HUP: Failsafe are releasing a lot of material over the next year. Included among this is ‘Beat Rhythm Fashion’, who are playing some shows to support their release. Are you planning on doing some shows to support your release?
TSL: No plan as such; more a vague notion. We live on four different land masses now. It needs to work for everyones lives as well. We’d definitely all like to get together sometime as mates. If making sound was also involved then that would be great. If it’s looking like more than just a vague notion we will certainly let you know.
HUP: How can we get hold of the album?
TSL: The Interweb has got loads at Failsafe. Theres a download only version or you can get the CD package mailed to you. Please do – we need the encouragement.
Also, if you are in Auckland and fancy a shop then Flying Out have some. In Welly, Slow Boat Records has some and there will also be some in Christchurch and Dunedin soon, and we will update our Facebook page once we know which stores.