Life & Culture

Sports Team Are the Kitsch British Indie Kids Finding Beauty in the Banal

Another Man travels to Margate with the most exciting new band in London – borderline heat-stroke ensues

Margate is as kitsch as they come. A quintessential British seaside town, everything from donkey rides to dodgems, seafood shacks to tidal pools comes crammed into its tiny, beachside town centre. It’s so very British – and, as such, the perfect setting for indie band Sports Team. 

Formed in Cambridge and currently residing in West London’s Harlesden, Sports Team are an oddball bunch. Fronted by motor-mouth madman Alex Rice, the six-piece perfectly exhibit the kind of humour and energy too often missing from modern indie. From a long-running fake ‘beef’ with the South London scene (which ended in a poetic truce back in June), to a newfound obsession with calling their fanbase ‘The Sporkles’, Sports Team’s fun-first approach is a breath of fresh air. 

Completed by guitarist and songwriter Robb Knaggs, drummer Al Greenwood, guitarist Henry Young, bassist Oli Dewdney and multi-instrumentalist Ben Mac, it’s in the live arena that Sports Team really come alive. Up front, there’s Rice’s dancing – a cross between Jagger, Curtis and your weird uncle on the dance-mat after three Red Bulls. But peer past his limb-y expressions and you’ll find Young shredding without a pick, and Dewdney’s beaming grin and shock of bleached hair lighting up the back of the room. Mac, meanwhile, spends every gig half-heartedly prodding at a keyboard, shaking a box of Tic-Tacs and refusing to crack a single smile. No, really.

New single Margate – an ode to the idiosyncrasies of a British summertime – is the perfect encapsulation of Sports Team’s spirited approach. The follow-up to breakthrough single Kutcher (itself a love letter to “mid-noughties MTV star” Ashton Kutcher) and live favourite Stanton (which finds Rice belting out his adoration for “a flip-screen Motorola”), is proof that beyond the wacky antics, there’s a heart of pure indie-pop gold in everything Sports Team do. What better way to celebrate than with an old-fashioned coach trip to the seaside town itself, with 30 ‘Sporkles’ in tow? Another Man joined them on the bus on the hottest day of the year. There was no air-con. It was sweatier than we can possibly put into words.

So, you’ve brought everyone to the seaside – why Margate?
Why Margate… Well, here we are. We’re sitting beside a beautiful windmill-scape, out at sea. People think they’re eyesores – I don’t, I think they’re gorgeous.
Oli: More of a wind turbine than a windmill.
Alex: Do you think?!
Al: Yes, I don’t think it’s the technical definition of a windmill.
Alex: Right. They’re turbines, you’re right. Can we start again? (all laugh) Can we do this again? A lot of our fans are actually quite weird, and won’t really forgive us for that – ‘Oh, you think they’re mills do you?!’ But yeah – I dunno, we’ve knocked about here for the day, it feels like a joyful place, right? It feels very English – it’s lyrical, it’s seaside. It’s living well, as well. I think as a band, in general –
Al: I wouldn’t describe it as a town that lives well…
Alex: Well, it’s better than London! I think if you’re a band, and you want to be a proper band, you want to provide a different model for living. Like, ‘let’s leave the city for a bit, have a few beers, have a BBQ, go and do a show...’ It feels wholesome, right? 

Yeah, it’s a nice, wholesome day out.
We’ll see about that! 

Cambridge and West London aren’t exactly known as musical hotbeds…
Oh, here we go. [storms off in mock derision] 

How did find that when you were starting out. Was there a great deal for you to do?
In Cambridge, there wasn’t really anything. We made our own gigs.
Henry: We were the only non-cover-band, really, in Cambridge.
Al: But also the best non-cover band!
Alex: We used to play a lot of gigs at the sports and social club, down by the river. I genuinely think we created a music scene down there, and there’s a few other bands coming out of that. Ugly, who we’re playing with in a few weeks’ time, and they’re supporting us at Scala; the ill-fated Nervous Conditions, they came out of Cambridge too, and used to come to our gigs. I genuinely think we had a real impact in that scene.
Al: Yeah, you can quote that: ‘We Had A Real Impact on The Whole Music Scene’. (all laugh)
Rob: West London does have quite a history – it’s not recently, but Harlesden’s where the Mean Fiddler used to be.
Alex: And where we live is not a nice part of West London. The Mean Fiddler used to be down there, yeah.
Rob: The Pixies used to play there, Vince Power had tonnes of venues there. Loads of bands used to come there – but now it seems like everybody’s just East and South.

Is it nice to exist away from those areas, then?
Well, all those bands who live in South London are always round ours for barbecues. There’s no such thing as South London!

Well, I thought there was supposed to be a truce now? Can we talk about the truce…?
Uh… maybe! Nah – genuinely, we like all those bands and we get on with them all. Most of them are great. I think they’ve got a different mantra to us, in general. They mostly seem to come from a punk place. That’s not where we’re from. 

What kind of place do you come from?
I think it’s sort of English. It’s an English place – [poet] John Betjeman is a big influence. Lyrically it’s about valorising what’s around you, rather than sending it down in a way. It’s about romanticising a roundabout. 

Lyrically you touch on some quite niche things – is it important to you to big them up? English culture is so often framed around putting things down and being negative.
Yeah, I think that’s quite a recent thing, though. If you look at loads of the good authors and writers who write about England and Britain, it’s not all ‘merry England’, but it’s not just like, ‘Ah, this is shiiiit’.
Alex: I think there’s a blunt journalism that portrays things as that if you’re ‘pro-England’, whatever that is. But it’s about romanticising your sense of place in the suburbs.
Al: And to reassess. We try to get people to appreciate youth a bit.
Alex: It’s only recently that people have taken this opinion. I think there’s clearly a place for that – there’s clearly a place for all the punk stuff – but that’s not what we’re trying to do. 

It seems like you guys are trying to keep things fun.
I think it’s a bit more than that – it’s not silly, it’s not off-the-cuff, it’s not theatrical, whatever it is. It’s thought-out – it’s lyrical, rather than fun. But apart from that, the live show does become about having a laugh; getting people down and making sure they have a good time of it, rather than it being an artistic event or whatever.
Al: It’s also very artistic, though, as you’ll appreciate. (laughs)

And what’s next – are you working on an album?
Yeah, exactly that – working on an album, out next year. And touring! A lot of touring – we’re doing The Magic Gang tour in September, and we’ve got a few more to announce in the next couple of weeks, around Europe as well. Whenever we’ve gone to Europe, we’ve got an amazing reception. We’ve done a couple of French festivals and it’s something else; the best gig we’ve played was in France. 

That’s quite surprising, especially when the music is so British. That must be unexpected, to some degree?
Yeah! I think the first time, when we played this little festival in Dijon and didn’t have any idea what to expect, it was really… heartening, I guess.
Rob: It’s just authentic, and I think people respect that. Even if people don’t see something they recognise in the lyrics, I feel like the music we’re playing is to get a crowd going, so hopefully it translates in that way, even though lyrically it’s steeped in a British history. 

Lyrically, is there anything off-limits, or too niche? Singing about a Motorola phone is fairly out-there.
I don’t think it’s too consciously weighed-up. But if you’re going through anything, or doing anything, the things that you’ll talk about at any point will be maybe something like a Motorola phone, or Ashton Kutcher, and then we’ll talk about Betjeman’s Slough [a 1937 poem denouncing creeping industrialisation], or talk about what it’s like what it’s like growing up wherever.
Alex: I think, to a point, if you want to be a more interesting proposition, then it’s quite blunt. If you buy into Sports Team, you buy into a whole range of things. We all live together, we’re all mates, we’re all different personalities – each of us bring something different to it. So if you buy into it, you buy into a lot of different stuff, rather than just a song or a show. 

Is it nice to have people buying into that? Nice to have the ‘Sporkles’ around?
(all laugh) Alex: I’m glad that’s catching on!
Henry: They’re a bit sweaty actually…
Alex: I think it’s great; I think it’s pretty genuine, actually. I like hanging out with the people who like our music – everyone we’ve met’s been really nice, and it’s important, after a gig, to go and have a drink with people. Hence the bus trip! It doesn’t feel like a weird stunt, it’s just like, ‘Why not? These are the kind of people we engage with quite a lot – why not get them on a bus and bring them to Margate?’
Al: We had to pay him so much to turn off that air-con…
Alex: We had to give people an angle. 

Sports Team’s new single ‘Margate’ is out now – they play London’s Scala on September 19.