Sports Team @ Nag’s Head – Camberwell (Gig Throwback)
This week’s throwback isn’t to a Kate Bush release or an Elvis release long before any of us were born, but to a gig which happened a mere six months ago. In February 2020, before our lives dissolved into a lull comprised on Zoom quizzes and rhythmically hitting a cooking pan with a wooden spoon at 7 o’clock every Thursday night, Sports Team played a riotous gig at their tiny local boozer in Camberwell. Although it was only a matter of years ago, the community spirit and collective euphoria feels decades away from where we are now.
For those who have never heard of Sports Team, which is a cardinal sin, they are a post-punk six-piece based in London, after meeting at Cambridge University. Combining big guitar sections, synth bass lines and irresistibly “tap-able” drumbeats; the band are more than a joy to listen to. Yet, the Mercury-nominated, oversized shirt-clad youngsters really come alive when performing live: In a large venue, a small venue or the front room of a small South London boozer.
On a cold and mundane Monday morning in February, after teasing “a big announcement” on their social medias for about a week, the band announced the release date of their new album. They also announced plans for a launch party. That night. In their own front room. In true Libertines spirit, Sports Team were literally inviting their thousands of cult-like followers to pop round for a beer or two. Even for Sports Team, the band that tried to book Wembley before even releasing an album, this was a step too far.
So, the flock of dyed-haired, underage boozed-up, baggy jeans-wearing Sports Team Fan Club had to settle for the front room of the Nag’s Head in Camberwell. Certainly, one of the better compromises in life, it must be said. To clear things up, the Nag’s Head isn’t one of those edgy pubs which were used to bands and flocks of teenagers. In fact, if it wasn’t for one of the most exciting new indie bands playing a gig in their front room, there would have probably only been one or two elderly men drinking there that night.
After going to the wrong Nag’s Head, which we thought was surprisingly quiet, five of my edgiest mates and I strolled into the (correct) pub. With the football on the tiny TV monitor fixed on the vanished wooden wall, the lead guitarist was leaning on the jukebox. The bassist was leaning on the bar, smiling and talking to his mates. The eyes of the synth player, the quiet member of the band Ben Mack, were filled with regret and pessimism for the bill for the damage that would be inevitably caused.
With not even a diming of the lights or build up music, the drum beat of the band’s debut single ‘Margate’ started up. At a mere 5”5 (depends who’s asking), I clambered onto a bar stall to get a better look. The band that I listen to on the way to school and sing drunkenly on the way home from a night out were standing less than two metres away from me, which adds to the surrealism of writing about this encounter six months later. Looking back, as the band rolled through their main hits, I am reminded what I miss so desperately about live music: The camaraderie, the escapism, the catharsis. Compounded by such a small venue and a humongous atmosphere, this was the epitome of live music.
That was February, unbelievably only six months ago. There was no fear about public health, visible in the death-defying crowd-surfing, or about keeping a safe distance from another. After this, everything happened so quickly, plunging our world into a state of chaos and disarray. With gigs beginning to return, but not in a way anyone can genuinely say is the same, the absence of live music has made me miss strangers’ sweat and a sore throat like I never thought I would before. All I can hope for is another night where live music can make me feel as genuinely happy as that Monday night in a sweaty, small pub in South London.
Words by: Tom Farmer