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By Daniel Silverman

It would be a mistake indeed to regard GRUPPO SPORTIVO's 1977 debut as a mere aural equivalent to television's HAPPY DAYS. Where HAPPY DAYS is retro-saccharine for the masses, 10 Mistakes is retro-kitsch for the intellectual elite. Where HAPPY DAYS expresses genuine nostalgia for a bygone era, 10 Mistakes embraces more the absurdity of the era than the era
itself. Where HAPPY DAYS is Norman Rockwell, 10 Mistakes is Roy Lichtenstein. A main reason for this seeming aloofness is geographical. GRUPPO SPORTIVO are Dutch, having experienced the glory days of post-war American pop culture not first hand, but filtered through TV shows and films as cheesy and overbearing as Peter Calicher's pervasive "96 Tears"-inflected farfisa.

Yet what GRUPPO lack in true feelings of nostalgia they more than compensate for in wit, musicianship, and their uncanny ability to satirize without the slightest trace of condescension. Indeed, frontman Hans Vandenburg (aka "Vandefruits") unashamedly cops familiar lyrical and musical motifs from pop's past, weaving them so overtly, yet so deftly into his B-movie love affairs, spy thrillers, and sci-fi tales, that only the stodgiest and most litigious listener would think to cry "Plagiarism!" instead of reveling in his obvious love for the genre.

The album opens with the maddeningly catchy "Beep Beep Love," one of only two GRUPPO tracks to garner any US airplay, in which ROGER CORMAN and TOM PETTY vie for most-favored-influence status as Vandenburg relates his tale of cartoon space-love.

Side One continues with "Superman," a six-minute, four-color comic book love triangle complete with romance, deceit, intrigue, murder, jail time, and the keyboard riff from DEL SHANNON's "Runaway." Elsewhere, we find the rinky-dink "Girls Never Know," ("Girls never know/What they want to be/That's why they start a family") "I Shot My Manager," a parody of the music business set to BOB MARLEY, and "Mission A Paris," a dime-store spy novel of stolen NATO plans and secret rendezvouses at the Eiffel Tower.
Throughout, the vocal talents of "The Grupettes," Meike Touw and Josee Van Iersel provide an ABBA-like sheen to this joyous noise, perhaps most effectively realized in "Dreamin'", a moody sex fantasy piece in which the ABBA resemblance is uncanny: "I know a place to do it, baby/Let's jump into your car/It's the cheapest motel, baby/Step on the gas it's not that far".

Finally, "Rubber Gun" takes a few good natured jabs at the shallowness of the gay bar scene ("Switch on the jukebox and let Louie sing/About his underwear and his rubber loving thing,"), which are ultimately more endearing than critical.

While Vandenburg is the obvious conceptual brain of GRUPPO, the band is hardly relegated to back-up status. Peter Calicher's inventive keyboards are pushed way up front for maximum cheese-whiz appeal, while the rhythm section of Max Mollinger and Eric Wehrmeyer is confident and aggressive. Still, it's Vandenburg's vision and talent that bring it all together. Indeed, on future releases, GRUPPO eased up on the kitsch, Vandenburg's infectious personality playing a more central role in the proceedings with no loss of appeal.

In 1979 Sire Records released a domestic compilation culled from 10 Mistakes, the following year's Back to 78, and an inter-LP single. But after that time, GRUPPO's recorded output was available stateside only as harder-and-harder-to-find European and Canadian imports. The hysterically manic Buddy Odor Is A Gas! is a Hans Vandenburg solo LP which to all intents and purposes is GRUPPO's third long player. 1980's Copy Copy finds DEAF SCHOOL alumna Bette Bright putting in a guest vocal performance; an appealing move, as early DEAF SCHOOL explored a somewhat related conceptual aesthetic. Unfortunately, Side One's second-rate material and the too-smooth production did little for either party's reputation.

Throughout the early eighties, the band continued releasing top-notch mock-pop to an ever dwindling audience that was apparently far more concerned with style over substance, simplicity over wit. Pop! Goes the Brain, Design Moderne, Sombrero Times and to a somewhat lesser extent Sucker of the Century are brilliantly executed pop excursions overflowing with self-deprecating wit, biting cynicism, urban humanism, hopeless romance, and of course, killer hooks.

Into the early nineties, the GRUPPO SPORTIVO core of Vandenburg and Calicher were still at it. And where a band like THE KINKS is (justifiably) hailed as one of rock's most steadfast yet highly underappreciated outfits, GRUPPO's reputation does not even approach that level of recognition.

Irving Thalberg, where are you when we need you? (chuckle! -db)


Atjous <> adds:

One remark on Gruppo Sportivo lyrics in general: they contain a lot of double Dutch: phrases mean something very different, since they are literaly translated from Dutch to English. 'Heavy shag' is quite a good example.

When in trouble, remember this:

'Water is what you need water around your feet
water is what you need in the desert sand


I recently receieved a really nice letter from Robert Metcalfe <>

Thought you might be amused by this review from the autumn 1978 issue of "The Magnetic City" a short-lived arts/music magazine edited by two boys who became The Wibbley Brothers, never forgot the formative influence of Gruppo Sportivo and are currently recording their second album:


 Gruppo Sportivo - Marquee Club, 2nd June '78

"Dutch night" at The Marquee reached a climax of sorts as Gruppo took to the stage. It maintained the peak of excitement for the next hour as the best living exponents of Dutch new wave hurtled through number upon number with a verve and originality that had the crowded club screaming for more. Your cunning reviewers cleverly stood in front of the stunningly arousing 'Gruppettes' and "rocked the night away".

We concentrated on the girls all night as they pretended to hate each other in 'Bernadette' (hitting & spitting), warned us about motorbikes in 'Lasting Forever', and told us all obout life in 'Girls Never Know (What They Want To Do)', featuring a meaty bass solo from 'Eric', and some marvellous Marvinesque guitar from 'Hans' (Telecaster et al). Other treats were 'Rock n Roll' and 'I Shot My Manager'.

The delights of Gruppo Sportivo cannot be overstated, and now that they're back here (at the time of writing), you'd be daft to miss them this time around as well. Perhaps this time we'll catch the free albums (missed by an arms-length at the Marquee). Meanwhile, leopard-skin memories linger on (sigh).

A while ago, but none the less vivid for that.

The Wibbley Brothers had produced 'Go Weird' by 1982 and will follow that up some 16 years later with 'Morning Jack', due to be released this summer. In our spare time in the studio however, we've found a moment to record an English/Basque version of 'I Would Dance'. Could this be a candidate for Popgruppolympics?

Yours, clad in sweaty animal prints

The Wibbley Brothers
aka Rob Metcalfe/Guy Jackson