The Saints
The Saints The Saints Go South: Holy Rollers baptise Sydney

Rolling Stone, Australia

May 5, 1977

By Paul Comrie-Thomson

In the dark vaults of Sydney’s Chequers, a nightclub that has seen much better days and is now one of the tough and certainly the least comforting of rock & roll venues in the city, the walls are sweating with the 110 decibel sound of The Saints. An airwave of sound that mixes the foundations of The Who, Phil Spector and the sheer mania of playing a guitar at such volume that it is almost constantly feeding back has begun to force the sculpted, disco-loving, Mediterranean body builders who frequent the place into the dimmer corners or up and out onto the street. Ably supporting the bar trade, a collection of the better-known names in the record industry are agape. For this is the first time any of them — including the few people in attendance from the band’s local label EMI — have seen the legend in the flesh on a stage.

The Saints had, by the time they arrived in Sydney from the boondocks of Queensland, already achieved something like legendary status. This was the band that had hawked its tapes around the Queensland music industry with a singular lack of success and then, deciding to go it alone, pressed 500 copies of the single (I'm) Stranded' backed with ‘No Time’ and sent them off with a covering letter and a potted biography to the international rock press. It was this single which produced raves in the UK, (“There’s a tendency to babble mindlessly about the single it’s so bloody incredible,” said Sounds magazine when naming ‘(Im) Stranded’: The Single of 1976), a deal for the production of the single in England, a record contract with EMI and, following a little more work, a deal for US distribution through Sire Records which numbers among its artists the Ramones. All of these events had already occurred when the four-man group led by a German immigrant and with a Kenyan-born, part-Belfast-raised lead singer, stood up to play at Chequers, their first live gig in several months and the first ever outside of Brisbane

The Saints sound is overpoweringly raw and loud and produced either instant and pounding enthusiasm or outright revulsion. Establishing a modus which has been evident ever since, the band lasted only eight minutes before guitarist Ed Kuepper, who moves with a stiff economy that intimates enormous and barely controlled energy, blew all of the fuses in his amplifier. Too much power.

After a five-minute delay, punctuated by the disco operator playing the Silver Convention number "Hotline" over the PA, a set resumed with a string of songs played at breakneck speed with barely time for a second breath, let alone a drink, between them. As with all of their later gigs it was Kuepper who determined the pace, counting out the time for each new song with the assurance — and more importantly the domination — of a cheer leader

The Saints

The music itself was invested with the spirit of rock & roll as it was in the early sixties; tight, dominated by Kuepper’s ecstatic guitar work, the extraordinarily straight delivery of Chris Bailey, the lead singer, and the solid backing of Ivor Hay on drums and Kym Bradshaw on bass. Some measure of the frenzy emerged on the second night of their Chequers engagement. Halfway through their version of ‘Kissin’ Cousins’ (which Sire Records President Seymour Stein has described as the only re-arrangement of an Elvis number that works), Kuepper was having feedback problems with a borrowed guitar. Then he broke a string. Bailey kept singing. Kuepper kicked open a guitar case and continued playing while he re-strung the guitar. Feedback riff chords combine with the squeal of a string being stretched to pitch tension. And then it was tuned at full volume to the accompaniment of Bailey's screamed vocals and the continuing pounding beat of bass and drums.

This energy and single-mindedness is belied by the group’s off-stage presence. Although the band originated on the mean side of the tracks in Brisbane they are hard and tough minded in a way that sets them apart from what has loosely been called punk rock. They don't sniff glue, and they don't spit in public

This is clear from the precocious antecedents of Chris Bailey. Bailey is the embodiment of the young Brendan Behan — meaty, vaguely dissolute and cocky. He chain smokes Winfield 25s. In 1969 he started hanging around with the Brisbane branch of S.I.D (Students in Dissent). "I could have become an intellectual or something. It's probably no different to what I'm doing now. The plan was to go to University. It wasn't my plan, it was just the plan. I started wearing badges — anarchist badges — and went to the Moratorium marches. The marchers condescended to me then because I was a sprog. At the time Bailey was 12 years old.

Ed Kuepper says that politics meant nothing to him. ("I was just into music") until he teamed up with Bailey at Oxley High School. Eight miles southwest of Brisbane city, Oxley was established to cater for immigrants. Before that, Bailey had attended Catholic school, which he hated and escaped by saying it was too far away from his home; he then went to Inala where he got into trouble over his politics (his sister was expelled from the school for her politics) and finally to Oxley.

But if Bailey was in the thick of political dissent, Kuepper copped the migrant shit.

Bailey finally left and took a variety of jobs ranging from being a fettler on the railways to working in a foundry, to making the big time as a storeman at Festival Discount Stores. After that it was the dole. “In the last year,” he says, “I’ve been on the dole for about four months.” Kuepper passed along a slightly different track. He laboured for a while, joined the dole queue and finally became a public servant with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, clerical assistant, Grade One — the lowest of the low.

The Saints

The formation of the group seems to have been a matter of musical chairs. Bailey and Kuepper were joined by Ivor Hay, a lean piano player with a very hungry demeanour. Hay moved to bass when it was found impossible to fill the gap and was then persuaded to make a leap to drums when a surfeit of bass players emerged in Brisbane and there were no drummers. After a few more attempts the band finally secured Kym Bradshaw on bass.

The success of the single in the UK was directly responsible for the band securing a record contract. A message from EMI UK to the company’s Australian branch led to numerous attempts by the company’s Sydney staff to reach Kuepper in Brisbane. He had left a message that he was always available between 5pm and 5.15pm on Fridays at his mother’s. Several Fridays later the band got the message. A contract was signed and an album recorded (at the same breakneck speed the band plays). By March it too was being hailed in the UK as a breakthrough.

Both Bailey and Kuepper are quite certain about their ultimate success. I asked them what they would be doing if it were not for the band. “There’s never been much choice,” said Bailey, “We always had the band to keep us.” Kuepper agrees, “It never occurred to me that things would be any different. Even in the earliest stages I always thought the band had something. It never really occurred to me that I would do anything else.

At the time we were sitting on my lounge room floor eating spaghetti and drinking cheap white wine. Neither Kuepper nor Bailey have much time for the labels which have been floating a round about punk, working-class rock or even ‘dole queue rock’, a phrase introduced by Keith Windschuttle in Nation Review to describe the Sex Pistols. Kuepper says he likes the Sex Pistols.

The Saints

When I asked Bailey what he thought of the notion that they were primitives he savaged the idea. “That’s an intellectual affectation, that kind of thinking, primitives. Intellectuals tend to make anybody bigger than life. Like, it’s probably half true but it’s dangerous because they start saying things they probably said about James Dean and Beat-at-ulls and make then into something that’s superhuman.” This suspicion is also present in his comments on the working-class-hero myth. “I know the working-class stuff that goes on with the academics and intellectuals. It’s just a fact that I’m working class and I don’t know how it affected me particularly, I know that the working class has to put up with bullshit. But so does every class. And it’s a disadvantage because you don’t get to live so comfortably. But, arrr, you’ve got to transcend that crap.”

Part of the myth, says Bradshaw, about The Saints being seriously interested in the notion of being down and out emerged with the earliest press stories written about them. There was one journalist who came looking for the evidence. “He used to come to Petrie Terrace (the site of their appalling hovel) and he used to say, ‘Fuck, look at this fuckin’ joint, this is decadent.’ He was really serious.”

On their part the band is becoming increasingly uneasy about politics, class differences, money and their ultimate musical identity. They did, after all, grow up during the Vietnam war and they were naturally orientated towards the Labor Party. “The war held the youth movement together, and there really was a youth movement,” says Bailey. “Nowadays it’s a bit clouded because nobody’s sure where you stand. Kids don’t know who their enemies are. Like, is it Mark Holden or is it us? Is it politicians or coppers? There’s no really strong unifying point. It’s kind of like everybody’s been sucked in.” Of the generation that was most deeply involved in the anti-war movement Bailey is bitter. “All that ‘revolution starts within’ stuff. They went into drugs and they all just got tired and old. Defeated.”

Sine their first performance at Chequers a lot has happened to the band. In the UK (I'm) Stranded rose in the charts, ultimately selling more than 15,000 copies: the second single to be released there (‘Erotic Neurotic’) racked up the number one slot as the highest-selling EMI single on its second day out. In Holland the album reached #25 on national charts.

In Australia nothing happened. The album crept into the Kent Top 100 albums list, while the single received some airplay on alternative stations. There is a theory that the band, because of its unwanted punk handle, have been receiving the same unenthusiastic response from radio programmers and the major overseas punk groups — the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, Eddie and the Hot Rods and Television.

Nevertheless, the band's live performances have generated increasing enthusiasm, while genuinely splitting the music industry into lovers and haters. At the Bondi Lifesaver they performed to a background roar of disapproval from camp followers of the other band appearing that night (Rose Tattoo), condemnation from Renee Geyer and sneers from Ronnie Peel, former bass player for the La De Das.

On the other hand there is a toughening core of support for the group as unique in the history of Australian music — a band that owes very little to anything but the hard base of rock & roll.

The Saints

The core was present at Paddington Town Hall in early April. Wedged between a new band, Hot Spurs and the path finding Radio Birdman, The Saints played to a mixture of Hell's Angels showing restrained approval, Darlinghurst women in long, flowing skirts, gay boy couples and henna-ed hair, young freaks in "Legalise Marijuana" t-shirts and youngish Double Bay beauties. They were all together, there on the dance floor, displaying an exuberance that hadn't been seen at Paddington for many years.

In regard to their musical future both Kuepper and Bailey are careful. “A lot of the things we’re doing now,” says Kuepper, “are half and half. Half by necessity because we couldn’t afford things. And another reason it’s basic is because we’re a four-piece. It depends on what we want to do. Music doesn’t necessarily have to be basic to be good and we’re basic at the moment because we have to be.

Bailey: "We're going to have to control what people are going to say about us. Describing the music as simple or using simple terms to describe the music."

Kuepper: "I know what I like but I wouldn't have a clue how to describe it".