It was twenty five years today or at least damn close to it, that a group of three teenagers got together in Brisbane to form a band they called Kid Galahad and the Eternals. One played guitar, one sang, the third played piano, and in some ways it seems like the typical beginnings of a band "3 guys bashing away in obscurity. Except"
Except they're in Brisbane, Australia where the heat from being near the Tropic of Capricorn wrings the energy out of almost everybody, bringing down a lazy stupor and a desire to do nothing, and failing that, to at least do nothing fast. But the Galahads resist with every ounce of their being, looking for the wildest and most obscure rave up songs they can find and re-making them in their own even wilder style. And this is 1973, a time when the Ramones and Sex Pistols were in the future, and a time when rock and roll was being swallowed alive in a sea of bloated double lps and psuedo-symphonies. Although they may not have realized it, like the band's namesake this threesome was soon to achieve the holy grail and produce two of the classic punk rock albums of all time. Except when they fulfilled their quest, they would be known as'the Saints.
Ed Kuepper was the guitar player in those days. A lean, fair haired kid from Germany with a thin face and downturned mouth, Kuepper played guitar with a style that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once. A wizard of understatement, he instinctively avoided the excessive solos that were the rule of the day and became a master of the skillfully placed ringing power chord and simple fill line. His style was (and is) powerful but to the point, but still much more than the basic three chords and a cloud of dust that the band were accused of once they raised a profile high enough to be seen.
Ivor Hay looked like he could have been Kuepper?s brother, except his hair was thinning out right from the start. He played the role of utilityman in the band. At the start, he played piano and then bass, before finally settling in as drummer. In those early days, his style was wild, chaotic and thrashing; very energetic. His playing gave the songs a sense of something primal and animalistic.
The singer was Chris Bailey. A stocky youth of Irish descent and with a temperment to match, Bailey in those days sang in a flat, nasally voice that despite his less than 20 years, sounded like it was the result of decades of smoking unfiltered cigarettes and other similar abuses. The songs he sang were about alienation and not fitting in, and they somehow cut straight to the heart of the matter with no bullshit. Concluding a lyric line with a simple "all right!", Bailey could say more about what?s wrong with the world with one or two words than many people could with a book.
Today, Chris Bailey is living in a suburb outside of Amsterdam. He alone of the three carries on under the name of the Saints, although it?s a very different and much matured version of the band that he co-founded those many years ago. And in fact, until the release of the CD Howling in 1997 there hasn't been a record under the Saints name in the whole of the 1990s. There had been the 1994 solo CD 54 Days At Sea, but nothing new with the Saints name on it since Live In A Mud Hut. As is often the case with these kinds of absences, at the heart of the matter there were lawyers. And lots of them. This wasn?t a case of struggling artist vs. record company or former management. Instead it was a case of record company vs. record company with artist caught in the middle. In the late 1980s, Bailey was signed to Mushroom Records in Australia, and in the US, he was signed to TVT. He had achieved nearly breakthrough success with the great lp All Fools Day, and had a strong follow up called Prodigal Son. Saints songs were getting airplay, and where there's airplay there money. But where there's money, there's usually vultures circling, and this case was no different. And the vultures don't care how long it takes to pick the carcass clean, as long as there are no scraps left on it, so the fact that it took four or five years to resolve the situation was no big deal to the lawyers. But for Bailey, it meant that he couldn't use the Saints name and was pretty much restricted to releasing solo records and doing other things.
"I don?t think I'm allowed to talk about it by virtue of the settlement", says Bailey, who then proceeds to talk about it anyway. "In a nutshell it was two record companies" the technical reason was breach of contract that was served by Mushroom which was the label that I was with at the time, and then TVT came up with a countersuit that involved four million conspiracy theories and god knows what else...so it was just stupid. A lot of litigation in show business is actually stupid. And in some funny way myself and the band were kind of caught in the middle of this thing. And then as the kiss and make up part of the settlement I spent nearly 11 months in the US, primarily in Memphis, and I did Demons, which was a very expensive record and funnily enough was never released in the states, which I find very ironic. But it did teach me how to hang out (switches to his best L'il Abner imitation) with good ole boys and speak in a Tennesee accent, goddamn it! Gol durn! But it was culturally quite an interesting time?quite a dark record. It was a very hard record for me to make.......there were a few language problems.
"So they're the reasons I decided to take a sabbatical, and I did about four solo records in the interrim period and was an actor for a while, or an actress as I prefer to call it. And one thing led to another. There are times in your life when it makes absolute perfect sense to be in a rock band, and there are times when it makes absolutely no sense at all. And to prove that I am absolutely consistent in my total lunacy, the past few years, and I never really thought it would pan out this way, but it actually has made a shitload more sense in the past two years than it did for an entire decade. I think it has something to do with the live band and the tour that we've been doing. It actually has been, dare I say it in this very gloomy age, it?s been a shitload of fun."
And so time has healed at least some wounds, and last summer we got the treat not only of a new Saints album, but a new Saints album that was released on a US record label for only the third time since Eternally Yours came out on Sire in " can you believe this "1978! And this CD, entitled Howling, is a good one, too. It's touted as being a return to his wild and rough roots, but that's really not a fair assessment at all. Two tracks are really rough, harsh and angular; the opening title track and the second song, "Shadows". But after that, there are really only about 3 other full up ravers and the rest are mid tempo rockers that would have fit in fine on his 1985 masterpiece, All Fools Day. Which is OK with me; those are fine songs. And now he's got a full time band behind him, has just finished recording a new CD that should be released this spring, and is out touring around Europe.
"I don't want to sound like I?m Machiavellian here", says Bailey, "but a few years ago I had this idea that I wanted to start playing sort of electric music, 'cos a lot of my solo stuff is quite soft and a little eclectic. Like 54 Days, that was a half Bolivian fusion experiment. So I kind of rediscovered the electric guitar and I did Howling just to see if it would work, and it was after Howling that I put together the live band. The new Saints album we actually finished at the end of last year and is coming out here in April?so Howling is actually going back in time for me? the concept I was talking about was that I had three Saints albums in my head, and Howling was supposed to be very raw, very lo-fi, just first takes, not very whiz-bang technology, but just sort of noisy rock and roll, which is what I really like. So from that point of view, we've certainly achieved that goal. The follow up to Howling is similar in intent, it?s just a little more hi-fi? I've put more care into the recording and all that. Because the band has been a live touring band we recorded it very quickly and there were very few techno tricks, and it actually sounds very much like what the band is live, which is two guitars, bass and drums, and away you go!"
"I don't want to criticize modern music", he continues, "because that's a pointless exercise, but there are a lot of records that are made these days that are very precise and very digital and they don't really interest me that much. Even kids making post Seattle grunge music it's still all very well mannered and I dunno, call me old-fashioned, but there's an element of this rock and roll beast that should not really be polite. Even if it's a beautiful acoustic ballad, it still should have some kind of edge. And that is what I think the Saints have always been a very good vehicle for me to express, that side of things. You know, because I've gone off on my own to do sort of folky Irish roots, discovering my own sort of Celtic background bullshit And that's all been good and fine, but there's also a part of me that needs the kind of grittiness of rock and roll."
I found the idea that his solo 54 Days At Sea was so much softer than Howling didn't really wash with me, and I told Bailey that I thought that there were a lot of fairly interchangeable songs on the two CDs.
"There are two ways of looking at that", he responded, "and one is kind of negative, which is that obviously I'm a man of very limited talent and even though I think I'm being very different it's still the same old bullshit. But the other approach is that I am a fairly stylized writer, and no matter how much I try to deviate into styles, I have a certain kind of voice and that dictates somewhat the mood of something. I?ve been surprised because there have been so many people in the Saints through the years that to me it is a miracle that there has been a kind of consistency. There are very obvious difference certain players have more personality and some records are shit and some are quite good I think. But at the end of the day maybe it's just a mindset of myself personally that maybe I should be allowed to indulge in. One thing I love about the recording process is to always throw away your little bag of tricks; that's what I always try to do every time I go into the studio. Try to treat it like it's the first time."
"It?s very hard for me to be terribly objective. I think All Fool's Day was probably one of the best things I've been involved with for lots of reasons. I'm very fond of that record. Howling to me - not that it's a contrived record, because it certainly wasn't that - but to me the recording was one where I knew what I wanted, and I much prefer it when there?s an element of " argh! "and I can only say that I'm glad that you like it, but for me it's very hard. I know that it certainly has got an energy that is something that I like in other people's records. I got a lot of slamming critically from 54 Days At Sea because pan flutes are associated in Europe with a kind of coffee table music, whereas I think they?re beautiful instruments and the guys in that band were absolutely amazing. And so maybe it did strike me as being odd, because Howling got very good notices over here: artist rediscovers talent, blah, blah, blah. Whereas I find that a bit odd because I think the songs on 54 Days are actually better than the songs on Howling; but what the hell, I just make the shit, and once it's made it's out of my hands completely."
I was looking for an entry to get back to the early days of the Saints so that we could bring the story from the start right up to the present. And lo and behold, I notice there in the picture on the cover of Howling, leaning inconspicuously against the speaker cabinet on the floor is a copy of The Most Primitive Band In The World, a record recently released by Ed Kuepper?s label Hot Records and consisting of a batch of cassette recordings of Saints rehearsals from 1974. I had always suspected that Bailey had nothing to do with this release, so I asked about the CD and its appearance on Howling.
"Ah, that's my wild and zany Irish humor", he says, as though I've become the first critic-animal to fall into his carefully laid snare. "It?s there as a joke because of Eddie, who was in the early Saints and seems to be suffering some kind of mid-life crisis about his youth. In fact neither Ivor nor I were consulted on that thing, and it was after the fact that we discovered it was out. I think it's atrocious, and it's either a little desperate from Ed or a little bit condescending? I can't think of the word; sad is one of the first words I actually thought of. And also there's quite a bit of tension between his record company and management and mine because we weren't notified and it is kind of an illegal thing that they've done. But rather than cause any kind of massive heartache or problem over it I thought I'd just treat the thing as a joke and that's why I put the record on Howling. Because I think it is funny."
If you've ever been in a band, you almost certainly tried many times to record yourself early on, and invariably the tapes disappoint you with their dismal quality. And The Most Primitive Band In The World has the same sense. The band has energy and spunk, and if I was one of the guys in the original Saints I would definitely want to have this to be able to revisit my roots, but I wouldn't want anyone else listening to it.
"That is my feeling exactly", says Bailey. "You know there's always been a debate about the Saints. Because after Ed and Ivor left - even though Ivor came back and he's on All Fool's Day and Ivor and I to this day are still very good chums. But there's always been a debate that the early band was the best one, and that Ed was a genius and that I'm this no-talent Irish drunk and could never have written a song to save my life. And there is quite a bit of personal animosity from Ed towards me and I'm very confused as to why. I have my theories as to why, but the thing about the glorification of the early band; I think that the myth might have held up better if that reality hadn't been put onto a CD, because it does sound fucking awful. And if you want to be truthful the early Saints were pretty dreadful, just because we didn?t have much experience. I'm sure we had lots of youthful energy and all that sort of crap, but from a musical point of view?"
Bailey's own feelings notwithstanding, I myself will always regard the first two official Saints albums on Sire ((I'm) Stranded and Eternally Yours) as all time classics. I can't imagine that it's not clear to anyone who has heard the Saints without Kuepper and Hay or who has heard Kuepper's own solo material that the Saints of 1974 to 1979 were the sum of their parts and that no one member of the original Saints can produce that sound on his own. The Saints of that day may or may not have been abysmal live, they may or may not have had any idea what they were doing or where they were going, and it may or may not have all been a monstrous piece of luck that resulted in those two albums being recorded. I don't know, since I wasn't there. But I was there when those albums got released, and I bought them, and I played them until their fucking grooves cried out for mercy. And those are two unbelievably great records. I still play them regularly today. And when Triple X recently reissued them both on CD, I went out and bought them, even though I already had CD copies that I had bought from Australian mailorder places.
"Well funny enough, so did I", says Bailey, meaning that he also bought the reissues. "And I haven't heard them for ages, and I feel like that's always been the first record that I was ever involved with, but there's one part of me that will always think Stranded is cute, because to me it doesn't sound like a machismo big rough aggressive rock record. It actually sounds cute."
Sort of in the same way that Godzilla was cute?
"Well, if you take the old English interpretation of "cute" to be interesting but ugly?maybe I'm not expressing this terribly clearly, but to my ear the vocalist sounds like Mickey Mouse."
Don't tell this to Disney or it'll be another seven years of litigation?
"I also have a funny feeling and I know that this is true though I've never bother to query it?I think in the mastering of the record?and we didn't know much about the technical side of making records?I think that the tape is really one tone faster than reality. Because in those days speed was of essence and the faster you were the better you were?a kind of really dumb notion about rock music. And we were pretty fast because we were quite nervous, but I don't think we were quite as fast as that record. When you listen closely to the voice you can hear that it is sped up?it wasn't an intentional thing. In fact, the first time I went to London, back in the mid 70s, I went on a PR trip and there was a band in Scotland that did Saints covers. And I had a jam with this band and they were playing "Stranded" in B and we used to play it in A. So it was in fact up a tone. Pretty friggin? amazing when you think about it."
By now you are able to see that Chris Bailey is completely under-awed by the Saints as they existed in the late 70s. I think he's wrong to take them so lightly, but I attribute his feelings to a couple of factors. First is that the guy is probably sick to death of talking about that era, since he's been going for nearly 20 years having to answer to questions about (I'm) Stranded and he probably feels like he?s never going to be taken seriously for what he's doing today. Second is that he has the usual difficulty that an artist has in pegging the value of his own work.
But the guy is just wrong. Those Saints produced something vital and crucial. They were playing covers of songs like Del Shannon's "Runaway", "Lipstick On Your Collar" and "River Deep Mountain High" and just exploding them with energy. Nobody in Brisbane wanted to hear them. They couldn't get gigs?it became popular in the punk years to say that you were "banned" from playing in clubs, with the implication that your band was too volatile and too dangerous for the club, but in reality, the Saints weren't banned, the clubs just thought they were horrible and wouldn't book them. So the Saints came up with an alternative way to play shows.
"We played in this house that I shared with Ivor", says Bailey. "We turned this suburban house into a nite club, we were pretending to be some kind of uptown groovers when we were just a bunch of yobbo teenagers, but it was a shitload of fun. I don't think we charged admission, I think we tried that and ended up losing more money. We were trying to be professional so we just thought of the kind of revolutionary radical notion of being a highly politicized young rock band and we played for the people for nothing. Quite fun."
In 1975 the band had a more or less permanent bass player in Kym Bradshaw and Ivor had settled onto drums. A year's more playing had refined their attack quite a bit, and they were ready to record. The result, completed in June of 1976, was the single that paired the track "(I'm) Stranded" with "No Time". Not surprisingly, no label would touch it, so the band contracted out for a September pressing of 500 copies on a label they made up for the occasion and called Fatal Records. They sent it off to radio stations and magazines in Australia and got virtually no interest. They sent it to England, and there was a whole different story. First of all, a little English label called Power Exchange released it in the UK. Punk had just started to hit there?the Ramones had just toured, and bands were forming like crazy?the Pistols, the Buzzcocks, the Damned, the Clash?but almost nobody had a record yet. And here was a record from Britain's little penal colony on the other side of the globe that was threatening to outshine anything that London's batch of bands was likely to produce. There were glowing reviews in Melody Maker and Sounds (which picked it "Single of the Week"), and in the US, Trouser Press magazine gave it a rave, even though they were so non-plussed by the idea of a great band coming from Australia that they reviewed it in their America Underground column. In those days you could have gotten a copy of the Fatal release by mailing two dollars to Eternal Productions, 20 Lawson St., Oxley, Queensland. Today? You couldn't trade your car for one.
The buzz about punk rock bands in those days was deafening, and record labels felt they had to have at least one and hopefully several punk bands as soon as possible or they were going to be left behind as obsolete. EMI London phoned up their Australian subsidiary and told them flat out to sign this band. EMI Australia had no idea who the Saints were, and when they found out, they were certain that their UK masters had spent too much time in the noonday sun without hats on. The Australian branch wanted nothing to do with this group. Clinton Walker summed up the prevailing view of the Saints in his book Inner City Sounds: "The Saints are a pack of moronic punks who can't play a note, live at no fixed address, and fit only into that category set aside for savage animals. That's the general opinion down at the local musician's club where no one bothers to ask why animals turn savage in the first place."
Bailey's recollection is couched in his usual condescending terms toward those days. "The kiddie group, we had virtually not played professionally in Oz. No record company was interested whatsoever. And in fact we were almost thought of as being some kind of joke. It was just an amazing coincidence that all of that punk rock nonsense was happening in Britain, which we didn't know anything about. The music business in those days had a lot more cash than is around today. EMI had us signed in about three weeks. At the time it all felt normal and natural, but looking back it was pretty freaky. It was a very freak thing to happen to go from relative obscurity in Queensland in Australia all the way to the UK; that was pretty unheard of."
So EMI UK prevailed over the local label and the days of playing the house at Petrie Terrace or at Communist Party rallies down in Brisbane were over. The Saints were to become a household word. EMI signed them up in November 1976 and dashed out their own pressing of "(I'm) Stranded", and then dispatched the funds to record what were supposed to be demos but instead became the tracks released as the Saints? debut album, which was named after the single. The whole thing was completed in a two day session in December at Window Studios in Brisbane. Soon thereafter the Saints headed off to the big cities of Sydney and Melbourne and then onto the UK for fame and fortune, and it was a long time before Australia saw any of them again. Despite any desire to paint a contrary picture, the Saints had never really been integral to any musical scene in Australia or in Brisbane. They'd never played with Brisbane bands that had similar inclinations, like the Survivors or Razar.
"All that shit happened after we left", says Bailey. "We were out of there early in 1977 and I didn't go back to Australia until about 1980. In fact, that's the first time the Saints actually ever did a proper tour of Australia. Before we left in 1977 we did a couple of shows in Sydney and a few shows in Melbourne."
In their short stay in Sydney, the Saints appeared twice on the Australian TV rock show Countdown, the first time in a film clip for "(I'm) Stranded" and the second time lip syncing to "Erotic Neurotic", which was released by EMI as their second single with the brutal "One Way Street" as the flip. The (I'm) Stranded album came out in February. Here?s what Kris Needs of Zig Zag magazine (a UK rock monthly that was in the process of an internal overthrow of an aging hippy staff by a bunch of young punks led by the precocious Needs) had to say: "Albums of this power and velocity are pretty rare. "One Way Street", "Wild About You" and "Erotic Neurotic" sear great holes in the turntable with shards of screaming feedback and guitar walls a hundred miles high. It's like having your hair burned off with a flamethrower. "Nights In Venice" careers on for nearly six minutes like an express train out of control on hot rails to hell. Someone hire a plane and rescue the Saints!"
As one of their last acts on Australian soil, the Saints played a show that has become the stuff of legend when they were paired with Australia's other underground founding father band, Radio Birdman, at Paddington Town Hall. The situation Radio Birdman were in was completely different from the Saints background. Says Bailey: "They were kind of an established band and had fans and all those groupie things that real bands have. And it was really funny in retrospect because we thought we were very sophisticated and had great musical taste?because Ed and myself were both immigrants and had that kind of non-Australian view of the world. But it's hysterical?I remember very clearly when we first got to Sydney; we were there for four or five months, I think, and the Birdbrain club really hated us because there was this really entrenched scene and I think we were viewed as kind of the hillbilly cousins from the north. It's all very cute when you think about it in retrospect. Subsequently I've become quite friendly with the singer from that group over the years, but at the time there was like this little war. But then, that's what kids are like, aren't they?"
Deniz Tek had a different perspective when he was interviewed for Vivien Johnson's excellent book Radio Birdman. He's quoted saying: "We welcomed the Saints when they came to Sydney with open arms. We did everything to make them feel welcome - introduced them to people, had them over to our house, got them gigs, just did all this stuff and wanted to be their friends. And yet, immediately when they got there, they were hostile. Some of them were quietly hostile, like the guitar player. He wasn't belligerent, but he would just not want to talk to you, or acknowledge your presence, or smile or anything - just this brooding hostility. And the singer was like a drunken Irishman. He would get drunk and want to fight us because we were "rivals". I have a low tolerance for that sort of thing, so after one or two encounters with the Saints I didn't want to have any more to do with them."
A very bootleggy sounding version of "Nights In Venice" survives from this show and can be heard on the Scarce Saints album that came out in 1989. The six minute plus recording turns the band into essentially Kuepper's guitar and Bailey's vocals?drums and bass are almost inaudible, but the energy and power of the thing still shine through. Kuepper sounds like Pete Townshend playing "Young Man Blues" on The Who Live At Leeds?a ferocious onslaught.
Sydney gigs over, the next thing the Saints knew their plane was touching down in England, dumping them in the center of the punk revolution. For the next two years, the Saints would be playing the same venues as all the other big names of the scene, kicking off June and July at the Roundhouse, the Marquee, Dingwalls, the Nashville, the Hope and Anchor, and the Roxy in London, the Electric Circus in Manchester, Rebecca's in Birmingham, Eric's in Liverpool, Tiffany's in Edinburgh and on and on. One recorded document exists of their live show from this time a version of "Demolition Girl" from the Hope and Anchor Front Row Festival double lp, recorded in late 1977. As fast and hard hitting as this song is in the studio take, the version here is capable of demolishing whole cities. It?s stretched out with a break part to about twice its normal length, but the main piece of it is played with a ferocity that makes most of the other bands on this record sound like complete children by comparison. In my dreams someone finds the original tape of the full concert that this was taken from and releases it on CD.
At the start of July in 1977, the day after the Pistols released "Pretty Vacant" as their third single, the Saints also hit with their third in "This Perfect Day"/"L-I-E-S". Although it seemed like things were just starting, it would turn out that this single was the highwater mark of the band until the All Fools Day album almost 8 years down the road. The single was released as a 12" and a 7", and by Ivor Hay?s reckoning sold 70,000 copies?a staggering quantity for a band as uncompromisingly attacking as the Saints were at the time. It also hit #34 on the UK pop charts. It has a thunderous monster movie intro bit and a really nice jangling lead riding over the crunching rhythm playing, but it's Bailey?s chorus: "I don't need no one to tell me what I don't already know!" that's the real clincher driving this one home.
At the end of July the band had surpassed all expectations, but they needed a pause to regroup. Kym Bradshaw left the group and Kuepper and Hay returned to Australia for a break in August. Upon their return, the band added Alisdair (Algy) Ward, who later was to play in the Damned. According to Bailey, the joke about Algy was that he would join up "only if we promised to play heavy metal! Alisdair was from South London, and I don't know if you've ever seen kind of an English "Spinal Tap" thing called Bad News, it's the people from The Young Ones pretending to be in a band, and "it's gotta be heavy metal, right!" And Algy, who was from East Croydon, which is a particularly unpleasant part of London, was a very interesting addition to the Saints because he had actually wanted to be Motorhead, and it was very interesting when he joined, because that's when Ed and I started to go off to become "serious young poets" and Ed got interested in jazz music, and Algy just wanted to play heavy metal!"
Chris is actually getting a little ahead of things at the moment, because the Saints still had one more firestorm of an album in their pockets, and that would be Eternally Yours. They recorded this one in the early fall of 1977 (despite Bailey?s own contradictory liner notes on the reissue CD saying that it was done in 1978) at Roundhouse and Wessex Studios, and included in the recording were remakes of "One Way Street" and "Demolition Girl" from the first lp. These two songs were quickly issued as part of a double single called 1-2-3-4, which also included the covers "Lipstick On Your Collar" and "River Deep Mountain High". EMI sold 12,000 of these as a double single, and then switched to a single 4 song ep format. The single "Know Your Product"/"Run Down" was released to indifference in February of 1978, and the Eternally Yours album was held back all the way until May of 1978. When it came out, the Brits seemed to have lost interest. The record company certainly had; in the liner notes to the reissue CD, Bailey says "Whilst Eternally Yours is not a million miles away from the noisy angst of the first album, I guess they found the inclusion of a horn section and lack of an obvious punkoid sentiment a bit daunting as a marketing exercise. I can still recall the disappointed grimaces in the A&R department when the album was delivered."
And it wasn't just the record company geeks. Despite the fact that "Know Your Product" was the most hard rocking, gut kicking song to contain horns in the history of rock'n'roll, the Brits didn't want to hear ANY horns. And they just seemed to shut down any sense of objectivity they might have had after that song, so they totally missed the sheer brilliance of songs like "(I'm) Misunderstood", as good a song about alienation and being on the outside (which, after all, was a large part of what punk was generally accepted to be about) as there has ever been. In the US, things were better, but compliments like "This record is much better than might be expected judging from (a) the band's Australian heritage, or, (b) their disastrous debut LP of last year" from Trouser Press were not likely to lead potential American listeners to the band in large numbers.
Things unraveled quickly from here. Ed Kuepper was getting interested in the jazz vein that would soon take him off into the Laughing Clowns, and while the others were not adverse to new direction, Ed's approach wasn't what they wanted. Just as Eternally Yours was being released, the band was back in the studio starting to record their third lp, Prehistoric Sounds. The lp came out in late 1978, but it was years removed from the first two albums in every way. The attack was gone, and the energy was squashed pretty flat. Kuepper has been quoted as saying he still likes it and thinks it holds up quite well, but any fair evaluation of it would have to say that for someone who enjoyed the first two albums, Prehistoric Sounds was a very large and difficult transition to follow. I still recall an review in Rolling Stone that essentially called the album "absolutely without value". Not that they would know, but the bad thing was that many punk fans felt the same way. In retrospect the album is certainly not a total loss; the single lifted from it, a cover of Otis Redding?s "Security", has a nifty, horn driven swing, and "Everything?s Fine", which Kuepper later recorded in his solo incarnation, is another good one. And "Brisbane (Security City)" has that same tired world-weariness that Peter Perrett used so well on Only Ones songs. But the wall of guitar fury was replaced, horns were pushed to the front, and the tempos were way down. Several of the songs sound stilted and wooden. I wondered how Chris felt about this album in hindsight.
"I have two feelings about it", he replied. "I think there are three or four songs on that record that are fairly marvelous. I think it's a little bit anal in the performance, and some of it, and this was true at the time, some of it just went totally over my head. I didn't have a fucking clue?there were a couple of songs that I sang then and I remember thinking at the time: I just don't get this. Sorry, I can read the lyrics and I know what it says, but how the fuck do you want me to sing this? I'm fond of the record. I think that there are some very strong parts on it. There are still two songs from that record that I occasionally play; "Swing For The Crime" and "The Prisoner". The version of "The Prisoner" that we're doing now is light years ahead. It swings. And even though I know it's meant to be very dramatic and quite sparse and barren?I guess it sounds stiff, or stilted, is the expression I have for that record. So that's my opinion. The intent and the ideas were good. The execution just fell a little bit flat. But it's certainly not a record that embarrasses me."
"I can really tell in retrospect that this group is really imploding and it's not going to be long for the planet. And that in fact is what happened even though when we were making the record we had no intention of not being together, but it's very easy to tell that within a few months the whole thing is going to fall to pieces."
Bailey is reported to have threatened to quit the band after a European tour in early 1978 but was temporarily talked out of it by Kuepper. Their contract said that EMI could drop them if either Kuepper or Bailey left the band, and Kuepper pressed Bailey hard to stay so that he could get his last batch of songs out while the contract was still in force, but after the recording of Prehistoric Sounds it didn't take long for things to wrap up.
Says Bailey: "I think it was a combination of management dropping the bundle, EMI losing interest, I wanted to stay in London, the other two didn't. Algy wanted to be in a heavy metal band and then promptly he was." (Actually, he played with the Damned when they reformed for Machine Gun Etiquette, and later he formed a metal band called Tank.) "Ivor started to get delusions of grandeur about being a songwriter. I think he should have stuck to the drums, actually. Which in fact a couple of years later he did?he came back and worked with me for a few years. And Ed went off on this tangent which I really couldn't follow. After Prehistoric Sounds we actually had a couple of sessions and he had the gist of what was going to become the Laughing Clowns and at that stage I really wanted not to get pretentious?jazz. And then he came down to a session I had in South London and stayed for about two hours and then left because he wasn't interested in what I was doing. We had a vague plan to stay in London and become sort of tin pan alley writers, but then he and his girlfriend decided to move back to Sydney and that was it. I think it was partially financial and also something I know that Ed has never gotten over, and that is that when we got to London I think he expected us to be lauded as the sort of Lennon and McCartney of this kind of new wave thing, and we were actually viewed as some kind of Australian joke. Because the English are very xenophobic and in those days Australia was viewed as the poor cousins. Everything from the colonies had to be substandard because all they had there were kangaroos and that "G'day mate" thing."
The British punk scene was probably even more that way than the British population at large. Songs like the Clash doing "I'm So Bored With The USA" and all that?the British punks thought they could do it better than anyone else. Which taken as a whole scene might have been true, but didn't mean that the isolated band from somewhere else could be every bit as good as the best the Brits had to offer.
"I hung out in the King's Road scene for a little while", says Bailey, "But it was so fucking upper middle class?snotty kids pretending to be something they weren't. I do come from the working class, and I would rather have been born an aristocrat actually. Money is quite a nice thing and buys lots of fine wine. So this pretending to be anarchists nonsense was a bit hard to take, and also fashion has never been a real interest of mine and this Vivien Westwood kind of King's Road nonsense was a little tedious. The Saints have never been world famous for their fashion sense, even though EMI did give us a designer to come up with the world famous Saints suit, which actually never made it off the drawing board, thank Christ! It was pathetic. I'm sure Ed, probably somewhere, cause he hoards things, has the original drawings."
I pointed out that in the book Inner City Sounds that Clinton Walker wrote there's a picture of the Saints playing back in Petrie Terrace all wearing coats and ties.
"Yeah, that was a little fashion phase we all went through for a while. And I use the word fashion very loosely. We all used to buy clothes from second hand stores, and I think I started a trend of wearing suits from the 1940s because I thought that was a rebellion against wearing blue jeans."
But back to when the Saints split up, there is much controversy now about the fact that Chris continued on with the Saints name without the other members of the original band. In an Ed Kuepper interview in Ian McFarlane's excellent Prehistoric Sounds fanzine (not surprisingly named for that third Saints album), Ian starts a question with "Never having seen the first version of the Saints live and only going by listening to the records?" and Kuepper cuts him off and says: "Truly the only version. The later versions, Bailey traded on a name for commercial reasons. You know, I?m a man of the world and I don?t blame him for that, but there was The Saints and after that there was Chris Bailey and the Doo Dahs or something, the Chris Bailey Band, something like that. He should have named it something else?I never claimed the Laughing Clowns to be The Saints."
Bailey's responded to this fairly quickly: "Yeah, in fact I'd already had that agreed with Ivor and Ed even though Ed changed the story subsequently, and in fact I did a very large interview with the NME at the time in which I outlined what I'd intended to do, which was in fact to stop being like a kiddie boy scout and to turn the Saints into some kind of radical feminist collective, and to that end I think I've been very successful (laughs). So that was my plan, as much as I ever have plans. I quite like Europe and I'm glad to be up here. Because I was 21, being poor in London was actually quite fun. When EMI dropped the contract it was?oops! There went the money. And I spent the next year of my life living on people's floors, but it was a lot of fun."
"The thing I've always liked about the Saints is that something has always been dysfunctional. Something has always been wrong, and that's kind of what makes them work in my opinion. There is something dysfunctional about rock music when it's good."
Well, I said, it's definitely the case that most of the best songs are written by people who are really depressed and unhappy and miserable and when you get happy that's usually the worst thing that can happen to your songwriting.
"That's always been a conundrum for me", he responded, "and it's been an interesting one because most of my work is actually quite dark. I mean I do have some humor, but I quite often shock people in interviews or in real life because generally speaking I'm a fairly happy go lucky happy idiot, and I'm not sure how that balances. Because I hate the notion that I have to be depressed even if I want to write the most turgid song in A minor. I figure I can just make it up, if you follow my logic."
I replied that I just think they're more work when you're not miserable than when you are miserable.
"You're definitely right there", he said. "When you are miserable the motivation is something you don't even have to look for. It's just there. But I'm sure that there is a fine line that we tortured artists can walk. There better fucking be, because I?m not in the mood!"
With the break-up after Prehistoric Sounds, the days of the Saints as a force on the UK punk scene came to a sudden end, and way too soon. Ivor Hay and Ed Kuepper were back in Australia (Hay joined up with the Hitmen). And Chris Bailey was now on his own, when strangely enough onto the scene came a Frenchman who was also a big fan and had the idea of starting a label. The label became New Rose Records, which was a pretty substantial European concern that specialized in various garage and power pop bands throughout the 80s.
"Indeed, indeed!", says Chris. "It's kind of funny, since I've had a bit of a falling out with Patrick who runs that label, as anyone who has ever been involved has, but the Saints were his first record, and it's very interesting and I find it very strange because my current management doesn't like Patrick, but in fact he's putting out the next Saints album on Last Call, which is his new label, so after 18 years I've kind of come a full circle. It's actually quite fun. Patrick was, and probably still is a bit of a Saints fan. And I like New Rose, for all the shitty things they've done, they were a unique label. Incredibly unique. There aren't too many people left in this business that are like Patrick. He's a total rogue and I think he has the spirit that I like about rock music. Most labels have become frighteningly corporate and I don't mean fun in a kind of jolly, laugh, shock horror kind of way, but the whole idea of rock music is to live a kind of life that isn't like a bank clerk. With all due respect to bank clerks, I'm sure they have fine lives, but there has to be something that's fun. I mean, we?re not selling shoes. I don't want to overstress the importance of music, but it is an important thing. And I'm glad that there are other bastards in the world that don't make Coca Cola commercials, since that?s what rock music has become more or less. Patrick is a very straight businessman, but he does things that are a little bit risky, and I like that."
So how did the connection get made?
"It's actually quite cute. He sent a letter to a writer in London who is a close mate of a publicist friend of mine. It was an incredible twist of fate because I didn't often go to the papers but on this particular day I was at the trade papers with this friend of mine, and he said: "Look up at this message for you", and I said "What?". It's from this mad French guy, and he gave me this letter. Ordinarily I probably would have thrown it, but I thought, oh, I like Paris, this is cute. He's a Frenchman, he might have a sister. So I called him up and then two days later Patrick came over to London and he brought two bottles of wine which we promptly drank and the next day he had a new Saints ep. It may well be worth pointing out at this time that I am the world's worst businessman. It has certainly been lots of fun, and it looks like it's starting again, so I guess there'll be more madness and mayhem."
The very first New Rose release, and the first Saints release without Kuepper and Hay, was the five song 12" ep Paralytic Tonight Dublin Tomorrow, which came out in 1980. By this time, UK punk was a spent force, and the scene there had splintered in a million futile directions of synthesized bands more worried about haircuts than music. The ep, which included Barrington Francis on guitar and Mark Birmingham on drums, was a solid collection of rock/pop/soul songs that was far from the punk rock roar of the first two albums, but was a lot more of a rock and roll record than Prehistoric Sounds had been. It didn?t fit into any of the slots that were available in London, and it sank from sight without a trace. Listening to it now, the guitar sound is quite strong, but a more generic style of playing than Kuepper?s work. Bailey's voice is becoming more tuneful?the flat croak he used to use starting to be replaced by a more soulful approach. And he continues the use of horns. None of these tracks are what you'd call smash hits, but they are all solid and hold up even today. Especially "On The Waterfront", a particularly nice slice of soul recalling Wilson Pickett or Otis Redding with its long acoustic intro that builds into a huge horn driven center.
In April the ep was also released in 7" format in Australia on the label Lost, which was set up by Bailey's management as a vehicle for releasing Saints records. To coincide with its appearance there, Bailey put together a band to tour down under with Ivor Hay back on drums, Janine Hall on bass, and an additional guitarist in Cub Calloway (who played on the New Christs "Face A New God" single). Returning to England with Hall and Francis, the group reunited with Birmingham on drums for some shows in Britain and France. Hopping back and forth between London and Sydney, over the next half year they recorded a set of songs that would become the album Monkey Puzzle. With the release of this album in the beginning of 1981, it was clear that while the obscure twists of Prehistoric Sounds weren't Bailey's cup of tea, neither was making another Eternally Yours. Monkey Puzzle set the general pace for what most subsequent Saints records would sound like?not that they are all the same, not by a long shot, but the mix of tempos more in an almost pub rock kind of vein and the more soulful singing style. The frantic days were over.
That said, Monkey Puzzle is a fine record. "Always, Always", "Simple Love" and "In The Mirror" are first rate mid tempo rockers, and the cover of "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" is a lot of fun, even if it is pretty close to the Beatles version. There are plenty of horn charts, but they complement rather than overwhelm the guitar, and although Kueppers? slashing style of the early days is still missed, Barrington Francis is playing with a lot of character himself now. "Always, Always" and "Let?s Pretend" were singles released from this album. In retrospect the soul styled horns should have been no surprise, since from the start the Saints showed a soft spot for soul songs (like "River Deep Mountain High"), but they had no way to create that kind of sound. Now Bailey's songwriting, singing, and musicianship were growing, and he had access to a community of other musicians to help him with horn arrangements, and he was bound to take advantage of the situation.
The Scarce Saints album includes almost a full side of material from a live show at Dingwall's in London around this time. It includes versions of "Know Your Product", "No Time" and "Kissin' Cousins", songs from the days of the EMI-era band that are played in a very different style from the originals. They still rock, but it's a rock-and-roll sort of rock as opposed to a buzzsaw punk kind of rock. The track "On The Waterfront" (from the Paralytic ep) almost out-kicks "Know Your Product" in this set. There's also a nice version of "Gypsy Woman", which had been the flip of "Let's Pretend". All these tracks are stripped of horns and have pretty strong guitar playing throughout; it's a very odd counterpoint to the early band.
Monkey Puzzle was greeted with such indifference that it's a wonder Bailey didn't just pack it in. Britain just didn't care about the band at all. The rock press was off looking for new movements, and there was no way Bailey was going to get included?his day was over as far as the NME or Melody Maker were concerned. But in Europe his New Rose connection was going to bear slowly ripening fruit. It was a long time between records now, as money was hard to come by and the nine month album cycle of the major labels had to be stretched way out. It was February 1982 before Bailey would record again, and by this time, his Monkey Puzzle band had all left, with the exception of Janine Hall on bass. For the first time, Bailey appears on record himself playing guitar.
"I started knocking about with it when I was 13 or 14", he says. "I had this theory in the early days that the singer should be the singer and that?s what the singer should do. He should just chat up girls and roll around on the floor and be mad. I think by the time I?d actually gotten to Out In The Jungle that it was just easier for me to play the guitar. Even though I play guitar a lot these days, I still kind of think that at some point in the performance I should put the guitar down and do the old rock star bit. Corny, I know, but there you go."
There are lots of horn charts on Out In The Jungle, which is probably a good thing since at this point Bailey's guitar playing isn't much more than melodic filler and would have been pretty unsatisfying on its own. Even the three tracks with the hotrod original Damned lead player Brian James don't really have much guitar fire to them.
"When he left or got kicked out from the Damned?cause the Saints and the Damned were kind of a little bit close, and I had a girlfriend at the time who kind of fancied him and that's how we met", says Bailey of James. "Before he became totally alcoholicly incompetent he was going through a very interesting phase, because both he and I actually liked rock and roll, which in the early 80s in London was really not de rigeur. And so we just became drinking buddies, and I think he liked me because I was a member of a club that was open all day, because at that time pubs used to shut in the afternoon. And so by our mutual fondness of getting totally smashed, I was making a record and said, so do you want to come along and play on it? So he did. And I quite like the things he did, even though he is the loudest fucking guitar player I have ever heard in my entire life in a recording studio."
Out In The Jungle is really a confused jumble of songs?the horn driven "Follow The Leader" is pretty strong, but there are tracks like "Senile Dementia" which are disjointed noise. "Curtains" is a really nice soulful song that builds up into a nifty Stax/Volt sort of horn chart, and "Come On" has an almost ZZ Top kind of rhythm drive to it. The album also has maybe the most complicated release history of all Saints records. It first came out on New Rose, and then in 1983 was released on the UK label Flicknife with a different sleeve, accompanied by the "Follow The Leader" single. In Australia, it got issued under the name Casablanca, which was one of the tracks on the record. But here it gets real confusing, since New Rose also released an album called Casablanca, but while it's the same songs, it?s not the same takes. And in the midst of all this, Bailey went back to Australia again for a period that eventually led to him releasing a solo live record called What We Did On Our Holidays.
"Well before that?I think Bruce Springsteen had just done the Nebraska album", he says, "and Patrick and I had had a big argument after Out In The Jungle and I kind of sulked off to somewhere and there was a period of about six months in which we weren?t talking to each other. And in that period he put out a bunch of demos that I'd left with him. In fact, they were the demos for Out In The Jungle, which he put out as an album called Casablanca, which strangely enough is what Out In The Jungle is called on the Australian pressing. Go figure that one out."
The live album was recorded in Sydney. "I think it was in 1983", says Bailey. "That?s the year that I discovered that life as a troubadour could be fun. I was running a club, and it went for about ten months in a friend's pub. It started off with just me acoustic, and then by the end of it, it was me with a big band?two drummers, a horn section, girlie backing singers and the whole she-bang."
The album is mostly covers?things like "Bring It On Home To Me", "Heard It Through The Grapevine", and especially a really good take of "In The Midnight Hour".
"Because I have respect for soul and r'n'b I feel a little bit sheepish, because I think I was too young to do it properly", says Bailey. "Once again, I keep using this word "cute"?.to me it sounds kind of cute and youthful, and if we didn't get the style right there?s certainly a lot of enthusiasm, and that kind of summed up that year for me. I never advertised this club or anything and it started off as maybe 50 people, and by the end we were playing four or five hundred people even though it wasn't a very big room. So it was kind of flattering, and it was a fun little scene."
The arrangements vary from Bailey alone with acoustic guitar on the original version of "Ghost Ships" (a Bailey original that he would also record for two different Saints albums), to the full soul revue of "Midnight Hour". A mixed bag, but pretty fun.
By the time Bailey had recorded this, his problems with New Rose had been patched up, and the album was released in France in 1984. No word of its existence ever filtered through to the US.
Bailey's next recording project was his most ambitious to date and also the furthest from the original Saints approach?about as far as you could still get and still claim to be rock and roll, in fact. This is the 1984 album, A Little Madness To Be Free, a record on which Bailey almost completely subordinates guitar to horns and strings. It seemed almost as if Bailey was deliberately trying to shake off the last of those annoying (I?m) Stranded fans. But in his own mind, what he was trying to do was still similar; make music with power and intensity that played by different rules.
"I never liked acts like ELO when they tried to get classical?I thought that was a bit twee", he says. "But what I thought would be possible, because these instruments have lots of power, is why not make strings as powerful as Les Pauls and Marshalls. That was my intention. I think Madness is close to being a rock record. I remember I was listening to a lot of Percy Grainger at the time, and it might have got a little bit too rustic. But it was just me wanting to make rock music with different sounding instruments. And the cliché is true that it's all been done before in rock, and I'm aware of that, but my counter argument is well, yes, it may all have been done, but it hasn't been done by ME. And I think I can do it with a twist. If you play games with what is essentially quite a simple, non-intellectual form of expression, you can breathe things into it that are interesting. I suppose I should like poetry, but I don't. So I like beat music, but I don?t think beat music has to be stupid. I try to write semi-intelligent scripts, but I don?t want to be too intellectual since it's more of a feel or a passion. It's much more to do with the loins than the brain."
I told him that my view is that music can be a lot of different things so it's not reasonable to try pin it down to any one specific thing.
"Very eloquently put", he replied. "And I still think there is life in the old dog yet. I don't like dance music very much and I didn't like disco music very much. So it's not surprising that I don't like a lot of contemporary things. It's not because I hate technology or machines because in fact I use machines a lot and I love technology and I love all the new toys?they're marvelous things. But there is still something about the organic interplay of a half a dozen people that produces a sound and energy that is still incredibly uplifiting. I get transformed and almost religious, goddamn it!"
Madness includes another version of "Ghost Ships" that's quite similar to the one on his solo album, and there are a handful of other songs that begin to appeal after multiple listens, like "Angels" (which was covered nicely by New York band Springhouse some years back), and "Someone To Tell Me". But perhaps the strangest thing about this album is that in the tour to support it, Ed Kuepper joined up and played along with Chris.
"Yeah", says Bailey, "He doesn't like to talk about it any more, because in the 80s there was always this talk that Ed and I would get back together and we'd be the geniuses that I could never be or he could never be, and in theory it was a really good idea. I really do like Ed; there's part of me that really does, and I have a lot of respect for some of the things that he does, and I thought all right, well let's see. At the time I had just lost a bass player and he came back playing bass, and he did that because then we could maybe take it one step further. But everyone else in the group thought he was an incredible pig and couldn't stand him. Whatever spark or magic might have been there years before, I don't think it automatically carried over. Ed demands too much as a person. If I thought that project would actually be good then I might be more interested, but it's just not fucking worth it."
So with A Little Madness To Be Free it seemed that Bailey had gone about as far out on the edge as he could. He had shaken off most of his old fans, and had picked up precious few new ones except in continental Europe, where he had pockets of acceptance. He was nearing 30 years old now, and with little more going for him than his connection with New Rose it seemed like his chances of success were pretty well gone. But then in the winter of 1985 Ivor Hay rejoined him to play drums, and with a new, stripped down lineup that included Richard Burgman on guitar and Archie Larizza on bass, he went into Rockfield Studios (where Radio Birdman had recorded Living Eyes many years before) and when they emerged, Chris Bailey had in his hands the tape of an album that would give him the greatest commercial success (and arguably the second greatest artistic success) that he had ever had. The album would be called All Fools Day.
Yet it took an incredible time from the completion of recording to the seeming overnight success the Saints achieved with this record. It was 1987 before the album was released in the US on TVT; nearly two whole years. It had come out earlier elsewhere, but it was the US acceptance that was to make it a success When it finally did appear here, it vaulted into the center of what was growing into a large alternative scene with the hit "Just Like Fire Would", an anthemic song with a simple lead guitar line that made it incredibly catchy, coupled with some of Bailey's strongest vocals yet. At heart, the song was not that much better than many others Bailey had written since the split with Kuepper, but the arrangement and the performance came together in a way that brought out every bit of its potential.
As satisfying as "Just Like Fire Would" was, the album wouldn't have been a success if it was not for a clutch of other terrific tunes. "Temple Of The Lord" and the prophetic "Big Hits (On The Underground)" were both also issued as singles, and while they didn't do as well commercially, they were certainly a match artistically. In addition, the songs "First Time", "Hymn To Saint Jude", and "How To Avoid Disaster" were nearly as good. It was a different Saints with a lot of polish and a mature, mid-tempo rock/pop approach, but the songs were everything you could ask for.
And the commercial music world took notice. The Saints were praised as a pioneering band by all sorts of people, many of whom had probably never even heard their early records and would have hated them if they had. Musician magazine even ran a feature, which certainly was sweet revenge for a band that was accused many times of not being able to play. And in 1987, MTV aired an hour long Saints concert in prime time on Sunday night, with not a single commercial. The show was taped at the Ritz in Manhattan, and in it Bailey appears a little nervious but pretty happy. He starts the show with a natty suit and a big head of fluffy blow-dried hair, no doubt just as the record company asked him to, but by the triumphant closing "River Deep Mountain High" he was the sweaty, disheveled denizen of dive bars that all his old fans would have expected. In between the fog machines blow their ridiculous dry ice clouds across drummer Ian Shedden to the point where he can hardly be seen and the fans sit politely in their seats, although they do seem to enjoy it?at one point in the middle of an acoustic "Casablanca" with Bailey singing alone with his guitar, the camera catches a girl singing the lyrics and looking like she?s about to burst into tears.
The show starts with five tracks from All Fools Day, but it's clear that Bailey has confidence enough in his other material to pull out piles of other tunes once he has satisfied the TVT moguls wanting him to plug the record. There?s a powerful version of "Grain Of Sand", which hadn't been recorded yet, and solid versions of "On The Waterfront" and "Ghost Ships". The only song that doesn't really cut it is "Sold Out", which always seemed a bit shallow to me. Barry Francis? guitar work is professional but lacks guts?played pretty much without distortion.
This was the first time the Saints had been on tour in the US?they played all around the country and even came through San Diego on June 2, where the gig was similar to the Ritz show except in a club without jackbooted security people keeping the crowds from standing up. Bailey was much more relaxed and laughed and joked with the crowd. The set was similar, except we got treated to their updated version of "Know Your Product" as a closer.
"We did two more tours subsequent to that when we were still playing sort of happy family with TVT", says Bailey. "And it did look good there for a while in the old US. But this is what happens when litigation steps in. It was long enough ago for me to be fairly philosophical about it, but it was pretty much a kick in the bollocks I think. But what the hell, it was a fun few years. The east coast college tour I look back on fondly because every cartoon caricature I ever had of the US was a reality on that tour. The fascinating thing about the US?I have American friends and I joke about the US "love it or leave it" that goes through what is as far left as you are allowed to get in America to the extreme right, but everything that exists on the planet that?s good or fucking horrendously evil, it's just all there. Masses of just everything that humanity has ever done, you'll find it somewhere in North America. It's an interesting place you live in, presidential scandals notwithstanding."
Because it took so long from the recording of All Fools Day to its US release and breakthrough, it seemed liked there was a lot of time for Bailey to assemble a finely tuned set of new material. But when Prodigal Son did appear in 1988, it felt like a hastily assembled patchwork more than anything else. The Vanda and Young track "Music Goes Round My Head", which was in the soundtrack for the knockoff Aussie movie Young Einstein, is miscast in the middle of a group of Bailey originals and just doesn?t fit, even with the horn charts. There's a third recorded version of "Ghost Ships"...neatly done but not that much different. There are, however, two really great songs that are the equal of anything on All Fools Day. These are "Massacre" and "Grain Of Sand", both of which sound like they could be the response to the success of the band. On "Massacre" Bailey sings wearily: Can that be all there is? / Nothing more / The sound of life on this empty stage / Is this all that?s left / The ruins of a passing parade. And "Grain Of Sand" is another superb song, with a more upbeat and jangly tune, but then the lyric goes: Like a grain of sand / That's how I feel tonight / In a foreign land / Washed up and out of sight. I told Bailey that I was surprised that these songs didn't connect as well as the material from All Fools Day.
"My feeling for that is?", he began, and then paused to collect his thoughts. "There are lots of elements involved in show business and when a company loses it and when more time and effort and money is spent on behind the scenes corporate wrangling, often times the promotional stuff gets blown away. That's when things started to get very screwy, and it got worse. I'm actually very proud of that particular album and I particularly liked the group at that time, but hell, I have no doubt that in the not too distant future as we turn the third millennium that that record will probably still be around. I mean, "Grain Of Sand" is one of those?I've written lots of songs and I think I'm quite good at my chosen craft, but there are some things that I find it very hard to claim credit for, and that's one of those songs. I think it was my second ever time in New York, and I was just sitting in a hotel room and in about two minutes that song was there. You probably know this as a writer that some things are easy to write and some things are just horrendously difficult, and "Grain Of Sand" was one of those things that was just there. And I like it when that happens! Lazy bastard."
Around this time there was some talk of Ed Kuepper possibly rejoining Bailey for a reunion tour of the original Saints. Whether it was ever really close to happening or not I don?t know, but the outcome was that Ed Kuepper put together his own side project, which he called "The Aints" and went off on a tour of Australia as a three piece with Kent Steedman of the Celibate Rifles playing bass and performing a set of all early Saints material delivered in a very powerful style, but also very different from the original. An lp from that tour was released, and subsequently there were 3 more Aints CDs of new Kuepper material.
When I asked Chris about his reaction to that first live album, he chuckled and said, "I laughed. I mean, I think it's nice, but there's always been this contention with Eddie. But he's actually gotten more out of the Saints than I have I think, to a certain extent. You know, the great godfather of Australian rock, the inventor of the Saints you know. I mean Jesus Christ, what were Ivor and I? Were we wood? And his ego is such that it's painted that he is in fact the founder and the genius behind these three most amazing records, where if you just take a step back and look at it, it's not all that fucking amazing, really. I mean, they're not bad records and we weren't a bad band, but for my money the Saints have gotten better rather than gone downhill. So the Aints thing, it just seems kind of like?bitchy. From one perspective I think it's just bitchy and stupid, from another perspective I think it's quite flattering, because it's kind of acknowledging that yes, there was something very good about the Saints, and it obviously wasn't just HIM. It's always annoyed me that the Saints from those days was either Ed or me. But that's really not true. I mean, Ivor was a really big part of what that band was, and he gets absolutely zilch in terms of the retrospective."
I told him that, being a drummer myself, I always noticed Ivor's playing a lot. The guy is not an outstanding drummer from a musician's perspective, but he has a certain intensity in the way he plays and in the choices of fills he makes that suits those early records just right.
"The guy I'm working with at the moment, Martin, is a young Danish guy about 25, and he's frightening", says Bailey. "He's probably the best drummer I've worked with in my entire fucking life. I just shut up sometimes when he starts playing. He's very technical, but he has this swing that is just amazing. And I like that because it's technical and it's good and he's clever and he's smart and does really interesting things with the high hat?he plays with humor. But of all the drummers I've ever worked with, Ivor is one of my favorites, because he technically was not very good?I mean, his kick drum was all over the place, but he has this?he?s almost like Daffy Duck when he plays the drums. He does these little twist things, almost like Ringo to a point. A great singer's drummer was Ivor. He would just follow everything that I did. It was quite amazing. "
In 1989, Mushroom Records in Australia released an album called Permanent Revolution that has ten songs in a broad range of styles. It kicks off with a soft, acoustic version of "Grain Of Sand" and proceeds through a set of songs that vary from Celtic folk to early fifties styled boogie to country western to simple pop/rock. It?s not one of the better Saints releases, and it didn?t make much of an impression on fans and critics. There was also a New Rose lp called Live In A Mud Hut, which I can't say much about since I haven?t heard it. But it does contain a take of "Know Your Product" that sounds like it's from the tour to support All Fool?s Day.
Around the same time a series of collections of songs from Bailey's whole career began to appear with regularity. New Rose released The New Rose Years, featuring songs from Monkey Puzzle, A Little Madness To Be Free, Out In The Jungle, Live In A Mud Hut and an assortment of singles. In Australia, the Raven label released the albums Scarce Saints and Songs Of Salvation, the former having one side of previously non-lp single tracks dating back to the beginning of the band and one side of live material, and the latter being a greatest hits styled collection spanning "(I'm) Stranded" up to "The Music Goes Round My Head". All of these releases helped mark time while the legal wrangles between TVT and Mushroom carried on.
Meanwhile, Bailey took to releasing records under his own name. Not that the name really made that much difference; since the original Saints split after Prehistoric Sounds, the band has pretty much been Bailey and whoever he cared to play with, so a solo Chris Bailey record is not that much different from having a Saints record. But on records like Savage Entertainment, Demons and 54 Days At Sea Bailey might have stretched things a little more than he would have under the Saints name. Demons is an expensive sounding record with big money production, but it really doesn't make it better. Each song seems to have some new instrumentation on it?synthesizers, horns and strings. There are lots of heavy backing vocals, which is uncommon for Saints records. The result is fairly clinical and impersonal.
54 Days At Sea is another matter, though. It's not a big rocking album, but its sparse production suits Bailey much better. Released in 1994, it doesn't have any anthemic rockers like "Just Like Fire Wood", but songs like "Unfamiliar Circles", "Everything I Need" or "Drowned By The Sound" wouldn't be uncomfortable fitting in on All Fools Day, either. Bailey's characterization of this record as "a Bolivian fusion experiment" is really pretty far-fetched. Not unlike on Howling, Bailey has sequenced the album so that it begins with the song that is furthest from the overall sound of the album, thus setting the initial (and strongest) impression of the record well off center. So the flute propelled "Fountains Of Life" had those critics who even bothered to review this release talking about how Bailey had turned into a folk singer and gone totally soft.
And that brings us pretty much up to the present, with Bailey forming a new version of the Saints and releasing Howling, which was the subject of the start of this long story.
To close out the interview, I asked Chris what bands he was listening to these days.
"I have the world's smallest CD collection, because for the past several years I've been traveling around", he says. "I bought a heap of cheapo classical CDs on Deutche Grammaphone. I have quite a bit of country and western. The obligatory few blues CDs, and that's about it really. Everytime someone asks me this question I always go ?um, um. Yeah, but there must be something. I?m sure there are hundreds of things that I like. I just can't think of what they are right now. I actually listen to the radio a lot. Martin played me a lot of young American bands and a lot of it sounds kind of good to me. This group called Screaming Trees was kind of interesting. It's funny, Martin was in the Saints for about a year, and he didn't realize how groovy that was until he read an interview with the Screaming Trees that said the Saints were really cool, and now he thinks it's really cool to be in the Saints."
I asked if he was ever surprised to realize that it's almost 25 years now since the Saints first started.
"I've only been in a group for two years, I'm new at this!", he laughs. "Actually, that's what it feels like, and I'm extraordinarily grateful for that. I mean, Michael the bass player is a fat old git like me, but Martin's 25 and there's absolutely no musical generation gap. It's bizarre. And our guitar player is like a god?I mean, he exists on some other planet. But it's kind of flattering to play with one guy who's ten years younger than me and another guy who?s 15 years younger and I think this unit makes a shitload of sense. It's a good feeling."