August 21, 2004


The punk paradox: Despite being surly and spotty, the Saints were never quite part of the punk scene (Michael Dwyer, August 13, 2004, The Age)

It's hard to believe now. In early 1977, before Johnny Rotten was a reviled household name, the average Australian parent's idea of shocking was Alice Cooper, who, presented with a chat-show microphone, played as nice as Olivia Newton-John.

So the first time my family witnessed Brisbane upstarts the Saints on television, it was as if a pall of indecency had descended on the living room. The way I remember it, Ray Burgess, the dimpled and twinkling host of ABC afternoon pop show Flashez, was speechless.

Chris Bailey - mop-haired, dead-eyed, pimpled, sneering, flicking cigarette ash - was even less articulate. This kid wasn't even blow-waved, let alone wearing satin trousers, much less appearing desperately grateful to cop his 15 minutes of mainstream approval.

"There was so much niceness in the room, it was pretty hard to compete," the singer recalls today from his adopted home of Amsterdam. "When you're surrounded by so much neatly pressed denim and teeth, it's very hard to pour on the charm."

Modesty, surely. In my limited, middle-class, rabid Kiss fan's understanding of the term, the Saints came across as definitively P-U-N-K. [...]

Rock'n'roll historians tend to agree that the Saints - Bailey, Kuepper, Ivor Hay and, briefly, Kym Bradshaw - were up there with the Ramones and the Sex Pistols as pioneers of the '70s punk revolution, even if the paradox of this conclusion is almost as well-known as the conclusion itself.

While their wilful, uncooperative attitude fitted the punk brief beautifully, the bandwagon was anathema to the Saints. Their first three albums, compiled on the new box-set All Times Through Paradise, traced a creative development way beyond the simplistic punk stereotype that British record companies so quickly harnessed in the late '70s.

The Saints' musical ambition was largely their undoing when they landed in London, at British EMI's expense, shortly after failing to impress Ray Burgess. The strain of misguided market expectations and other dislocation anxieties tore Bailey and Kuepper apart in 1978, just two years after their first album, (I'm) Stranded.

"We were very lucky to get the bus fares from EMI to be transported to London," Bailey says. "That in itself is remarkable, especially given that we weren't even part of the Australian music scene. There was a lot of hype by the time we got to London because the punky rock thing had taken off, but back in Oz we wouldn't have been pissed on if we were on fire."

According to the box-set's extensive essays, EMI London office's conviction about the Saints' place in the new punk order extended to presenting them with specially designed Saints Suits, "a suitably distressed green garment that understandably was not embraced by the band".

"I can still remember the guffaws all round," Bailey says. "Looking back, we were pretty surly and pretty stupid in a lot of our dealings with EMI. There was a lot of misunderstanding all round, but we weren't even vaguely tempted by that carrot.

"The Saints have often been called radical and revolutionary and all that sort of bollocks, but when you listen to the first album, it's fairly traditional. We thought we were a rock'n'roll band.

"I think we had an unusual sound for where we were at that time - Ed was using a particularly noxious amplifier that was a Brisbane invention. But (I'm) Stranded wasn't a million miles away from what Eddie Cochran did in the '50s. Rock'n'roll was already a fairly mature sort of beast, and we just kicked it around a bit, tried to reinvent it.

"I guess that's what's happening now, even though it's a bit more ... How do I say this politely? It does seem a bit more formulaic these days. But the sound comes out pretty damn similar."

All Fool's Day is quite lovely.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 21, 2004 11:46 AM
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