The Saints - Biography
By Oliver Hall
Brisbane, Australia’s Saints played fast, wild, sharp-toothed garage rock that got them categorized as a punk band when their first records appeared in the late 70s. While singer Chris Bailey’s scornful delivery, guitarist Ed Kuepper’s blurs of distorted chords and drummer Ivor Hay’s forward-driving beat resembled punk, the band had other ideas, and displayed a wide-ranging creativity on the three albums they made before breaking up in 1978. Bailey has continued to lead numerous different lineups of the Saints on tours and shelves full of records since the original band’s breakup, and the three original Saints reunited for a handful of shows in the first decade of the new millenium.
In an interview for Australian radio’s J Files special on the Saints, Bailey says that one night around 1973 he climbed onstage at a club while Kuepper was playing guitar and started singing. Subsequently Bailey and Kuepper started playing with pianist Ivor Hay as Kid Galahad and the Eternals. The band, still without bassist or drummer, changed its name to the Saints in 1974. With Hay’s move from piano to drums and the acquisition of a regular bassist, Kym Bradshaw, the Saints became a powerful rock and roll quartet. Since they had difficulty getting booked in Brisbane, Hay’s house became Club 76, the Saints’ live venue.
The Saints’ self-released first single “(I’m) Stranded” (Fatal 1976) is often credited as one of the earliest punk rock singles. EMI Australia signed the band in late 1976 on the strength of the single. The Saints recorded the debut album (I’m) Stranded (Harvest 1977) in December 1976 before moving from Brisbane to Sydney at the beginning of 1977. Several months later, the band moved again, this time to London, England, where EMI had been busily promoting the Saints as punk rockers, a label the band now says they did not embrace. Both Bailey and Bradshaw wore their hair long, and none of the Saints affected an English punk dress style.
The single “This Perfect Day” (Harvest 1977) is a merciless, minor key garage stomp that reached the UK Top 40 chart. Bailey spits out the lyrics with withering contempt over Kuepper’s B minor riff and Hay’s hammering beat. The success of “This Perfect Day” got the band on a July 1977 episode of Top of the Pops, the BBC showbiz program that used to obligate bands to lip-synch and mime their latest hit, which the Saints did with an air of perfect boredom. Bradshaw quit the band at the end of their 1977 tour of the UK. He first joined the Lurkers and then King, Captain Sensible’s short-lived band following the Damned’s first breakup.
The second album Eternally Yours (Harvest 1978) made use of a more diverse timbral palette than (I’m) Stranded, featuring horns, harmonica, acoustic and electric guitars, effects, organ and backup singers, as well as new bassist Alasdair “Algy” Ward. The Saints were experimenting with the studio—along with the great “Know Your Product,” the album includes a new version of “This Perfect Day,” played a whole step lower at a slower tempo, with the lead guitar riff buried in the mix. While the album gestures in the direction of classic R&B and 60s rock and away from punk style, it is no less forceful than the debut. Another excellent full-length album appeared later that same year: the inventively orchestrated and rhythmically diverse Prehistoric Sounds (Harvest 1978), which still sounds awfully musically sophisticated for the band that had just released the primal (I’m) Stranded the previous year.
Their deal with EMI was up, Bailey and Kuepper were not seeing eye to eye, and the Saints broke up at the end of 1978. Kuepper, who had written about half of the band’s songs and who still maintained “If I’m not in it, it’s not the Saints” in a September 2005 interview with The Age, returned to Australia and formed Laughing Clowns; Algy Ward joined the reuniting Damned. Over Kuepper’s objections, Bailey formed a new lineup of the Saints with guitarists Bruce “Cub” Callaway and Chris Barrington, bassist Janine Hall and returning drummer/multi-instrumentalist Ivor Hay. The back-to-basics Paralytic Tonight Dublin Tomorrow EP (New Rose 1980) was the new Saints’ first release. The Saints’ membership became very fluid after the original band split up, with Bailey the only constant. The Monkey Puzzle (New Rose 1980), recorded with new drummer Mark Birmingham, without Callaway, and with Hay on keyboards, pursues a melodic pop direction with chiming folk-rock guitar arpeggios and chord changes.
ain Shedden drums on Out in the Jungle (New Rose 1982), which features ex-Damned guitarist Brian James on several songs and continues in the direction of The Monkey Puzzle. A discographer’s nightmare, Out in the Jungle was released in Australia as Casablanca (Lost 1982), though the cover of the Australian LP gives the title as I thought this was love, but this ain’t Casablanca. Adding to the confusion, Bailey’s demos for the album were released—apparently without his consent—as a Chris Bailey solo album, also titled Casablanca (New Rose 1983).
Ed Kuepper disbanded the Laughing Clowns in 1984 to embark on his own solo career, and the Clowns’ drummer and saxophonist, Jeffrey Wegener and Louise Elliott, briefly joined the Saints. Bailey began recording and performing as a solo act in the mid-1980s, though he continued to use the Saints’ name on heavily produced pop albums that increasingly sounded like earnest singer-songwriter work and bore almost no resemblance to the original Saints, such as A Little Madness To Be Free (New Rose 1984) and All Fools Day (Polydor 1986), both of which featured Ivor Hay, and Prodigal Son (TVT 1988).
Ed Kuepper’s new band The Aints made their debut with the LP S.L.S.Q. Very Live! (Hot 1991), which captured a set of Saints classics performed in Sydney with Kuepper on guitar and vocals. The Aints released two albums of new originals the following year. Nothing issued from Bailey’s Saints over the first half of the 1990s other than the demos compilation Permanent Revolution (Mushroom 1991), though Bailey made several solo albums. Howling (Blue Rose 1996), the first new album from Bailey’s Saints in almost a decade, was promoted as a return to the original Saints’ brand of rock and roll. Since then, Bailey has continued to steer the ever-changing lineup of the Saints in the stripped-down rock direction on a series of tours and new albums.
ARIA, the Australian Recording Industry Association, inducted the Saints into its Hall of Fame on September 11, 2001, and Bailey, Kuepper and Hay reunited to perform at the ceremony with Archie Larizza on bass. The exhaustive box set All Times Through Paradise (EMI 2004) compiles all the original band’s extant recordings, supplementing the first three albums and early singles with previously unreleased outtakes and live tracks. The three founding Saints reunited once again, this time with Caspar Wijnberg on bass, for a set at Brisbane’s Pig City festival in 2007, and again with Larizza in 2009 for an Australian All Tomorrow’s Parties festival curated by Nick Cave. According to a January 2009 article about the most recent reunion in the Sydney Morning Herald, “Ivor Hay sells cardboard coffins and is the managing director of OnEarth, a company which promotes itself as ‘Australia's Only Alternative Funeral Casket Manufacturer.’”