THE SAINTS LIVE 2007 - The Saints (Fatal Records)
Take no notice of the lukewarm reviews of their Third Coming for ATP and Don't Look Back. What was (at the time) a one-off reformation for the 2007 "Pig City" festival in Brisbane was a worthy occasion and this limited edition (1800 copies) CD a righteous documentation.
There are a dozen songs and it's close to a perfect choice set list to showcase the original band's first life. Supplemented by a first-class brass section, principal members Chris Bailey, Ed Kuepper and Ivor Hay are joined by European guest player Casper Wijnberger (from bailey's backing band.) They gel nicely for the limited rehearsals time allowed them. The Saints don't stray far from the songs' origins while giving a few arrangements the odd tweak.
The results are fresh and, at times, very exciting. "Swing For the Crime" does just that with the brass punching through with vigour. Kuepper's guitar takes a couple of songs to become established in the mix but once it's there it stays put. Bailey keeps the vocal histrionics within limits (the odd James Brown holler and an odd blues improv notwithstanding) and Hay's drumming is on the money.
"Chameleon" and "A Minor Aversion" were greeted with surprise on subsequent shows but make perfect sense in this set. "The Prisoner" actually grew legs in its closing section at later reunion airings but this version is in fine fettle. If "(I'm) Stranded" suffers through over-familiarity it can still hold its head high. "Messing With The Kid" sounds a bit over-dressed but "Nights in Venice" powers like a Mack truck.
Oddly (because he's not known as a studio guy) Ivor Hay oversaw post-production, which I'm guessing was a concession to intra-band politics, Bailey and Kuepper probably not trusting the other to do the job.
A genuinely exciting artefact of a reunion that even vaguely educated guesses would suggest won't happen again. - The Barman
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THE GREATEST COWBOY MOVIE NEVER MADE - The Saints (Cadiz Recording Company)
With one box set out chronicling the first three albums, this documentation of the post-"Prehistoric Sounds" adventures was inevitable. While diehards will regard the line-up underpinned by the Bailey-Kuepper axis as the only one truly worthy of carrying the Saints moniker (and Chris Bailey's reluctance seems to be the obstacle to a reunion), that opinion and four bucks will get you a cup of coffee in a Balmain soy latte dive. Despite the defensive aside in the liners that London-based Bailey was given the rights by an Australia-bound Ed Kuepper after their band bit the dust, these days it doesn't really matter. What counts is that while guilty of some live atrocities, Bailey's also led many meritorious line-ups using the ubiquitous Saints brand name.
In fact Bailey and his bands have been tremendously influential in their home country, although that impact seems to have slipped over the years as his Australian tours have become more sporadic. I passed on the last visit (2005-06) because I heard Bailey had replaced an unavailable Marty Wilson-Piper's lead guitar talents with his own, but can recall the days when he was a live staple on a crowded local scene.
You can make a solid case that the three albums that this box set chronicles had a bigger impact in Australia in the 1980s than the final two ("Eternally Yours" and "Prehistoric Sounds") LPs by the UK-based line-up. While Ed Kuepper might have been the driving force in taking his bandmates down the jazz-derived, horn section path (and pushed his music into hitherto unimagined places with the Laughing Clowns), it was the Bailey-led band that jumped feet first into the commercial end of the burgeoning Oz rock pub circuit and convinced legions of punters that brass augmentation was OK. The Laughing Clowns were a well-kept secret and too confrontational for most; Bailey's Saints were accessible rock and roll with a drunken Irish bard up front.
Companion pieces of sorts even though they were recorded half a world away form each other, the "Paralytic Tonight Dublin Tomorrow" EP and "The Monkey Puzzle" album might still be Bailey's finest post-Kuepper moments, showing his song-writing standing on its own feet. They're even better efforts when you consider the times and circumstances...
It was sink or swim for expats in England with few Aussie bands making a financial fist of it in London in the early '80s. Bailey rallied, assembling a solid band and writing tunes with directness and emotional depth and largely displacing the sarcastic social commentary of his "punk" days.
Both EP and LP make up disc one and they sound fantastic. "Simple Love" is one of the best things Bailey wrote, a bona fide classic tune with killer hook and a swaggering dynamic. You get it twice on this disc (in EP and album form), along with other gems like the Byrdsian "Always Always", "Don't Send Me Roses" and "Let's Pretend".
I never rated the album that followed, "Casablanca", all that highly. It's here in its European form (where it was known as "Out In The Jungle") and listening with a fresh ear shows it's aged well. Here's the album where the brass and horns came to the fore (the irony of Kuepper's own choice of arranger, Roger Cawkwell, being recruited by Bailey probably wasn't lost on some.) "Follow The Leader" has always been a stand-out, but the title track, "Senile Dementia" and "Rescue" have all grown in my humble estimation.
Of the bonus tracks on this disc, "Simple Love" and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" are redundant takes, sounding almost identical to those on "The Monkey Puzzle". The demo/outtake of "Don't Send Me Roses", with its alternate vocal and underlying keyboard touches is very cool. Great cover of "Gypsy Woman" too which may have been on a Raven bits-and-pieces LP. I'll track down my vinyl copy and get back to you one day.
Disc three's "A Little Madness To Be Free" is where the commercial rubber hit the Australian road and by any measure it's a stylistic revelation, even 20-something years later. Tony Cohen's production was razor sharp but it was the expansive arrangements that won many new followers (or bemused old fans.) Variety was a by-word and the mix of Celtic rock ("Photograph"), vaudeville jazz ("Only Time") and Calypso pop ("Imagination") took this version of the Saints about as far away from "Stranded" as it was possible to be. "Ghost Ships" also gave Bailey his first genuine mainstream hit. Having grown up with/into the original, the European tracking is hard to come to terms with, and it remains to be seen how often this one gets played.
The final disc is a live show from Sylvania Hotel in 1981. It's an old stamping ground and I might have been there on the night, I'm not sure. (I'm betting that if this tape didn't exist, Chris Bailey wouldn't recall if he was there either.) Fittingly called "A Gallon Of Rum Is A Harsh Mistress The Morning After", it's an alcohol-sodden gem. The band of Cab Calloway, Barrington (guitars), Ivor Hay (drums) and Janine Hall (bass) is in loose but lively form. Bailey sounds as full as a fat lady's boot and his between song patter is hysterically entertaining.
There's even a birthday call for Judy Dransfield of Blakehurst (that's Mrs Ed Kuepper to me and you, suggesting her future husband may also have been a face in the crowd.) No "Stranded" in the set list but "Messin' With the Kid", "Know Your Product", "This Perfect Day" and "No Time" are noteworthy inclusions.
Don't know if I'll be as keen on the next box in this series. I do know the aim of every record company is to make me and you buy everything in every format three times over, but I didn't mind outlaying my hard-earned for this. - The Barman
ALL TIMES THROUGH PARADISE – The Saints (EMI)
This one’s been out for a while but a review got caught in the, ahem, pipeline because our box set went south during a particularly frenzied clean-up of the Bar. Suffice to say that if you buy one of these flat digipaks, don’t store it on a shelf next to a packet of firelighters. The resemblance is remarkable.
The Saints and Radio Birdman have long been regarded as the heavyweight contenders for the title of Australia’s Leading Punk Band (however much either of them shrugged off that 'P'word). There was a famous moment at the April 5, 1977 Paddington Town Hall concert when they shared a bill in which Saints singer Chris Bailey pointedly thanked “the local chapter of the Hitler Youth” for the hall decorations, of course referring to the Birdman flag.
It was a public expression of relations between the two bands that never really got out of first gear. Coming as it did at the height of (false) accusations that the Radios were reincarnations of the Third Reich’s finest - on the absurdly flimsy basis that they played aggressive music and dressed to, uh, kill - it was enough to provoke rumours of open warfare between the bands. If you were a follower, you either sided with the Saints or goose-stepped to the beat of Birdman, no ifs or buts.
Of course, as far as the bands were concerned the so-called feud was a one-minute wonder. Ed Kuepper was recently spotted at a recent Radio Birdman Brisbane gig well past most old folks’ bedtime. Deniz Tek is an unabashed admirer of his solo works. Rob Younger’s ‘60s Brit party band, Nanker Phelge, even supported the bailey-led Saints in Sydney a few years ago. So knock it off, you over-zealous fans – you don’t have to take sides.
After saying that I have to add that I’m an avowed Birdman freak – but not so much that I can’t enjoy what the Saints had to offer. Birdman had more of a sense of mystery and intrigue, and moved into darker and musically adventurous turf. The first Saints album was a runaway truck that, with the fullness of time, obviously owed its existence to a whole crop of R & B and ‘60s garage forefathers. The follow-ups brought in folk and jazz influences, as well as developing the R & B thread. It was a diverse set of sounds. And you’re never going to hear it better than on this four-disc set.
Some have criticised the Raven Records “Wild About You” double-CD of a few years back that compiled the first three Saints albums – not the least of them Ed Kuepper, who had no input. To be honest, I didn’t think it sounded that bad. But this set is something else. Ed sat in with “master masterer” Don Bartley and helped twiddle the knobs. The bottom end is crystal clear and the guitars have so much presence, that at times you feel you’re in the control booth with your feet up on the desk and a can in hand (a position that even the tone deaf can replicate in the safety of their own homes). The tracks on “(I’m) Stranded” don’t so much leap out of the speakers as barge through the front door with baseball bats and conduct a full-scale home invasion.
Each of the three Saints albums is represented on a disc of its own. (I’m not buying into the argument here of whether subsequent bands deserved to carry the title). “(I’m) Stranded” is bundled with the “1-2-3-4” EP, while “Eternally Yours” gathers mono demos(the so-called International Robots sessions) that are interesting but not essential. The single version of “This Perfect Day” and “Looking for the Sun” (an outtake) are extras. “Prehistoric Sounds” appends the four songs, originally issued on a live video, from Paddo Town Hall (and “Nights in Venice” still shreds).
There’s a fourth disc culled from a 1977 show at London’s Hope and Anchor that’s sonically superior, if less intense. It bears a good listen if only to hear the band in the live context with no agenda other than blasting away on a Tuesday night. The dissatisfaction with the posturing of a fashion-obsessed London punk scene that saw the Saints fall apart hadn’t yet set in.
The packaging is classy; the liner notes are detailed and reference a handful of street press articles form the time of the band making an impact in Australia prior to answering the clarion call of the UK.
This is a box set that almost defies critical analysis (analysis being something that doesn’t sit well with rock and roll anyway). If you’re a fan of the Saints, it’s indispensable, just on the strength of the live album. If you’re less besotted, it’s probably something you also need. Just like the best of the Australian scene circa 1976-78, it still holds up remarkably well.
- The Barman
SPIT THE BLUES OUT - The Saints (Raven Records)
It should come as no surprise that this record is released by Raven Records. They've been constant supporters of the Saints, more particularly Chris Bailey (the "Saints" link on their site takes you to a predominately Chris Bailey web site), for about as long as they've been in business, culminating in that magnificent "Wild About You/Complete Studio Recordings 1976-1978" double CD.
This however is really another Bailey solo album, with a completely different gaggle of backing musicians (different not only from the original, classic line up, but also different from the line up which toured here earlier this year to promote this same album) wrapping themselves in the Saints' mantle, solely for marketing reasons one suspects. Not content just to continue plundering the Saints' legacy, Bailey's now robbing the graves of dead blues singers, like Howlin' Wolf and Elmore James, as well. Blues by the Saints? What's next, Metallica's disco album?
Having got that off my chest, it's hard to maintain resentment against Bailey for any length of time. Even at his most annoyingly arrogant, he remains mindful of the paradox of attempting work as an artist inside an industry that is driven entirely by commercial considerations. For example, almost everyone listed in the credits for this album is an "executive" in charge of something or other, with principle musicians Michael Bayliss and Peter Wilkinson (bass and drums respectively) listed as "executives in charge of inflating the bar tab".
The album opens with "A Gentleman Came Walking", a Bailey original that sounds like a lost outtake from Muddy Waters' "Fathers And Sons", the Chess album which resurrected his musical standing after the sadly, badly misjudged "Electric Mud" by teaming him up with commercially acceptable white boys of the calibre of Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield and Donald "Duck" Dunn, helping him to reach a younger, white, rock'n'roll oriented audience without sacrificing any of his blues integrity.
Chris Bailey is no Muddy Waters, nor (as he proves on the next track) is he a Chester Burnett (Howlin' Wolf) either, but surprisingly he is a much better blues singer than I would have expected (but of course I've already flopped all my prejudices out onto the table in plain view).
"Waiting for God (Oh!)" eschews the blues and is a more "traditional" Bailey song, as are most of the Bailey originals on this album from here on. The difference is that "Waiting for God (Oh!)" easily ranks with the best/most commercial of Bailey's solo work (e.g. "Simple Love", "Big Hits On The Underground", "Just Like Fire Would", <insert name of your own favourite song here>). It's a deceptively simple tune over which Bailey lays typically cynical lyrics exploring a couple of his favourite topics: alcohol and religion, with a knowing nod in the direction of prostitution (and the church as whorehouse) for good measure.
An exception to the twin strands of Baileyesque originals and blues covers is "You Got a Tale Babe", an early rock'n'roll shouter that is nevertheless a Bailey original too, but sounds like Bailey trying to channel both Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis at the same time. Unfortunately he comes up a little short on both the barely controlled sexual fury of the former and the gospel fire of the later. The Beatles' cover of Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" remains for me the prime exemplar for all white sons of the British empire considering a cover or pastiche of "roots" American rock'n'roll.
This album was originally released by New Rose, but for its Australian reissue Raven have added five extra songs recorded live at the New Rose 20th birthday show in Paris on the 21st of November 2000. Starting with a restrained and slightly distant "Good Friday" (written in collaboration with Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano for the "Howling" album, but then you already knew that) and ending up with the title track of that same album, there are live versions of two of the preceding studio tracks ("I Want to be With You Tonight" and "Who's Been Talking") and a version of "Ghost Ships" (from the "A Little Madness To Be Free" album, but then you probably knew that too).
Unfortunately only by the time they get to the end of the fifth song does it sound like they're just starting to hit their stride, but since presumably more than just these five songs were taped, perhaps there's an album of the complete show to come out eventually? - John McPharlin
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