The Saints

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The Saints were among Australia’s most important rock bands, and the first group from the Antipodes to make a splash on the international punk rock scene. Their independently produced 1976 debut single, “(I’m) Stranded,” was a blazing slice of stripped-to-the-frame rock & roll that became a sensation in Australia and the U.K., and 1977′s “This Perfect Day” was a near-perfect encapsulation of the first era of punk with its blazing speed and Chris Bailey’s defiant proclamation of “Don’t need no one to tell me what I don’t already know.” While punk gave the Saints their identity and their first audience, the band refused to be hemmed in by the boundaries of punk as genre, and by the time they issued their second album, 1978′s Eternally Yours, they began adding horns and keyboards to their arrangements. Over the course of four decades, the Saints would make music informed by vintage R&B (1978′s Prehistoric Sounds), jangle pop (1981′s The Monkey Puzzle), moody acoustic sounds (1984′s A Little Madness To Be Free), smart radio-friendly pop (1987′s All Fools Day, which featured the international hit “Just Like Fire Would”), and raucous blues rock (2002′s Spit the Blues Out), while a 2014 concept album was issued in two separate versions — one with lush arrangements based in acoustic instruments (King of the Sun) and another with the same songs played by an electric rock band (King of the Midnight Sun). The one constant through the Saints’ career was Chris Bailey, whose strong, emphatic vocals and street-smart, emotionally expressive songwriting provided the link that tied together the group’s many different moods.
Chris Bailey was born in Nanyuki, Kenya, on November 29, 1956. His parents were originally from Ireland, and they soon returned to Belfast, where they lived for several years before the family relocated to Brisbane, Australia, when Chris was just seven years old. While attending Corinda State High School, Bailey met fellow student Ed Kuepper, who played guitar and shared his rebellious nature and passion for tough, energetic music. Kuepper wanted to form a band and needed a good frontman to sing lead. He thought Bailey was the right man for the job, and with another Corinda student, Ivor Hay, on keyboards, they became Kid Galahad and the Eternals in 1973. By 1974, they adopted the more concise name the Saints, playing pop and rock covers with uncommon speed and intensity.
By 1975, Hay had moved to drums, Kym Bradshaw had signed on to play bass, and the Saints had booked time at a local studio, recording two original tunes, “(I’m) Stranded” and “No Time.” When no label was interested in signing the band, they formed their own imprint, Fatal Records, and pressed the tunes as a single in 1976. (The group had already adopted the D.I.Y. philosophy, creating their own venue to play shows when their attack was too much for most Brisbane pubs.) The single earned rave reviews in the British and Australian rock press, and the U.K. R&B label Power Exchange Records picked it up for English release. The Power Exchange edition made enough noise that EMI signed the Saints, reissuing the single and delivering a full-length album, also called (I'm) Stranded, in February 1977. Sire, the American label that had introduced the Ramones, the Dead Boys, and Talking Heads to the world, picked it up for the United States, and soon the Saints were the talk of the burgeoning punk community on three continents.
The Saints relocated to London, and May 1978 saw the release of their second LP, Eternally Yours, which surprised punk formalists as they slowed down the tempos on a few cuts, criticized conformity in the new underground, and added a horn section and keyboards on several cuts. By this time, Kym Bradshaw had left the band, and Alasdair "Algy" Ward replaced him on the bass. A third album, Prehistoric Sounds, would appear before 1978 was out; it was a severe commercial disappointment in Australia and the U.K., and wasn’t released in North America. Bailey and Kuepper were at odds over the group’s creative direction, with the former wanting to move toward more pop-oriented material as the latter was eager to try a more experimental approach. Kuepper and Ward both quit the Saints, and the 1980 live EP Paralytic Tonight, Dublin Tomorrow was the first salvo from a new lineup of the group. (Kuepper went on to a productive solo career and revisited the sound of the early Saints in his group the Aints.)
Ivor Hay had moved from drums back to keyboards for the sessions that produced 1981′s The Monkey Puzzle, and with 1982′s Out of the Jungle (aka I Thought I Was in Love But This Ain't Casablanca), Bailey was the only original member of the Saints still standing. From this point on, the Saints were entirely Bailey’s vehicle, and beginning in 1983, he divided his time between his work with the band and a solo career, releasing the album Casablanca (which originally was only issued in France) as Chris Bailey. 1984′s What We Did on Our Holidays was a lo-fi solo set dominated by covers of some of Bailey’s favorite tunes, while a Saints album, the contemplative A Little Madness to be Free, was issued the same year. 1986′s Saints LP All Fools Day was produced by Hugh Jones, who added a bit of polish to a set of first-rate pop melodies from Bailey. It was a critical and commercial success, and it was the first Saints release since Eternally Yours to merit an American release, where MTV play for the single “Just Like Fire Would” made it a minor hit.
Bailey followed the breakthrough of All Fools Day with another slickly produced effort, 1988′s Prodigal Son, though it proved to be the last album of new Saints material for eight years. (An unreleased recording of a Saints gig from 1974, The Most Primitive Band in the World, finally emerged in 1995.) Bailey traveled to Memphis to record his 1990 solo effort Demons, and Savage Entertainment, which saw him dipping his toes into folk-rock, followed in 1992. After moving to Sweden, Bailey issued another solo folk-leaning effort, 1994′s 54 Days at Sea, but he put his solo career on hold to put together a new edition of the Saints, returning to action with 1997′s Howling. By this time, Bailey had made his home in the Netherlands, and except for a 2011 collaboration with French musician H-Burns, Stranger, he would release his music under the name the Saints from this point on.
1998′s Everybody Knows the Monkey and 2002′s Spit the Blues Out were tough, scrappy efforts full of Bailey’s brand of rock & roll, and 2005′s Nothing Is Straight in My House featured Marty Wilson-Piper of the Church on lead guitar. Wilson-Piper was out by the time 2006′s Imperious Delirium was recorded, with Bailey taking on lead guitar as well as vocals. 2012′s King of the Sun was a concept album, following the adventures of a soldier in the Hundred Years’ War trying to make his way home. The arrangements were dominated by acoustic guitars, keyboards, and string and horn arrangements on some tracks, but in 2014 it was reissued in tandem with an alternate version, King of the Midnight Sun, that featured the same songs played by a four-piece electric rock band. Bruce Springsteen also tipped his hat to Bailey that year with a cover of “Just Like Fire Would” on his album High Hopes.
In 2021, Bailey contributed vocals to a cover of “(I’m) Stranded” by German funny punks Die Toten Hosen that appeared on the album Learning English, Lesson 1: The Learner's Workbook – Grammar and Drill. It proved to be one of the last recordings Bailey would release in his lifetime, as he died on April 9, 2022, in Haarlem, the Netherlands, at the age of 65. In a blog post that appeared shortly after Bailey’s death, Nick Cave wrote, “In my opinion, the Saints were Australia’s greatest band, and that Chris Bailey was my favourite singer.” ~ Mark Deming