The Saints' status as one of Australia's greatest and most culturally and musically important bands of all time is without question these days. Ignored or worse by mainstream music circles when they first came out of Brisbane in 1976, they were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2001 and have been internationally recognised as one of the most significant bands of the punk era for decades.
But the Saints' story is a problematic one beyond their initial impact and the enduring power of the three albums they recorded when both Chris Bailey and Ed Kuepper were in the band. Bailey's unannounced departure in late 1978 before the recording of the third album Prehistoric Sounds, followed by the band's dissolution following the album's release, is where some would like the story to end. But it didn't. Rightly or wrongly, Bailey decided to keep the band's name, after he and Kuepper eventually decided to call it quits. Kuepper came back to Australia and justly found acclaim with the Laughing Clowns, and then as a solo artist. Bailey more or less stayed in Europe and took the Saints' name for himself and an ever-changing cast of backing musicians, before coming back to Australia and finding mid-80s chart success with the likes of "Ghost Ships" and "Just Like Fire Would".
Bailey's decision to keep the name was of course not received happily in the Kuepper camp. There was a Bailey backlash, which softened as the singer continued to make great music over the next decade or so. People were happy for his success. However, as the ongoing Bailey-led band's profile began to wane in the late 80s, so the original band's status – which had never diminished - began to grow. Critical reappraisal internationally kept pushing the Saints higher up the list of punk's most significant pioneers. Then Ed Kuepper, on his way to achieving stunning solo success for himself, reclaimed the name with a nudge and wink when he formed a band called The Aints, initially to play the old band's material in the early 90s. The Aints played to an audience that knew the story, but before long, a new generation started getting into the whole 70s punk thing. By the turn of the century, the 70s incarnation of the band was seen by many as the only authentic one. By 2016, which was the last time Bailey's Saints played on Australian soil, a new generation of Saints fans, unaware that Bailey had kept the band going over the years, was outraged to think that the group could exist without Kuepper's involvement.
That was their loss; those Melbourne shows in 2016, featuring You Am I's Davey Lane and long-time Saint Iain Shedden on drums, just a year before his passing, were phenomenal. The kids did have a point though. The Saints they knew and loved was a Bailey and a Kuepper thing both. Time, and the ascension of the original Saints as Australian punk icons, has come to bite Bailey on the arse. Whatever leverage Bailey had gained in the first place by using the old band's name is long used up. Worse, the fine music Bailey has made under the Saints' name after the split with Kuepper is ignored by the many who see Bailey's use of the name as illegitimate.
And some – most - of that music is very fine indeed. The very first post-Kuepper Saints release is a classic, and much loved upon release. Even Ed's supporters had to acknowledge it. Paralytic Tonight, Dublin Tomorrow was its name, and it was a humble 7" EP, released by Bailey himself on his Lost Records imprint, 40 years ago this month. (Unbeknownst to most local fans, Europeans got Paralytic in a 12" format, with an extra song.) Although "On the Waterfront" was probably the weakest track on the record, its inclusion was telling. A horn-blowing rocker, it had initially been proposed as the B-side of a post-Prehistoric Sounds final single by the original band. The mooted A-side was Ed's "Laughing Clowns", a song that would eventually be recorded by the horn-blowing band of that name (and released on their self-titled mini-album just a couple of months after Bailey released Paralytic). While both songs continued the brass usage that had famously begun on the Saints' second album Eternally Yours, they were clearly taking it in different directions; Kuepper's song towards jazz and something freer, Bailey's song towards his Rhythm'n'Blues roots.
Recorded in London on an 8-track portastudio, Paralytic Tonight, Dublin Tomorrow was gloriously raw. It found Bailey back exploring the sort of mid-60s rock that had influenced the Saints early on with a line-up that still included Ivor Hay on drums, along with Janine Hall (who has been a member of Rowland S Howard's early band The Young Charlatans) on bass, and Cub Calloway and the enigmatically named Barrington on guitars. "On The Waterfront" was the only track to feature brass, although "Miss Wonderful", the extra track on the French edition, did have the same kind of raw soul sensibility. (Australian fans got to hear "Miss Wonderful' in re-recorded form on the subsequent album The Monkey Puzzle, released in January 1981.) The other three songs were hauntingly melodic, and stunning. "Simple Love", "Call It Mine" and "Don't Send Me roses" (all of which were also rerecorded subsequently) combined traditional songwriting and playing in a manner which, while ignoring all the post-punk tenants being explored by other old punks like John Lydon, Howard Devoto and Saints-disciples the newly-named Birthday Party, was compelling and fresh. The cheap recording gave the whole thing a down and out sort of feel that was echoed in the EP's title. It came on sort of like the Flamin' Groovies with one foot in the gutter, and it fit perfectly in a Sydney scene instructed in classic 60s style rock by the Saints' old nemesis Radio Birdman; a scene that would soon give us Sunnyboys, the Hoodoo Gurus and Died Pretty. In hindsight it can perhaps be seen as a starting point for a different sort of post-punk ideal; a return to classicism that would soon by espoused by artists ranging from the Pogues and the Waterboys to R.E.M, and the Replacements.
Bailey certainly benefited at the time from using the Saints' name, but it was Paralytic Tonight, Dublin Tomorrow that not only kept a significant number of old fans but started opening up a new audience. The shock of the new – which audiences had felt upon first hearing the Saints in 1976, and which Ed Kuepper's Laughing Clowns were dealing out as Bailey's new Saints were rapidly building an audience in the pubs – was not something the Saints had to contend with in 1980. Bailey's classic songwriting would soon find favour with the vast audience that loved the likes of Cold Chisel, Mental as Anything, Richard Clapton, The Sports and Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons, as well as another up and comer who was only a year or so behind Bailey on the path, Paul Kelly. Kelly, who would later perform a fine live cover of "In The Mirror" from the brilliant Saints' double A-side that followed Paralytic, remembered the EP and this era of the Saints fondly to readers of The Australian in 1998: "I played it over and over again in a flat on Punt Road. This was their great middle period."
While it would set Chris Bailey on the road for significant mainstream success in the 80s – which in turn led to Bruce Springsteen recording one of his songs a few years back - the perfectly formed little record that is Paralytic Tonight, Dublin Tomorrow has been largely reduced to not much more than a footnote in Saints/Chris Bailey history. But those who heard it at the time will remember its impact in the way that Paul Kelly does. If you weren't fortunate enough to have enjoyed it then – or if you are someone who has chosen to not listen to the post-Ed Kuepper Saints – do yourself a favour and track down a copy now. Sadly only one track, “Simple Love”, from it is currently on YouTube, so here's that, as well as the song that Paul Kelly & The Coloured Girls used to do live, "In The Mirror".
In The Mirror