Thursday, June 13, 2024

Australian punk rock pioneers the Saints announce national tour

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The Saints – the Brisbane band who jump-started the punk movement in Australia with their hot-wired debut single (I’m) Stranded – have announced a national tour in November with a new five-piece lineup, more than 50 years after their rough beginnings.

Joining founding guitarist Ed Kuepper and drummer Ivor Hay will be singer Mark Arm, from the Seattle band Mudhoney. Arm replaces the original singer and primary lyricist, Chris Bailey, who died in April 2022.

Behind them will be the former Sunnyboys bass player Peter Oxley, a mainstay of one of Kuepper’s many touring bands the Aints!; and Mick Harvey, the solo artist and former multi-instrumentalist with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, will play additional guitar.

Kuepper and Bailey had a tumultuous personal relationship after the band splintered after the recording of their third album, Prehistoric Sounds, in 1978. Bailey carried on under the Saints’ name until his death, using a rotating cast of musicians.

But the pair were working together relatively amicably on a long-promised reissue of the Saints’ 1977 classic debut album, also titled (I’m) Stranded, before Bailey’s death. The reissue is part of a box set compiling early recorded and live work.

Kuepper said he experienced a “complicated array of emotions” after Bailey’s death. “I felt a sadness. It was not totally unexpected, and I remember saying to Jude [Kuepper’s wife] that he seemed very philosophical, and was not being a major pain in the arse on every issue.

“That was unusual, for us. I can’t remember if I said it, but I wondered if he was well or not. I guess during the work that went into putting this box set together, I only focused on the positive times, the good times.”

The Saints were first formed in the working-class outer Brisbane suburb of Oxley in 1973, three years before punk took off in England. The entirely self-funded single (I’m) Stranded was released in mid-1976, a few months before UK band the Damned debuted with New Rose.

The Saints quickly relocated to England, where (I’m) Stranded had made an impact. Another single, This Perfect Day, resulted in an appearance on Top of the Pops, before their label, EMI – who Kuepper alleges signed them to regain credibility after sacking the Sex Pistols – lost interest.

The original trio of Bailey, Kuepper and Hay have reunited only twice as the Saints since 1978: a one-off Brisbane show in 2007, followed by a national tour in early 2009 for the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, during which the old tensions resurfaced.

Neither Kym Bradshaw, who played bass on (I’m) Stranded, nor Alasdair “Algy” Ward, who replaced him on the band’s next two albums, performed at those reunions. Ward died in May 2023.

Arm said he was “stunned, and shocked, and stoked, all at the same time” to be called upon to replace Bailey. “It’s daunting,” he said. “I’m just hoping I can do it in a way that honours and respects Chris, and the whole band.”

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Arm said his first exposure to the Saints came via their second album, Eternally Yours. “I was so into hardcore that I probably put it on and went, ‘HORNS?’”, he said, referring to the use of brass on the single Know Your Product – a radical move for a punk band at the time.

“It’s a fucking amazing record … and Stranded, too, but that’s more full-on, straight-ahead record. I guess it’s punk rock, just because of the time, but it’s their own thing, because they kind of came up with it, right? It wasn’t like they were following some sort of trend.”

Arm said he had only exchanged emails with Kuepper so far. “He’s tried to put me at ease,” he said. However, this is not the first time Arm has filled the shoes of another singer: 20 years ago, he joined the then-surviving members of the MC5, replacing the late Rob Tyner.

While Kuepper might have tried to soothe Arm’s nerves privately, he is less given to public praise than the Mudhoney frontman, who has long been vocal in his admiration for Australian punk bands, particularly the Scientists, feedtime and the Cosmic Psychos.

Kuepper, for his part, seemed rather less taken with Mudhoney. “I really like his voice, more than the music,” Kuepper said, chuckling. “I don’t like much of anything, you know that!”

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