SAINTS AND SINNERS
THE SAINTS, are of course, one of the greatest bands in the history of punk. Late last year the original line up reformed in Australia, but meanwhile singer Chris Bailey is happily living in Amsterdam and touring with the new Saints line up. He released the last Saints album Imperious Delirium on Cadiz in 2006. Hugh Gulland got ‘stranded’ with the man!
"We must have been like hillbillies," recounts Saints frontman Chris Bailey of the Oz-rock legends’ first encounter with a record label "We didn’t even know what a record company was!"
Oblivious to the outside punk scene, these four teenage malcontents in the backwater of mid-70s Brisbane channelled their urban ennui into a ferocious set of amped-up R&B. Punk in all but name, the Saints had the sneer and the songs to match, although their refusal to conform to the scene ensured it would be some years before the rest of the world would catch up with them.
Chris Bailey remains an uncompromising artist to this day. Speaking from his current base in Amsterdam, he outlines the Saints’ transition from Brisbane no-marks to major players on the punk rock stage.
"When we were young, there was a record shop in town, that had lots of American blues music and rock ‘n’ roll stuff, and we were exposed to a lot of music that wasn’t mainstream. Because Oz music in the seventies was pretty fucking dull! And there was no music scene to speak of, so we grew up in some kind of Oz isolation. And lots of people say, ‘punk rock’ and all that, but we had no clue! No idea! We discovered blues music pretty early on, and R&B – that kind of merged into what we were writing, we’d kind of edit things down and learn as we went, but the whole ethos of the band was very much R&B, which I think is maybe a little bit different to what actually became punky rock, which was kind of a fashion statement for them, and music second, and for us the other way around."
Having established a local fanbase, The Saints came to EMI’s attention through pressing up their own single. Was there any precedent for a band doing that?
"I don’t know if it was a notion in rock ‘n’ roll, maybe in the fifties… I think it was probably – and this is a great thing – naivety. We didn’t know what we were doing, so we did the right thing purely accidentally. The only reason EMI picked us up, that coincidence, 1976 was happening in London, and a couple of reviewers gave us really over-the-top reviews! UK rags were hammering the single and then someone in Manchester Square said to someone in EMI Sydney ‘Get these boys!’ and they sent a couple of very shiny guys and they took us into the studio and bought us drinks, and it’s not quite the Beverley Hillbillies, but it was close!"
The resultant album, ‘I’m Stranded’, was a storming tour-de-force; overlooked by many at the time, ‘Stranded’ has since become widely recognised as one of punk rock’s landmarks. Bailey regards the long delay in public recognition with detached amusement. "We went into the Hall of Fame a couple of years ago in Oz, and Ivor, the drummer from the old days, made a brilliant speech, along the lines of ‘Look, it’s really nice you’re all hanging around giving us these presents; but, perhaps if some of you had’ve been here 25 years ago, it might have all been different!’ Which is very cheeky, but to the point!"
Essential listening: I’m Stranded LP (EMI). Also highly recommended is the recent Saints box set, All Times Through Paradise, also through EMI.