An interview with Chris Bailey for Mess+Noise. Excerpt below.
Interview – Chris Bailey: ‘I Really Enjoy Being An Old Slut’
Ahead of a one-off performance in Sydney tonight, ANDREW MCMILLEN speaks to Chris Bailey about his multiple plans for 2011; his on-again, off-again relationship with Ed Kuepper; and what he learned from American singer Judy Collins.
When it comes to Chris Bailey, you’ve probably already heard it all before. If not, a potted history: Bailey is co-founder and vocalist of Brisbane-born punk rock act The Saints, who formed in 1974 and relocated to England in 1977 after signing a three-album contract with EMI and thumbing their noses at the limited opportunities for their music to be heard and supported here in Australia. They burned bright enough to release all three records within 18 months, before being dropped by their label after the jazz-influenced Prehistoric Sounds (1978) was a commercial flop. Despite three-quarters of the band departing soon after – including co-founders Ed Kuepper (guitar) and Ivor Hay (drums) – Bailey soldiered on with The Saints moniker, releasing an additional 10 albums, up to and including 2006’sImperious Delirium. (Kuepper, annoyed by Bailey’s ongoing usage of the name, formed The Aints and performed reworked versions of vintage Saints material.)
An accomplished solo singer-songwriter with seven full-length releases to his name, Bailey’s only ever really done music. Born in 1959 to Irish parents in Kenya, he was 17 when The Saints took off, and he’s yet to let age slow his artistic progress. If anything, he seems to grow hungrier with each passing year: as he reveals in our 20-minute phone conversation, he’s got three albums due for release within the next six months; each separate projects, with different musicians.
Though we’re speaking ostensibly because of a planned show tonight (February 11) at Trackdown Studios in Sydney, it seems foolish to overlook the series of residencies that Bailey undertook with his right-hand axeman, Kuepper, throughout May last year – during which much was made of the tension, both real and perceived, between the two feted musicians – as well as the last occasion that The Saints (proper) played in their hometown of Brisbane, as part of the 2009 All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. Bailey – now based overseas – is a lively conversationalist. During our interview, I get the impression that there’s little difference between his playfully pompous stage manner, and the man himself.
To begin, let’s talk about the upcoming show. How did you come up with the idea to re-imagine some of your well-known songs?
In January, I actually came out [to Australia] to do some dates with [American singer] Judy Collins, and while a lot of people thought that was very odd, I really like Judy. I think she is in fact what the Americans call the “real deal”, and the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in very close company, I just couldn’t resist because I have bucketloads of respect for the woman. I’ve got to tell you; it was the best couple of weeks of my recent life. It was really quite stunning. We were doing club shows and the occasional theatre, and in either environment, in a club show she was a 17-year old girl in New York in 1964. And then when we were doing theatres, she was this incredible show diva. When a performer knows how to take control of a room, it’s actually stunning. It was the best couple of weeks.
So ostensibly, that’s the thing that got me out there. The gig that’s coming up on Friday week is, for many years, I’ve been part of what we call the “Trackdown family”. We started off in very humble origins, and they’ve gone off to become a pretty major player in lots of areas. For the past couple of years [managing director] Geoff and I have been talking about going back and doing something rootsy. Even though I’ve just finished an album in France, and I’m not planning another Saints album until later in the year, I thought it would be just a really good opportunity to come back to this particular studio, which I love. I’m actually in here with an engineer at the moment, and we’re building up an album. That’s then linked to the fact that Geoff was going to do a little showcase for his new label, the Highway 125, which of course I shall play a part of, and he thought that it would be good if I put together a combo and re-imagined a couple from my catalogue. In fact, I’m just going to put together an eclectic little bunch of musos, all acoustic, and we’re just going to bang out some songs.
The press release says you’re planning a “surprise line-up”. What can you reveal about who’s playing?
[Puts on German accent] “It will be people. People, not machine. Man defeats machine.” Okay, I don’t usually write press releases, obviously. I mean, it’s not a rock band … In fact I’m going to be using a piano, lots of cellos; probably a banjo, because I quite like that instrument at the moment. Geoffrey just gave me carte blanche because they’re a scoring stage, so we have all these musicians on tap. I can indulge myself. Which is what I fully intend to do.