The three albums released by Brisbane band The Saints between 1977 and 1978 are among the most influential to ever come out of Australia, and now there is a fourth – in a manner of speaking.
Ed Kuepper formed The Saints in 1973 with Oxley State High School friends Chris Bailey and Ivor Hay, and introduced the world to punk in September 1976 with (I’m) Stranded. That blast of disaffected youth, which the UK’s Sounds magazine called “the single of this and every week”, beat the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The UK into the shops by two months.
New recordings, old material
Kuepper has just recorded a bunch of songs he wrote for The Saints in their heyday, but which had not made it to the studio by 1979, when the band’s original line-up fell apart amid artistic differences and record company indifference.
Not that you would think the resulting album, Church Of the Simultaneous Existence, was from 2018.
“When I started seriously looking at my stack of old unrecorded stuff, around the time of the 40th anniversary [of first album (I’m) Stranded] , it occurred to me I had a hypothetical fourth Saints album in there,” Kuepper told AFR Weekend from his home in Brisbane.
“Instead of tailoring them to fit with what I do solo, I thought it might be nice to record the songs the way The Saints might have originally played them.”
So Kuepper assembled The Aints!, featuring Sunnyboys bassist Peter Oxley, Celibate Rifles drummer Paul Larsen Loughhead, jazz pianist Alister Spence, trumpeter Eamon Dilworth and himself on buzz-saw guitar, and road-tested the “new old” material during a Saints tribute tour in 2017.
The audience response was good enough for the band to enter Sydney’s Electric Avenue Studios, and set the dial for 1976.
Recapturing ’70s sound
“We did it all analogue, all live to tape. You forget it’s a lot slower, having to rewind and everything,” Kuepper says.
“We mixed it using these monitor speakers called Auratones, which are absolutely the sound of the ’70s.”
Engineer Phil Punch did overdub the horn section, because there wasn’t room to fit everyone in the studio, and the band had to settle for a 24-track recording console when the studio’s vintage 16-track machine wouldn’t work.
However songs like the foreboding Red Aces (once mooted as a follow-up to 1977 single Know Your Product), the slashing S-O-S ’75, or the title track with its majestic guitar solo, could still be snuck on to a reissue of Eternally Yours or Prehistoric Sounds and the only sign of something amiss would be the fact Kuepper was singing them instead of Bailey.
The up-and-down relationship between The Saints’ singer and guitarist has been a source of constant speculation in rock circles since the band split, and Bailey kept its name going in a more pop-oriented outfit, while Kuepper experimented with the avant-garde jazz-rock of The Laughing Clowns, followed by an eclectic solo career.
The pair last played together at a one-off Saints reunion in 2009, and it appears things have been on a downswing since.
“I did approach Chris about getting involved with this project a couple of years back, but it turned into an absolute pain in the arse,” Kuepper said.
“The offer has been withdrawn. If people are hoping for a reformation, they shouldn’t.”
Despite their evident animosity, Kuepper denies the name ‘The Aints!’ is a shot at his former bandmate.
“It’s not meant to be pointed. Is it a reference to the band I formed in 1973? Maybe. Or maybe it just rhymes,” he said.
Kuepper has long refused to give any credit to Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s oppressive state government for the angry sound The Saints produced beneath it. When The Aints! take The Church Of Simultaneous Existence on tour next month, he hopes the songs will come across as timeless.
“There’s an energy there that I think still stands up today,” he said.
“I’m probably different to a lof of musicians out there, in that I’ve never been embarrassed by my old stuff.”
The chance to hear Kuepper play (I’m) Stranded will be a drawcard of the upcoming shows, and he promised the angst-ridden sound of the teenager he was when he wrote it would remain intact.
“There’s a few Saints and Laughing Clown songs that I’ve rearranged in the past, but not that one. It only makes sense the way it was done the first time.”
The Church Of The Simultaneous Existence by The Aints! is out now, and the band will tour nationally in October and November.