“In my opinion, The Saints were Australia’s greatest band, [and] Chris Bailey was my favorite singer.”
The Australian music scene is still mourning the loss of Chris Bailey, the frontman for punk rock icons The Saints, who died over the weekend.
Now, fellow Australian music icon Nick Cave – a long-time friend and collaborator of Bailey’s – has written a moving tribute in the latest edition of his online newsletter The Red Hand Files.
Responding to a fan’s question about the importance of Bailey on Cave as a young musician, The Bad Seeds ringleader reflected on the monumental impact of The Saints’ early shows on his career, with assistance from an archival photograph.
Taken from The Saints’ 1977 show at The Tiger Room in Melbourne by photographer Rennie Ellis, the image captures Bailey collapsed on stage, with a young, visibly stunned Cave looking on and – as he reflects in his written tribute – seeing his future unfold.
“In the photo Chris is already committed to his life as perhaps the greatest and most anarchic rock ‘n’ roll singer Australia would ever produce,” Cave writes. “Conversely, I am in that stonewashed and uncertain state between failing art school and, well, I am not quite sure what. You can almost see the thought bubble forming above my head as an alternate plan presents itself.”
Cave continues: “In the late seventies, the Saints came down from Brisbane and tore their way through Sydney and Melbourne with their famously anarchic shows. It is impossible to exaggerate the resulting radical galvanizing effect on the Melbourne scene – these legendary performances changed the lives of so many people, myself included.
“So, it is with immense sadness that we learn of Chris Bailey’s death. Too many great singers have died recently and, once again, I don’t have the words that will in any way adequately measure the extent of our collective loss. I can only simply repeat, for the record, that, in my opinion, the Saints were Australia’s greatest band, and that Chris Bailey was my favorite singer.”
“Chris and I got to know each other well and went on to do a bunch of things together over the years,” Cave writes. “But it is this photo that I will treasure – a moment of realization and divergence, as a drunk singer sits slumped on a stage floor, his very presence in that moment approximating some kind of moral purity or essential truth, and a young man watching transfixed, feeling his own best ugly plans fall away as the thought bubble above his head fills with its sudden and outrageous revelation, ‘This is what I want to do and this is who I want to be.'”
In 2003, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds enlisted Bailey to sing on ‘Bring It On’, a track from the album Nocturama (revisit that track below). The Saints singer subsequently joined the band for a performance of the song on Lettermanduring a 2009 tour through the US.
Cave’s close Bad Seeds bandmate Warren Ellis also hailed Bailey as “one of the best singers. The Saints one of the best bands” in a tribute of his own shared to Twitter.
“Funny, articulate, intelligent” Davey Lane remembers his bandmate Chris Bailey
Davey Lane is best known as the guitarist for You Am Ibut he was also one of the newer members of The Saints’ ever-evolving line-up.
A singer-songwriter in his own right who’s performed with everyone from jimmy barnes and Crowded House to Todd RundgrenLane first got the call-up to join a new iteration of The Saints around 2016.
“I’d put Chris a few times in the past,” he told Tim Shiel on Double J Arvos. He was one of those guys I always found intimidatingly intelligent.”
“I would put him in the same category as – also someone who’s no longer with us – Spencer P. Jones. Guys like that, whose oeuvre were quite familiar to me but had quite a commanding presence. But the better I got to know him, the more I realized what a funny, articulate, intelligent, acerbic-witted guy he was.”
“It was one of those pinch yourself moments when he started singing, ‘Oh my god, he sounds just like Chris Bailey!‘,” he laughed.
Lane recalls preparing for his first rehearsals with the frontman, and the weight of learning Saints classics ‘(I’m) Stranded’, ‘Know Your Product’, and ‘Messin’ With The Kid’ – songs that have shaped the course of punk music.
“I was trying to honor those songs as faithfully as I could,” he recalls. But Chris was less precious about it. ‘He said’F**k it up, my lad. Do whatever you want to it. It doesn’t need to sound like the record!’ He was not one for nostalgia, he was always looking to the next thing and not too reverent to his own past.”
“He took a perverse pleasure in messing with that [legacy]. A lot of music fans, and especially punk fans, the template is the template and you don’t stray from that.”
Lane also reflected on Bailey carrying on with The Saints without co-founder and guitarist Ed Kuepper. “It was a polarizing thing for a lot of crusty old punks. This viewpoint of ‘Oh it’s no Saints without Ed‘. You don’t realize that Chris went on to make a plethora of records, which all had amazing songs on them.”
Such as ‘Simple Love’, a personal favorite of Davey’s from 1981’s The Monkey Puzzle, The Saints’ first release without Kuepper.
“I’ma student of pop songwriting and that for me, is such a concise, beautifully written song. I’m a sucker for guitar-driven pop/rock songs with cool chord changes and this is one of those.”
Lane has also revealed in an Instagram tribute to Bailey that a new Saints album, featuring re-recorded versions of the band’s classic work, is in the works.
“We made a last Saints record which hopefully will see the light of day sometime,” he wrote. “His record company had also asked for a few new recordings of classic Saints tunes, so we spent a drunken evening willfully rendering the songs you know and love out of all recognition.”
“Rolling around laughing reimagining Know Your Product as a demented Marc Bolan on Mandrax jam is how I’ll remember him.”