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Chris Bailey of The Saints — A life lived 'stranded on Saturday night'

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Chris Bailey of The Saints (Screenshot via YouTube)

Chris Bailey, lead singer of the seminal and highly influential punk band The Saints, has passed away from as-yet-undisclosed causes. He was 65.

He was born Christopher James Mannix Bailey on 22 July 1957 in Nanyuki, Kenya to Irish parents and spent his early years in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Although Bailey’s family migrated to Australia when he was seven and he attended various state schools in Brisbane, he never lost his Irish fighting spirit — which influenced the raw, unbridled sound of his music.

At Corinda State School, Bailey found his punk rock soulmates Ed Keupper and Ivor Hay, and the trio formed The Saints in 1973. Like many bands in the burgeoning punk rock movement, they adopted a do-it-yourself approach to performance and promotion. The Saints recorded, released and distributed music on their own independent label, as no record company was prepared to touch them.

Their first significant success was in the UK with their debut single '(I’m) Stranded', which was released in 1976. It came out roughly around the same time as 'New Roseby The Damned, which is widely regarded as the world’s first punk rock single. Significantly, '(I’m) Stranded' pre-dated offerings from punk rock legends such as Sex Pistols and The Clash.

Under the arch-conservative, hillbilly dictatorship of Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, no major venues were prepared to host The Saints so they tried booking suburban halls. It wasn’t long before the owners of the halls also refused to host them because – hot on the heels of their debut single – The Saints released more subversive offerings such as 'Erotic Neurotic' (1977), responsible for radicalising generations of Australian youths.

The Saints, undaunted and brazen, then started holding gigs in their share house which was – unfortunately – opposite Brisbane’s police headquarters. The Saints’ ball-tearing, no-holds-barred brand of music attracted the attention of the long arm of the law on more than one occasion. This cramped their style a bit but did not diminish their energy and enthusiasm.

Just as an aside, Bailey always had a love-hate relationship with Brisbane. This became evident in 2007 when Bailey, Keupper and Hay performed a reunion concert at The University of Queensland.

Bailey told the 6,000-strong crowd: 

“This is fortuitous — the last time we played this song here, we got kicked out.”

In later years, The Saints refined their sound and produced more sophisticated offerings such as 'Know Your Product'. Released in 1978, it maintained the rage but sounded smoother than their earlier work.

In 1988, a cover of The Easybeats’ classic 'The Music Goes Round My Head' was released as a single and featured on the movie soundtrack for Young Einstein.

In total, the Saints released 14 albums and were inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame in 2001. Bailey is the only member to remain with the band during its entire run and later went on to have a reasonably successful solo career.

Bailey’s death was announced on Facebook by his bandmates, who wrote:

'Chris lived a life of poetry and music and stranded on Saturday night.'

This prompted a flood of tributes.

Australian rock-and-roll legend Jimmy Barnes called The Saints the 'punks before punk' and of Bailey, he said:

'One of the greatest songwriters this country produced has passed away... He was a master of words and helped tell our story.'

Duff McKagan of Guns N' Roses tweeted lyrics from 'Know Your Product' in his tribute to Bailey.

Wrote McKagan:

'Rest in peace, Chris Bailey — 21 years is a long, long time to be in this prison when there ain’t no crime. Saints forever!'

Alternative rock legend Nick Cave said:

'In my opinion, The Saints were Australia’s greatest band and that Chris Bailey was my favourite singer.'

In an article in The Guardian, freelance journalist and author Andrew Stafford wrote:

'"(I’m) Stranded", the first single he cut with his band The Saints, tore through like nothing else on the radio. Bailey’s singing recalled the young Van Morrison: impatient, howling, spitting out lyrics that radiated the indignities and frustrations of growing up in a city at the arse end of the world.'

Jenny LeComte is a Canberra-based journalist and freelance writer.

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