Chris Bailey, who gave Australia punk rock, dies at 65

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Chris Bailey, who gave Australia punk rock, dies at 65
He and the Saints introduced the country (and later the world) to their own raw sound just as the Sex Pistols were emerging in London and the Ramones in New York.

by Clay Risen

N.- Chris Bailey, an Australian singer who with his band, the Saints, introduced their country to the raw, fast-tempo sounds of punk rock in the mid-1970s, just as the Sex Pistols were spiking their hair in London and the Ramones were donning their leather jackets in New York City, died April 9 in Haarlem, the Netherlands. He was 65.

His wife, Elisabet Corlin, confirmed the death, of natural causes, but did not provide details.

Bailey and the Saints did not borrow from the sounds emanating out of Britain and the United States. Rather, in a case of parallel evolution, they emerged simultaneously, shaped in their native Brisbane by some of the same forces at work in the Northern Hemisphere: high unemployment, stifling social conservatism and grungy political radicalism.

They released their first hit, “(I’m) Stranded,” in September 1976, two months before the Sex Pistols debuted with “Anarchy in the U.K.” and one month before the Damned released “New Rose,” widely considered Britain’s first punk single.

“(I’m) Stranded,” which the Saints produced themselves, is as pure a punk anthem as one can find, with buzz-saw guitar and driving rhythms punctuating Bailey’s fast-paced snarl of a voice, singing about youthful ennui and failed romance.

That single shot the Saints to national and then global attention among the underground cognoscenti, even though it caused only the shallowest ripple in the charts. Until then, no label was interested in the stringy-haired foursome from Queensland; suddenly, everyone was.

The Saints — with Bailey on vocals, Ed Kuepper on guitar, Ivor Hay on drums and Kym Bradshaw on bass — signed with EMI and moved to London in 1977, just as punk was hitting its stride.

They were a part of the scene there and separate from it, both sonically — they incorporated horns, for one thing — and ideologically: To them, punk, ostensibly a cri de coeur against consumer society, was already a commodified part of it. Bailey called it a “marketing gimmick.”

Unlike the typical pointy-haired British punks, the Saints kept their look low-key, more like a 1990s American grunge band (and, not coincidentally, many a latter-day Seattle band noted the Saints as an inspiration).

Nevertheless, they thrived. Their single “This Perfect Day” reached No. 34 on the U.K. charts, and their first two albums, “(I’m) Stranded” (1977) and “Eternally Yours” (1978), are considered punk classics. The second album included “Know Your Product,” an anti-consumer, anti-punk song that sent fans raving.

But like punk itself, the Saints had a short shelf life, although by their third album, the R&B-spiked “Prehistoric Sounds,” they were starting to transcend the genre. Released in late 1978, it fizzled, EMI dropped them and a few months later, Kuepper and Hay left the band.

The Saints’ legacy cannot be measured by record sales; they influenced generations of Australian rockers, as well as bands emerging from the early 1980s metal scene along the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, including Guns N’ Roses.

Nick Cave, another Australian musician who came up in the punkish underground of the 1970s, said in a memorial statement on the website Red Hand Files, “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.”

Christopher James Mannix Bailey was born Nov. 29, 1956, in Nanyuki, Kenya, where his father, Robert Bailey, was stationed with the British Army. His mother, Bridget (O’Hare) Bailey, was a homemaker.

The family returned to the Baileys’ native Belfast, Northern Ireland, when Christopher was young. But with political unrest brewing and Australia opening its doors to immigrants, the family soon moved to Brisbane, where Robert found work as a night watchman in a factory.

Along with his wife, Bailey is survived by his brother, Michael, and his sisters, Mary, Carol and Margaret Bailey and Maureen Schull.

After the Saints’ original lineup split up, Bailey reconstituted the band and recorded a series of albums under the same name and later as a solo act. He moved away from punk toward roots-driven rock, folk and austere instrumentation that showed off his room-filling rich voice.

He moved to Sweden in the 1990s and to the Netherlands in 1994, where he continued to write and record.

Although musician Bob Geldof reportedly said that “rock music of the ’70s was changed by three bands: the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and the Saints,” Bailey was unbothered by the Saints’ name recognition relative to those others.

“This is the world in which we live,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1998. “Bitter and twisted is something I don’t see any advantage in being.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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