The Saints came blazing out of Brisbane in 1974 and are largely credited as pioneers of the punk movement in Australia. As frontman and angry young rock poet, Chris Bailey’s notoriety was centred around the frenetic echoes of such punk classics as ‘Stranded’. But as he prepares for an Australian theatre tour with acclaimed folksinger Judy Collins, whose work has been covered by the likes of Leonard Cohen and Rufus Wainwright, Bailey observes that such tags are meaningless in the greater context of music.
“If you go to the extreme view of things we’re probably the most two unlikely artists to be on the same stage on the same night, but show-business puts you into a box, so you’re either a rock artist, a folk artist, a punk artist, or an R&B artist, but it’s all just music.
“I’ll quote Judy – ‘they’re just the tags that get attached to you in order to put you through the machine’. I think if you go into show business you accept that this is going to happen and the only reason you keep doing this stuff is because you are bound to it through some inner demon.”
At home in the Netherlands on a bitterly cold winters night, the gently spoken Bailey is trying to keep an overly affectionate cat at bay, muttering, “life without animals is pretty dull”, as he elaborates down the phone;
“I’m glad that I’ve chosen to be a wandering minstrel. My life is easy compared to a guy who has to go out in the snow and dig roads, so if you can survive in show business it’s great, but it’s not a kind world, so there has to be something about it that’s more than just a job, because it does require a lot of your heart and soul. Without music the world is pretty grey and if you’ve got the ability to somehow capture the human spirit and put it into a tune, that’s a pretty big gift.”
Such universal, human concerns do seem of the folky variety rather than the nihilism and anger of The Saints, but Bailey’s orbit has entered stranger territories.
“It’s been a really bizarre year for me. I started out doing an East Coast tour with Ed Kuepper, and that was quite folky. I’ve got a solo album in the can which is ridiculously folky and I’ve also got a new Saints album which is the antithesis of that.”
He’s been touring Europe with French outfit Hash Burns, who identify themselves as ‘indie folk’, also playing as members of Bailey’s General Dog band, which includes current Saints drummer Peter Wilkinson.
“It’s kind of Celtic folk, but I can’t get away from rock and roll, so I still hear Chuck Berry. Also on the General Dog record I get to play bass, which is something I’ve been wanting to do for years – being the bassplayer is the sexiest job in a rock band, don’t let anyone tell you different.”
Bailey hints that at least one of these incarnations will more than likely make its way to Australia in 2011.
“Technically I’m not an Australian but my whole life and career has been so entwined with Oz, that I may as well be. The touring and distance thing – when I was a kid it was difficult to get over here, now I’m a grown-up I’m finding it difficult getting back. But if you wanna be in showbiz, then you just have to be kicking against the pricks and we have a lot of sympathisers in the Antipodes, so I think in the next year or so we might see the fruits of the past years labour.”
Meanwhile he’s contemplating touring with the esteemed Judy Collins, and what artistic fruits it might bear.
“We’re talking about doing a song together. Nothing’s confirmed as yet. We’ll slowly, slowly catch the monkey.”