The Saints PhotoRoaring out of Brisbane, Australia, in 1977 with the punk-era classic "(I'm) Stranded," The Saints, despite going through numerous incarnations, were a part of rock & roll for more than 20 years, thanks mainly to their indefatigable leader (and founder) Chris Bailey. Although they didn't play anything that passes for punk rock after about 1978, and despite extended dormant periods, The Saints never officially broke up, and Bailey always seemed to have another version of the band and record ready to release. Saints fans fall into two distinct camps: the punk-era fans (up to about 1980) and the mature pop fans, which for American audiences begins with the release of All Fools Day in 1987.

I will here admit my biases and tell you that I am more of a fan of the punk era than of the mature pop era. This has nothing to do with the overall quality of the music; Bailey recorded two fine records with the late-'80s incarnation of the band. It's simply that the feral assault of their first three records (when co-founder Ed Kuepper was in the band) is more interesting and exciting. After Kuepper left in 1979 and the band became Bailey's show, the twists and turns he took them through (horns, folk/blues arrangements, as well his numerous solo excursions) produced some good music, but it was mostly too scattershot and lacked focus. It was simply too difficult to wade through the mediocre material.

Punk-era Saints was exactly what you'd expect: buzzsaw guitars; Bailey's pissed-off, nasal vocals; and locomotive rhythms supplied by bassist Kym Bradshaw and drummer Ivor Hay. After the LP (I'm) Stranded became a modest hit in England, the follow-up record, Eternally Yours, showed some changes (more varied tempos, acoustic guitars) that would set the stage for their third record, Prehistoric Sounds, which combined horn arrangements into a punk-ish sort of R&B. It was at this point that The Saints were beginning to change enough to not resemble the band they were just a scant two years earlier. Kuepper left to form the arty Laughing Clowns and eventually made a number of records as a solo act. Bailey, however, got to keep the name The Saints and soldiered on, taking time here and there to record his own solo records.

To most Americans, The Saints were a dead issue, if they were still an issue at all. (I'm) Stranded caught on with punk aficionados, but hardly anyone else; Eternally Yours came and went without a trace, and Prehistoric Sounds was never domestically released (neither were any of the post-Kuepper Saints records of the early '80s). So, by the time All Fools Day was released in 1987, there were many who thought The Saints were a brand new band - and they were right. Gone were the rapid-fire guitar sound and bellowing vocals, replaced by sophisticated pop arrangements and more technically accomplished singing. The music was strong, intelligent pop that was better than much of the late-'80s "new wave." The next LP, Prodigal Son, wasn't as good, but did nothing to hurt the reputation of the "new" Saints. Oddly enough, Kuepper got together with Celibate Rifles guitarists Kent Steedman and Dave Morris and performed under the name the Aints. Gigging in Sydney, they generally played a set of (I'm) Stranded-era material, and even recorded a couple of lo-fi live discs, all done for laughs. As for Bailey, he's a credible performer who continued to release interesting records, with or without The Saints. ~ Phillip Ewing, 80s Retro Music