In the latest instalment of Cave’s Red Hand Files Q&A newsletter, a fan asked the songwriter what Bailey meant to him as a young musician in Australia.
Cave opens his response by reflecting on a 1977 photo which shows Bailey collapsed on stage during a performance with the Saints in Melbourne, Cave looking on in the crowd, visibly stunned. The photo was shot at the Tiger Room in Richmond by Rennie Ellis.
“Nick Cave impressed by Chris Bailey’s performance with The Saints -as well as his ability to gulp his way through a bottle of Johnny Walker during the show- at their first Melbourne gig at The Tiger Room back in 1977, as documented by Rennie Ellis.” pic.twitter.com/5dbEcfQKfL
— David Mennessier (@RupertPupkin__) May 21, 2018
“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.
“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 galvanising 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 favourite singer.
In addition to the path-changing moment captured above, Bailey and Cave later collaborated. In 2003, Bailey sung the chorus on ‘Bring It On’, a track lifted from Cave and the Bad Seeds’ ‘Nocturama’.
Bailey subsequently went on tour with the band in America, including a performance with the Bad Seeds on Letterman. In 2009, Cave curated an edition of All Tomorrow’s Parties in Sydney that featured the Saints on the line-up.
“Chris and I got to know each other well and went on to do a bunch of things together over the years, but it is this photo that I will treasure,” Cave concludes.
“A moment of realisation 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 laid 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.’”
One of the many artists to pay tribute to Bailey following news of his death was Cave’s longtime bandmate and collaborator, Warren Ellis, who similarly called Bailey “one of the best singers” and the Saints “one of the best bands”.
Others included Bailey’s former Saints bandmate Ed Kuepper, who played guitar on the band’s first three albums – 1977’s ‘(I’m) Stranded’ along with 1978’s ‘Eternally Yours’ and ‘Prehistoric Sounds’. In his tribute to Bailey, Kuepper wrote that he “couldn’t have hoped for a better singer”.