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Chris Bailey, Australian rock legend and the Saints frontman, dies aged 65

Chris Bailey
(Image credit: Jordi Vidal/Redferns)

Chris Bailey, the co-founder and frontman of Australian rock stalwarts the Saints, has died, aged 65. His death was announced by his bandmates on social media.

Former guitarist and co-founder Ed Kuepper was among the first to pay tribute to a friend he first met as a teenager in detention, forming Kid Galahad and the Eternals with Bailey and Ivor Hay in 1973, before changing the band’s name to the Saints the following year.

“Chris and I met when we were about 14 during detention at Oxley High School and became close friends which later developed into what I always thought was an extremely strong artistic partnership,” wrote Kuepper.

“I couldn’t have hoped for a better singer. My deepest condolences to his wife Elisabet, his sisters Margaret, Carol and Maureen and the rest of his family and loved ones.”

Kuepper’s and Bailey’s meeting was a foreshadowing of things to come. Based out of Brisbane, Queensland, the Saints debuted a rebellious punk-rock sound on 1976’s (I’m) Stranded, with the title track animated by an intensity and melodic sensibility that saw the band compared to the Ramones.

As Jimmy Barnes noted in his tribute to Bailey, the Saints “were punks before punk”, the release of (I’m) Stranded beating albums from UK stalwarts the Damned and Sex Pistols to the punch.

But punk was not the whole story. They had the requisite energy and tempo but there was a poetry to Bailey’s songwriting that broadened the Saints’ horizons, attracting fans from all corners of rock’s sphere. 

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Bruce Springsteen would cover Just Like Fire Would on his 2014 album High Hopes.  Their services to Australian music were rewarded with their 2001 induction to the Australian Recording Industry Association Hall of Fame.

Bailey was born in Kenya, growing up in Belfast before moving to Brisbane, aged seven. With the Saints, he started out as a vocalist before pulling double shifts on the electric guitar and latterly the bass, recording 13 albums.

He released seven solo albums, the most recent of which arrived with 2005’s Bone Box, an acoustic reworking of Saints and solo material recorded with the General Dog, a backing band featuring Saints drummer Pete Wilkinson.

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Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to publications including Guitar World, MusicRadar and Total Guitar. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.