Ed Kuepper concedes he’s been a musician for a long time – almost half a century if you don’t count winning the Queensland intermediate guitar championships when he was about 10.
And in those wild young days in the early 70s, the notion he would still be performing, still writing and still working as a musician would not have crossed his mind.
The Saints co-founder is in Canberra on Thursday night (21 April), performing at the Street Theatre with Jim White from the also legendary Dirty Three.
“I have never really been certain about anything, in a lot of ways,” Kuepper says. “I just know that if I wasn’t playing music full-time, it wouldn’t be worth going on with it. It’s not a hobby.
“When I was younger I didn’t even think about still being alive at this stage.”
The Saints have long been lauded as the forefathers of punk and Kuepper’s subsequent long career with the Laughing Clowns and the Aints continues to attract the punk tag.
But while the story of raw, wild, rebellious music coming out of Brisbane at a time of deep political conservatism is an attractive one, Kuepper says it’s not entirely accurate for the band. The era of real repression happened after The Saints departed for London and their music was never a reaction to it.
“One of the things we had in our favour was that we all lived in fairly close proximity to each other, which was unusual in a town not known for its musicality. We were all very determined to do something unique – and we all had a fairly stubborn personality about us,” he says of The Saints’ early days.
“We railed against the Bjelke Peterson era, but I would have made music regardless. It wasn’t what inspired us as a band. People afterwards applied the punk label because they needed to have a way of describing the band. We rejected it. The tag seemed to obscure our uniqueness, the music we’d been playing for quite some time.
“I liked punk but just lumping us with that genre is historically inaccurate. Word of mouth about us was slow, we’d play a local hall, but only once and we’d lose our bond. Most people then thought we were the worst band that had ever existed!”
While The Saints encountered the police a few times, Kuepper says it was mostly on the basis of noise complaints, before local tabloids decided punks were a menace to society and their music became a means of sticking it up the Queensland government.
Their groundbreaking album (I’m) Stranded was recorded for EMI in just two days and within six months of its release in 1976, the Saints were in the UK, at the epicentre of the punk revolution but also somewhat apart from the fashion and trend driven aspects of the movement.
The relationship with The Saints lead singer Chris Bailey broke down when the band broke up.
Kuepper says it’s an enduring sadness those issues were never completely resolved before Chris’s death earlier this month.
“What brought us together is still there and will be around for a while yet. It was a complex relationship with Chris and hard to really put into an easy paragraph at this stage,” he says.
In the years since, he’s made thoughtfully produced, often very eclectic, music and beautifully crafted lyrics.
While COVID has slowed his musical productivity, Kuepper says it’s also been a boon in some ways.
“Over the last few years when I haven’t been able to tour, I didn’t write a great deal but worked on re-appraising how I play, seeing what else I can get out of the instrument.
“I’m not sure yet how valuable that will be but I’m benefitting in some ways from that time. I quite liked sitting around having a listen to records I hadn’t heard for decades.”
Kuepper’s tastes are wide ranging. He enjoys pop, the blues, rock and roll, classical and avant-garde. And he’s exacting about what ends up on the turntable, preferring active listening to background music.
So what will people hear if they’re at the Street Theatre?
“Something really good,” he says wryly. “Let them be surprised, hopefully in a pleasant way. If they’re disappointed they can buy Jim and me a drink afterwards.”
Ed Kuepper plays with Jim White at the Street Theatre on 21 April. Book your tickets here.