Chris Bailey’s accent may betray his upbringing in Brisbane, Australia yet the singer and co-founder of rock band The Saints has been resident in Amsterdam for the past 18 years.
“It’s a long story, mate,” he says, beginning to explain how he ended up in the ‘Venice of the North’. It transpires his Swedish partner took a fancy to the city after Bailey played a gig with a Bolivian group at Amsterdam’s famous Paradiso venue.
“I came home one day and she said, ‘I think we should move here’. I kind of went, ‘Of course, darling’. Two years later we were here.”
Bailey didn’t expect to settle but more than a decade and a half later this son of Irish Catholic emigrants is still living in the Netherlands. “If you’re going to be Middle European, there’s nowhere more middle than here,” he quips.
It seems he doesn’t especially miss the country where The Saints were founded more than 40 years ago. “I think Australia is a great place,” he says, “but I ran away from there screaming as soon as I could.” He finds it “ironic” that although his band are regarded as one of Australia’s greatest musical exports – their 1976 punk rock anthem (I’m) Stranded was named one of the top 30 Australian songs of all time – he now needs a work permit to perform there.
This month Bailey and current bandmates Barrington Francis and Peter Wilkinson are playing a UK tour to promote The Saints’ double album King of the Sun/King of the Midnight Sun.
The first disc was originally released in 2012; it’s now augmented by a re-recording that’s more in keeping with “back to basics” approach of the band’s current power trio line-up.
Bailey wryly admits the idea he hatched with his latest record company, Fire, had “a lot to do with Bombay Sapphire gin – I had one or two too many” but he seems satisfied with the results.
“I usually don’t take myself too seriously when I come up with these brainwaves but it seemed a nice introduction to a new label,” he says. “It’s a pompous concept but it kind of lives and I know it’s an odd notion to do a deconstruction, as it were.”
The return to the fold of guitarist Barrington Francis has been a “massive shot in the arm”, says Bailey, who’s switched to playing bass. “Barrington said his idea of the perfect line-up is the classic power trio band – guitar, bass and drums and a singer out the front. This really is all his doing. If it was up to me I would have a fr****** orchestra.
“It’s interesting stripping everything back. For a song to survive in a minimal arrangement it has to have a seriously good tune for that to work.”
The fact that there’s only three of them “also makes meal times on the road a lot less savage”, he jokes. “It’s a lot more civilised.”
Now in his mid-50s, Bailey is amused that he’s still performing, especially given he’s “not all that fond of showbusiness” and once considered giving music up to run a pub in Essex with a former girlfriend.
“Being a songwriter is a solitary pursuit. If you’d asked the 20-year-old me would I still be doing it with enthusiasm I don’t know if I could have got my head around the concept. I’ve never been famous. I’ve had a few hits here and there but what I’ve been lucky to do is somehow survive on the shirt tails of showbusiness.”
Be that as it may, Bailey’s 20-odd album career has not gone unnoticed by his peers. Bruce Springsteen even recorded his song Just Like Fire Would on his No1 album High Hopes. “When I first heard about it I thought someone was taking the p***,” Bailey says in typically forthright way.
“Bruce Springsteen to me is an icon, he’s a massive American rock star but I think he makes extraordinarily good records and he’s made lots of them. Why he would do a Saints cover I’ve got no idea.
“I’m not really a big fan of rock music even though it has been my life but if anyone is going to cover one of my songs I could not have picked anyone better. I met him at a show in Paris and said I liked his version of the song. He replied, ‘All I did was a cover. I changed the key because you sing it slightly deeper than I do.’”
The Saints play at Brudenell Social Club on May 21. For details visit http://www.brudenellsocialclub.co.uk/whats-on/saints/