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Stuart Coupe talks to Steve Kilbey, bete noir style Print E-mail
Friday, 05 August 1983

The Big Kiss Off

Another Stuart 'Little Sleuth' Coupe Novel

RAM August 5th 1983

Main picture Coupe was irritable. It was 2am on a chilly, foggy night and he'd been snuggly tucked away in the office when the call had come in. Finish the Redgum interview in a cheap hotel down by the waterfront. Get there right away. He'd smashed down the receiver. How did they expect him to solve the Kilbey Case when they kept giving him new assignments. Coupe flipped the page on his desk calendar to the next day, then opened a drawer, grabbing a packet of salt peanuts and a warm VB. With this job, you took pleasure where you found it.

The Kilbey Case was a worry. It'd dragged on for over a year, since the early days of Coupe's career as an investigator with that shonky outfit downtown called RAM. The'd called themselves a rock magazine. Coupe had called them other things.

He'd called Kilbey a few things too. That was when the trouble had started. It'd been a routine enquiry into the status and thoughts of a high riding act with records in the chart, a big selling debut album, a sizable live following, and an air of the-band-most-likely around them. Those with an interest in demographics observed that lots of the sizeable live following were very young, impressionable girls who bought lots of records....and lots of paraphernalia.

But the investigation came out ugly. Some heavy operators got even more upset than Kilbey. There was Michael Chugg. Coupe couldn't decide if he was just some small-time hustler in the band business or a serious threat ? One thing Coupe knew for sure was the he handled some of the really-happenings-acts like Kevin Borch, Jimmmy (with and without) The Boys and was the front man for The Narara Concession. Word had it that he balanced it all off with heavy connections with The Police.

Chugg, Coupe could handle. Maybe. But Coupe had gone out on a limb with some dodgy info. Kilbey had intimated that he had an 'in' with Mr. M - the Big Feller - which was just so much jive. The boys from The Southern Connect were not impressed. The front man for Mr. M called the RAM offices. He was angry. Very angre. Normally angry guys get short shrift around these parts but guys have ended up planted in the desert or Geelong with no record contract for less.

Kilbey decided (or was he told): no more interviews.


Coupe decided no more of these dodgy encounters that eneded up as cover stories. Besides there were greener pastures to feed off. In this business you paid the bills whenever opportunity knocked. Things died down. Maybe it was all forotten. But then the phone call came.
cover.jpg - 36512 Bytes"Kilbey wants to talk, and he wants it to be you, " whispered the voice on the other end of the line. The phone went dead. Coupe held the receiver aloft for thirty seconds before putting it slowly down.

He was used to these calls. They'd come every few months since the first encounter, but there was something about the tone of this one that made Coupe think it was on the level. Was someone being funny or was someone aiming for a set-up ?

Coupe couldn't really imagine that Kilbey would put himself in this situation. Kilbey was the ultimate interview target and he was offereing to let Coupe have the last word ? The guy had to be crazy. But maybe he had something up his sleeve. No-one would be crying if Coupe got rubbed out along the way. In this business you've got no friends. Especially editors.

Then the EMI record company rep marched into Coupe's house too early one morning munching a meat pie. Coupe had been appalled by three things - the fact that this man had a job, the fact that he knew Coupe's address, and the fact the anyone would eat a pie like that before 10am.

The guy had an unmarked tape of the Church's new album, Seance, insisted that Coupe hear a few tracks, left the tape, and scampered out the door.

This was to be the first turn off.

Despite this, Coupe was still intrigued. Some aspects of the Church case were still unanswered. What happened to the 'Special Guest' tour with Duran Duran in the UK last year ? That should have put the band in front of the frantic teen audience that they'd worked over so successfully in Australia. And were those fans Down Under still loyal ? Are the Church still a bankable proposition ? What was the significance of Seance - had Kilbey lost the remaining screws and started chatting with the dear departed ? And who was this new English producer, Nick Launay, who seemed to be cutting into all sorts of local enterprises that were desperate for a new line and a big break; was he some sort of weird link between mobs like Midnight Oil, the Models gang and The Church ?

And finally there was the Donovan Connection that Coupe has been brooding over for ages. He wondered whether it was coincidence or some more sinister subconscious manipulation that led him to choose for this Kilbey interview the cassette tape he'd used with Donovan a few years earlier. If Donovan wasn't a major influence on Kilbey's strange "Child's Garden Of Gothic Images" - or at least his taste in shirts - then one was left with the finger pointing at T-Rex, and that was a real headache. 'Cos Marc Bolan wasn't around to take the rap for anything no more.


Coupe decided to take a walk. He needed to think this one through. Wandering into his other office, the famed East Sydney Hotel in decrepit Wolloomooloo, he downed a few VBs, bought two for the road and took off for a walk through the Domain. This one needed to be put into perspective.

He had the Church file with him. A hefty folder of clippings, his observations, witness testmonies, pay sheets, empty plastic bags, record, lyrics sheets and other relevant information. The files had the whole story. The disillusionment with playing for $1 a night in the early days. Being just about to pack it in. Meeting Chris Gilbey who offered a publishing contract. Finding their first single in the charts, getting interest from overseas, a famed engineer/producer from America involved with their records, and generally being touted as amongst the hottest things around.

There was more personal stuff in there too. Stuff relating to Coupe and the Church. Information that most weren't privy to. Kilbey and Coupe had been friends since they'd met to do an interview one lunchtime at Sydney University. Coupe had just seen the Church perform and thought they were about the most exciting thing in his life at that stage besides the young barmaid at the local hotel.

Though one was a journalist and the other a reasonably popular rock star the two had become rather close friends. People speculated that there was more to it than the fact that they liked the same music but no-one was talking.

Things had often been a bit strange. One night Coupe was at home relaxing in his run-down excuse for a hovel in Stanmore when the door was almost knocked in. Opening it he found Kilbey and pint-sized drummer, Richard Ploog, standing there. They were carrying the rough mixes of The Blurred Crusade and wanted Coupe's opinion. Luckily for them Coupe liked what he heard.

Whenever Coupe wanted to see The Church, if Kilbey heard about it first he'd arrive in his car to pick Coupe up and drop him home after the gig. He'd never come in for coffee and always dropped Coupe at the nearest corner to his house.

The files had info about band biographies Coupe had written, discussions about fan books. There was a tape of the gold record presentation for Of Skins And Heart when Coupe had been singled out for special thanks by Kilbey.

A week before that Coupe had been in Melbourne with the Church, writing the RAM cover story that caused the ruckus. The band were at a high point as far as public acceptance was concerned but there were tensions within the band. Young girls were screaming and tearing the band apart, but the individual band members were doing the same to each other. The Melbourne visit concluded on an ominous note. Coupe, Kilbey and the other dudes dined together in seedy Fitzroy Street, St Kilda.

"It must be hard when you've become friends with a band, like you've become friends with us, and then go home and write an objective article," Kilbey had said, staring intently into Coupe's eyes. "It must be hard to risk a friendship."

Coupe, naturally, wasn't phased. "We'll see if you still come round to play records after this one's come out," he said.


bandpic.jpg - 20564 Bytes

Even Ray Charles could see it was all over between Coupe and Kilbey. The one with the weird shirts never came around again to play records. Coupe tried to raise him on the phone but the kid wasn't talking.

So why was Kilbey wanting to do a full-on interview now ? Coupe was beat. He couldn't see the thread, let alone the point. But he figured he couldn't let this one go by. He was going to have to play it to the limit, go along with this crazy 'rematch', if only to find out what Kilbey was on about, whether he had anything to say, and whether it was any more sensible than last time.

When he'd finished reading the files and got back on the beat things had already hotted up. Chugg was spreading the word, building the rematch into something bigger than the Gore Vidal/Norman Mailer encounters, or maybe even the Fraser/Hawke scam.

Then the RAM editor got in on the action. Lethargic at best, speedy at his most serious, Taylor decided to make a big play about the photo sessions. Coupe realised this was no ordinary cover story. This was THE cover story. For a second he was impressed, but he'd walked down these mean streets before.


Anyway, there he was, this rainy afternoon, outside Kilbey's home. A normal enough place he thought. Kilbey was pottering around the frontal excuse for a garden. As they shook hands Coupe sussed the lay of the land. Apparently safe. They went indoors. Kilbey told him he shared the place with his brother and his brother's girlfriend. Coupe was hardly fascinated, but then again, he had asked.

Church paraphernalia lay everywhere. Gold records on the walls, the design Of Skins And Heart above the garbage in the kitchen, a Seance poster in the living room, a cushion bearing the Seance design on the couch. Part of the living room wall was covered with photos of album sleeves Coupe reaclled from his youth - Presley, Hendrix, Velvet Underground. The furniture was comfortable, and acoustic guitar was propped in the middle of the room. Behind the living was Kilbey's demo studio, a room full of synthesisers, other gadgets, and his record collection.

The talk was tentative. Kilbey seemed uneasy and Coupe was still trying to figure out why the guy had agreed to this interview. Kilbey offered Coupe a fruit juice. Coupe knew Kilbey's habits hadn't changed. He didn't drink alcohol and scorned coffee. Coupe, being a man addicted to both, knew it was going to be an uphill battle. The Kilbey let slip that one of his preoccupations hadn't changed.

"I met your brother in Melbourne last week...but I don't remember much about it...I was so stoned," he said, looking very serious. Coupe decided to stop beating around the bush. He'd come to get answers and so far none had been forthcoming. He turned the tape recorded on.

"Why are you doing interviews again ?" he said, deciding to get straight to at least on of the points.

"Why am I doing interviews again ?" Kilbey intones.

Coupe is impressed by the fact that Kilbey remembers the question, but it's answers that he wants. Unfortunately for Kilbey even this early in the interview he's having trouble saying exactly what he thinks he means.

"Basically...it was good...EMI wanted me to do some and , I forget what the deal was now, but they were going to do something as long as I did some interviews, and I just thought I'd give the album a better shot."

"So you're pleased with the new album ?" Coupe said.

"Yeah," Kilbey replied.

"Do you think it's a change from the last one, " Coupe asked.

"Yeah...of course," Kilbey replied incredulously.

"Why ? " said Coupe who wasn't taking any of this shit.

"Well..it's..it's...it was made a year and a half after the other one and everyone was playing a lot better, the songs are better, dare I say it, the mix is better," Kilbey said, sounding more and more like worried man.

This had to be the Launay connection. "why did you get Launay to produce rather than Bob Clearmountain, " Coupe pressed.

"It was nothing against Bob," Kilbey said hastily. "Though...no one came out and said this, but I gather we were meeting some hostility -not hostility but resistance from the English people - because everything was said to sound a bit American.
"I don't heard records in those terms really, but the comment was made a few times that we were souding a bit American. I guess Nick Launay really is a very English sort of sound...I think he's marvellous. He certainly gave me a new perspective on music, though it took me a while to get used to what he was doing."

Calling anything about the Church 'American' was a new perpective to Coupe, but other people's problems with reality weren't his concern. However this started him thinking of far more practical problems Kilbey was rumoured to be having with the Yanks.

"What was American reaction to the band like ?" he deadpanned.

"The reaction in America was that Capitol, our record company, dropped us, and we signed a deal with A&M who dropped us without releasing anything. So there's no real reaction at the moment," Kilbey said flatly.


The pieces were starting to fall into place. Keeping his face impassive, Coupe casually switched tack to the English tour. Kilbey reckons "It was the same old story, like with the Go-Betweens and all those people: the critical response was really good but the sales weren't spectacular...
We were going to do a 30 date tour with Duran Duran but we only ended up doing 7 because we didn't like it and pulled out."

Too much pre-teenybopper even for the Church ? it was an ugly thought, and Coupe tried to keep it down along with his breakfast. But Kilbey had even more surprise about the English audience...

"...At our own gigs in England and Europe I was really surprised to notice that the majority of the people were males between 20 and 25...It Australia, it's a very rare thing for a male person to come backstage and congratulate you or be interested in what you're doing - I think they'd be a bit embarrassed - but in England it seems par for the course. After finishing a gig there'd always be 20 or 30 guys who'd come backstage and say "We really like you, and what other albums have got out?" and that sort of thing. They're not embarrassed, and there's no sort of homosexual connotations involved.


Just as well, thought Coupe: that would blow the famous Church Fan Club right out of the water. But of course Kilbey says it's a 'mailing list' ("I hate fan clubs") and also claims that it costs the band a fair bit.

"There's 3 or 4 thousand and I think Michael (Chugg) sends them a newsletter every month. [Brian: Anyone got some of these ? We have one from 1984.] There's lots of overseas people on it so it costs, but I refuse to make people pay, to rip them off."

Nice stuff if you can afford it, thought Coupe. 'Cos according to his tipoff, the Church had blown big bucks on the overseasjaunt. And when he pushed Kilbey on this, he admitted to being "thousands and thousands" in debt. And what sort of tensions was this makiing within the ranks, Coupe wondered out loud.

"We go through periods of disenchantment with each other but at the moment, for a long time, everyone's been really happy," Kilbey said softly. "There's never been any arguments, any tension between the four of us towards each other. We don't want to break up because we like each other. There is a possibility we could be forced out of business by sheer economics. It was looking like that for a while. There were some rumours going around that we were breaking up.
"We're all this middle period where unless you're really big or really small...when you're right in the middle it seems all you money goes just on production. The road crews are really expensive and the PA and lights are expensive, and then you've got hire cars, hire cars for crew, motels, and planes, and agents.
"There's not very much left...in fact Marty's thinking about the dole at the moment, and I think Richard might be too. I think Peter is too proud to go on the dole."

Coupe is amazed. This guy starting across the table at him is telling him that, even at their level, the Church don't collect a weekly salary.

"We collect a salary when we're on the road," Kilbey said. "I'm living on some royalties at the moment, so it's alright for me because I get my publishing royalties. Marty,Richard and Peter each got an advance from EMI...which didn't last long...so that's why we're doing two gigs next week - to get some money to live off for a while.
"I don't know what we're going to live off after that though. We owe money left, right and centre."


Coupe knew he had the answer now. But rather than elation he just felt grey and empty. This rematch was just another part of the big push to revive the battered fortunes of the Church. In this man's town, "Any Publicity Is Good Publicity' still runs the business. But oddly he didn't feel resentful about being set up for the big kiss-off. Somewhere deep down a small part of him still sentimentally believed in Kilbey and his talent. He wasn't even worried anymore about erasing the priceless Donovan tape...If only he could understand what those lyrics were all about.

"This time I think I get some of them.." he started, making a real effort to stop the armwrestling. The kitchen chair broke under him.


Later, after the photographers and fingerprint men had finished making a mess of Kilbey's house, Coupe remembered Kilbey talking about the album title. "'Seance' = it's a session of some public body, a sitting with a view of evoking spritiual manifestations...which is really what we were trying to do." But by then he had enough worries keeping the rabid editor off his neck to worry about some spooks dropping him on his ass.
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