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From The Vault biography of The Church up to Heyday Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 January 1987
 
***********************************************************
  Source: From The Vault : Aus. Rec. Collector (?, AUS)
   Issue: v1, n3
    Date: 1987
 Subject: Biography - The Church
***********************************************************

(this issue included a Flexi-disc of "Musk", no.FTV 3)


THE CHURCH
  TANTALIZED - THE CHURCH STORY
    By Ian Mcfarlane
      Special thanks to Steve Kilbey..


The Eighties has seen a resurgence of interest in guitar-based rock,
and the advent of the new psychedelia has meant the decline of
synth-pop dross.  As one of the movements first practitioners the
Church infused a rich sound of shimmering guitars with a powerful and
invigorating sense of melody and poetic density.

Alongside the Barracudas in the UK, The Chesterfield Kings, The Lyres
and The Plimsouls in the USA and The Sunnyboys here in Australia, The
Church helped lay the foundations for the resurgence of guitar music on
a world-wide basis.  In recent years the genre has witnessed its
fullest flowering in the so-called American paisley underground (REM,
The Dream Syndicate, The Rain Parade, The Bangles et.al.), while
Australia has also seen the emergence of a host of great bands (The
Hoodoo Gurus, The Screaming Tribesmen, Ups and Downs, The Stems, The
Zimmermen, Died Pretty, to name a handful).

The Church has proven to be a particularly spirited and durable outfit
and boasts an important songwriter in Steve Kilbey.  Although the band
didn't find it's true focus until the second album, The Blurred
Crusade, it has now built up an impressive body of work.

Yes, as in the case with many pioneers, The Church has had to contend
with the problems of dwindling record sales, lack of coverage in  the
music press, and overall, a lack of recognition of its worth.  Despite
the five albums and a brace of excellent singles and E.P.s, the band
has been severely under-rated and sadly overlooked as a result.

The Band does however, retain a fiercely loyal cult following in
Australia, while overseas it is hailed as one of the best bands of the
Eighties and the records are highly prized and sought after pieces.
For the sake of the local industry, it would be a tragedy if The Church
was to move overseas in order to survive.

The Church had its genesis in the songwriting aspirations of
bassist/vocalist Steve Kilbey.  He played with several bands in
Canberra (including an early line-up of The Tactics) with guitarist
Peter Koppes, before they moved to Sydney.  The two began writing and
recording on Kilbey's four-track home studio.

Kilbey chose The Church as a suitable name for his new project with
Koppes, and the first line-up of the band came together as a
three-piece in April 1980 with the addition of drummer Nick Ward.
After several low-key gigs in Sydney, Marty Wilson-Piper joined as
second guitarist.  Wilson-Piper was from britain where he played in a
band called The True Hundred, before busking and travel led him to
Australia.

Marty's intricate and inventive playing complemented Peter's more
flowing and melodic style and added extra depth to the bands sound.
They were still experimenting however, with a variety of styles and
lacked a definite sense of direction at this stage.  Yet with an
incredibly electric range of influences to draw on, the right elements
began to come together.

Collectively the band was inspired by the likes of The Beatles, The
Byrds, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Big Star, T.Rex,
Cockney Rebel, and Television.  Individually, Steve listened to folk
and the electric sounds of Eno and Throbbing Gristle, Marty was into
German bands like Can and Amon Duul, while Peter was a sixties
fanatic.

Soon after Marty's arrival the band recorded a four track demo which
was of sufficiently high standard to attract the attention of A&R man
Chris Gilbey.  He signed the band immediately to a publishing deal with
ATV/Northern Songs and a recording contract with EMI/Parlophone.  Only
one song from the demo, 'Chrome Injury', found its way onto record in a
re-recorded version on the first album.

The band recorded the first album in late 1980 with Chris Gilbey
producing, and the finished tapes were mixed by American Bob
Clearmountain.  The album was preceded by the single 'She Never Said'
which was released in November, and then appeared in a different
version on the album.  'She Never Said' was a modest effort and the
flipside, 'In A Heartbeat', had a Kinks-type feel.

It was the next single however, that was to gain the band national
exposure.  'The Unguarded Moment' was released in March 1981, and was
praised at the time for it's fresh approach, jangly Byrdsian guitar
motifs and surrealistic lyrics.  It reached No. 22 on the national
charts and the band appeared on Countdown to promote it, with Kilbey
also compering the edition.

Eventually the song became something of a millstone around the band's
neck, as it was the song most identifiable with the band for many
years.  In retrospect 'The Unguarded Moment' is the bands least
interesting single and despite some nice guitar lines and a deep Kilbey
vocal, it suffers from a dull arrangement.

The band's debut album, 'Of Skins And Heart', was released in March
1981, but did not chart.  As a debut it showed promise, but suffered
from a rawness and an inconsistency that perhaps reflected the band's
lack of maturity and direction.  Of the songs themselves only
'Bel-Air', 'For A Moment We're Strangers' and 'Is This Where You Live',
a long if somewhat pompous track, showed real depth or hinted at the
bands later developments.  Only one song, 'Fall Away', remains
unreleased from these early sessions.

The album did however, attract considerable attention and was released
on Carrere Records in the UK and Europe and on Capitol Records in
Canada and the USA.  It was retitled simply The Church, on both sides
of the Atlantic and had differing track listings to the local release.

Prior to the album's release in Australia, drummer Nick Ward was
replaced by Richard Ploog who hailed from Adelaide and had played in
several young bands.  Ploog possessed a strong, yet graceful playing
style and was more in touch with the Church's spirit.  The
Kilbey/Wilson-Piper/Koppes/Ploog line up has remained intact to this
very day.

The band's next release was the delightful double single pack, 'Too
Fast For You'.  The E.P. came in a picture sleeve and contained five
tracks, 'Tear It All Away', 'You've Got To Go', 'Fraulein', 'Too Fast
For You', and 'Sisters'.  'Tear It All Away' had been intended for
release on the first album and was actually more indicative of the
band's emergent style with its melancholy, yet alluring grace.  The
accompanying video-clip also pressed an intriguing dream-like quality.
This double single is now possibly the most collectable Church' item.

1982 was an important year for the band: the more representative
'Almost With You' was the second hit single; the splendid second album,
'The Blurred Crusade' established the band a potential major force; and
with overseas interest increasing The Church made its first journey to
Britain and Europe.

'Almost With You' reached No. 21 on the national charts in early 1982
and was also the bands most successful single on purely artistic
terms.  The production was crisp and clear, Koppes acoustic guitar
break was engaging and the song itself compelling and well-crafted.
The video clip however, was a little too earnest and featured the
unintentionally humorous image of a medieval knight dashing about in
slow motion.

Nevertheless, 'Almost With You was a strong taster for the album and
was also the first track on side one.. 'The Blurred Crusade' was the
definitive Church' album and, despite minor flaws, possessed a polish
and balance not even hinted at on the debut.  Bob Clearmoutain's
immaculate production values enhanced the dynamics and subtleties of
the band's music and highlighted, in particular, the diamond-hard yet
elegant interaction of guitars.  What's more, kilbey contributed some
of his more memorable tunes to the album, including 'Almost With You',
'When You Were Mine', 'An Interlude', and the magnificent 'Field Of
Mars' (sung by Marty).

The album sold well and reached No. 10 on the national charts, while in
support of it, The Church undertook a second national tour.  In
conjunction with the tour the band released a second single from the
set, 'When You Were Mine'.  The song was a live favourite and the band
at its most forceful, yet it failed to chart.

In defining the bands style, 'The Blurred Crusade' revealed the more
mysterious and melancholy aspects to the bands nature.  While this is
what makes the band's work so intriguing, they have been accused of an
over-bearing seriousness and a lack of appreciable humour, as a
result.  Similarly kilbey's lyrics have come under scrutiny as to their
worth and meaning.  They are either viewed as thoughtful modern poetry,
or sixth grade drivel.  There's no denying the striking imagery Kilbey
manages to convey with his words, but they remain blissfully obscure.

It was also around this time that the outspoken Kilbey declared, in an
interview with RAM, that he was the best songwriter in the world.
Whether he meant it seriously or otherwise, Kilbey was criticised for
his insufferable narcissism and The Church subjected to a critical
backlash that persisted for several years, and may have well been
detrimental in the long run.

Meanwhile 'The Blurred Crusade' had been released in Britain and Europe
and had sold consistent on the independent charts.  In October the band
left for an extended tour of the territories.  They played several
well-received shows at London's Marquee Club and scored favourable
press in the major English music papers, as well as small, if
inaccurate, feature in headbanger's bible Kerrang!, of all things.

The band returned home in December, just as the 'Sing Songs' 12" E.P.
was released.  The E.P. consisted of demo tracks the band had recorded
for its American label, Capitol.  The label had not even released 'The
Blurred Crusade' in the states and not surprisingly deemed the new
songs unsuitable, and dropped the band.  Kilbey wanted the songs
released in Australia, but coming after the lustrous production
showcase of 'The Blurred Crusade'', the E.P. sank without trace.

'Sing Songs' however, possessed its own delicate charm, and the songs
represented an avenue The Church never again explored.  Particularly
effective were 'The Night Is Very Soft', 'In This Room' and a lovely
cover of Paul Simon's 'I Am A Rock'.

The First single for 1983 was the mournful 'It's No Reason' from the
forth-coming seance set.  Released in May, the album featured the stark
image of an ashen-faced women on the cover which contributed to the
overall Gothic and otherworldly feel to the set.  Certainly it
contained some of the band's more inaccessible tunes and was hindered
by its harsh production.  Nevertheless it appeared briefly on the
national charts at No. 18.

In retrospect Seance is one of the band's most uncharacteristic, yet
challenging works and is a minor classic in its own right.  It also
contained several excellent songs in 'Fly', 'Its No Reason', 'Travel By
Thought', 'Electric Lash', and 'Now I Wonder Why' which, with its
dreamy melody and ethereal guitar lines, was The Church sound at its
purest.

Seance was released in Europe and also charted well on the British
alternate listings.  Once again the band received lavish praise from
the fickle English music press, and even Creem magazine in America
(where 'The Blurred Crusade' and 'Seance' had sold well on import) was
hailing the band as one of the best in the world.  High praise indeed
when on home turf the band was virtually being ignored.

The last release for 1983 was the 'Electric Lash/'Autumn Soon' single,
which turned out to be the band's last single for two years.

1984 was a very quite year for the band: they toured irregularly, but
did add keyboards player Craig Hooper (from The Reels) as a part-time
member, and managed to release two five-track mini albums, 'Remote
Luxury ' and 'Persia', both of which were commercial failures.

This was obviously a difficult period for the band: as a unit they were
suffering a creative lapse; they were being shunned by the public and
the press; and a new generation of bands had emerged and were grabbing
the limelight from under the band's noses.

Yet the mini albums had been unfairly dismissed at the time and
deserved a fair listen.  'Remote Luxury' is certainly the least
satisfying of the band's records, with 'Maybe These Boys' being
possibly the worst song Kilbey has ever written, but '10,000 Miles' and
the beautiful instrumental title track stand out as effective pieces.

In contrast 'Persia' was a very cohesive and intriguing release.
'Constant In Opal', 'Volumes' (written and sung by Marty), 'No
Explanation', 'Violet Town' and 'Shadow Cabinet' were all strong songs
infused with the classic Church' elements and were overlayed with Craig
Hooper's bright keyboard work.

The two mini-albums were issued as one album overseas, called remote
luxury, and included identical tracks.  The american album (on Warner
Bros.) was the first Church release in the US since 'The Church' in
1982, and as a result of the interest generated there, the the band
undertook its first stateside tour in October/November.  The Church
shared the bill with bands such as The Rain Parade, and played two
memorable shows at the Ritz in New York and The Palace in Los Angeles
to ecstatic crowds and favourable reviews.

1985 was an even quieter year and apart from several low-key east coast
tours, very little was seen or heard from the band.  Yet their was an
air of expectancy and the second half of the year was spent writing and
recording new material.  The first release of the year however, was a
kilbey solo single, 'This Asphalt Eden' backed with 'Never Come Back'
and 'Shell'.  'This Asphalt Eden' was a very esoteric and unusual song,
with Kilbey doing his very best Scott Walker' deep voice, but it went
largely unnoticed.

The first new Church single in two years, 'Already Yesterday', was
released at the end of the year.  It turned out to be the wrong choice
for a single as it was an unassuming song and was not really indicative
of the promise the new album held.  As a result it was neglected and
sank without a trace.  Nevertheless, the general mood within the
industry was that the band was on the verge of breaking through to
commercial success once again.

1986 commenced on a high note with the release of the eagerly awaited
'Heyday' album.  Expectation were high and the album did not
disappoint.  It proved to be a remarkable achievement and instantly won
well deserved critical favour.  All the loose pieces had been drawn
together with considerable clarity, and producer Peter Walsh (Scott
Walker, Simple Minds) was an important catalyst in extracting the best
from the band.

It was obvious the band was functioning as a unit once more, and the
songs were written by the band as a whole (although Kilbey wrote the
lyrics).  As such they compromised a cohesive song cycle, both
musically and lyrically, with there wide range of themes:  historical,
religious and space-age.

The album's haunting, fragrant nature gave it immediate appeal, with
new subtleties revealing themselves with each listen.  Taken as a whole
the album possessed a consistency and depth that easily made it the
best Church album to date, and one of the best local releases of the
year.  Yet in some ways Walsh's lush, layered production values gave
the album too much gloss and, if anything, it lacked a definite edge.
It does however, contain some of the band's most elegant and seductive
tunes in 'Myrrh', 'Tristesse', 'Night of Light', 'Columbus' and
'Tantalized'.  Particularly effective also were Kilbey's string
arrangements on 'Tantalized' and 'Night Of Light'.

Unfortunately, despite the album's positive feel and the lavish praise
it received, it returned disappointing sales figures.  It managed No.
14 on the national charts but for only one week, and then swiftly
disappeared.  To compound the disappointment, the two singles,
'Tantalized' (with its vivid and energetic video-clip) and 'Columbus',
both failed to chart.  Consequently the album is possibly the most
criminally neglected local release of the eighties.

In mainstream terms the album was a commercial failure, but it should
be noted that it and 'Tantalized', both did well on alternate charts
reaching No. 1.  Meanwhile the album was released in Europe and America
and again hailed as a classic, selling very well (over 50,000 copies in
the US and 30,000 in Europe).  In April the band left the country for
its third international tour, this time taking in a string of dates
across the states (supporting Echo And The Bunnymen), as well as Europe
and Britain.

While the band was on the European leg of the tour news arrived that
Marty had left the band, and that the others were to complete the tour
as a three piece.  Several days later however, any problems were
fortunately reconciled and Marty returned to the fold.

1987 began on a sour note when EMI, who had kept faith in the band over
the years, finally grew tired of waiting for the big hit single and
mega-platinum selling album and did not renew the band's contract.
Also, plans for the double live album, bootleg, were scrapped and the
material may never see the light of day.

On the other hand, the band did well in both the Juke and RAM Readers'
Polls for 1986, with 'Heyday' voted amongst the best albums of the year
and Steve Kilbey scoring best songwriter award for the year.  If
nothing else, this reflected the sheer loyalty and enthusiasm of the
band's fans.

In the early part of 1987 The church has been inactive, while several
members pursue solo projects.  Steve Kilbey released 'Unearthed', a
collection of home recordings, on the independent Red Eye label,
followed by another album called 'Earthed'.  'Earthed' is a purely
instrumental album to accompany a book of Kilbey's prose, bearing the
same title.

These works show Kilbey's desire to produce music outside the confines
of The Church, and are very melancholy, reflective pieces specifically
aimed at fans of his work.  Similarly Marty has found time to assemble
a collection of his own home recordings (from 1982 to 1985), called 'In
Reflection', released on Chase Records.  Peter also released a solo
record, a 12" single called 'When Reason Forbids'.

In April it was announced that the band had signed a worldwide contract
with Arista Records and a local lease deal with Mushroom Records.  At
the time of writing the band was in process of preparing new material
for the next album and looking for the right producer.  Meanwhile EMI,
which owns the band's back catalogue, has announced plans for a Church
compilation album to hopefully include all the band's singles, as well
as non-album B-sides.

It's been a long and difficult road for The Church.  After seven years
of producing some truly fine music the band still remains a second
division outfit, with only a loyal cult following in Australia.  Yet
overseas the band is hailed as one of the best to emerge in the
Eighties and their records are highly prized.  At present the bands
future success seems uncertain, but there's every indication that
subsequent albums will match the splendour of works like 'The Blurred
Crusade', 'Seance', 'Persia' and 'Heyday'.

-------------------------------------------------

As well as Steve's solo album, he has played bass on James Griffin And
The Subterraneans' mini-album, 'The Immigrant Tango', and helped
produce, with Guy Grey, The Crystal Set's 'Benefit Of The Doubt'
single.  Similarly, Marty played 12 string guitar on 'The Immigrant
Tango' and has played with the most recent line-up of The
Subterraneans, as well as his own solo show.  Richard has played drums
in the live situation with Beast Of Bourbon, Salamander Jim and The
Saints, while Peter has released a solo single, 'Love Can't Imagine',
under the name Melody.  In 1982 Ignatious Jones released the Kilbey
penned 'Like A Ghost' as a single, and in 1983 'It's No Reason'
appeared as a Jones B-side.
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