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Steve tells some stories about early touring Print E-mail
Friday, 25 July 2003

SE Metro

HD Milky Waylaid

BY By Brigid Delaney

WC 836 words

PD 25 July 2003

SN The Sydney Morning Herald

SC SMHH

PG 21

LA English

CY (c) 2003 John Fairfax Holdings Limited. Not available for re-distribution.

LP

The Church used to drive fans to riot. Now back in Sydney after years overseas, Steve Kilbey is hoping for a better reception.


It is 1981. The Church take to the stage at the Lady Bay Hotel in Warrnambool. The big brick pile stands on the edge of the Southern Ocean, the carpet sticky with years of crushed cigarettes, spilt beer, vomit and sweat. Chicken wire is erected to protect the band from the crowd and the police are regularly called in at closing time to break up fights.

 

TD

The crowd are chanting Unguarded Moment, the band's big song. The Church decide not to play it and the crowd riots, pushing the barricade and charging at the band. Bottles are thrown. The venue manager comes over: "I don't know what the f--- they want - but you better play it."


Frontman Steve Kilbey has many such stories: the roadies beaten up in Goulburn while unloading the Church's van before a show; Kilbey in the car park of a Bankstown pub searching for an eyeliner pencil he had dropped on the ground, feeling sick with the apprehension of violence.


Or shows with Cold Chisel in the packed, steaming back rooms of pubs, where Jimmy Barnes would be hurling vodka bottles at closed windows, smashing them to let the air in.


In the 1980s, it was common for Australian bands to do seemingly endless loops of Sydney and Melbourne, then back out to the country towns, towns where Kilbey felt the audiences were waiting to tear them apart.


"It's a real cliche, but the audiences in Australia, especially outside Sydney and Melbourne, were so hard and so [uninterested]," he says. "It was like running with a lead weight around your ankle. New Zealand was even worse. They didn't care who we were, they hated you."


Kilbey says playing pubs was the Church's "baptism of fire".


"The Church were wussies, lovers not fighters," he says. "So when we went to the US and UK and someone came on heavy with us we were like, 'We're not frightened of you guys, we've been beaten up by some of the biggest yobs in the world.'"


Kilbey admits the band never felt comfortable touring country towns and even being labelled Australian felt wrong. Instead, they went on to become a "band of the world", enjoying success in Europe and America, their sound, themes, lyrics and ideas free of any discernible nationality.


Kilbey tried on other countries like other men try on suits: a residency in Sweden, a green card for America, citizenship in the UK.


He wrote poetry, signed CDs at New York's Tower Records, appeared on Brazilian television, spent time in the wilderness of hard drugs and started a family in Scandinavia.


It's been a year since Kilbey moved back to Australia and he is finally able to say he has found home. He says he's in love with Bondi.


The pleasures of this new life are visceral - swimming in the Icebergs pool in winter, watching the sea change colours as the hours pass, walks down Campbell Parade with his twin daughters and "all the people-watching".


The band has also regrouped in Australia and are recording a new album, Forget Yourself, due for release in September.


This weekend's shows at the Opera House as part of the Studio Sessions series will feature maybe "six or seven" of the new songs.


"It's a balancing act," says Kilbey. "I'm of the school that we shouldn't do all new things in a show."


The band has plenty of old songs to draw on, too, with a catalogue stretching back to 1980. Their most cherished work is still 1988's Under the Milky Way.


"[Under the Milky Way] is a mixed blessing," says Kilbey. "I've written and recorded hundreds of other songs and some of them are as good as that.


"It's like being a father and you've got 10 children and you love them all, but it's when people only talk about one of them and you feel like saying, 'Yeah - but I've got these other kids as well'."


Kilbey was surprised to discover, via the internet, that more than 20 versions of the song have been recorded. He singles out Jimmy Little's cover for praise and says it's an "immense compliment for another artist to cover your song".


Kilbey says Under the Milky Way "also gets played at a lot of weddings and even some funerals", further proof that the song is lodged deep in people's hearts.


He recently received an invitation to attend a wedding in Hungary of a fan who used Church lyrics to woo his wife.


Although he is tempted, he won't go. At 48, his restlessness is happily sated.


THE CHURCH


Where Sydney Opera House Studio


When Sunday, 3pm (6pm sold out)


How much $25/$20


Bookings 9250 7777


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