Martin Kennedy has gone from Church fan to Steve Kilbey's band mate, writes Michael Dwyer.

MARTIN Kennedy was ''blown away'' the first time he recorded Steve Kilbey. He was just a 15-year-old kid with a cassette recorder. The Church were one of the cool new bands playing the Tanelorn Festival on a farm near Newcastle.

''I remember feeling it was the end of the old guard in a way and the beginning of the new,'' Kilbey says of that soft-focus weekend in the summer of 1981 starring Midnight Oil, Split Enz, Men at Work, the Sunnyboys, Moving Pictures, Mi-Sex and dozens of more-fleeting names.

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''Thorpie arrived in a helicopter and they cleared the way for him, ushered all the other bands out of the catering area. But then when he played, he didn't go down so well. There had been this shift in consciousness.''

A certain ethereal musical wavelength would continue to bind Kilbey and Kennedy from afar for more than 25 years. But it's only recently that you'll find them sharing a pot of soy chai in the same Brunswick kitchen.

They remained virtual strangers even while creating their first album, Unseen Music Unheard Words, which began to take shape via Australia Post after Kilbey heard Kennedy's ambient electronic project, All India Radio.

''I felt an immediate affinity with this music,'' Kilbey says.

''It was this delightful thing where the music just fell out of the sky. I didn't know what Martin looked like, spoke like, what he wanted … some songs had titles but most of them didn't. I didn't feel any expectations from anyone, ever. It was a very low-maintenance situation.''

When Kennedy received the first track with Kilbey's distinctive voice, melody and lyrics on top, he was blown away all over again. ''This is a bit of music that I have written, now Steve Kilbey is singing on it. How did that happen? It was weird but wow, I loved it. I enjoyed the process immensely.''

Freshly minted in the spare room of Kennedy's Brunswick home is the first song the pair have completed face-to-face.

Two hours earlier, Kilbey hadn't even heard the music. Now a scribbled page of lyrics attests to the spontaneous arrival of a song possibly called Lay Me Down Boys.

''Martin said something when I arrived, a phrase that had nothing to do with anything, but I thought: 'That would be good for a song,''' Kilbey says. ''Then the rest of the words just came into my head. They just kind of unspool.''

Kennedy looks mystified. ''It's fascinating to watch because I have so few words. I've done one solo vocal album. It took me years and it was an absolute nightmare.''

Kilbey, as ever, defers to the ether. ''Very early on I realised you don't try and understand lyrics, you don't try to interpret them, you just let them wash over you,'' he says.

''So the reverse process has to be true. When you want to write your own song, you have to just let them wash back out again.''

Unseen Music Unheard Words is launched at the Toff in Town on Thursday, September 10.