Church fan? Well if you are I am pretty sure that when you heard that Steve Kilbey was writing a biography that you revised your Christmas list.
Me too, yet to be honest lurking at the back of my mind was whether after Robert Lurie’s excellent tome about the band, No Certainty Attached, that there would be great deal left to say. Well it turns out there’s plenty.
While Lurie’s book focuses mainly on the music, with a little bit of the singer’s life for perspective, in this book it is not surprisingly the other way round.
So we learn of Steve Kilbey’s life as the son of a ten pound Pom, join him on plenty of adolescent high jinks, and discover much about his early relationships Michelle Parker and Jennifer Keyte, and how they influenced his music. It is all fascinating stuff, especially the part that reveals the band’s obsession with Paisley Shirts!
Several key themes emerge most notably (and this surprised me) how important Kilbey’s English heritage is to him. It is clear that in spite of spending about 80% of his life in Australia there’s still a large chunk of the Kilbey psyche that is made in the south east of England.
In particular, and intriguingly for The Church’s English fans, he clearly has a love/hate relationship with the land of birth. On one hand he is rather cynical about the London music press, which to be honest has never really done his band justice (though to be fair both the reviewers he namechecks negatively have penned rave reviews of the band.)
It is also clear that The Church’s sound owes a great deal to the trip Steve and his wife Michelle Parker made to London where they lapped up all the capital (which was in the midst of its hugely creative post punk renaissance) had to offer. Not surprisingly Kilbey was blown away by plenty of bands including The Only Ones, a key influence on the bands’ debut.
Also rather interesting are the young Kilbey’s early influences – lots of glam, and the Bolan thing has been chronicled many times before – but Chicago!? He also talks about his love for The Easybeats and Russell Morris (of The Real Thing fame) two artists that have over time become cult favourites around the globe. And in spite of praising lots of sixties acts he barely mentions what many fans would see as the band’s key early influence – the Byrds.
Kilbey also goes into more detail about some of the inter band relationships, (sometimes great, sometimes dysfunctional) that Lurie alludes to in his book. He talks candidly about how his experimentation with heroin lead to him to full on addiction to the drug and the bizarre life that screwed up most of the 90s for him, but for us Church addicts yielded at least a couple of classic albums in Priest and Hologram.
Overall it emerges is that Steve Kilbey is very aware that many things conspired against The Church to prevent them from becoming, well a rival to REM as the 80’s key guitar band. Being foisted producers not sympathetic to the Church’s sound, through to not playing the pop star game both early on in England and later on in the US, scuppered any potential sustained break through. One can only dream of what might have hapenned had John Paul Jones produced Gold Afternoon Fix. Sometimes he sounds a little bitter, at other times a little resigned to how things have panned out, but I guess that’s how many of us see our lives.
Sadly the book ends rather abruptly with much of the last fifteen years nailed in a few paras – which is a bit a disappointment as I’d love to know more about the background to the last two albums. Maybe it is still a bit raw and fresh and maybe, knowing how much the publishing industry loves a sequel, he is working on volume two…
Ultimately then as a read Something Quite Peculiar hovers between the waspish humour of Luke Haines books and the gossipy nature of the first few chapters of the Morrissey biography. Kilbey is a talented writer and knows how to spin a yarn tor two. And if you have ever been smitten by the music of The Church or are fascinated by a musician’s creative process purchasing this book is a total no brainer.
It will apparently be available in a digital Kindle format soon.