If you look closely, you’ll still find Ed Kuepper in Brisbane, his natural habitat, the place where he spent his formative years and made his musical mark as guitarist for the Saints back in the mid-1970s. You’ll still see him on stage too, all over the world, gnarled like old wood and just as musically strong and established, piecing together his art from whatever he finds lying around in his head, with whomever he feels the connection with at the time. Some connections are severed, not to be reunited, but others beg to be redone, to be dusted off and pushed up on stage, tied down in the spread-eagle pose before a new generation of music fans eager for something different and off the well-beaten track so many others these days tread.
Kuepper left the Saints in the late ‘70s and formed the equally seminal Laughing Clowns who released a slew of records through the early ‘80s, before Kuepper began what must surely be regarded as one of the most prolific solo careers ever before seen in this country. 1985 marked the beginning with the release of Electrical Storm, a record which firmly put Kuepper on the map as an artist in his own right, a musical force to be reckoned with on any, and every front. So he released a few more records, an EP or two, and then dropped Today Wonder in 1990, which opened the floodgates even further and the scene was treated to something new and different and Kuepper-stained with almost every passing year. Truly did this man know what he wanted to do.
During those years then, Kuepper built up a strong musical relationship with one, Mark Dawson, a drummer and percussionist who accompanied him on many of those early solo recordings and so this brings us to now, and to the music that begs to be dusted off, as Kuepper and Dawson strike out together to re-imagine those two, now seminal, records, Electrical Storm and Today Wonder, a treat for all involved. “That was so long ago, I think it was in the days when you’d run an ad in the street press or something, I think that’s how Mark and I met up,” muses Kuepper, providing some history on this musical partnership.
“So Mark basically joined my band at the time, very shortly after Electrical Storm was recorded and ended up playing on seven or eight albums I did after that, so we worked together for quite a long time,” he continues. “And a lot of that was as a duo, we did a lot of touring after Today Wonder was recorded. We didn’t do a lot in Australia, but we did a lot of European touring. So the intention of these shows I guess, is to reignite some of that, and hopefully we can.” The question that begs to be answered then, is why?
“Well, I was asked to do these shows, I was presented with the concept, and I kind of thought, even though Mark didn’t play on the original recording of Electrical Storm, he did end up being the drummer who ended up playing all that stuff live,” Kuepper explains. “So he does have a connection point, and Today Wonder, I think if you’re going to look at that in any way, Mark has to do it, because that was basically him and me. We haven’t worked together for yonks, I can’t remember how long, maybe 15 years, so when the offer came up, I got him on the line to see if he was interested, because we hadn’t had a lot of communication, and for all I knew it was the last thing he wanted to do. But he was keen, and I’m pleased that he was.”
It’s interesting to note then, that despite the fact Kuepper and Dawson have a solid history of performing as a duo and that Today Wonder featured just them,
Electrical Storm was more of a band record, featuring Louis Tillett on piano; it’ll be interesting to see how Kuepper and Dawson perform this material. “Well what I’m going through at the moment is, ‘How do we actually do these songs?’” Kuepper concurs. “It’s obvious to anyone who knows my stuff that we’re not going to go out and do note for note recreations.
“We’ll just be looking at it differently, I don’t think I can just go back and do it the same. The interesting thing that I find, because I haven’t heard Electrical Storm in so long, maybe 20 years…is that you listen back and you’re confronted with, ‘Oh, I’ve actually changed, I actually do things differently’, which I find interesting. I haven’t gotten stuck in a rut anyway.” These shows are being billed as Electrical Storm and Today Wonder being “re-imagined”. As Kuepper says, they’ll certainly sound different from the original recordings, but how, exactly, is he looking to ‘re-imagine’ them?
“I think, especially when you take into consideration the way a lot of my recordings are done, they’re done sort of quickly,” he muses. “It’s like, this is what they are now, or at that point in time, and then a few years down the track, I might feel real differently about them. Hopefully, as songs, they stand up, the way that you play them. Because I’ve never really stopped and things just keep evolving artistically, which some people like, some people don’t…but I’ve never played a song the same way twice in my life. I guess if you want the record, listen to the record, but if you want an interpretation done live, then you come to the live show, it’s pretty straight forward to me.”
So how these two albums will appear on stage now then, will be quite different to how they were originally recorded, and so it seems like it’ll be quite spontaneous. “Well, we will actually rehearse,” Kuepper says with a laugh. “To be honest, I’m thinking, how are we going to do some of these songs, it doesn’t sort of scream out to me in a few cases. But hopefully as we get closer to the dates and start loosening up in a few rehearsals, it’ll kind of become obvious as it happens.”
And so begins yet another chapter in the musical like of Ed Kuepper, ‘re-imagining’ a couple of modern classics with just Dawson as his foil, rock n’ roll his muse, anything could happen and it probably will. So to look ahead then, where to next? Kuepper is constantly changing and evolving, trying new things, so what’s on the cards after this project? “Well, I’ve been working my way through an album of new songs and I’ve had a number of different changes of approach to it, so I really can’t say an awful lot about that, but it is developing…and people have been asking if there’s any further things planned with Chris Bailey, and at this point in time, I’d say that’s probably unlikely, I think we might have changed too much over time.”
Kuepper certainly has changed a lot over time, and this is one of the major reasons he’s still such a force to be reckoned with. It’s an ongoing evolution here, and one which is far from done.
Samuel J. Fell