Today's artists are a post-punk band that formed in Sydney in 1979. In five years, the band released three LPs, two mini albums, and various singles and compilations. Their sound is free jazz, bluegrass and krautrock influenced. The band formed to accommodate Ed Kuepper's growing interest in expanding the brass-driven sounds created on The Saints third album, Prehistoric Sounds, and by adopting flattened fifth notes in a rock and roll setting while using a modern jazz styled band line-up. Along with The Birthday Party, The Go-Betweens, The Moodists and The Triffids, the Laughing Clowns also sought fame in Europe during the early '80s, and gained an international cult status. All four aforementioned groups have cited them as an influence at some point in their respective careers..........N'Joy
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Laughing Clowns were formed in April 1979 in Sydney as a rock, soul, avant-jazz group by Bob Farrell on saxophone, Ed Kuepper on lead guitar and lead vocals (ex-Kid Galahad and the Eternals, The Saints), Ben Wallace-Crabbe on bass guitar, and Jeffrey Wegener on drums (ex-The Saints, Last Words, Young Charlatans). In late 1978 Kuepper had quit punk rock band, The Saints, in London – where they had relocated – due to a rift regarding future direction with fellow founder, Chris Bailey. Kuepper preferred "less commercial, more cerebral material" as seen on the band's third album, Prehistoric Sounds (October 1978).
When Kuepper returned to Australia in 1978 he had contemplated musical retirement however he reconnected with two old school friends, Farrell and Wegener, at a party and they coaxed him into forming a new band. Both Farrell and Wegener had associations with The Saints: Wegener was an early member in 1975 and Farrell was one of the Flat Top Four, which performed backing vocals on "Kissin' Cousins" for that band's debut album, (I'm) Stranded (February 1977). Ben Wallace-Crabbe had played in a Melbourne band, The Love, with Wegener, and completed the initial line-up. A proposed single by The Saints, "Laughing Clowns" / "On the Waterfront", through EG Records was not recorded by that group due to the difference of opinion between Kuepper and Bailey. Each track appeared elsewhere: "On the Waterfront" on The Saints' first post-Kuepper EP, Paralytic Tonight, Dublin Tomorrow (March 1980) and "Laughing Clowns" provided Kuepper's new band's name and their self-titled six-track mini-album in May that year.
Laughing Clowns made their public debut in August 1979, immediately encountering both confusion and antipathy from The Saints' fans who expected a more abrasive punk sound. Australian musicologist, Ian McFarlane, noted that "Part of the problem was that the band's sound defied categorisation. Having to overcome such ludicrous labels as 'jazz-punk' ... [it] was diverse yet moody, at turns melodic or dissonant. It ranged from rock and soul to avant-jazz". The Saints' Prehistoric Sounds had not received a local release via EMI until 1979, so Laughing Clowns performed various tracks from that album in their early sets – including "The Prisoner" and "Swing for the Crime". Later in the year, Ben's cousin and former guitarist in the Melbourne-based version of Crime & the City Solution, Dan Wallace-Crabbe (also ex-The Love), joined the group on piano. Laughing Clowns EP – first pressing with red text, which was released by Missing Link in May 1980. Cover art is by Robin Wallace-Crabbe.
This five-piece incarnation recorded Laughing Clowns at Richmond Recorders in Melbourne with production by Kuepper, and engineering by Tony Cohen. All six tracks were written by Kuepper. Released via Missing Link, it gained favourable reviews in the Australian independent music press. McFarlane opined that the EP was "unlike any other [record] made in Australia to that point. The music's only parallel lay in latter-day Saints as a logical progression from Prehistoric Sounds, but at the same time it was a departure, a foray into new territory. The open-ended song arrangements were stirring and provocative, but also disconcerting. The production values were cavernous and echoey; a fascinating sound, but very cold and detached".
A promotional video for one of its tracks, "Holy Joe", was provided; a rare feat from an Australian independent band of the Countdown era. Upon the EP's release, they expanded to a six-piece group with Peter Doyle on trumpet. This configuration performed at the Paris Theatre in Sydney in November 1980, with The Birthday Party and The Go-Betweens; which marked the last gig with Farrell. Ben also left the group before the year's end and his cousin, Dan followed within a few months. Ben subsequently formed Upside Down House, and later committed suicide.
The group were disenchanted with their former label, so their second release, a three-track EP, Sometimes, the Fire Dance...., appeared under the Prince Melon imprint in February 1981 – a label run by then-manager, Ken West, and Kuepper. The label name 'Prince Melon' was the nickname the band had for West. This EP had been recorded in mid-June 1980 with the six-piece line-up, again with Cohen engineering, but had the whole group producing. Jonathan Green of The Canberra Times felt the EP had "[s]uper songs, especially the A side, which strikes the odd emotional chord (sob), from one of the most challenging bands in the country. Apparently poppy, with an underlying and sinister atonality".
In March 1981 the band released a third EP, Laughing Clowns 3, with five tracks. In July the two Prince Melon EPs were combined to create their first compilation album, Throne of Blood/Reign of Terror. The line-up of Doyle, Kuepper and Wegener continued as a three-piece exploring much freer arrangements, and drawing from the band's mutual interest in free jazz. By mid-1981 they gained Louise Elliott on saxophone and flute; and Leslie 'Bif' Millar on fretless and upright bass guitar. With this new line-up, the band delved further into jazz-inspired improvisation and experimentation.
In March 1982 Laughing Clown issued their debut studio album, Mr Uddich-Schmuddich Goes to Town. It was recorded in November of the previous year and was produced by Doyle, Kuepper and Wegener; engineered by Doyle and Peter Walker (ex-Bakery guitarist). It showed a change of approach with the addition of Millar's jazz-schooled bass playing. Much like the work of Captain Beefheart, the seemingly improvisational elements are predetermined by Kuepper, the band's primary songwriter, except the LP's title track.
Jim Green, of TrouserPress, summarised the group's history and described this album as displaying "a shift in the lineup brought in a new saxman and bassist (playing acoustic stand-up) and dropped the pianist. The tracks are more succinct, and the overall impression is that of consolidation and retrenchment". Alex Griffin of Life is Noise website lists it as one of his Top Australian Albums, "Despite sounding like it was recorded inside Ed’s cavernous, musty trachea, the songs are paranoid and shifting, propelled as ever by Jeffrey Wagoner’s drumming which sounds like a jittery dinosaur in a Chinese tea room". Soon after its release the band, except Doyle, relocated briefly to Europe and recorded a session for John Peel which appeared on a four-track EP, Everything That Flies Is not a Bird, released in 1983. By the end of 1982, the group had temporarily split due to internal tensions, and Wegener joined The Birthday Party for a tour of the Netherlands early in the next year.
The album employs the recording of duel acoustic and electric guitar tracks, and a more song-based approach. The Canberra Times reviewer, Debbie Muir, noted its "innovative, though frankly bitter, style that's not punk or new wave or straight rock but just its unpretentious self". She praised the lead single as "The best track by far is 'Eternally Yours', which conveys an atmosphere of drooling sadness ... the extended single version is much, much better" than the album's version. McFarlane praised the album and its lead single as being "amongst the band's very finest works. There were moments of great beauty on Law of Nature such as 'Law of Nature', 'Written in Exile' and 'Eternally Yours', where Elliot's soulful and epic sax riff danced majestically in the air". After a national and European tour in support of the album, Walsh departed to return to The Apartments and was replaced on bass guitar in Laughing Clowns by Paul Smith.
Laughing Clowns were expanded with the addition of Glad Reed on trumpet, Dianne Spence on saxophone, and Louis Tillett on piano. In October 1984 they began recording their final album, Ghosts of an Ideal Wife, at Alberts Studios. By Christmas of that year, the band split after international and national tours, with Kuepper finishing the album, early in 1985. A posthumous single, the double A side "Just Because I Like" / "Crystal Clear" was released in February 1985 via Hot Records. Shortly after disbanding Elliott and Wegener briefly joined a latter version of The Saints for an Australian tour; while Kuepper began work on his debut solo LP, Electrical Storm (June 1985).
Much of the Laughing Clowns' saga was recounted in the book, Stranded: The Secret History of Australian Independent Music 1977–1991 (1996), by Australian rock music writer, Clinton Walker. Walker had been a confidante of the band and one of its outspoken critical champions. In September 2005 Tim Ritchie of Radio National reviewed their 3× CD compilation album, Cruel but Fair (The Complete Clowns Recordings), and described their style "[it] was so singular, so 'not part of the trends' that they would either have people walking out of gigs in droves, or have them swear they were witness to something akin to greatness". The anthology was released on 3 October 2005 to further critical acclaim, Donat Tahiraj of Time Off magazine declared they were "the most inventive and innovative Australian band of the post-punk era"
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Ed Kuepper's post-Saints band, Laughing Clowns, have been poorly served in the CD era. Four separate CD releases existed prior to this complete, three CD collection - two of their "real" albums (one with 10 tracks, one with only 9, and neither with bonus tracks) and two compilations (both just 10 tracks, with lots of duplication with each other and the two stand alone albums).
This collection sets things straight, with 48 tracks which include all of the above plus roughly a dozen and a half more tracks. If, like me, you've marvelled at the unique and stellar magic of chance hearings of (now former) obscurities such as "Year Of The Bloated Goat," or if you've wondered what all those early uncompiled tracks from the "Prince Melon-era" actually sounded like, this is the package for you. This 3xCD set is packaged in a kind of fold-out digipack, and includes excellent liner notes and band member details, as well as a track-by-track run through memory lane from Kuepper.
The music of the Laughing Clowns always suffered from a certain muddy claustrophobia; the mastering here is better than on previous releases, but like the first Raincoats album or the Blue Orchids' "Greatest Hit," it's obvious that the band did not record in the most luxurious studios. But, as with those other albums, it all works, and while Laughing Clowns may be one of those "love 'em or hate 'em" bands, anyone with an open mind and adventurous taste in music will find plenty of fantastic songs and innumerable moments of jaw-dropping wonder.
The only complaint I can make is that this set is not chronological. This doesn't affect the listening experience as such, but makes it difficult to chart the development of the band easily. I suspect there's a "period" in the band's career which I favor, but I haven't got the time to sort it out. At the same time, there are few weak moments here . . . this is an underrated boxed set from an unjustly obscure band.
Laughing Clowns - Cruel, But Fair, The Complete Clowns Recordings (flac 480mb)
101 Eternally Yours 5:11
102 As Your Bridges Burn Behind You 4:12
103 Law Of Nature 4:47
104 The Flypaper 3:41
105 Everything That Flies 4:19
106 No Words Of Honour 3:33
107 New Bully In The Town 3:53
108 Year Of The Bloated Goat 5:26
109 Diabolic Creature 3:56
110 Monkey See Monkey Do 5:01
111 Possessions 2:59
112 Written In Exile 3:55
113 Winter's Way 2:44
114 Crystal Clear 4:42
115 Eternally Yours (Original Album Version) 5:08
Laughing Clowns - Cruel, But Fair 2 (flac 515mb)
201 Holy Joe 3:57
202 Theme From "Mad Flies, Mad Flies" 3:53
203 Every Dog Has Its Day 3:54
204 That's The Way It Goes 4:45
205 Come One, Come All 4:09
206 Ghost Beat 3:21
207 Knife In The Head 3:03
208 Laughing Clowns 4:25
209 Eulogy? 4:10
210 I Want To Scream 5:19
211 Lucky Days 2:39
212 Sometimes 4:03
213 Nothing That Harms 5:04
214 Clown Town 3:24
215 Fire Might Fall 2:03
216 The Crying Dance 3:03
217 When What You See 10:59
Laughing Clowns - Cruel, But Fair 3 (flac 570mb)
301 Mr Uddich-Schmuddich Goes To Town 5:01
302 Ghost Of An Ideal Wife 4:15
303 The Only One That Knows 7:26
304 Collapse Board 5:59
305 Stinking To High Heaven 3:55
306 Don't Know What I Want 8:08
307 Eating Off The Floor 3:16
308 Laughter Around The Table 8:26
309 Bride Of Jesus 3:39
310 In Front Of Your Eyes 5:01
311 It Gets So Sentimental 3:14
312 Mr Ridiculous 3:21
313 The Year Is More Important 4:20
314 Just Because I Like 3:40
315 Song Of Joy 2:58
316 Times Not Hit But Missed Blues 5:40
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