Laughing Clowns

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Laughing Clowns
Origin Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Genres Rock, post-punk, alternative rock, free jazz, punk jazz
Years active
  • 1979 (1979)–1984 (1984)
  • 2009 (2009)–2010 (2010)
Labels
Associated acts
Website facebook.com/laughingclowns
Members
  • Ed Kuepper
  • Jeffrey Wegener
  • Louise Elliott
  • Leslie 'Bif' Millar
  • Alister Spence
Past members
  • Bob Farrell
  • Ben Wallace-Crabbe
  • Dan Wallace-Crabbe
  • Peter Milton Walsh
  • Dianne Spence
  • Glad Reed
  • Paul Smith
  • Peter Doyle

Laughing Clowns, sometimes written as The Laughing Clowns, are a post punk band who formed in Sydney in 1979. In five years, the band released: three LPs, two mini albums, and various singles and compilations. Laughing Clowns' sound is free jazz, bluegrass and krautrock influenced. The band formed to accommodate Ed Kuepper's growing interest 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 Laughing Clowns as an influence at some point in their respective careers.

Early years 1979-81[edit]

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).[1][2] 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.[1][3] Kuepper preferred "less commercial, more cerebral material" as seen on the band's third album, Prehistoric Sounds (October 1978).[1][4]

When Kuepper returned to Australia in 1978 he had contemplated musical retirement,[3] 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.[1] 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.[3][5] 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.[1]

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".[1] 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.[1][2][6]

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,[2] and engineering by Tony Cohen. All six tracks were written by Kuepper.[7] 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".[1]

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.[1][2] 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.[1] Ben subsequently formed Upside Down House, and later committed suicide.[8]:101

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.[8]:80 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".[9]

In March 1981 the band released a third EP, Laughing Clowns 3, with five tracks.[1] In July the two Prince Melon EPs were combined to create their first compilation album, Throne of Blood/Reign of Terror.[1][2][8]:94 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.[1][2] With this new line-up, the band delved further into jazz-inspired improvisation and experimentation.

Mr Uddich-Schmuddich Goes to Town 1982[edit]

In March 1982 Laughing Clown issued their debut studio album, Mr Uddich-Schmuddich Goes to Town.[1][2][8]:101, 159 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.[7]

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".[10] 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".[11] 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.[1][2] By the end of 1982,[1][2] the group had temporarily split due to internal tensions, and Wegener joined The Birthday Party for a tour of Holland early in the next year.

Law of Nature 1983-1984[edit]

Kuepper reformed Laughing Clowns in May 1983 with Elliott and Wegener but without Millar.[1][2] They added Peter Milton Walsh (ex-The Apartments) on bass guitar.[1][2][8]:142 Walsh remained for twelve months and had not played bass guitar in a band before; he appeared on their second album, Law of Nature. It was recorded during the latter half of 1983 in Sydney and released in April 1984 on the newly formed label, Hot, with the addition of pianist Chris Abrahams. The single, "Eternally Yours", was released on 12" in March with a promotional video accompanying it. The group started promoting the releases with a national tour, The Canberra Times '​ correspondent noted gig giveaways included "Free flexi-discs of the band's new single, 'Eternally Yours', which will include one unreleased track, ... to the first 300 people passing through the door. Albums and 12inch giveaways are on the agenda".[12] The line-up were "well-established" with Kuepper, Wegener, Elliot, and Walsh.[12]

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".[13] 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.[13] 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".[1] 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.[1][2]

Ghosts of an Ideal Wife and break-up 1984-1985[edit]

Laughing Clowns were expanded with the addition of Glad Reed on trumpet, Dianne Spence on saxophone, and Louis Tillett on piano.[1][2] 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,[14] 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.[8] 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".[15] 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".[16]

Afterwards and reformation[edit]

In 2004 Kuepper and Wegener performed together on Ed Kuepper's MFLL project, a live presentation of soundtracks to short films which toured Australia and Europe, including a show at the Cartier Foundation. Subsequently Wegener joined Kuepper's touring band, The Kowalski Collective, and appeared on his concept album, Jean Lee and the Yellow Dog (September 2007). In 2008 Kuepper restarted the Prince Melon record label, and in March of the following year they released a live album, Prince Melon Bootleg Series Volume 7: Laughing Clowns Live.[17] The concert was at The Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane with Laughing Clowns as a trio: Elliott, Kuepper and Wegener.[17][18]

An expanded version of the group assembled in May 2009 – the trio were joined by Millar and Alister Spence on keyboards – for the All Tomorrow's Parties festival, curated by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and an eastern states tour.[18][19] The band toured Australia in January 2010, again, as a part of All Tomorrow's Parties' Don't Look Back series of shows supporting Dirty Three. For the tour Laughing Clowns performed their 1984 compilation, History of Rock 'n' Roll Volume One, in its entirety.[19] Prince Melon issued two further live albums in 2010.

Members[edit]

  • Bob Farrell – saxophone (1979–81)
  • Ed Kuepper – lead vocals, lead guitar, banjo (1979–82, 1983–84, 2009–2010)
  • Ben Wallace-Crabbe – bass guitar (1979–81)
  • Jeffrey Wegener – drums, percussion (1979–82, 1983–84, 2009–2010)
  • Dan Wallace-Crabbe – piano (1980-1981)
  • Peter Doyle – trumpet (1981–83)
  • Elliot Louise – saxophone, flute (1981–82, 1983–84, 2009–2010)
  • Leslie Millar – bass guitar (1981-1983)
  • John Weinzieri – bass guitar (1982)
  • Abrahams Chris – piano (1983)
  • Peter Milton Walsh – bass guitar (1983)
  • Paul Smith – bass guitar (1983–84)

Discography[edit]

Studio albums[edit]

  • Mr Uddich-Schmuddich Goes to Town LP (Prince Melon) March 1982
  • Law of Nature LP/CD (Hot) April 1984
  • Ghosts of an Ideal Wife LP/CD (Hot) August 1985

Compilation albums[edit]

  • Throne of Blood/Reign of Terror aka the Greatest Hits 1980 LP (Prince Melon) July 1981
  • History of Rock 'n' Roll Vol. 1 LP/CD (Hot) November 1984
  • Golden Days – When Giants Walked the Earth CD (Hot) August 1995
  • Cruel but Fair (The Complete Clowns Recordings) 3× CD (Hot) October 2005

Live albums[edit]

  • Prince Melon Bootleg Series Volume 7: Laughing Clowns Live CD (Prince Melon) March 2009
  • Prince Melon Bootleg Series Volume 8: Laughing Clowns Live at the Basement CD (Prince Melon) January 2010
  • Prince Melon Bootleg Series Volume 16: don't ask stupid questions to an artist, cop (Laughing Clowns Live 1982) CD (Prince Melon) 2010

Extended plays[edit]

  • Laughing Clowns MLP (Missing Link) May 1980
  • Sometimes, the Fire Dance.... 7" (Prince Melon) January 1981
  • Laughing Clowns 3 MLP (Prince Melon) March 1981
  • Everything That Flies... 12" EP (Prince Melon) July 1983

Singles[edit]

  • "Theme from Mad Flies, Mad Flies" 7" (Prince Melon) March 1982
  • "In Front of Your Eyes" (Prince Melon)
  • "Eternally Yours" 12" (Hot) March 1984
  • "Just Because I Like" / "Crystal Clear 7" (Hot) February 1985

References[edit]

General
Specific
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u McFarlane, 'Laughing Clowns' entry. Archived from the original on 4 July 2004. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Holmgren, Magnus. "Laughing Clowns". passagen.se. Australian Rock Database (Magnus Holmgren). Archived from the original on 25 October 2003. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c Nimmervoll, Ed. "Ed Kuepper". Howlspace. White Room Electronic Publishing Pty Ltd. Archived from the original on 27 July 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  4. ^ McFarlane, 'The Saints' entry. Archived from the original on 6 April 2004. Retrieved 12 October 2014.
  5. ^ Thompson, Stephen (14 July 2007). "1975 Ed Kuepper’s Valeno Guitar". Objects Through Time. New South Wales Migration Heritage Centre (Powerhouse Museum). Retrieved 17 May 2012. 
  6. ^ Beissel, Kim; Turnbull, Phil. "Sydney Post-Punk Memoirs". No Night Sweats. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "'Laughing Clowns' at APRA search engine". Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA). Retrieved 12 October 2014.  Note: User may have to click 'Search again' and provide details at 'Enter a title:' e.g Laughing Clowns; or at 'Performer:' Laughing Clowns
  8. ^ a b c d e f Walker
  9. ^ Green, Jonathan (4 February 1981). "Singles". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995) (National Library of Australia). p. 17. Retrieved 12 October 2014. 
  10. ^ Green, Jim. "Laughing Clowns". TrouserPress.com. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  11. ^ Griffin, Alex. "My Top Australian Albums". Life Is Noise.com. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  12. ^ a b "Clowns give it away at ANU". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995) (National Library of Australia). 11 April 1984. p. 30. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  13. ^ a b Muir, Debbie (26 March 1984). "Innovative". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995) (National Library of Australia). p. 17. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  14. ^ Mealey, Elisabeth (5 December 1984). "Timespan: Laughing Clowns on final Australian tour". The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995) (National Library of Australia). p. 33. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  15. ^ Ritchie, Tim (30 September 2005). "#39". Sound Quality. Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)). Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  16. ^ Tahiraj, Donat. "Laughing Clowns Cruel but Fair Review". Time Off (Time Off Magazine. The Kuepper Files (Lasse Carlestam)). Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  17. ^ a b "Laughing Clowns Live (Brisbane 2009)". The Kuepper Files (Lasse Carlestam). Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  18. ^ a b "The Laughing Clowns play at Brisbane's GoMA". The Courier-Mail (News Limited). 7 November 2008. Retrieved 17 May 2012. 
  19. ^ a b "Laughing Clowns". All Tomorrow's Parties. 2010. Retrieved 17 May 2012. 

External links[edit]