Laughing Clowns

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Laughing Clowns
Origin Sydney, Australia
Genres Rock, post-punk, alternative rock, free jazz, punk jazz
Years active 1979–1984
Labels Prince Melon, Hot, Rough Trade Deutschland, Red Flame, Missing Link, Seven
Associated acts The Saints, Kid Galahad and the Eternals, The Young Charlatans, The Apartments, The Birthday Party, Ed Kuepper & the Yard Goes on Forever, Crime and the City Solution, Last Words
Website Official website
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, commonly misspelled 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.[1][2] The band formed to accommodate Ed Kuepper's growing interest expanding the brass-driven sounds created on the Saints final 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]

The band formed in Sydney in 1979 after Kuepper quit punk rock band The Saints due to a rift regarding the band's future direction. A final single was planned Laughing Clowns/On the Waterfront through EG Records, though never recorded.[3] Each of the tracks ended up elsewhere; namely on the post-Kuepper debut of the Saints Paralytic Tonight, Dublin Tomorrow EP and the self-titled Laughing Clowns mini-album; both of which appeared in 1980.

Kuepper returned to Australia in late 1978 contemplating musical retirement, however he bumped into old school friends Jeffrey Wegener and Bob Farrell at a party; the two coaxed Kuepper into forming a new band.

Both drummer Wegener and tenor saxophonist Farrell had early associations with The Saints, as Wegener briefly played with the band in 1975 (with Ivor Hay playing bass) and Farrell having been one of the Flat Top Four, performing backing vocals on Kissing Cousins from the band's debut album (I'm) Stranded.

Having played in a Melbourne band The Love with Wegener, bassist Ben Wallace-Crabbe joined the band and completed the first line-up, which began rehearsing in Sydney during the early months of 1979. After six months of rehearsal, the band made its public debut in August 1979, immediately encountering both confusion and antipathy from Saints fans who expected a more abrasive punk sound.

And seeing that the third and final Saints album Prehistoric Sounds had not received a local release via EMI until 1979, Laughing Clowns performed various songs from the LP 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 incarnation of Crime and the City Solution Dan Wallace-Crabbe joined the group on piano. It was this five-piece incarnation of the Clowns that recorded Laughing Clowns at Richmond Recorders in Melbourne with engineer Tony Cohen. Released via Missing Link, their debut six track gained favorable reviews in the Australian independent music press after it hit the shelves in May 1980. A promotional video for the song "Holy Joe" from the record was also produced; a rare feat from an Australian independent band of the Countdown era.

'Laughing Clowns' First pressing with red text; released by Missing Link, May 1980. Cover by Robin Wallace-Crabbe

Around the time of its release, the band again expanded its line-up to a six-piece with the addition of trumpeter Peter Doyle. This six-piece configuration of the band performed at the now-legendary Paris Theatre in Sydney in November 1980, with The Birthday Party and The Go-Betweens. This show marked the last appearance of Bob Farrell.

Having felt disenchanted by their former independent record label, the band's second release, the single "Sometimes the Fire Dance" appeared under the Prince Melon imprint in February 1981, run by then manager Ken West and Ed Kuepper. Within two months, the band release the 12" EP Laughing Clowns 3 and by August the two releases create their first compilation, Throne of Blood/Reign Of Terror.

During the course of the band's highly prolific recording output, the band lose the Wallace-Crabbe cousins and the Clowns are seen performing around Sydney as a three piece configuration, exploring much freer arrangements, and drawing from the band's mutual interest in free jazz.

By the middle of 1981, the band gain two members of the Sydney jazz community; saxophonist Louise Elliott and fretless and upright bassist Leslie 'Bif' Millar, and with this new line-up, the band delve further into jazz-inspired improvisation and experimentation.

Mr Uddich Schmuddich Goes To Town 1982[edit]

Released in May 1982, the group's debut LP Mr Uddich Schmuddich Goes To Town shows the Clowns' in a change of approach with the addition of Millar's jazz schooled bass playing. Much like the work of Captain Beefheart, the seemingly improvisational element of the album is entirely predetermined by the band's primary songwriter, Ed Kuepper, with the exception of the LP's title track.

Soon after, the band minus Doyle relocate briefly to Europe and record a session for John Peel which appear on their 12" EP Everything That Flies Is Not A Bird, released in 1983.

By the end of 1982, the Clowns split due to tensions within the band, as Jeffrey Wegener briefly joins the The Birthday Party for a tour of Holland in early 1983.

Law of Nature 1983-1984[edit]

Ed Kuepper reformed the band during the course of the year minus Millar, and added Peter Milton Walsh of The Apartments whose commitment to the band was only for twelve months. Walsh had not played bass in a band before; he appeared on their second album Law Of Nature. Law Of Nature 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" is released on 12" with a promotional video accompanying it. The album employs the recording of duel acoustic and electric guitar tracks, and a more song-based approach. After a national and European tour in support, Walsh departs and is replaced by Paul Smith.

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

The Clowns again expand ranks with the addition of pianist Louis Tillett, trumpeter Glad Reed and saxophonist Dianne Spence and begin recording what was to prove their final album, Ghosts Of An Ideal Wife.

By Christmas of 1984, the band split at the end of a national tour, with Kuepper finishing the album early in 1985. A posthumous single, the double A side "Just Because I Like/Crystal Clear" was also released via Hot.

Shortly after disbanding, Wegener and Elliott briefly join a latter version of The Saints for an Australian tour; while Kuepper began work on his debut LP, Electrical Storm

Much of the Laughing Clowns' saga was recounted in the 1996 book ''Stranded: The Secret History of Australian Independent Music 1977-1991'', by Australian rock writer Clinton Walker, a confidante of the band and one of its outspoken critical champions.

In recent years[edit]

In 2004, Kuepper and Wegener began performing together on Ed Kuepper's MFLL project, a live performance of soundtracks to short films which performed in Australia and Europe, including a show at the Cartier Foundation. Subsequently, Wegener joins Kuepper's touring band The Kowalski Collective and appears on his 2007 concept album, Jean Lee and the Yellow Dog.

An anthology of Laughing Clowns material, Cruel But Fair, was released on 3 October 2005 on the Hot label to great critical success, and having the band regarded in retrospect as "the most inventive and innovative Australian band of the post-punk era." [4]

In 2008, Ed Kuepper reignites the Prince Melon record label, and later releases a live album by the band, their first release of new material since their split.[5]

A version of the band reunited in 2009 for the All Tomorrow's Parties festival, curated by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and an eastern states tour.

This version of the band consisted of Kuepper, drummer Jeffrey Wegener, saxophonist Louise Elliot, bassist Les 'Biff' Millar - the line-up that played on the Everything That Flies... 12" EP, and Sydney-based keyboardist Alister Spence.

Laughing Clowns Now[edit]

The Clowns toured Australia in early 2010 as a part of All Tomorrow's Parties Don't Look Back series of shows supporting longtime fans Dirty Three, where the band performed their 1984 compilation of their pre Hot years History Of Rock 'n' Roll Volume One in its entirety.[6]


Australian releases

  • Laughing Clowns MLP (Missing Link) May 1980
  • Sometimes the Fire Dance 7" (Prince Melon) January 1981
  • Laughing Clowns 3 MLP (Prince Melon) March 1981
  • Throne of Blood/Reign of Terror (A.K.A. Greatest Hits 1980) LP (Prince Melon) July 1981
  • Mr Uddich-Schmuddich Goes to Town LP (Prince Melon) March 1982
  • Theme From Mad Flies, Mad Flies 7" (Prince Melon) March 1982
  • Everything That Flies... 12" EP (Prince Melon) July 1983
  • Eternally Yours 12" (Hot) March 1984
  • Law of Nature LP/CD (Hot) April 1984
  • History of Rock 'n' Roll Vol. 1 LP/CD (Hot) November 1984
  • Just Because I Like/Crystal Clear 7" (Hot) February 1985
  • Ghosts of an Ideal Wife' LP/CD (Hot) August 1985
  • Golden Days - When Giants Walked the Earth CD (Hot) August 1995
  • Cruel But Fair (The Complete Clowns Recordings) 3CD (Hot) October 2005
  • 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


  1. ^ "The Laughing Clowns play at Brisbane's GoMA". The Courier-Mail. 2008-11-07. Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  2. ^ "Laughing Clowns - All Tomorrow's Parties". Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  3. ^ "1975 Ed Kuepper’s Valeno Guitar | NSW Migration Heritage Centre". 2007-07-14. Retrieved 2012-05-17. 
  4. ^ Tahiraj, Donat"Laughing Clowns Cruel But Fair Review", Time Off, Time Off Magazine
  5. ^ [1][dead link]
  6. ^ [2][dead link]

External links[edit]