Reissued and Revisited: Baby Grande

1975-77 [Hozac]

Nov 28, 2018 Web Exclusive By Frank Valish Bookmark and Share

Before there was The Church, there was Baby Grande. Formed in the early '70s, Baby Grande featured future Church frontman Steve Kilbey as well as, for a time early in its gestation, future Church-mate Peter Koppes. Koppes left, replaced by Dave Scotland on guitar, and the band was rounded out by Joe Lee on bass and Ken Wylie on drums.

Pre-Church, Kilbey was fascinated with glam rock, and Baby Grande took that fascination to the hilt. In his terrific Kilbey/The Church biography No Certainty Attached, author Robert Dean Lurie relates how Kilbey described his approach to vocals at the time: "[T]here was the New York Dolls-inspired 'screamer;' the Lou Reed-esque 'street poet;' and his favorite, the Bolan/Bowie glam hybrid, crooning and purring one moment, then escalating (without warning) to histrionic yelps." 

For a moment, Baby Grande seemed on the upswing. They were signed to EMI Records, future home to The Church, and recorded some songs, recordings which were shelved before the band was let go. At the time of his biography, with only a few of these tracks available online, even Lurie was not able to grasp the full scope of Baby Grande's musical history.

But now, with Hozac Records' unearthed 1975-77, the full weight of Kilbey's pre-Church project can be heard.

From the Bolan-esque opening track "Pure, White & Deadly" and the album's second track, "Going There and Back," which finds Kilbey at one point intoning "all the young duuuudes," the glam influence is front and center. Kilbey's particular vocal style obvious, but this is obviously not The Church. "Madame Lash" is a mysterious rocker about famed Sydney dominatrix Gretel Pinniger, with Kilbey singing, "Madame Lash, you hit me again, I know I'll crash," and "Oh no not now I can't take anymore, lying here alone, dead on the floor, she said you're gonna get just what you paid for." The song has a haunting feel but is perhaps a bit too on the nose for its own good. Elsewhere, "So Continental" almost strikes as Sweet-lite, and "Zephyr" is a straight ahead driving rock song. Only "Put You On My Wall" and "As Above So Below" possess echoes of the smooth and airy instrumental touch and vocal croon that Kilbey would later mine in The Church. 

Aside from these Church precursors and the simple intrigue of spying on Kilbey's pre-Church project-Lurie suggests that Kilbey was initially reticent to have these recordings made public, although he did revisit some of them in his 2012 solo CD Addenda One-one of the most riveting aspects of 1975-77 is Scotland's guitar. Piercing and a perfect complement to the '70s glam/rock songwriting herein, the guitar work on these tracks could have easily fit in with radio rock of the time. In fact, the guitar solos are spectacular, propelling many of these songs from decent to terrific.

Much more than a pre-Church Steve Kilbey curiosity, 1975-77 is a satisfying glimpse at what almost could have been. There's enough here to merit fawning over if perhaps not enough for Baby Grande to strike it big at the time. Of course, Kilbey went on to greater things. But 1975-77 provides a nice view of where it all started.




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