Ed Kuepper with Jeffrey Wegener

Twenty-one years ago, Australian musician Ed Kuepper left his second band, the dark, challenging but creatively inspired Laughing Clowns, and vowed never to look back. After struggling for five years to find an audience for the band's often abrasive music amid unstable line-ups, disintegrating inter-band relationships and messy drug dependencies, Kuepper wanted to forget that the whole thing had ever happened. In his own blunt way he says: "I had feelings of phenomenal animosity towards the band, and so I severed the art as well. I thought, 'Well, I really hate these people, so I'm not going to have anything to do with the music either'."

Two decades later, however, the dour, imposing Kuepper is sitting alongside drummer Jeffrey Wegener, the only other constant in the Laughing Clowns' many incarnations.

"We try to be civil to each other," says Wegener, with a crooked smile.

"He tries not to provoke me too much," Kuepper adds darkly, before brightening. "No, actually, it's been fine."

The rapprochement is only partial, but evidence nonetheless of a considerable turnaround in Kuepper's attitude. The release of Cruel But Fair, a three-CD set compiling the complete Laughing Clowns recordings, further confirms that, after 21 years, Kuepper is ready to reassess the legacy of his contentious early history.

He never had any such qualms about his previous band, seminal Brisbane punk group the Saints, whose snarling 1976 single, (I'm) Stranded, was one of the world's first instances of true punk rock. Although Kuepper quit the band two years later, frustrated with record label lack of interest and an increasingly fractious relationship with singer Chris Bailey, he never doubted the worth of their achievements. In fact, it was his satisfaction that saw the steady progression over the Saints' three original albums away from the raw, primal assault of (I'm) Stranded.

"The first album was nailed to such an extent that it was hard to do again, or want to do again," he says. "Not saying that it's 100 per cent perfect, but it almost is."

By 1978's Prehistoric Sounds, the Saints were playing a kind of incendiary R&B that fused the swagger and attitude of punk with sophisticated arrangements and a red-hot horn section. So, on Kuepper's return from Europe, the band he was to form would be an extrapolation of ideas he had already begun pursuing. "What I was looking for was a band where the guitar would sit more subtly, as opposed to being the entire orchestra," Kuepper says.

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