Last time he was here, John Bailey Junior picked up a souvenir he’ll never forget: four titanium screws in his left arm. He scored them cheap from the Royal Prince Alfred hospital after toppling off stage at the Scottish punks’ first ever Sydney show in August 2009.
Three songs into the Annandale Hotel show, the hyperactive drummer/singer jumped into the crowd only to catch his foot and land awkwardly. The actual drop wasn’t that big, just a metre, but the resulting damage was.
“I snapped both of the bones in my forearm in half and they sheared off the end of my elbow,” Bailey recounts, disbelief still ringing in his voice. “For the height of the fall, the injury was ridiculous.”
The accident earned him an express trip in an ambulance and four days in hospital, effectively ending the band’s Aussie tour then and there. “They pumped me full of morphine on the street and I just remember my manager chasing away people who were trying to take photos because I was totally crying,” he says.
Overseas bands often sing the praises of our great weather, care-free attitude or gorgeous women, but Bailey can’t stop raving about a more unlikely asset, our health system.
“The scar’s totally amazing,” he gushes. “I had to go to the doctors back here in Glasgow to get re-X-rayed and every time, they’d go and get other docs because they couldn’t believe how well it’d been put back together. Seriously, any time I’m breaking anything, I’m going to Australia.”
Bailey may joke now, but the mishap came at just the wrong time for the band who were on the verge of breaking through here. They’d recently released their debut album Hey Everyone through Brisbane-based label Dew Process (home of The Living End, The Grates) and had just played Splendour In The Grass and supported Bloc Party at a blistering secret show in Byron Bay. With a fun, frantic stageshow complete with crowd-surfing and their trademark ‘Wall of Hugs’ (a between-songs crowd hug fest), audiences had almost forgotten how silly their name was and momentum was building.
Instead, the broken band retreated back to Scotland to recover and start work on their second record There Is A Way with Bailey moving from co-drummer to co-singer alongside vocalist Calum Gunn. Recorded in Los Angeles over six weeks with US metal producer Ross Robinson (Korn, Slipknot), the album sees the band writing as a six-piece for the first time, cramming even more ideas into their furious brand of self-dubbed ‘fight pop’.
“This one is completely drenched in six people’s personalities,” says Bailey. “The first one isn’t. This one is more layered, open and honest. I feel like we had to get the first one out of system. This one’s more considered.”
But while the songs came easily, releasing them proved far more difficult. After leaving their UK label Best Before to set up their own imprint Pizza College (they remain on Dew Process here), the band then spent a year entangled in a depressing legal mess.
“There was no fallout – it’s just not sustainable to be on a label for a band like us in this bizarre musical climate,” observes Bailey. “It wasn’t even the legal stuff that was frustrating. It was just not being able to get on with it. We couldn’t get investment until that was tied up. It was just boring legal stuff that we don’t give a fuck about, but it was like the band was on pause.”
With the album finally released in June, the lads have hit fast forward, roaring through dates in Europe and the UK before descending Down Under this week for Splendour In The Grass – “our favourite festival in the world” – and sideshows. On Bailey’s insistence, they’ll play their Sydney gig at the Annandale, which eerily falls on the same date as their original abandoned one.
“Our manager gave us the option of going to another venue, like a softer place where everything’s covered in foam,” he jokes. “But I wanted to go back. In my head, I’m slightly nervous about it and I don’t like that feeling so I want to push through it.”