The Church

The Church are an Australian neo-psych band that released six albums and five EPs between 1981 and 1990 and scored international hits with “Constant In Opal,” “Columbus,” “Under the Milky Way,” and “Reptiles.”

Members: Steve Kilbey (vocals, bass), Peter Koppes (guitar, vocals, 1980-92, 1995-present), Marty Willson-Piper (guitar, vocals, 1980-2013), Nick Ward (drums, 1980-81), Richard Ploog (drums, 1981-90)


Background

The Church formed in March 1980 when two recent Sydney arrivals, singer–bassist Steve Kilbey and guitarist Peter Koppes, reconnected more than three years after their first band in Canberra.

Kilbey (b. September 13, 1954) hailed from Welwyn Garden City, England. At age five, he migrated with his family to Australia, where they settled in Canberra. His first band was Saga, a cabaret quintet that he joined at seventeen. He then joined Beyond Beavers, a glam-inspired band with two drummers. When the singer and one drummer quit, Steve and Peter claimed those slots (respectively) and the band renamed itself Precious Little.

Koppes (b. November 21, 1955) came from a musical Canberran family. His early inspirations included The Shadows, Pink Floyd, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Santana. The last two inspired him to take up drums and guitar, respectively. He drummed in a school band called Bacchus Marsh and played guitar in another dubbed Timelord, which rehearsed in a local church hall. When he switched from drums to guitar in Precious Little, they became Baby Grande. By the time of their 1977 demos, Koppes departed for college.

After one year as an electronics major, Koppes fled to Europe, where he hopped between Stockholm, Berlin, London, and the Holland canals. He then settled in Sydney, where he formed Limanze, a trio with drummer Nick Ward. In March 1980, they welcomed Kilbey, who arrived in the city after a brief stint with new wavers The Tactics.

Kilbey proposed a new band name, The Church of Man, lifted from a line in the David Bowie song “Moonage Daydream.” They demoed songs on his 4-track tape recorder and gigged as a trio. At an early show, Kilbey met enthused spectator Marty Willson-Piper, a recent arrival from Thingwall, England.

Willson-Piper (b. May 7, 1958) was born in Stockport, Cheshire, to entrepreneurial parents who opened pubs in Compstall and Birch Vale. At fourteen, he learned guitar from his older brother. Marty’s influences included the guitarists in Television (Tom Verlaine) and Be-Bop Deluxe (Bill Nelson). He left school at sixteen to busk around Europe. Within weeks of his arrival in Australia, The Church hired him as their fourth member.

Their demo landed at ATV Northern Songs, where managing director Chris Gilbey voiced enthusiasm for their song “Chrome Injury.” He attended Church rehearsals and equipped the band with Echolette tape delay. For Willson-Piper, Gilbey purchased a 12-string Rickenbacker. He secured them a deal with EMI’s recently resurrected Parlophone division.

In November 1980, The Church released their first single: “She Never Said” backed with “In a Heartbeart,” both Kilbey originals.

In March 1981, The Church released their second single: “The Unguarded Moment” backed with the exclusive “Busdriver.” Kilbey wrote the a-side (a preview of their upcoming album) with his then-wife, Mikela Uniacke (aka Michelle Parker).

B. “Busdriver” (4:09)

“The Unguarded Moment” reached No. 22 on the Kent Music Report.


Of Skins and Heart

The Church released their debut album, Of Skins and Heart, in Australia on April 13, 1981, on Parlophone.

The album features their two pre-released a-sides (“She Never Said,” “The Unguarded Moment”) and six additional Steve Kilbey originals, including “Chrome Injury,” “Memories In Future Tense,” and “Fighter Pilot…Korean War.”

Marty Willson-Piper co-wrote the closing track, “Don’t Open the Door to Strangers.”

A1. “For a Moment We’re Strangers” (3:52)
A2. “Chrome Injury” (4:02)
A3. “The Unguarded Moment” (4:17)
A4. “Memories In Future Tense” (4:44)
A5. “Bel-Air” (3:56)
B1. “Is This Where You Live” (7:38)
B2. “She Never Said” (3:16)
B3. “Fighter Pilot…Korean War” (4:23)
B4. “Don’t Open the Door to Strangers” (3:24)

Recorded September−November 1980
Studio Studios 301 (Sydney)
Producer Chris Gilbey, Bob Clearmountain
Engineers – Christo Curtis, John Bee, Steve Bywaters

Steve Kilbey – lead vocals, bass guitar, keyboards
Peter Koppes – lead guitar, slide guitar, backing vocals
Marty Willson-Piper – electric 6 and 12 string guitars, acoustic guitars, backing vocals
Nick Ward – drums, percussion, backing vocals

After the album’s initial release, Ward cleared for drummer Richard John Ploog (b. October 29, 1962), who played in multiple Adelaide punk bands (The Name Droppers, The Brats, Exhibit A).


Too Fast for You

In July 1981, the Church Too Fast for You, a double-7″ with four Steve Kilbey originals and one track (“Sisters”) credited to the group.

This marked the debut of the classic Church four-piece lineup of Kilbey, Peter Koppes, Marty Willson-Piper, and new drummer Richard Ploog.

A. “Too Fast for You” (3:28)
B. “Sisters” (4:05)
C. “Tear It All Away” (4:10)
D1. “You’ve Got to Go” (2:33)
D2. “Fraulein” (2:59)

On January 22, 1982, Of Skins and Heart reappeared internationally as The Church on Carrere (Europe) and Capitol (North America). This version overlooks Nick Ward and attributes his drum parts to Ploog.

The international tracklist uses the cover art from the recent EP (a broken statue illustration) and replaces “Fighter Pilot…Korean War” with “Tear It All Away.” The Capitol version makes two further substitutions with “Too Fast for You” and “Sisters” in lieu of “Chrome Injury” and “She Never Said.” 


The Blurred Crusade

The Church released their second album, The Blurred Crusade, on March 25, 1982, on Parlophone (Australia) and Carrere (Europe).

The Blurred Crusade features seven Steve Kilbey originals, including the singles “Almost With You” and “When You Were Mine.” He co-wrote “Field of Mars” with Marty Willson-Piper, who sings lead on the track.

The album splits into ‘Our Side’ (A) and ‘Their Side’ (B), each with group-written numbers: “An Interlude” and “You Took,” an eight-minute piece with piano by Peter Koppes.

A1. “Almost With You” (4:11)
A2. “When You Were Mine” (5:43)
A3. “Field of Mars” (4:54)
A4. “An Interlude” (4:32)
A5. “Secret Corners” (1:45)

B1. “Just For You” (5:20)
B2. “A Fire Burns” (4:50)
B3. “To Be In Your Eyes” (3:52)
B4. “You Took” (8:09)
B5. “Don’t Look Back” (1:59)

Steve Kilbey – lead vocals, bass guitar, keyboards, slide guitar
Peter Koppes – lead guitar, backing vocals, percussion, tubular bells, piano on “You Took”
Marty Willson-Piper – electric & acoustic 12 & 6 string guitars, lead vocal on “Field of Mars”
Richard Ploog – drums, percussion

Feb 1982
A. “Almost With You”
B. “Life Speeds Up”

May 1982
A: “When You Were Mine”
B: “The Golden Dawn” S. Kilbey, M. Willson-Piper

In New Zealand, The Blurred Crusade appeared on Stunn, a local indie with rights to the catalog of Polydor’s new wave-subsidiary Fiction Records (The Cure, The Passions). 


Sing-Songs

On December 8, 1982, The Church released Sing-Songs, a five-demo EP with three Kilbey originals and one track (“The Night is Very Soft”) co-written by Steve’s brother, Russell Kilbey, plus the Simon & Garfunkel cover “I Am a Rock.”

A1. “A Different Man” (3:13)
A2. “Ancient History” (2:29)
B1. “The Night is Very Soft” (3:46)
B2. “In This Room” (4:02)
B3. “I Am a Rock” (2:11)

The Church recorded the five demos after their American label, Capitol, deemed The Blurred Crusade unsuited for the US market. Capitol passed on the option and dropped the band. Sing-Songs only appeared in Oceania and the UK.


Seance

The Church released their third album, Seance, on June 13, 1983, on Parlophone and Carrere.

Seance features nine Kilbey originals, including the singles “It’s No Reason” and “Electric Lash.” Five tracks cross the 5:30 threshold. Side A closes with “Travel By Thought,” a group-written number.

Peter Koppes revives the Hammond organ on select passages. Russell Kilbey plays guest harp on “Now I Wonder Why.”

A1. “Fly” (2:12)
A2. “One Day” (4:36)
A3. “Electric” (6:03)
A4. “It’s No Reason” (5:54) features vocal backing by Michelle Parker.
A5. “Travel By Thought” (4:35)
B1. “Disappear?” (5:46)
B2. “Electric Lash” (4:25)
B3. “Now I Wonder Why” (5:40)
B4. “Dropping Names” (2:57)
B5. “It Doesn’t Change” (5:52)

Recorded Spring 1983
Studio Studios 301 (Sydney)
Producer The Church and John Bee

Steve Kilbey: lead vocals, bass guitar, keyboards, string arrangements
Peter Koppes: guitars, vocals, Hammond organ
Marty Willson-Piper: guitars, vocals
Richard Ploog: drums, bongos, tambourine

May 1983
A. “It’s No Reason”
B. “Someone Special”

Aug 1983
A. “Electric Lash”
B. “Autumn Soon”

“Electric Lash” appears on Survival Sampler SR-1A Sound Rations, a 1984 US Warner cassette comp with cuts by Aztec Camera, The Bluebells, Carmel, The Cure, China Crisis, Depeche Mode, King Crimson, Modern English, The Smiths, Scritti Politti, and Vince Clarke’s post-Yazoo outfit The Assembly.


Remote Luxury | Persia

In February 1984, The Church released Remote Luxury, an EP with four Steve Kilbey originals and one track (“10,000 Miles”) co-writteb by Marty Willson-Piper.

A1. “Maybe These Boys…” (5:40)
A2. “10,000 Miles” (4:15)
B1. “Into My Hands” (3:40)
B2. “A Month of Sundays” (4:19)
B3. “Remote Luxury” (3:16)

Sessions occurred in December 1983 with John Bee, who produced and engineered Remote Luxury in sequence with its followup.

Cover, Photography By – Kim Sandeman
Piano, Strings [Additional Strings] – David Moore

In August 1984, The Church released Persia, their second consecutive EP comprised of three Kilbey originals and one track (“Volume”) written and sung by Willson-Piper.

A1. “Constant In Opal” (3:28)
A2. “Volumes” (4:02)
B1. “No Explanation” (3:52)
B2. “Violet Town” (3:25)
B3. “Shadow Cabinet” (4:14)

Remote Luxury and Persia appeared as separate EPs in Australia and New Zealand. In the Northern Hemisphere, Warner and Carrere combined them into a ten-song album, also titled Remote Luxury. The album’s cover features an alternate pic of the veiled lady from the Persia photo-shoot, rendered in deep-blue monochrome (German copies) and soft blue-scale (North America).

The Church toured Remote Luxury with Reels keyboardist Craig Hooper as an auxiliary fifth member.

Before sessions commenced on the next Church album, Kilbey debuted as a solo artist with the 1985 maxi-single “This Asphalt Eden.”


Heyday

The Church released their fourth proper studio album, Heyday, in November 1985 on EMI Parlophone (Oceania, Europe) and January 1986 on Warner Bros. (North America).

Heyday consists largely of group-written songs, including the singles “Already Yesterday,” “Tantalized,” and “Columbus,” their breakthrough hit on US modern rock playlists. Three tracks (“Happy Hunting Ground,” “Night of Light,” “Youth Worshipper”) feature string and brass arrangements.

The band’s chief composer, Steve Kilbey, submits one lone-write (“Disenchanted”), and sings multi-tracked (and multi-octave) harmonies across the album. He co-wrote “Youth Worshipper” with his then-girlfriend, Swedish musician Karin Jansson.

A1. “Myrrh” (4:19)
A2. “Tristesse” (3:28)
A3. “Already Yesterday” (4:16) Choir: Maggie McKinney, Mark Punch, Mark Williams, Shauna Jensen
A4. “Columbus” (3:49)
A5. “Happy Hunting Ground” (3:48)
B1. “Tantalized” (5:00)
B2. “Disenchanted” (3:53)
B3. “Night of Light” (4:49)
B4. “Youth Worshipper” (3:42)
B5. “Roman” (3:58)

Recorded Winter/Spring 1985
Studio Studios 301 (Sydney, Australia)

Unlike prior albums, where the band recorded songs based on Kilbey’s solo demos, they wrote Heyday‘s material as a group to capture their live synergy in the studio.

Steve Kilbey – bass, lead vocals
Peter Koppes – guitars, backing and lead (6) vocals
Marty Willson-Piper – guitars, backing and lead (12) vocals
Richard Ploog – drums, backing vocals, percussion

Produced and engineered by string arranger Peter Walsh
Additional Engineering by Guy ‘De Vox’ Gray
Orchestrated by Tony Ansell
1st Violin: Philip Hartl
Keyboards: Rick Chadwick (courtesy CBS Records)
Cover photography: Caught ‘n Framed (Wendy McDougall)

Oct 1985
A. “Already Yesterday”
B. “As You Will” Koppes

Feb 1986
A. “Tantalized”
B. “The View” Willson-Piper

Apr 1986
A. “Columbus”
B. “Trance Ending”


Solo Albums

After promotions wrapped on Heyday, The Church paused while members pursued solo projects.

Steve Kilbey explored his ethereal–ambient side on the 1986 album Unearthed, followed in 1987 by Earthed and the mini-album The Slow Crack, all released on the nascent Sydney indie Red Eye Records. He also produced the 1987 Red Eye release From Now On, the debut album by Russell Kilbey’s band The Crystal Set.

Marty Willson-Piper released his first solo album, In Reflection, in 1987 on Chase, an Australian CBS subsidiary.

Peter Koppes released a 1987 maxi-single, “When Reason Forbids (A Requiem)” and recorded his first album, Manchild & Myth, released in 1988 on Session Records (Australia) and Rykodisc (US).


Starfish

The Church released their fifth album, Starfish, on February 16, 1988, on Mushroom (Oceania) and Arista.

Starfish features six group-composed songs with lyrics by Steve Kilbey, including the singles “Reptiles,” “Destination,” and “Antenna.” Kilbey and Karin Jansson co-wrote the acoustic ballad “Under the Milky Way,” the band’s biggest global hit.

Side B contains one lone-write apiece by Kilbey (“Hotel Womb”), Pete Koppes (“A New Season”), and Marty Willson-Piper (“Spark”).

Musical guests include onetime Kaleidoscope mandolinist Dave Lindley (“Antenna”), percussionist Russ Kunkel (“Under the Milky Way”), and co-producers Greg Kuehn (keyboards) and Waddy Wachtel (backing vocals).

A1. “Destination” (5:51)
A2. “Under the Milky Way” (4:57) derives its title from an Amsterdam club called Melkweg (Dutch for “Milky Way”). Kunkel deputizes Richard Ploog on this song,
A3. “Blood Money” (4:23)
A4. “Lost” (4:47)
A5. “North, South, East and West” (4:59)
B1. “Spark” (3:45)
B2. “Antenna” (3:51)
B3. “Reptile” (4:56)
B4. “A New Season” (2:58)
B5. “Hotel Womb” (5:40)

Sessions took place in late 1987 in Los Angeles with Wachtel and Ladanyi.

Early Arista copies contain a special-edition bonus EP with four group-written originals and one track (“Anna Miranda”) with Karin Jansson’s input.

C1. “Anna Miranda” (3:04)
C2. “Musk” (3:54) first appeared as a free flexi-disc in the October 1987 issue of From the Vault magazine.
C3. “Perfect Child” (2:55)
D1. “Frozen and Distant” (3:58)
D2. “Texas Moon” (5:46)

The Church lifted “Under the Milky Way” as the first single, backed with “Musk” and the non-album exclusive “Warm Spell,” a self-produced group composition.

B1. “Warm Spell”

“Awesome Welles” – Synclavier


Gold Afternoon Fix

The Church released their sixth album, Gold Afternoon Fix, on April 9, 1990, on Mushroom and Arista.


Discography:

  • Of Skins and Heart (1981)
  • The Blurred Crusade (1982)
  • Seance (1983)
  • Remote Luxury (1984)
  • Heyday (1986)
  • Starfish (1988)
  • Gold Afternoon Fix (1990)

Sources:

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