Thursday, 31 March 2011

Song Eleven - Mercury Rev - "Silver Street"

Mercury Rev cover Nikki Sudden's "Silver Street" to exceptional effect.

Johnny Thunders - "Cosa Nostra Never Sleeps" by Nina Antonia

Johnny Thunders & Jerry Nolan

Back in 1985, I was put in touch with Nina Valez Guidio (aka Nina Antonia) to discuss a proposal that we should do a special issue of what A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen dedicated to Johnny Thunders. Nina was working on what would become “Johnny Thunders; In Cold Blood”, the official biography, that was eventually published in 1987 by Jungle Books. I was a fan of The Heartbreakers especially and held a slightly morbid fascination of the self-destructive tendencies of Johnny Thunders. More importantly, I loved the “Hurt Me” album that had come out in 1983 and I'd been at the Heartbreakers' March 1984 reunion shows in Nottingham (still one of the best live shows I ever saw) and London (as described below – an interesting show shall we say – glad I'd seen them in Nottingham though......).

He'd appeared in issue 1 and issue 2 of WANWTTS with both pieces, “Heartbreaker! Hipshaker! Troublemaker! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” and “My Guitar Never Sleeps” (originally titled “Diary Of A Motherfucker” but my printers refused to print unless I changed the title....), by Pedro Mercedes. We'd taken a break from him in issue 3 and this special issue would be #4. It seemed like a natural fit so we went for it, printed up 1,000 copies and pretty much sold them in no time at all. I even set up a stall in the foyer of the Marquee at a Thunders show, to sell copies. In walks Johnny and entourage – I'd not previously met him – and he's steered towards the table behind which I nervously waited. Briefest of introductions ensues, I'm tongue tied as usual, I hand him a couple of copies and off he goes to the dressing rooms. My one and only direct encounter with Mr Johnny Thunders.

I've excerpted Part Five from the magazine, the last part.

Johnny Thunders - "Cosa Nostra Never Sleeps" by Nina Antonia

January 1984 is spent in Sweden. Being linked to every kind of sonofabitch baby eating drug craze fiend from Hell hasn't injured Johnny's commercial potential in that country one bit. In fact the opposite holds true, as “Hurt Me” quickly climbs the national charts. 15,000 copies are shifted worldwide in its first two weeks of release.

London February 1984

Tony James mixes Billy Rath's bass line out of its original quicksand on “Pirate Love”. Thunders nods his approval and starts listening to the playback. The pair are in Greenhouse Studios, hunched alternately across the mixing desk or around the heater, trying to restore “L.A.M.F.” to what it should always have sounded like. Thunders chains himself to the tapes, ignoring the early morning chill that has everyone else present huddled into coats or blankets.

The latest in an endless line of cigarettes hanging from his lips, he pounds his fists on his knees, mixing the drum opening to “Born To Lose” “Do it harder. Harder. The first crash has gotta be harder – really bangy!”

Re-mixed "Born To Lose" from "L.A.M.F. Revisited"

Christopher arrives, pleased at the productivity around him. The present situation, for perhaps the first time in almost a decade, allows for a careful optimism.

During 1983, Thunders played 45 concerts, established himself with production work, and now, less than a month distant, a Heartbreakers reunion concert is planned, with a live album and a video due from the results of it.

Christopher Gierke; “They have new openings – films, videos, records...they've got the talent and energy, with more long as they keep away from drugs...”

The Heartbreakers pull off an unexpected coup on the ears of England when, on March 24th, Radio One's Richard Skinner plays (the censored) “Get Off The Phone” as a preface to interviewing Johnny on his show. Johnny makes sure to get in a few plugs for “Hurt Me”, until Skinner asks if, in fact, it's true that...

Skinner - “...Walter's working as a commodity broker on Wall Street?”
Johnny - “Believe it or not, yeah.”
Skinner - “He's having a quick vacation with The Heartbreakers?”
Johnny - “He goes back to work on Wednesday.”

The Lyceum. London's Strand.
25th March 1984 .

The day of the re-united Heartbreakers' London concert.

Walter Lure crosses one leather bound leg over the other in an effort to get comfortable in the dressing room's narrow chair. He hunts through the pockets of his long blue overcoat for a cigarette; mumbles about how he should have washed his hair, and pushes it under his cap before picking up his guitar to pose for a photograph for me. It's a long way back to Wall Street.....

Johnny & Walter

I ask him what he thinks of the re-mixed “L.A.M.F.” and he shrugs;

WL - “I haven't heard it yet. Everyone who has says it's good but I've not heard it.”

NA - “I was there in the studio when they were doing it.”

WL - “Yeah? Did it sound better?”

NA – “It did....but you know, in the studio, you just hear bits and bobs...”

WL - “Yeah, that's the problem. See, even when we did the original, it sounded great in the studio, but as soon as it went on a record, it sounded fucked up. We couldn't get around that; every time we gave them a new tape, it sounded screwed up, so I don't know what went wrong....the pressing or the mixing...I'll have to see when this thing comes out if it really does sound better.”

NA - “Are you looking forward to playing tonight?

WL - “Ummm....that'll be fun. There's so much audience. We got a video tape goin', we got a new live album....if we blow it, it's gonna be a nightmare. But it should be okay. Something might come out of, tours, something like that. I could quit my job and go back to being a musician again, but....until that time comes....I'll struggle along.


As the minibus deposits them at the Lyceum's back entrance, Billy cocks an appraising eyebrow at the solid block that winds straight down the Strand, as far as it's possible to see.

Photos of Johnny by Nina Antonia

The addition of a recording and film crew had perhaps un-nerved Thunders slightly. Whatever the reason, he sinks eight large vodkas before leading the band on-stage, to the theme music from “The Man With The Golden Gun”.

The Man With The Golden Gun - Lulu

It's the ultimate rock'n'roll line-up, and the audience, packed in SO tightly, knows it. Before the tumultuous cheering, stamping of feet and hurtling of beer cans has even slowed, the Heartbreakers have launched straight into “Pipeline”, Johnny's unofficial anthem.

The original "Pipeline" by The Chantays

These men breathe style; their chemical reaction with one another is viciously lethal. The unspoken aggravation between Lure and Thunders' guitars provides a sound with a potency as shocking as kissing an electric grill, both taking turns on lead with equal ease and urgency.

At one point during the set, Johnny walks over and kicks out at the bass player's legs. Rath's venomous glare is enough to instantly send Thunders pirouetting to stage front like a demented prima donna.

Jerry Nolan, as ever, ignores the antics of his colleagues and pounds out the beat behind their electric/emotional games, consummating the event; the guitars are in a blistering interplay of steely arrows of noise over Rath's throbbing bass.

There is something dark and hilariously sinister about watching this rabid, sexy pack of debauchees singing “Seven Day Weekend”, gloating like a street gang over a stray freshman tasking them directions.

Thunders cuts short his acoustic spot; “Awwrite....that's enough of this shit....I'll get th' boys back on...”

The Boys

The Heartbreakers are back, gunning from the lower levels; time has made them harder.

Thunders is drunk...
Rath looks annoyed....
Lure looks nonchalantly bored...
Nolan looks as unmoved and unbeatable as ever...

Johnny decides, during a guitar pause in “So Alone” to add a touch of blasphemy to his list of public sins. He tells us a moving tale of the kid on the Lower East Side who gets fucked by “the big black guy in leathers”. Thunders then piously makes the sign of the cross before intoning slowly:

“Our father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name....fuck you!”

Photo by Nina Antonia

Johnny Thunders. The Heartbreakers. Nobody else even comes close to their shadows, and their souls were pawned long ago.

Nina Guidio

by Pedro Mercedes

Following The Heartbreakers' re-union shows, Waldo returned to Wall Street, and Sylvain Sylvain joined Johnny'n'Jerry'n'Billy for J.T.'s “Revenge '84” tour of Sweden. During the tour, new songs were previewed (including “Countdown Love”, “Size Ten Shoes” and “Have Faith”). On completing a tour of Europe and the Soviet Union, Johnny returned triumphant to London for “Thunders Week” at The Marquee, showcasing Thunders at his best.

Sylvain had to return to NYC prior to the London shows due to family matters. Johnny recorded two songs with Patti Palladin, “Crawfish”, an old Elvis number from “King Creole” and an original, “Tie Me Up” (re-titled “Love Not”). After a few dates around the country, Jerry'n'Billy quit Johnny to return to domestic life in Sweden. Johnny had been booked on a double headlining nationwide UK tour with Finnish refugees Hanoi Rocks.

"Crawfish" by Elvis Presley

"Crawfish" by Johnny Thunders & Patti Palladin

A new band was hastily assembled, Terry Chimes (drums), Keith Jon (bass), Dick Trueman (guitar). Next on the schedule were dates in Germany, in December. Only Keith Jon remained. Tony St. Helene (drums) and Henri-Paul (guitar) were drafted in. 1984 ended and Johnny had played a total of 95 concerts during the year.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Nikki Sudden - Mental Punk Rock Diaries

Photo: Diptychon:XVI Face A Nikki Sudden Untitled by Robert Maria Quickborn

"Went to bed after finishing at least one bottle of port. Fell asleep to the strangest dreams possible. One of them involved my friend, Dave Burns, who died a few months or so back. He was standing there - wherever it was it wasn't on earth - wearing a beautiful suit from some material I gave him years ago. He told me that he was really enjoying myself. I asked if I could see my brother - to be told that he was busy. I was asked if I'd like to stay, but I said I couldn't. I've had these kind of dreams a few times since Epic died - with him asking me to come with him. I told my mother of this and she said, 'Don't go...' Sometimes it seems that it would be so easy to slip over. But then you leave despair behind... "

This was Nikki in his journal for May 2004. The Dave Burns to whom he refers is none other than Desperate Dave, and it is he I have to thank for this piece (and its title) by Nikki. He'd persuaded him to record some thoughts on the early days of punk for "some kind of posterity". Though initially hesitant to do so, what he came up with ended up appearing in "Gobbing Pogoing And Gratuitous Bad Language", an anthology of punk stories published in 1996 by Spare Change Books, run by Robert Dellar. The collection largely consisted of punk related fiction (contributors also included Mark Perry, Poppy Z Brite and Robert Wyatt) though Nikki's, obviously, was factual.

Thanks to Robert Dellar for letting us reprint.

Before we get to the article, we should add that there is also, of course, the recently published "The Last Bandit - A Rock'n'Roll Life", Nikki's autobiography, available from You might not be surprised to hear that it is a mighty fine and pretty exhaustive memoir from the prolific late 20th century wandering minstrel that was Mr. Adrian Nicholas Godfrey.

Nikki Sudden - Mental Punk Rock Diaries

The first “punk” gig I went to was one of the early Sex Pistols shows – this one being at the Nashville Rooms in West Kensington where they were supporting the 101ers. I remember thinking at the time how old Joe Strummer looked (with his big bushy sideboards) and how dated the 101ers sounded in contrast to the fresher sounds of the Pistols. One thing I remember from the show is thinking of the Pistols; “they sound just the same a we do”. “We” being the nascent Swell Maps who in early 1976 were still in the process of rehearsing in each other's houses much to the chagrin of our respective parents. We had various songs in place by that time which would become staples of the Maps live and recorded set – including “Winter Rainbow”, “Forest Fire” and “City Boys” (later retitled “Dresden Style”).

 At the time I was living in London – in Wimbledon – and working at the Vintage Magazine Shop in Earlham Street. Customers in those days ranged from Nik Turner (Hawkwind) to Don Letts (in pre-”Punk Rock Movie” and B.A.D. Days), from Michael Palin (researching for “Ripping Yarns”) to John Thaw (still in his “Sweeney” role), and from Jesse Hector (then in the Hammersmith Gorillas and on the lookout for 60's Beatles magazines) to Stewart Grainger and Denis Norden (though I'm sure the latter would rather not be reminded of his purchases).

 It was a heady time in 1975 and '76 and I remember one time after having just seen the film “Cabaret”, wandering up Oxford Street and saying to my friend Frank Posner (son of the Vintage Magazine Shop owner Danny Posner) that I could feel the times were becoming as decadent, in London at the very least, as they were in 1930's Berlin. And so began my fantasy love of Berlin, later to develop into a full term romance in the mid '80's when I visited, and later lived in, the most brilliant city on the world's face. But that's another story.

 Anyway, my first Pistols gig (which I'd gone to after reading a review of the band in the New Musical Express) was to open my eyes to the real decadence going down in early 1976. And this was the gig that ended up on the cover of Melody Maker a week later, with Jordan and Vivienne Westwood getting involved in a fracas in front of the stage (I met Vivienne at a Sticky Fingers party in the early '90's and spent much of the evening berating her for Malcolm McLaren's treatment of Johnny Thunders in the mid to late '70's – she insisted it wasn't her fault or indeed her problem, but I was doubly tenacious and refused to give her an inch – still, a very nice lady, when all is said and done). I even took a photo of the band at the Nashville – it being my fashion in those days to - whenever possible – take at least one photo of very band I saw – something that became more and more de rigeur as punk days went on.

 So I was left with very distinct impressions of the Sex Pistols from that one show – I later saw another two shows by the band, both at the 100 Club on Oxford Street. So, returning home to the Swell Maps then base of Solihull in Warwickshire, I proceeded to tell my fellow band members of this great influential group I'd seen. To further emphasise the point I arranged a version of Chuck Berry's “Almost Grown” which I proceeded to sing in a Johnny Rotten style for the band. This was the only way I could think of getting across his particular vocal style – meshed-cockney as it was. Though he later disowned the statement, I remember my brother Epic being singularly unimpressed when we first heard “Anarchy In The U.K.” on Radio One's John Peel programme – the first airing it received in Great Britain. He complained it just wasn't powerful enough – or at least not as powerful as he'd been led to believe.

Swell Maps Live in Rotterdam 1979

Swell Maps went on to play their first ever gig on Boxing day 1977 at the so-called “24 Hour Punk All Dayer” at Barbarellas in Birmingham – partially due to the Sex Pistols influence but also due to the example provided by the Desperate Bicycles who showed how anybody could go into a studio to record and release a single. Before being appraised of this we didn't realise that a band could book a studio by themselves and that studio recording wasn't the impenetrable business it had seemed to be. Had we known we would have recorded earlier than September 14th 1977 when we went into Spaceward Studio in Cambridge to record our first single “Read About Seymour”, which was pressed up just before Christmas 1977 for release in January 1978 – this still though made it one of the first independent singles to be released. Though not early enough to guarantee it the sales in excess of 5,000 that those very first independent singles amassed. At least it went on to sell over 10,000 copies over the next few years, largely due to our first John Peel session (the first of three over the next two years).

Swell Maps - "Read About Seymour"

John Peel had played “Read About Seymour” about 14 times on his Radio One show so I had approached him about a possible session. The answer came back that we should submit a reel to reel ¼ inch tape to the BBC (they had no cassette machines at Radio One in those days). This I managed to do in the days following the reply – I dropped the tape off at Broadcasting House reception – and received a phone call a couple of days later asking us to go into the BBC's Maida Vale Studios to record a session. It was that easy. We recorded the session – it was broadcast and a few days later I walking into the Rough Trade shop on Kensington Park Road, and was asked if I had any further copies of “Read About Seymour” that they could have. We'd managed to shift about 1,000 of the 2,200 we'd had pressed by this date (around end October 1978). Rough Trade asked if they could take the balance to sell. And sell them they did.

"Midget Submarines" - Video compiled by my little brother Nik Coleman

We used the money from our Peel session to record the first half of our first album “A Trip To Marineville” which in due course I played to Geoff Travis from Rough Trade Records, who insisted they be allowed to put up the money for us to complete the album, and for them to be able to release it on their label. This being despite the fact that their first album release, Stiff Little Fingers' “Inflammable Material” had not yet come out and they were in severe financial straits.

The album was duly finished and released in July 1979, preceded by the single “Dresden Style” in March, and met with rave reviews, including “Album Of The Year” in Smash Hits magazine. It went on to sell in excess of 20,000 copies and reach the top of the newly instigated Independent Charts.

All, in a way, due to seeing the Sex Pistols at the Nashville Rooms in May of 1976.

Nikki Sudden
28th February 1995

Nikki Sudden 19th July 1956 - 26th March 2006
Never Forgotten, Always Missed.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Song Eight - Nikki Sudden - "Forest Fire"


Nikki Sudden (19th July 1956 - 26th March 2006) - "America, You Listening?" by Chris Seventeen

I write this on the eve of the fifth anniversary of Nikki Sudden's passing on 26th March 2006. I have no doubt I am one of many friends and fans who miss him enormously.

Rest assured the folks in my house will be lifting a glass of port in his memory tomorrow.

Back in the mid to late 1980's I was doing my bit to try and get my friend Nikki Sudden a higher profile in the States. I guess I'd come to the conclusion that the UK was long since a vain errand, that mainland Europe had embraced him already, and that now, the Land Of The Free stood a chance of being more open to what he was doing. To be fair, the obvious interest from, and regard in which he was held by, The Replacements' Paul Westerberg at least served somewhat as a pointer for me.

So at the invitation of Art Black and Monica Dee of (Hoboken, New Jersey) fanzine "Away From The Pulsebeat", I wrote a kind of background and introduction to Nikki. This appeared in their early 1988 edition which also included a four track, four band single featuring Nikki (Redd Kross, feedtime, and Broken Jug were the other three). Here's the song he gave them:

Nikki Sudden & The Jacobites - "Flower Bed Romance"
(from the Away From The Pulsebeat EP)

And here's the article:

About a year ago, those frivolous popsters Sonic Youth visited a glitzy, gaudy and gratingly noisy club in the Midlands city of Leicester, There ensued quite the most thrilling and intense performance this fey spirit ever did witness, made more memorable by the masochistic pain inflicted by the sheer, shrill, razor-sharp edge of the sound on a truly EVIL toothache.

I'd been dragged along not quite unwilling but most certainly uncertain by one Epic Soundtracks, who on a recent tour of America with his band Crime & The City Solution, had met and be-friended the man they call Thurston. And so it was with this link established that prior to the show, and to escape quite the most ear-shattering “alternative” disco you'll ever hear – from the Damned to the Dickies – that we sallied forth with said Thurston, the demurely delectable Kim, Blast First supremo Paul Smith and Lee Ranaldo to sample the delights of Leicester's night-life.


Where are the 24 hour pet shops? What about the late movie shows? And bars, sorry, pubs closing at 10.30? Sheesh!

And so, by this circuitous but quite reasonable route we reach THE POINT. Yes there was rhyme and reason in introducing The Sonic Youth into the scenario. Y'see, starting a few years back, and continuing to this day, Thurston's been a bit of a Swell Maps fan, and he was anxious to obtain a couple of rare singles which young Epic kindly provided for him to take back to New York, and no doubt share the aural delight with another avowed Maps aficionado Mr Jim Foetus.


Well, there just happens to be readily available starting point out there for you, in the shape of the recently (May 1987) released “Train Out Of It”, a collection of deleted singles and unreleased material, out as part of the Antar Seventies Nostalgia Series. It's a labour of love undertaken by another long-term Maps-head, Cally, manager of yet one more inspired by the magic of the Maps, Mister Julian Cope. Buy this and you'll start to understand the importance, the significance and the influence of Swell Maps.  

Together in one form or another from 1972 to 1980, they left behind a clutch of fascinating and incredibly diverse recordings, four singles “Read About Seymour”, “Dresden Style”, “Real Shocks” and the magnificent “Let's Build A Car”) and four albums (“A Trip To Marineville”, “...In Jane From Occupied Europe”, “Whatever happens Next” (a double album) and “Collision Time”) all on Rough Trade Records.

Their live d├ębut was on Boxing Day 1977 in Birmingham, sandwiched between the Scent Organs, featuring Duran Duran's Roger Taylor, and TV Eye, featuring Andy Wickett, “original” composer of “Rio” (hey, watch those libel suits flood in....). The first single from the same year “Read About Seymour”, to quote Andy Bean, author of WANWTTS “Consumer Guide To Swell Maps”, was a “90 second burst of light, a two chord thrash, pretty meaningless but exciting....” - a declaration of intent....

Commercially, the Maps weren't in it, making things extremely difficult for themselves. Had they stuck to one style, their popularity would no doubt have been far greater, but they never played things easy. For every Pop song there was an unnerving sound bombardment, for every Grunge Rock track, a sublime piano instrumental. Although Richard Earl (Biggles), David Barrington (Phones) and John Cockrill have bowed out gracefully from music, the three (arguably) main protagonists continue to thrill us in their chosen way.


Epic Soundtracks, multi-instrumentalist and drummer supreme with the band now plays with both Crime & The City Solution and Rowland S Howard's These Immortal Souls.


Nikki Sudden, main song writer and lead guitarist, has been the most active since the Maps split in 1980, recording numerous solo and collaborative LPs and singles. More on him later.


Jowe Head, bassist and the man largely responsible for the wacky image that still haunts the band, is a Palooka, a Househunter, a TV Personality and a STAR in West Germany. Many who make up the horribly styled “Anorak” movement, the new wave of British indie bands, cite Swell Maps as an influence, only to serve up a cross-bred sound drawing heavily from the Buzzcocks and the Ramones, with just a tinge of the perverse pop that served the Maps so well.

The attraction for them may be the independent, slightly off-beat approach that made up just a small part of the Swell Maps. They find it impossible to look beyond the band's use of household appliances as instruments, song titles such as “(I Am) The Greatest Plumming” and “Here's The Cupboard (Thrash)”. True, whilst all part of the Maps' charm, for me, more importance should be attached and more attention paid to their Can-influenced rhythmic excursions on the likes of “Full Moon”/”Blam”/”Full Moon (Reprise)” and the aforementioned “Let's Build A Car”, described, again by Andy Bean, as “...3 minutes of glorious noise, from the unrecognisable guitar to the screamed lyrics and the kamikaze piano solo; so much poise and so much recklessness.....”

Toyota Use Swell Maps To Sell Cars - Wrong song, surely?


In the end, Swell Maps probably diversified so much that they pulled themselves apart. This very diversity though guarantees that there's something in there for everyone. So now toddle on down you Yankee poppets to your local Tower Records, and get your grubby pop-soiled mitts on a copy of “Train Out Of It” or DIE IGNORANT. Ignore the subjects of this vitriolic rant AT YOUR PERIL.

CHAPTER TWO. “I KNEW (insert name of star) WHEN HE WAS JUST A.....”

Mr Paul Westerberg, guitarist and singer with Fave Teen Rock Combo The Replacements, will you please step forward. And may I say that I too never travel far without a little Big Star, but pray tell us Paul, who among your contemporaries do you most respect and admire?

Faced with that question, yeah, for sure he'll list numerous hot and worthy names, and you can bet your last cent that those hip bods will include The Jacobites, namely Nikki Sudden & Dave Kusworth.

Nikki Sudden, Dave Kusworth & Epic Soundtracks - The Jacobites

A couple of years back this here yawning yobbo received a transatlantic pre-dawn phone call from a moderately pissed Paul Westerberg. Seems he'd just returned from a night on the Minneapolis tiles and was anxious to share with me his admiration for the noble two-some.

And so it came to pass, in time, that in exchange for a Replacements album “Boink!” on the Jacobites then label Glass, there appeared in the States on the Replacements' then label Twin Tone, a compilation LP of some of the Jacobites' finest moments. Although Nikki and Dave have since gone their own ways, this USA only release “The Ragged School”, is likely to be readily available still to you beleaguered compatriots of Oliver North. And it's a fine place to start, containing as it does the cacophony of sheer sound that is the monster electric epic “Big Store”, rearing up to drown out the drivel and dross to which we've all become so accustomed.

"Shame For The Angels" - Nikki Sudden & Dave Kusworth

Truth be told, a lot's changed since then, and Nikki's now with Alan McGee's Creation Records, where he's maintained his now near legendary levels of productivity, whilst simultaneously languishing somewhat, as McGee, to my mind misguidedly, directs his more industrious efforts on the likes of, well, we'll go into that shortly. No offence Alan, just opinion.

Now let's get on to “Texas”. For me, this is the one record that'll put the message across. You listening? I haven't a clue how many it sold in the UK, let alone the States, but you can bet your ass it wasn't enough.


I mean, Christ Almighty, stick that bloody Weather Prophets' LP back in the racks, give those Smiths records to your kid sister, and get on the phone to Jim and William Reid to tell 'em that until the Mary Chain get dirty again, their records are consigned to the ever-growing MOR sell pile.
Give it up now.
Buy “Texas”
It's on Creation.
It should be on Warner Brothers.

"If I Could Write Poetry" - Unreleased Instrumental from the "Texas" sessions

And is this gonna change? Well this corruptible but clean living Limey aint no arbiter of American taste, any more than he is of British. Hey, the public in both countries get what they deserve, but I'm not trying to convert the public. I'm here to convert YOU. I'm at least off to a good start as you've at least the sense to lay down your money on the counter for a copy of this noble publication. I'm of the mind that Nikki's efforts would be better placed concentrating on “breaking it in America”. Let me endeavour to explain why I believe this.


There is on “Texas”, IN “Texas”, all the world and more. Paranoid perversity, pulverising pop and pure sonic power, a range of emotions evidently beyond our island race, yet surely within the grasp you wonderful cosmopolitan Americans. Flattered? You shouldn't be 'cause you aint quite proven yourselves just yet. Get to it.
Nikki doing "The Bible Belt" publicity rounds back in 1983

Coming right up to date, Nikki's most recently been working with Rowland S Howard and I can assure you that “Kissed You Kidnapped Charabanc” will prove worthy of your further investigation. Rowland can get noises out of a guitar that are well beyond the ability of the merely mortal guitarist, and no bull. Nikki's voice, as acquired a taste as any ever was, reaches new heights of pained inflection that perfectly complement the sparseness of the most reflective songs contained hereon.


What to expect next from Nikki? Well, ensconced as he was on a houseboat in West Germany with his beautiful “Dodgy Blonde” girlfriend, surrounded by an audience that respects his talents to a far greater degree than that of his native homeland, he has turned his attentions to Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Charlie Feathers. That's not to expect a record of rolling piano trashing prison blues songs, although who'd be disappointed with that?

He's just returned to these shores for a spell in the studio with Rowland and Jeremy Gluck (Barracudas) (whose recent LP with Nikki, Rowland and Jeffrey Lee Pierce (Gun Club) “I Knew Buffalo Bill” you should immediately obtain). Whilst at the same time taking the opportunity of spending a couple of weeks at his parents' country mansion just outside historic Warwick.

When I called on him to gain some further background for this article, I was welcomed into his study, all leather panelled walls, rich oak bookcases lined with first editions of Biggles and Billy Bunter books, and a record collection alongside which my thousand or so albums positively pales into insignificance. We listened intently to Jerry Lee Lewis' “Live At The Star Club, Hamburg” (“the greatest live album ever”), questioned why there were no songs about fucking on Johnny Cash's new LP, and considered the completely unrecognised talent of Charlie Feathers (“You know, he released an album on his own label that he refused to have distributed through the usual outlets, and which was only available if you called in person a his house to buy a copy” - although the more intrigued among you will be pleased to hear that New Rose Records of Paris, France have seen fit to arrange a general release).

Then it was tea and biscuits in front of the television where we witnessed the consummate ease yet manic intensity with which Jerry Lee attacked the keyboard (“You can tell it's a good gig when he starts bashing the piano lid”). It's not easy, even in these truly splendid surroundings and utter relaxation to persuade Nikki to talk about his own music. No, he'd much rather enthuse over someone else, and I gotta say his enthusiasm is infectious – guess who fished out his father's Johnny Cash box set as soon as he got home?

So what are you gonna do now you've got this far? Well, I'd perhaps be presuming too much to suppose my limited persuasive talents had won you over entirely, for you to turn from the neat manageable haircut of Robyn Hitchcock, to ignore Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie's pudding-basin trim, and turn instead to the ratted rock'n'roll locks of our hero Nikki Sudden.  

But that's what you're gonna do, huh?

To quote Chaucer's Wife Of Bath:
There is namoore to telle”.

Chris Seventeen

"Wonderful/Whistle In" from the Brian Wilson Tribute album "Smiles, Vibes & Harmony" (1990)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Part Two: James Luther Dickinson - World Boogie Is Coming!

A young James Luther Dickinson
(from Jim Dickinson Facebook Photos)

I found a further tape with another (somewhat shorter) section of the Jim Dickinson "interview" on WEVL Memphis which I present to you here, once again with the music he played (with one extra bonus track).

JLD – I stole my arrangement of “John Brown” - anybody who's heard – I had never heard the Dylan version when I cut the song – it doesn't have the chorus in it. Only thing I'd heard was the Staple Singers which is what I copied – which makes mine sound stupid (...PAUSE....) A little song about mama! This is with Dr John and Charley Freeman playing guitar and Memphis's own Charlie Lawing playing clarinet with French embouchure – and T Tommy McClure playing the inside out stereophonic Lesley-ised bass....

James Luther Dickinson - "John Brown"

Another great ending on that one – reminds me of the Lawson & Four More record.

JLD – Well that was, yeah, Terry Manning's synthesizer going down the hole in the centre of the record. And me croaking and choking and sounding silly....but I'm glad Bob (Dylan) likes it.

Your favourite on here is “Casey Jones”

JLD - “Casey Jones" and "Wild Bill Jones”, the Bob Frank (described by Jim as the "southern Bob Dylan") song

James Luther Dickinson - "Casey Jones"

And this is Shelley....

JLD – Shelley Nemitz, Memphis's own Shelley Nemitz – go with “Shotgun”. The other voice on this is the late great John Hurley (co-writer of "Son Of A Preacher Man"), one of the two best white voices I ever heard come over a microphone. He's also the producer of this particular item. It was recorded in San Francisco. Tom Donahue ("beat hipster producer extraordinaire") was the alleged producer – he was fulfilling the Shelby Singleton role. And sitting in two chairs. Now a man who sits in two chairs, let me tell you, is impressive.

When did John Hurley die?

JLD - Died this last year. Died in Nashville. Yeah, went to the big mix down in the sky. He was the first client I ever had as an engineer who requested me specifically. I mean I had worked for other victims but Hurley was my first real client and I learned a lot of stuff from him. Heavy duty. This is a much better record than it appears to be (...laughs heartily...)

Shelley's still active?

JLD – Shelley's definitely still active wherever she is. I'm sure she's active as we speak. Let 'em hear “Shotgun” - the other material on the record is too heavy for family consumption.

Shelley had quite a visual presentation!

Shelley Nemitz - "Shotgun"

Jorge Santana (Carlos Santana's brother) huh?

JLD – That was him. Having a fit there. And Ronnie Wilkin (co-writer with Hurley of "Son Of A Preacher Man") playing, probably my major influence as far as piano is concerned other than my mother, playing piano. I was playing rhythm guitar, laughingly he said, chukka chukka. Various other strange people were singing, Claudia Lennear (Tina Turner backing singer with whom Mick Jagger had an affair and who inspired “Brown Sugar”) among them. It was a fun time back in the real record biz days.

Claudia Lennear - "Casey Jones"

JLD – This next little gem – we're getting serious here as we wind down and approach the end of our little trip here, as we used to say in the sixties. This is the only unsuccessful record Ronnie Milsap ever made. And Dan Penn produced it and we went hither and yon to Nashville and Muscle Shoals and thereabouts, cutting various parts of it. This particular instance was recorded in Muscle Shoals. It has notable performances by Spooner Oldham and, myself, of course. I always have myself in there, and Lightning Wayne Perkins (lead guitarist on the Rolling Stones "Black And Blue" album) and Chris Ethridge (founder member of The Flying Burrito Brothers) and Roger Hawkins (drummer on Aretha Franklin's "Respect") and Milsap himself. This is also an unsuccessful Kris Kristofferson song which I think is very good.

His only unsuccessful record, huh?

JLD – That was it. Very interesting artist Ronnie Milsap – we recorded some of it in American Studios with the American Section and some of it in Nashville with the 615 Band, and that was like middle of the night crazy stuff in Muscle Shoals. The other guitarist on there was Tippy Armstrong – no longer with us.

We got the Lulu “Melody Fair” album.

JLD – Yeah, this is another one of my personal little favourites from Miami.

A Mickey Newbury song.

JLD – Yeah, the thing that people fail to perceive about Lulu is that she's a redneck. Just because she's British, y'know.....

Lulu - "Sweet Memories"

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Alex Chilton (28th December 1950 - 17th March 2010) - Here's A Little Thing That's Gonna Please Ya....

Photo - deSingel International Arts Campus


here's a piece I ran on another blog I was working on a while back, posted on 21st July 2009:

"To a generation of 20 and 30 somethings, the name Alex Chilton probably attaches itself more to The Replacements than to the man himself, from their song "Alex Chilton" :

"If he was from Venus, would he feed us with a spoon? If he was from Mars, wouldn't that be cool? Standing right on campus, would he stamp us in a file? Hangin' down in Memphis all the while. (chorus:) Children by the million sing for Alex Chilton when he comes 'round They sing "I'm in love. What's that song? I'm in love with that song. "Cerebral rape and pillage in a village of his choice. Invisible man who can sing in a visible voice. Feeling like a hundred bucks, exchanging good lucks face to face. Checkin' his stash by the trash at St. Mark's place. (chorus) I never travel far, without a little Big Star. Runnin' 'round the house, Mickey Mouse and the Tarot cards. Falling asleep with a flop pop video on. If he was from Venus, would he meet us on the moon? If he died in Memphis, then that'd be cool, babe.(chorus)"

I am pretty sure that most folk who hear that song investigate a little further and have the joy of discovering the wonders of Big Star. There was though, in the late 80's and early 90's, a period of a couple of years when Big Star was the band to name check. Be you Primal Scream, REM, Teenage Fanclub or any number of music writers, "Radio City" was an album of great influence and a useful reference point for anything loosely resembling (hate the term, love the genre) powerpop. Trendsetters as ever, me and my friends were listening to them many years before that, having re-diecovered the early 70's albums in the early 90's. To this day, Alex Chilton and Big Star are constantly on rotation round these parts and I reckon it's about time I did my bit to spread the word a little further afield.

What spurred me into action was Alan Yentob's "Imagine" documentary on the BBC a week or so ago on the Memphis born photographer William Eggleston, whose famous "Red Ceiling" picture adorned the "Radio City" album and whose "Dolls On A Cadillac Hood" was on the cover of Alex's solo album "Like Flies On Sherbert".

"Red Ceiling" by William Eggleston

 "Dolls On A Cadillac Hood" by William Eggleston

It was Alec Chilton's 1978 solo single"Bangkok" that I first heard in 1980, and 'twas through the auspices of Mr Epic Soundtracks that I (as many others - Bobby Gillespie and Alan McGee amongst them) was introduced to the wonder of Big Star. Firstly "Radio City", then "#1 Record" and eventually "Third" - as fine and varied (have you heard "Third"?) a trio of albums you could hope to hear.

Weirdly, it was through Tav Falco's Panther Burns, specifically the 1980 "She's The One To Blame" EP (and a still treasured copy of the first release of only 250 copies with 8" silk screened sleeve on Frenzi Records) that I came back upon Alex's solo work. As did much of Tav's considerable output, this featured one LX Chilton on guitar.......but let's talk about the charismatic Tav Falco some other time.

Possibly recognising he'd peaked as a song writer in the late 70's, the larger part of his recordings these past 25 years or so have been covers, and since the mid 90's, aside from the odd Box Tops reunion (did I mention that it was a 16 year old Alex Chilton singing lead on million seller "The Letter" back in 1967?) it's been the new version of Big Star that's been his main focus. With original drummer Jody Stephens, Alex teamed up with the Posies' Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow to tour as Big Star. Great excitement preceded their London dates in August 1993, not least for myself. I certainly remember seeing Bobby Gillespie in attendance, and the word was that pretty much all the great and good of indie rock at that time gathered at the Clapham Grand. Of course it wasn't Big Star 1973, but there was magic in the air that night, as the Zoo Records release of the live "Columbia" album confirmed.

Anyway, we're hear to reminisce about my encounters with rock's elite, so, when Chris met was just the one time, and it was (gulp) nearly 24 years ago. Alex and his band played a (slightly disinterested) show at London's Mean Fiddler on 16th October 1985, we were there and after the show Epic and I approached Alex for Epic to undertake part one of a planned interview which was completed a few days later at the house in Brixton where Alex was staying. A wide-ranging chat, it was the centre-piece of (and cover story - great picture by Bleddyn Butcher - for) issue 6 of What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen magazine which was published in 1986 (and came with a 17 track compilation (vinyl) album.....copies still available folks).

Notoriously diffident, verging on awkward ("ornery" may be appropriate) he was both these that evening but to be fair, as an interviewee, pretty damned co-operative, and Epic got some mighty fine stuff out of him. I played my usual starstruck role and observed rather than involved, took a couple of photos of him and Epic, got him to sign a couple of original vinyl Big Star albums, my copy of the "Bangkok" single and various solo singles, and wallowed in listening to his lazy southern drawl. The cliche is that you should never meet your heroes lest they disappoint - Alex did nothing but live up to his reputation as rock's outsider, did not in any way disappoint and I loved him all the more for it.

For a fine, thorough telling of the Big Star story, get hold of a copy of Rob Jovanovic's "Big Star - The Story Of Rock's Forgotten Band". Pleased to have played a small role in it's creation, having met up with and lent Rob my and Epic's collection of press cuttings, rare discs and photos (by the way Rob, still waiting for you to return the Jim Dickinson "Dixie Fried" album cover and one or two other bits and pieces....) you can get hold of it here -"