Friday, 25 March 2011

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 début 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)

1 comment:

  1. I love the post. I love Swell Maps.

    Cheers from Spain.