Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Albion Sunrise by Nikki Sudden - Chapter 12: Johnny Thunders

Nikki Sudden at the 100 Club, Oxford Street, London - 17th May 1983 - Photo by Nik Coleman

Following the recently posted introduction to Nikki Sudden's unpublished novel "Albion Sunrise" we've dipped into the tale itself and extracted Chapter 12, "Johnny Thunders".

Enjoy.

Albion Sunrise: Chapter 12 - Johnny Thunders


"In the dark-lit surroundings of The Establishment tea-rooms, general bric-a-brac and curio shop, The Bagman has once more taken up the reins and is keenly talking on the same generally much misunderstood subject of pure rock’n’roll. But, we find that he’s veered from the purity, albeit it seldom seen, or indeed rarely, if ever, understood by the general populace, of Jerry Lee Lewis and Memphis rockabilly, to fields further from home. Unfortunately by doing so he loses Mr. Dickens. For Mr. Dickens’ heart, it must be said, mainly resides in rock and roll’s first few timeless years.

If there’s anything to be said on the general feeling of rock’n’roll these days then the first premise that must be assumed is that Johnny Thunders plays the guitar in the same way that Jerry Lee Lewis plays the piano. The way he throws notes out so that they seem to cut through your soul like a hot knife through butter. It could indeed be said that his guitar playing can send shivers right down your spine in a manner akin to a rusty rock’n’roll avalanche.”

Johnny Thunders, Sir?” enquired Mr. Dickens somewhat breathlessly.

Y’know, man, the one time guitarist with the New York Dolls!”

Pancake make-up, high heels and rock’n’roll guitars.” put in Sukie helpfully.

No, I’m afraid you’ve lost me there,” answered Mr. Dickens a trifle sadly. “Would I could say I’ve heard of the gentleman but I’m afraid in all honesty I can’t claim that.” He nodded his head, “Different generations that’s all I can say. I’d dearly love to hear the gentleman though, for if he indeed plays the guitar in the same way that Mr. Lewis plays the piano, he must be a wonderful player.”

He is that,” exclaimed The Bagman wildly searching for metaphors to aid his description. “His guitar playing sounds like heaven in a silver spoon. Indeed one note by Johnny Thunders is enough to slice the top of your head right off.”

Mr Dickens first blanched and then looked a trifle perturbed at this suggestion. He requested meekly. “But, pray tell me more about this Mr. Thunders to whom you refer.”

Johnny Thunders was the hero of the Dolls and he was the one (along with the drummer, Jerry Nolan) who came back with a band that lived up to all that had gone before. The Heartbreakers were one of the main bands of ‘76 and ‘77 and then they too were gone,” answered The Bagman shortly.

Would that be Month Seventy Six and Month Seventy Seven of this counting?” asked Mr. Dickens curiously.

Time often passes very slowly, that I know. It could in fact be,” replied The Bagman, hanging his head in thought for a couple of long seconds, “It could indeed be. Having said which, it’s not necessarily so. May’haps it was. It’s sometimes difficult to recall. It’s often difficult to place the correct age ‘pon anything,” he looked at Sukie, “Isn’t it m’dear?” he asked.*

I know what you mean ‘Bags’,” she answered with a smile, “As sure as the King’s flag flies high above the town, I know what you mean.”

Anyway,” continued The Bagman, “Johnny Thunders continued with a solo career, making some brilliant records, some flawed records albeit intermittently. The best of these was the first album he made, So Alone, but the solo acoustic record from a few years later, Hurt Me is also totally inspired, as indeed is Copy Cats, the album he made with old cohort, Patti Palladin.” He turned to Mr. Dickens who was rummaging around on one of the many black shelves that lined every last inch of the walls of The Establishment tea-rooms and remarked to that gentleman. “I think Copy Cats would be right up your street.”

The Bagman decided that some further elaboration was necessary. Thus he continued:

The first time I ever met Johnny Thunders was at a club in Birmingham, up on the top edge of Cortirion. This was when he was still playing with the Heartbreakers (or the Junkies, as they almost became known for a while). It was at a club called Rebeccas. Some time in early 1977, it was. I’d gone along to the soundcheck with my two New York Dolls albums in hand. Cheekily asked one of the road crew if he could put me on the guest list. He’d replied that would be no problem. But, he did say that I shouldn’t attempt to get my Dolls albums signed by Johnny or Jerry Nolan as they didn’t like being reminded of the past. So I left the records at home and went along to the gig empty handed. After the show I ended up in the dressing room. Johnny spent most of the evening running around after a very attractive blonde girl. Miss Patti, I think her name was.

He did, however, pause long enough to say hello to me and remark about the Marc Bolan badge I was wearing: ‘Hey, I really dig that guy.’

He looked at Sukie with a wistful gaze clouding his eyes. “Badges were rather a Seventies fashion,” he said with a sigh.

I know,” she replied sparkily. “But, what happened next?”

We exchanged some words. I wandered out into the night leaving Johnny to get to know Miss Patti a little better.”

His face appeared a little clouded with reminiscence as he continued:

I saw Johnny around London Town from time to time. We didn’t know each other though. I remember one party at this guy’s house. The Doctor, he was known as. He roadied for one of the Heartbreakers’ contemporaries. Johnny, Jerry and Billy Rath, the bass player, turned up and straight away disappeared into the bathroom. They weren’t seen again for most of that evening. I saw the Heartbreakers at the Vortex, at the Music Machine, a bunch of places and loved them each time I saw them.

Picture from the "Pipeline" Pedro Mercedes collection

If anywhere, it was at the Speakeasy that I came closest to Johnny. The Speakeasy, just round the corner from Portland Place, up on Margaret Street. One night I was in there having a lonely drink. The band on stage were this terrible ‘70’s loser band, name of Slack Alice. One thing this new regime must take the blame for, more than most, is the number of simply appalling bands that it left in it’s wake.”

A semi-wane smile lit up his face. “Anyway, I ignored them and stuck at the bar. All of a sudden from the stage there came this great guitar sound. Johnny had jumped on stage and was jamming away. He carried the show for half an hour or so before jumping off stage. This was customary behaviour for the baseball kid. Most times I’d end up there over the next few months Johnny would also be there and jump up with just about any band going.”

The Bagman paused for a second, and then recommenced his tale: “And then of course there were the legendary Living Dead gigs. I went to most of them. Not all, but most. I remember Johnny coming on with the great Chantays’ instrumental, Pipeline, and me thinking it was an original song.”

Mr. Dickens indulged himself with a slight chuckle at this point. Although the surf era of music was just at the tail end of his interest, he still knew most of the music of that time well enough. “The Chantays, it was, indeed my good sir,” he bubbled enthusiastically.

The Bagman continued, “This was also the first time I was ever to hear Johnny’s great new song, Dead Or Alive.” He let out a slightly nostalgic sigh, “Anyway, one evening I was hanging there from the ceiling, taking photographs. I think it was the night Sid Vicious attempted to play a few songs before realising his bass wasn’t even turned on. Anyway there I am hanging from the ceiling and suddenly big lumps of plaster collapse around my head. I was certain I was about to be thrown out as this angry looking bouncer waded up to me. Luckily he just laughed at the sight before swaggering away again. Leaving me hanging there amid the ruins of what had been a perfectly respectable ceiling before my enthusiasm got the better of me.

Those gigs by the Living Dead have to be among the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life. Right up there with T.Rex at the Leas Cliffe Hall Pavilion, Folkestone in ‘75. With Page and Plant recording their Unplugged show in a studio on the banks of the Fleet a few short years ago. With the Stones at the Brixton Academy on my birthday a year or so back. With Mott The Hoople at Birmingham Top Rank in ‘72. With David Bowie on the Aladdin Sane Tour.

Johnny recorded So Alone. Came back to London Town to play a gig at the Lyceum Theatre. I was there at the front same as I was every time he played. I remember being at the Rock On stall in Soho Market a few days later. There I was told a tale of how Johnny had staggered in the day after the Lyceum show with a box of copies of So Alone with him to sell. Realising that he’d just spend the money on drugs the guy from Rock On had refused to buy the albums. Johnny’d been left to stagger on up through Soho to Cheapo Cheapo in Rupert Street to sell the records. Later I went into Cheapo Cheapo and bought quite a few copies for Christmas presents for my brother and friends. Christmas 1978 that was. Cheapo Cheapo had been where I’d first acquired my copies of the New York Dolls albums in 1974. The same copies I have till this day.



News of Johnny was sparse on the ground through ‘79 and ‘80. One elusive photo cropped up in the New Musical Express, that was it. When the gang temporarily broke* up I decided, after a few months of hanging round, kicking my heels in Tintagel and Camelot, that it was time for me to re-establish myself in Soho. Business still needed to be attended to, but things had come to some kind of collapse before that eventuality was realised. Arriving there late one evening I looked in Time Out to find that the Heartbreakers were playing that very night at the Marquee. I headed down there straight away. Nothing could go wrong for me that night. For Johnny it was a slightly different story. The band managed to get through about three numbers before Johnny actually made it onto stage. He looked ‘tired’ shall I say. ‘Tired’ definitely. Still it was a good show when all is said and done.

The next day or so I was sitting in the Two I’s Coffee Bar in Old Compton Street, drinking my first White Russian of the day (my favourite drink in the world and incidentally Johnny’s too). In walks Johnny and sits down at a table. He starts looking at the menu. I think to myself either I can go and talk to him or I can just sit there and pretend that Johnny Thunders isn’t in the building. I decide the former is in order. So up I wander to his table. Johnny is still examining the menu. I ask if it’s okay to sit down. He mumbles, ‘Yea.’ I sit down and start talking. One thing I do remember is when the waitress came to our table she asked Johnny what he’d like. He ordered but said that he was only paying for himself, ‘Not for this guy,’ motioning towards me. Fair enough, I hadn’t started the conversation in order to get a free drink.

Next night down at the Two I’s I bump into Johnny again. He’s hanging round upstairs by the dressing room door. I don’t think he remembers me from the previous day when he’d been quite stoned. He looks great. 100% rock and roll. Really cool jacket. Kinda striped jacket. That’s the main thing I remember. What I choose to say to him amazes myself. I ask if he’d be up for doing an interview for ZigZag magazine. ‘Yea, Kris Needs,’ he says.* He said sure, that I should call him the next day and gives me his phone number.

The following day arrives and I call up. Johnny answers the phone, gives me the address, says come on over. I arrive at the flat where Johnny is listlessly watching the day roll by. He enquires if I have any money. I say sure. He asks for £20. I can’t see a problem so off we troop. Off down to The Wedge to cop. Johnny leaves me in front of a shop while he disappears round the corner with my money in his hand. While I’m waiting I manage to get some kind of duelling pistol pulled on me. I think to myself ‘This is Albion, things like this don’t happen here.’ I walk off. The would be duellist is obviously not used to behaviour like this. He doesn’t follow, shoot me or anything.

Johnny Thunders - Almost Blue (Photo by B P Fallon)

Johnny reappears. I tell him what happened. He smiles that smile of his. Anyone who ever met him will know exactly what I mean. He says, ‘Things like that happen round here, you should be careful.’ We take a hansom cab back to the rooms he shares with a nice blonde girl. We proceed to get gently stoned. Johnny taking the lion’s share of the smack. Me, I keep on disappearing to the bathroom to throw up. Johnny finds this most amusing. We record some of an interview. If I listen back to it now I sound so young, so naïve. Really I suppose I was. It was also almost the first time I ever interviewed anyone. I can never really think of any questions to ask. With me, an interview becomes more like a conversation.

One thing that struck Johnny about me was my boots. I had this pair of Johnson’s Chelsea boots—white leather they were. Johnny had his eyes on these from the start. So we did what was quite a ritual with Johnny over the years. The clothes swopping session. I gave him my white boots and a red and black striped pyjama jacket that I’d taken to wearing.

He responded by giving me a pair of pony skin shoes, a white dress shirt complete with blood stains on the elbows and a beautiful black jacket. The shoes are beautiful, I still have them and all the other clothes Johnny swopped with me. Where the ones I dealt with him ended up I have no idea. Probably they got traded again somewhere along the way. By the way Johnny and I have the same size feet (eight and a half), as does Marc Bolan and as does Bob Dylan. There must be something in there somewhere.

I called round to see Johnny the next day to conclude the interview and to get high together again. He wasn’t my introduction to drugs, but, he was always a good person to take them with. Although he asked me to pay for the first lot (and the second and third) he did reciprocate quite a few times over the years.

Later that day we went up on the roof of Johnny’s apartment building, up above Wardour Street, for a brief photo session. One thing about Johnny, he always did have a great dress sense. He put on this great pair of boots, enwrapped with scarves. Carried a funky old acoustic guitar in his arms. He just looked so cool. Stoned or not. It didn’t seem to matter with him. I’ve always thought that people who are out of it a lot of the time can often have far better dress sense than those who are straight the whole live long day. It’s almost as though they don’t care less about what the world may think of them. They know from themselves that they look cool and everyone else is wrong. And rightly so.”

The Bagman paused from his monologue. He glanced first at Mr. Dickens and then at Sukie Sundown to see if they were still following him. It was obvious that they were glued to every word coming out of his lips.

We spent quite a few afternoons together. Johnny trying to explain different chapters of his life to me as we sat together in the apartment. One thing I can always remember is Johnny answering the phone to a friend of his who was planning to come round. ‘Pick us up a pack of Lucky’s on the way over,’ he said down the phone. Lucky Strike cigarettes! I thought it was going to be some strange kind of drug.”*

Once again The Bagman paused. He took a sip of his cup of tea and lit another one of his smuggled cigarettes before once again telling his gathered listeners some more tales from the life of the greatest rock and roll guitarist of all time:

Johnny Thunders dropped out of my life for a year or so. Until Spring, ‘82, when he made a concerted comeback with a non-stop 8 or 10 date tour of the capital. I went to every show as did my friend The Twangman (this was just prior to us re-forming the Gang). Those were glorious days. Most every night for two or three weeks you could see Johnny Thunders on stage. Some nights he looked well wrecked. Other nights he looked like a sixteen year old kid. Like the night I trekked to the depths of the East Side to see him play. I walked out of the concert walking on air. It was a totally brilliant performance.

Around that time I saw Johnny a whole lot. Never got that close except for one night at a hilarious show at the Escape Club in my home town one December evening. That was the night when an old woman insisted on jumping on stage with him. ‘That’s my mother,’ he claimed. Who knows, maybe it was! Arriving at the club I’d wandered into the cold and cheerless dressing room to say hello to Johnny. He quickly pulls me to one side, ‘Hey Bags, you got any drugs?’ he asked. ‘I had, but, they’re all inside me,’ I answered. ‘Fair enough,’ was his well-considered reply, which swept out from his face with a tired looking smile.

Anyway that was the night I got my photo taken with Johnny. Conditions for taking any picture in the dimly lit dressing room were far from perfect but a photographer friend persevered and got a great shot of the two of us together. We both look pretty ghostly. It sums up some kind of an era.”

The Bagman took another drag of his cigarette and requested a glass of wine. Mr. Dickens scurried off to fetch one for him and for Miss Sundown.

I take it red wine is all right, Sir,” he asked. The Bagman answered in the affirmative with great alacrity. Their host quickly returned with a bottle and two glasses. The glasses were charged, The Bagman took a sip and then went on:

Next time I encountered Johnny close up was in Dublin, in Eireann, that is, at the TV Club. The gig was promoted by a good friend of mine, Simon Carmody. Simon had asked if I’d like to come along and see Johnny there and at the next night’s show in Belfast. The following morning we set off on the drive up to Belfast. A long, uncomfortable journey it was, especially for those of us perched on the outside of the coach for hours on end. The horses had to be changed on about three different occasions.

As we went through the border the Northern Irish border guard muttered in his thick accent: ‘Where are you’se lot from, the Irish Free State?’ Well, Simon and the driver were. Johnny was from the New World. Susanne was from the Scandinavia, the Viking Lands. Terry Chimes the drummer was from Albion. Christopher was from Germania, via Paris or somewhere. And Keith Yon the bass player definitely wasn’t from Eireann, more like from the former slave provinces of the West Indies than anywhere.

As our carriage trundled into Belfast Johnny was constantly asking questions about the situation there. In his blue mohair sweater, satin frock coat, black leather trousers and boots he looked totally rock and roll that day. At one point an army platoon swung in front of our coach, muskets pointed straight through the windows at us. Susanne was a little bit frightened by this. Johnny took it all in.

The gig that night was great. Everything Johnny had asked on the journey that day came out on the stage that night. Everything he’d taken in. His between song comments were just so perfect in war-torn Belfast. As Simon Carmody wrote in an article in Eirrann’s Hot Press: ‘Johnny was nearly in tears at the devotion of the few hundred punks at the show, determined to show the bright glittering world of freedom and music to them, five encores of Chinese Rocks and Johnny, beautiful, striding out of the hall, past the ranks of soldiers in a long braided military coat, sailor hat, pointy boots and his girl on his arm, unitimidated, delivering, rockin’, immaculate...’

After the show Terri Hooley the mad, one-eyed proprietor of Good Vibrations Records who’d promoted the show took us all to a wonderful restaurant for a slap-up meal. Even though he’d lost money on the evening he was generous to an extreme. Everything Johnny wanted was laid on, no problem whatsoever. And Johnny with a gleam in his eyes kept on asking for more. Taking it almost too far and then circling back to let Terri down gently. You could tell that Johnny was most taken by this Irish madman with his one glass and one normal eye. Johnny, Susanne and the band went to sleep that night in a deep guarded compound hotel. The next day we drove back to Eirrann. Went to the harbour, down to the quays, to see Johnny off. ‘See you around, Bags,’ he said to me in parting.’”

He turned to his listeners: “Anyway I’d better finish here, there aren’t enough hours in this, or any day to spend this way. Unfortunately.”

They smiled back at him, sensing the sadness coming from his eyes.

Johnny Thunders 27th December 1983 Stockhom (Photo by Micke Borg)

Johnny Thunders was four years and four days older than me. Born one July 15th. Both of us Cancer, which apparently means that we don’t much like to share our secrets or cares with the World.

I’ve always known that Johnny Thunders would out-live each and every one of us.” He thought for a few long seconds before continuing:

One mistake far too many people make in equating Johnny Thunders with being a junkie is that their understanding of the genre doesn’t extend that far. I’m not claiming to have that great a knowledge myself, but having dabbled at times throughout the years I do know that it takes a certain determination of effort to look and stay cool despite the follies inherent in the lifestyle. For, whatever you may say or think of Johnny Thunders, he always looked cool. So totally fucking cool. And however out of it he may’haps at times be, he most always plays guitar like a dream. He may not play guitar like Segovia, but, you wouldn’t want that anyway, would you? He may be a junkie, but, at least he always keeps it together

To some people Heroin equals Sex. It’s down of course, to individual interpretation. Therefore just because one of your friend’s chooses to make his own personal doom out of what can be, at times, a positive experience does not mean that all must be so doomed. I personally take the stuff on occasion because I like it. For no other reasons at all. With me there’s no desire to hide behind the opium cloak. And, yes, if you take Keith Richards or Johnny Thunders, Thomas de Quincey, or even William Burroughs as an example heroin can seem very creative indeed. For these were people who despite the inclinations of the drug were able to bend their art around it.

Unfortunately I have, particularly of late, seen far too many people (including some very close acquaintances) who seem to have given their life over to heroin. Creativity, with them, doesn’t enter into it. All they really seem interested in is the daily purchase of the drug. Which seems to me to be the definition of an addict. Which is why I could never be an addict. I can never be bothered with the travail and traipsing around necessary to maintain a habit. I find it fascinating for a few days. Two or three at the most, then I get bored with the wasted time. For, with most junkies the prime interest in the drug is the knocking out of time. So that the day is telescoped into those brief periods when they have to go and score. That becomes the only important action undertaken each day.

Too many friends of mine seem to have thrown most of their life, including most of their friendships away over the years of addiction. They have to finally give up the poppy when there was no one left for them to borrow money from! They still owe most of their life away. One just has to accept that the time is probably gone forever.

Despite all this, Johnny Thunders for me, is the best guitarist who’s ever lived. Technique, who cares? He plays with his whole body, his complete soul and that’s why I say he always keeps it together because no matter how totally and completely lost in his soul he is (and he so often can be), it doesn’t really matter, for he can still play the guitar. Whatever condition he may be in, he can still play the guitar. And, if you’re a guitar player, that’s all that counts in the end, isn’t it?

If there is a heaven up there then surely, one day, Johnny Thunders, the boy from the New World will end up there playing guitar, smoking cigarettes, drinking white russians, getting high. Amen.”

Turning to Sukie Sundown, The Bagman laughed suddenly and then remarked, “Imagine Jerry Lee and Johnny on stage together. Both of them just knowing that they were the best. Let the audience in and all you’ll end up will be the remains of a few smashed up chairs and tables. Nothing left save for the many and various glories of much famed rock’n’roll. For, with one note, either of them can easily create more pure brilliant and inspirational, nay, soul and heart-rending,” and that’s a term that’s seldom heard these days, “Rock’n’roll than a whole land full of other bands.”

I’m afraid that these days rock and roll belongs to the young people, my dear sir,” spoke Mr. Dickens sorrowfully. It wasn’t his fault he was getting old, he thought. But, then, his Mr. Lewis was over sixty years of age now and he still played rock and roll with the best of them.

Who ever tried to con you that rock’n’roll belonged purely to seventeen or eighteen year olds? It surely wasn’t ever a seventeen year old,” continued The Bagman getting completely pulled into his topic now, “If a cat can play when they’re seventeen, they sure as hell should still be able to cut it when they’re twenty, thirty, forty or even eighty. What’s the real difference? Who cares about age. Just because so many bands lose it when they get older... Oh, it’s not the fault of their age. If anything it’s just their sad stupidity,” complained The Bagman sagely enough.

Thank you, sir, but if the truth is to be told I don’t get out much these days. Save for the occasional concert by Mr. Lewis, I don’t really venture far anymore.” Mr. Dickens sounded quite woebegone now.

The Bagman continued briskly: “Then there’s all this rubbish you keep on reading these days about Jerry Lee Lewis being ‘the Johnny Rotten of his day’,” he was warming to his subject. “All this typical patronising journalese. Jerry Lee Lewis was the Jerry Lee Lewis of his day. Johnny Rotten hadn’t even got enough guts to get married! He never wrote a song like Pumpin’ Piano Rock. He never even wrote a song like Rockin’ Jerry Lee:

They call me Rockin’ Jerry Lee
And I’m the rockingest cat on piano
That you ever did see.

I mean that is poetry. And to think that in ‘54, Jerry Lee Lewis was making music, as he still is nowadays that is more vital and goddammit, more rebellious and licentious, than anything punk ever did.”

I myself, sir, have heard Mr. Lewis laughing like a madman possessed by the Devil. By whiskey. By the spirit of the Lord. By the light of the moon. As he has sometimes sung himself:

My name is Jerry Lee Lewis
I come from Louisiana
I’m a mean mother-humpa
On this here piano.”

Thus Mr. Dickens with a blush or two half glimpsed through the gloom of the tea-rooms passionately gave vent to his innermost thoughts on the subject of Jerry Lee Lewis. Then he pottered off to look for some things as yet unfound. Feeling the lull of the conversation, The Bagman threw in one final, closing thought.

Nikki Sudden at the 100 Club, Oxford Street, London - 17th May 1983 - Photo by Nik Coleman

I love the way that Jerry Lee takes any old song and turns it around, spins it on it’s axis, throws it away and pulls it back until all that’s left is the quivering vibrant husk. The piano that once writhed in his hands is left incapable of any other action save for throwing out a thousand desolate and smashed notes. Sending them crashing into your ears. Tearing white and black keys falling to the hands of the Killer.”



Sukie, while the discussion had been coming to a close, had been looking round to see what she could see in the dark lightless chambers of the café. She’d espied one or two things of great interest to herself, and, she thought, to her companion. These included a fire-place with a singularly indistinct blaze going on amidst it’s precincts. Certainly the fire did little to light up the room, but, still is capable of giving out a warmth and also a comfortable aroma. More interestingly, per’haps, assorted boxed sets of record albums were glimpsed amidst the glow. Each and every one on Bear Family Records, the best re-issue label in the World. The only real light in the room still came from the solitary spluttering tallow candle on the table top.

Ending his search amongst the shelves of his premises Mr. Dickens had finally found what he’d been looking for. To the delight of his guests he first produced a stamped-metal tin full of muffins. These were followed in good turn by a jar of potato pancakes, procured from somewhere in the dark gloom. He then put one of the muffins on a toasting fork before proceeding to stoke up the fire to enable it to give out enough heat for the toasting to take place. “Can I offer you,” he began, but, broke off without finishing his sentence for both The Bagman’s and Miss Sundown’s eyes had fully lit up at the prospect of a hot toasted and griddled tea.

My good fellow,” answered The Bagman, “That is as good a suggestion as any I’ve heard in a month of Mondays. I’m sure Sukie agrees, don’t you m’dear.”

Indeed yes, Jack,” replied that seeming paragon of virtue, looking as though butter had never even melted in her mouth, as indeed it seldom had.

Mr. Dickens stokes up the fire, piling more coal upon it, and it emits a mild, not in-offensive heat. He places a kettle full of fresh spring-water from the pump in the yard on it to boil.

One thing I will say in closing,” commented The Bagman before finally laying his subject to rest, “ Is that I truly believe that in fifty years time Johnny Thunders will be seen as being just as important a figure in the history of rock’n’roll, what-have-you as Robert Johnson is today.”

Well said, Jack,” proclaimed Sukie Sundown before preparing herself for the onslaught of muffins which were at this very second being toasted quite expertly by Mr. Dickens.

The water tumbles from the now boiling kettle quite merrily, sending small clouds of steam jumping and turning through the air. A fresh pot of tea is ready. They sit and drink it whilst waiting for hot food to arrive. Food that has long awaited them for they’d had neither the time, nor indeed the inclination, to eat the day before. Save for that morning’s brief breakfast they hadn’t eaten anything in the past twenty-four hours. Now provisions would be well appreciated.

Hot buttered cinnamon crumpets are being toasted. Potato pancakes are being cooked by the venerable Mr. Dickens. Proprietor, owner, manager and sole employee of The Establishment tea-rooms, nestling deep in the heart of old London Town. Much loved by many, admired by some and respected by most everyone of his acquaintances. For though, as he said, he doesn’t get out so much these days he still retains a large circle of disparate friends. And friendship, like fair play, as he has often been found to hear himself saying, is, whatever any may say, still a jewel.

Then almost too hurriedly, he slipped out of the room, his mind obviously on other things. Miss Sundown and The Bagman were left in the deep languid gloom of the café to touch hands and kiss a couple of times. When Mr. Dickens returned, The Bagman would settle their account and then they would leave. They had business across town that evening and now the Sun was fully down it was time to depart.

And here we must leave this perfect couple, up-at-heel for the moment at least, in this imperfect world. Waiting for the perfect culmination to their late afternoon tea. For it must be remembered that they did not achieve so much as a single second of sleep the previous night due to their assorted, and as yet unrelated exploits. But, before too many pages have passed the tale of those adventures will unfold."

Nikki Sudden

* For further clarification of the restyling of the calendar see page 58. Twelve counts = one year of the old style timespan.
* The Restoration Gang
* Kris Needs was the editor of ZigZag during Johnny’s time in London Town.
* Lucky Strike’s were available on rare occasions from some of the cigarette smugglers who inhabited each and every one of the streets and back alley-ways of London Town. Most types of cigarettes could be purchased, at a price, from these vendors and purveyors of forbidden tobacco. The only cigarettes officially on sale were the ubiquitous Woodbines, Player’s Navy Cut, Black Cat, the revenue from which went directly to the ruling powers. On the East Side of the Wall most everyone smoked Blue Liners, cigarettes made of badly rolled tobacco. It often took a whole box of matches to keep one of these cigarettes alight long enough for a complete smoke.

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"Looking At You" by Nikki Sudden

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Albion Sunrise - A Novel By Nikki Sudden - Introduction


Nikki Sudden & Jowe Head at the Epic Soundtracks Tribute at London's The Garage 10th January 1998

In addition to his recently published (excellent) autobiography "The Last Bandit", Nikki seemed to be forever working on one written project or another - be it his history of The Wick, the house on Richmond Hill in London sold by actor John Mills to the Stones' Ronnie Wood, or one of several plays written for, but never taken up by, Radio 4 (including "The Bagman And The Twangman"). I have to admit though that I never saw much of the "Bring Back Ian McLagan" project which he mentions below. By far the biggest of these was "Albion Sunrise", his as yet unpublished novel. I'll post a couple of chapters over months to come, but, for now, here's his introduction.

"This book was begun in Berlin during January, February, March, April & May of 1997. On the computers of Brenda Parkerson & Britta Schenkel, and the lap-top that Melvin Reynolds was borrowing from a chap at Gloucester hospital. It was originally titled, Bagman’s Sundown, but I soon realised that was rather a final title. During those early months, like the first flush of a romance I wrote diligently and earnestly. As with a romance passion began to turn to weariness after time.

During June, 1997 I was on tour throughout Europe So little got done save for some emendation. Throughout July, August, September and October work continued on Biene Olbrich and Katja Klier’s computers—plus a brief spell in Paris on Freddy Lynxx’s machine. Back to Berlin for more work on Katja’s device. To all of the above go out many thanks.

In November of 1997 my brother, Epic Soundtracks, died. This necessitated a return to Albion for Christmas / New Year during which little was added to the book.

Then finally in January, 1998 I purchased my own machine and the book went gradually on. One chapter, “In Praise Of Miss Sundown,” was written during a flight from Berlin to Chicago. Various amendments followed during the next two months which were spent in exile in the Americas. Following on from my eventual return to European soil, work finally re-commenced in earnest. Or, so t’was hoped.

Work, when at last re-started went slowly. Tour followed tour and on the rare occasions I was in Berlin other matters occupied my mind. As is my way, I began work on another book, rather than continue with the one I should have been concentrating on. That book, Bring Back Ian McLagan, went on quite well and by Christmas / New Year 1998 / 99 was well underway. During that time I found myself once again in Blighty. Various books I was reading contributed to the reawakening of my interest in Albion Sunrise. One of them, strangely enough, was a travel book by a fellow named Bill Bryson whose reflections on my own country, though sometimes over-stated are very much along the same ways I choose to see England. It was Bryson’s mention of the Black Death in his book, Neither Here Nor There, which actually got me started again. It doesn’t actually take much to nudge me in any kind of direction, whether it’s the right one is another matter. Being in England I find myself surrounded by different books than I am in Berlin. Much of my library got moved oversea when I departed Albion’s shores at the end of 1996.

One of the reasons I wanted to move to Berlin, was because I felt, truly enough, that I could never write a book while still living in England. Sitting in my flat on the Reichenbergerstrasse one day I picked off my bookshelf an unread copy of John Pearson’s The Life Of Ian Fleming. In the book Fleming had said that he based James Bond on the person he’d always like to have been. That was it, now I knew how to go about writing my book, write about myself as the person I’d like to be. Thus was Albion Sunrise born. January 1999 I started writing once again. This book seems to surge forward in various kinds of swirls and flourishes—many times it veers off at great unnecessary tangents but by some strange twist these always seem to reach for their natural end—which by some rare kind of luck is my ending also."

 

"And if I say I loved you forever
You know I believe in what’s been said
But sometimes never means forever
Because my heart’s so easily led."*

* Basement Blues by Nikki Sudden, from the album “TEXAS” (Creation Records, 1986)

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