Nikki Sudden's untimely death earlier this year was a real tragedy. A personal tragedy for those who knew him, and a tragedy for rock 'n' roll. The self-styled 'last bandit' died just shy of his fiftieth bithday, after playing a show in New York and just a couple of days before he was due to play in London with his long-term collaborator Dave Kusworth as their on-off joint-venture The Jacobites.
The first time I saw the Jacobites was also the first time I saw Nikki Sudden. It was in the early nineties when Nikki and Dave had recently reconvened after a period persuing various solo projects. And it was during this phase in Nikki's long and prolific career that I discovered them, to all intents and purposes when I bought my first Jasocbites album (which was their second) they'd split up and I didn't imagine I'd ever see them live. So I lived in hope of Nikki doing a solo show, but it never came.
I moved away from home, embracing student life rather fully and hadn't been back to see the folks for many, many months - eventually I gave in and hopped on a train, for my first weekend back 'home' since heading to the bright lights of the big city. Grabbing an NME to read on the way (remember, this was back in the days before it became a picture book) it wasn't until the station before mine that I flicked through the live ads and saw nustled in the listings for Islington's long-gone Powerhaus, Nikki Sudden & Dave Kusworth - Jacobites. This was friday, the show was Saturday. To this day I feel guilty for the lies I spun to get my dear father to put me in the car and drive me back to college on the Saturday morning (something about essays, deadlines and forgotten textbooks...) but I'll never forget that show. Raw rock 'n' roll, exactly the way it should be.
Download: Jacobites - When The Rain Comes (mp3)
Nikki kept alive a true rock spirit that by rights should have died with Johnny Thunders. Sure he was indebtted to his heros, but that's what I loved about Nikki, he wore his influences right there on his chest, right over his heart. He put his (lack of) money where his mouth was and hit the road... a true modern-day troubadour.
Download: Nikki Sudden - Great Pharaoh (mp3)
Of course it's hard to say anything about Nikki without mentioning Swell Maps, the divine noise group he formed with his brother Epic Soundtracks when they were barely out of short trousers. There's not a great deal that can be written about Swell Maps that hasn't already been said elsewhere, but if you're in any doubt as to their importance and the influence they've been on a thousand bands since (come to the front of the class Pavement, I'm talking to you...) then look no further than this recently rediscovered live recording from The Maps tour of Italy in 1980. It's close to impossible to listen to this and believe that a) it was recorded over 25 years ago and b) two of the driving forces behind the band are no longer with us.
Download: Swell Maps - Read About Seymour (live in Italy) (mp3)
Check out Swell Maps on MySpace for more superb live tracks.
The day before playing his final show Nikki played an acoustic show at The Cake Shop in New York (a place named after the Swell Maps song) which was captured by the splendid people at Punkcast who, apparently, also recorded Nikki's final show the following day. Hopefully that'll appear online in due course, but in the meantime, there's the video from The Cake Shop show to enjoy, including a surprising performance of the Swell Maps classis 'Read About Semour' and a new song 'Green Shield Stamps' from Nikki's as-yet-unreleased final studio album, which he planned to call 'The Truth Doesn't Matter'. It's classic acoustic Sudden,
Download: Nikki Sudden - Read About Seymour (acoustic) (mp4 video)
Download: Nikki Sudden - Green Shield Stamps (acoustic) (mp4 video)
Nikki Sudden's web site is being maintained as an archive in his memory.
The Big Store, Nikki's online shop selling his records as well as releases from Jacobites, Swell Maps and Epic Soundtracks is back online. Do yourself a favour, and pick up some records.
Dave Kusworth together with Max Decharne of the Flaming Stars has organised a special evening in tribute to Nikki Sudden - just like the one Nikki arranged a few months after Epic's death. The idea is for various friends and people who've played with Nikki to perform his songs during the course of the evening, culminating in a set of Jacobites songs with Dave singing.
The tribute gig will take place on Friday the 21st July 2006 at The Dirty Water Club, Tufnell Park in London - visit the Dirty Water Club website for a map and further details.