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Nikki Sudden, 1956-2006

Underground rock legend Nikki Sudden passed away on March 26th. He was 49 years old.

Nearly every other news source in the indie-sphere will tell you all about Sudden’s time in the hair-raising, Fall-esque Swell Maps, or of his subsequent bands the Jacobites and the Last Bandits. But I will always remember Nikki Sudden for the one week I spent with him in April of 2003 . . . well, sort of spent with him.

At the time I was slaving away for the local independent record concern in my hometown. Like any small business, we had our fair share of, shall we say, "eccentric" regulars. And one woman, who we’ll call Claire, just took the fuckin’ koo-koo cake. She would visit the shop for hours upon hours and regale the staff with the banalities of her existence. From her subsistence on workman’s compensation checks to her prescription drug dependency to her supposed connections with the indie rock elite, just about anything could and would fall out of this woman’s mouth. Claire would also refer to the staff as her "children." But she also baked us cakes and cookies . . . so it wasn’t all bad.

So when she arrived at the shop one day hoping to book an in-store appearance by Nikki Sudden, we were obviously skeptical. But a quick call to a local club confirmed that Sudden had in fact been booked and confirmed by our very favorite customer/nutbar. So, what the hell did we have to lose? We booked the in-store.

According to Claire, she had met Nikki Sudden at some earlier point and he was so excited to see her that he was going to fly out a week before the show just so they could spend some time together. This is when I got to "meet" Sudden.

I was opening the shop one quiet morning when Claire and Nikki stumbled in, drunk before noon. They were leaning against each other, each attempting to hold the other one up while they shared a riotous laugh about . . . well, something. Both were wearing very large sunglasses despite the fact that it was overcast. The pair stumbled around the store, picking up records and pointing at them and generally making a huge mess.

About 15 minutes into their visit, Sudden pulls out a cigarette and lights it. Like any good born-and-bred West Coaster, I jumped off my stool and said to him, "Hey man, I don’t care who you are, you can’t smoke in here." Sudden pulled down his sunglasses ever so slightly and replied:

"Without cigarettes there’d be no rock and roll."

I let him smoke in the store.

After a solid 4 days of telling that story to anyone and everyone who would listen, I was stoked for a repeat performance at the in-store. But instead I was thrilled in an entirely different way. Sudden (along with a single sideman who looked like he could have been Sudden’s long lost brother) delivered a set of earnest, Stones-inspired ballads that were entirely heartrending. The man very much enjoyed what he did and looked happier on that little stage performing to 50 people than any other performer that I ever saw there.
 
* * *
 
Nikki kept what you might call a blog, although it was laid out in someone's idea of a message board. Last Thursday, he announced that he would be playing a gig later that night for his deceased brother and former bandmate Epic Soundtracks, on the occasion of what would have been his brother's 47th birthday.
 
Here's what he wrote:
My brother, the late Epic Soundtracks, was born Kevin Paul Godfrey on 23 March 1959 at 34 Chapel View, South Croydon. His birth is the first event of my life that I remember clearly. Mum went through the deep pangs of birth, albeit one given at home. Dad absentmindedly dug the garden and waited for the screams of mother-birth to cease and be replaced by the yelping and howling of a newborn child taking over. The young, two 3/4 year old me was being looked after by our neighbours, 'Aunty' Vera and 'Uncle' Papworth.

The Papworths were everything that good neighbours were in those days. Their house was couched in the gentle hilt and gentle tilt of their constant cigarette smoke. They also radiated that age-old, drenched in smoke, feeling of the old earlier and better times. They passed over some years back but always stayed in touch. a lovely couple!

One of the main reasons I recall my brother's birth so strongly is that he (thinking ahead) gave me (or so 'twas claimed) a model scooter / moped with driver / rider. Around seven or eight inches tall it was given as 'a present from your new baby brother'. If this was what it was like to have a new baby brother, then I was all up for it.

For those of you who don't know my brother died on 5 November 1997. Despite what you may have read in some of the more scurrilous and also some of the more reputable magazines and websites Epic didn't die of a drug overdose, he didn't kill himself. We don't know why he died but my mother, myself and many of those who knew my brother best believe he died of a broken heart...

That night's show, he reiterated, "will be for my brother. Danny is the best drummer I've played with since Epic. With their similar musical tastes the two of them would have got on great."

Nikki Sudden played that gig, and, according to a post on his web site, collapsed the next morning. And if you doubt for a second that Nikki went to his grave believing that Epic "died of a broken heart," you don't get what made Nikki Sudden so great -- that heart-on-sleeve-substance-abusing-guitar-toting-poet thing that's more or less disappeared from the lexicon. If anyone was doing that now it would be ironic and come out on Kemado. Sigh. Nikki, we'll miss you.

DOWNLOAD: Swell Maps, "International Rescue" (mp3)
DOWNLOAD: Nikki Sudden, "Back to the Coast" (mp3)
 
-- Eli Anderson
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