The Swell Maps were one of my favorite bands of the punk era – I listened to “Read About Seymour” over and over as a teen - and I have tried to follow and collect Sudden’s amazingly prolific output since. Not only an inspired musician, Sudden was a gifted and thoughtful writer as well – his site is well worth exploring.
You can also find an array of Nikki Sudden downloads from his myriad projects there.
In a hollow age of Pete Doherty playing it up for the tabloids and various young bands cribbing the sounds of the late-seventies, it is especially poignant that we seem to be losing many of the true pioneers and iconoclasts recently – Joe Strummer and several Ramones come immediately to mind.
I’m at a loss for time right now, so check out the Pitchfork announcement after the jump.
Nikki Sudden Dead at 49 Scott Plagenhoef and David Nadelle report:
Nikki Sudden, former co-leader of the Swell Maps and the Jacobites and an accomplished solo artist, has died at the age of 49.
The inspirational rock veteran, born Nicholas Godfrey, passed away Sunday in New York, where he had performed a free show billed as the "Farewell New York Bash". Sudden and his brother, Kevin Paul Godfrey (aka Epic Soundtracks), formed the first iteration of the band that eventually became known as Swell Maps in their early teens in 1972, but the group didn't issue its first single, the self-recorded, self-released "Read About Seymour", until 1978. The record sold briskly, leading the band to perform a session for John Peel. The day after it was broadcast, Rough Trade shop owner Geoff Travis stopped Sudden in the street and offered to purchase the remainder of the singles. Along with Scritti Politti and Desperate Bicycles, the Swell Maps became the embodiment of punk's DIY aesthetic, and "Read About Seymour" was one of the most successful attempts to demystify and democratize the process of creating music, turning a lack of professionalism from a hindrance into a go-for-broke virtue. Loving the manic energy of T. Rex and the sonic experimentalism of Can in equal measures, Swell Maps forged a chaotic, charming blend of pop and noise. They released two albums on Travis' Rough Trade label, A Trip to Marineville (1979) and Jane From Occupied Europe (1980), as well as a handful of singles before disbanding.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Sudden released a series of diverse but often spotty records as a solo artist and with his band the Jacobites. He worked mostly with fellow Jacobite Dave Kusworth and his brother, Epic Soundtracks, until the latter's 1997 death, and collaborated with members of R.E.M., Sonic Youth, and Wilco. Much of Sudden's work throughout this period has a languid feel, showing off a woozy, bluesy Stones and Faces influence. His solo material reveals the depths of his love for Johnny Thunders, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood but still carries the loose, freewheeling feel of his Swell Maps work. A frequent rock scribe whose writing appeared in Mojo among other publications, Sudden had nearly completed a biography of Wood at the time of his death.
Earlier this decade, Secretly Canadian initiated an extensive Nikki Sudden reissue campaign, releasing not only expanded versions of the two Swell Maps LPs, but upwards of a half-dozen of his post-SW works. In each case, the records were remastered and included extensive liner notes. In addition, Secretly Canadian released Sudden's underrated 2004 LP Treasure Island, which features appearances by Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan and former Stones guitarist Mick Taylor. Sudden began recording in his bedroom and forged a career out of it through will and enthusiasm at a time when well-honed craft and access to a studio were considered the only routes to making music. T
hroughout his life, Sudden continued to forge his own destiny, carrying himself as a rock star despite his lack of mainstream success. He was proof that, in a post-punk music environment, fame and the ability to connect with listeners are relative, and that even if his heroes-- Marc Bolan, Keith Richards-- were mostly household names, large-scale success and fortune weren't necessary to inspire devotion and wonderment. "I dress and act like a star because I am one-- even if only in the eyes of a few," Sudden told Buffalo alt-weekly Art Voice. Unlike many of his punk contemporaries, Sudden continued to inspire such devotion throughout his career.
According to reports, he fittingly spent the final hours of his life playing a free, ramshackle, loose show, covering T. Rex and the Velvet Underground, climbing a stage to live his rock star dreams and channeling his heroes, and asking nothing from his audience in return.
According to Billboard.com, Sudden recently finished a new solo album, The Truth Doesn't Matter. The Jacobites will play a previously scheduled show in London on Wednesday, March 29, as a memorial for Sudden. On May 8, Overground Records will release Wastrels and Whippersnappers, a 23-song collection of early Swell Maps recordings. Compiled by Swell Maps bassist Jowe Head, the disc features all previously unreleased material, including home demos of their second single, "Dresden Style", as well as "Harmony in Your Bathroom", "Vertical Slum", "Full Moon in My Pocket", and "Blam" from A Trip to Marineville.