Below is a re-print of an interview we did with Nikki Sudden in 1998 which was originally published later that year. Sadly, Nikki passed away in 2006. Looking back, this interview with him contains some interesting stories and some of his rock memories. Nikki released his ‘Red Brocade’ album on our label and it is an honour to re-share this lost interview with you all now. Rest in peace friend – we will always enjoy the music you left us – it will ensure that you will indeed – live forever.
Australian readers familiar with Nikki Sudden and his enchanting style of rock n roll know only too well the magic of his music. From the late 70’s excess of the Swell Maps, to the Jacobites and his own distinguished solo career, Sudden’s music remains vital – charming the listener with a rich kaleidoscope of sounds. From Stones-like swagger to acoustic songs drenched in raw emotion, Sudden is a breed apart. Vicious Kitten recently caught up with the rock n roll balladeer amidst a hectic European tour (interview conducted October, 1998)
Rockbrat: This is indeed an exciting time for Nikki Sudden fans, what with the upcoming release of your new solo record ‘Red Brocade’ and a new Jacobites LP ‘God Save Us Poor Sinners’ as well. You must be very busy ?
Nikki Sudden: Basically it never stops. For the past three or four years it’s been a constant pattern of tour/tour/recording/tour/recording/etcetera – with rare return visits to my flat. I think I’ve probably spent a maximum of four or five weeks in my flat this year (and it’s now October).
RB:You are currently in the midst of another European tour. Is this a solo tour to promote ‘Red Brocade’ ?
NS: The tour I’m in the depths of is a solo acoustic tour. The main reason I’m doing it is to finance the re-mixing of ‘Red Brocade’. I recorded this new album in Chicago between March and May this year with engineer/co-producer Ellis Clarke. Originally I thought it sounded great – I definitely think it’s the best solo album I’ve made to date. Then I started listening to it objectively and realised things such as the kick drum was far too loud, too much reverb on the vocals (I never normally use any reverb on my voice), things like that. I decided the album needed a re-mix. Negotiated with Ellis Clarke to buy the tapes from him, which I’ve now done. I’ll be doing the re-mix with John Rivers at WSRS in Leamington Spa this November. Hopefully the album will sound as good as it deserves to. So, the idea behind this acoustic tour was to play a bunch of towns I’ve never played before (along with some regular stops). I never write a set-list out for my solo shows anymore. Just play what comes into my head, plus just about any songs that people shout out for. I’ve been playing a handful of songs from ‘Red Brocade’, but also a scattering from all my albums to date. Even attempted an acoustic version of ‘Midget Submarines’ once or twice.
RB: And you are just about to do some show with Phil Shoenfelt (of Czech outfits Southern Cross and The Fatal Shore). Correct ?
NS: Phil’s been a friend for three or four years now. He’s been playing with my band on and off for the past year now. Two tours, some one-off gigs and a joint album, ‘Golden Vanity’, down so far. ‘Golden Vanity’ contains some of my more T.Rex styled songs: ‘Hanoi Jane’ and ‘Bang A Gong’; an unreleased song from the ‘Kiss You Kidnapped Charabanc’ sessions, ‘Jack Ketch’, ‘Teenage Sheets’ – a ‘Fortune of Fame’-ish rocker, ‘Jamboree Bag’ – a twenty minute Can/Swell Maps inspired jam, ‘Angel Wings’, ‘Cloak of Virtue’, ‘Broken Glove’ (as premiered on my ‘Egyptian Roads’ collection), ‘Portcullis’, ‘When I Waged A Crown’ and ‘Empty Grave’ – these six numbers co-written with Mr. Shöenfelt. The album is completed by two of Phil’s songs, ‘Waiting For You’ and ‘Love Makes Her Shine’. This should be released during the next months, probably by a German label. I find Phil’s guitar playing makes a refreshing/inspiring counterpoint to my own style.
RB: Let’s talk about ‘Red Brocade’. Is the sound a departure from the more straight ahead rock formula of your last LP ‘Seven Lives Later ?
NS: ‘Red Brocade’, which’ll hopefully be out in Europe and the States in January, is in some ways the follow up to ‘Texas’. Kevin Junior thinks it’s the best album I’ve made since then. He could be right. Every record has a different feel. For the next one I’m thinking of making a more pure rock n roll album. But that’s just cause I’ve just been reading Nina Antonia’s New York Dolls book. Or maybe because I’ve seen the Stones six times over the past two months or so. Whatever happens, happens. Actually one song, ‘Tie You Up’ on ‘Red Brocade’ is quite rock n roll in feel. But did ‘Seven Lives Later’ follow a ‘straight ahead rock formula’? In some ways yes, in other ways no.
RB: So the album was recorded in Chicago earlier this year with the Chamber Strings as your band. Kevin Junior (from the Chamber Strings) is really a great talent. Do you expect to work with him again in the future ?
NS: Kevin Junior and Anthony Illarde from the Chamber Strings will be accompanying me on the ‘Red Brocade’ European tour, next April/May. I think Anthony’s possibly the best drummer (the most inspired anyway) I’ve worked with since my late brother, Epic. Kevin is a great songwriter and a cool guitar player. He first contacted me some five or six years back. Tracked down my address – from an old girl friend of mine – wrote to me – I wrote back. Then he ended up playing with Epic. First met him after Epic’s first European band tour – we got on well. He fixed up a gig for me in Chicago during November 1995. Played with him, Anthony and Russ Bassman then. The combination worked and when Jim Donahue and Ellis Clarke from Idiot Savant approached me to see if I’d be interested in recording an album in Chicago with Kevin and Co., I said yes!
RB: One tune on the album ‘Farewell My Darling’ features Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on vocals. How did you meet up with him ?
NS: Wilco were playing at the Loft in Berlin, December, 1996. Glenn Tranter (from the Jacobites) had read about them and told me that I’d like them so I went along. I’d read that a couple of them used to be in Uncle Tupelo, who were, of course, produced by Peter Buck. Ended up going along to the soundcheck, wandered in to the dressing room to introduce myself. Walked in and Jeff Tweedy said, “Hi! Nikki, I met you in New York three times!” I hadn’t even remembered. Got on well with Jeff and the band, enjoyed the show, ended up going with them to a bar after the show. We swapped addresses. Jeff told me that he’d love to do a cover of ‘Let’s Build A Car’, asked me if I could send him the lyrics and chords. So, I ended up in Chicago just over a year later to work on what became ‘Red Brocade’. Jeff was playing two solo shows at Lounge Ax in Chicago, run by his wife Sue. Went along with Kevin Junior, got chatting with Jeff, told him I loved his harmonica playing, added in passing that if he’d like to drop by the studio to play on a song that’d be cool. He came by one day towards the end of the recording, played harp on ‘Silver Blanket’ (first take as well!). Ellis had the idea of asking Jeff if he’d be into singing on ‘Farewell, My Darling’. It worked out fine even though Jeff and I have quite different vocal styles.
RB: Europe is still no doubt the biggest market for your music, yet you did your first US tour earlier this year. What was the response in the US like ?
NS: Yea, Europe is my biggest market, primarily Germany at that. Second up is probably the States, third England, everywhere else comes fourth. My first American tour proper was actually the second time I’ve toured the place. I took part in the Kevn Kinney/Peter Buck tour to promote Kevn’s ‘McDougal Blues’ album, Feb/March 1990. This is the first time I’ve ever done a US tour under my own name, though. The tour was up and down (as always). Audiences varied from being plentiful to not so plentiful. The most fun gigs were Los Angeles, New Orleans, Boston, Detroit and Sioux City !
RB: You seem to be always on the road, and you play parts of Europe many bands would blow off, the Czech Republic, Croatia etc. You obviously enjoy touring and taking your music to new audiences. What’s the most interesting place you’ve ever played ?
NS: Tokyo, a fascinating place. Also loved the recent New Orleans show – on a riverboat called the Cajun Queen going down the Mississippi. That was cool. I want to do this tour, one day, of European principalities. Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Andorra, Vatican City… I doubt if the last one is possible, but the others should be.
RB: And I guess Australia remains one of the few places you haven’t played. I’m sure locally that cats who dig Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds would really get into your music. Has any Australian label/promoter ever expressed much interest in Nikki Sudden ?
NS: An old friend of mine, Fiona MacPherson, from Melbourne actually asked if I’d be interested in playing an Australian tour this September (i.e. last month). I said yes, but didn’t keep in touch with her. That was supposed to be with Rowland (Howard), Lindy (Morrison) and Jim Dickson (or Harry Howard). One day it’ll happen.
RB: You have in the past recorded with Hugo Race (Bad Seeds/Wreckery), Rowland Howard (Boys Next Door/Birthday Party), and also Lindy Morrison of the Go Betweens drummed on one of your songs. Are there any Australian bands you really dig ?
NS: As well as Hugo, Rowland and Lindy, there’s also the ubiquitous Chris Hughes (Once Upon A Time/The Fatal Shore/The True Spirit). I was talking with Chris the other night – he’s also based in Berlin – we’ve been saying for some months now that we should do something together again. Maybe find a studio over the next few days and record a track or two. Chris and Hugo played on ‘The Devil Took Me Down To Georgia’ (on the European version of ‘Seven Lives Later’ and ‘Penicillin’ on Jeff Dahl’s compilation CD ‘Trash On Demand Vol. II’). As far as there being any Australian bands I really dig, there’s always AC/DC.
RB: Over the years you have toured and or recorded with many different artists – Jeff Dahl, Freddy Lynxx, REM and Tav Falco to name but a few. What do you enjoy most about playing with artists other than the Jacobites ?
NS: In the past few years I’ve toured with Glenn Tranter, Freddy Lynxx, Kevin Junior and Phil Shöenfelt as the second guitarists in my bands. I tend to get bored pretty easily and find fresh collaborators refreshing. One good thing about recording with other musicians rather than your regular ones is that if you have a song that sounds similar to another one you’ve already recorded, then playing with different people you get a different approach – the song ends up totally unlike the first song. Eg. Back in 1982 I came up with this chord sequence, C/G/Am/F that I thought was absolutely wonderful. I thought I must have been the first person to ever discover it. Ended up writing ‘Road of Broken Dreams’ from it. Later I realised that the Stones had already used it (‘Beast of Burden’), Bob Marley (‘No Woman, No Cry’), The Only Ones (‘Another Girl, Another Planet’). There’s loads of other examples but those are three of the best known ones. Anyway, so this chord sequence was totally fresh to me. It led onto ‘All The Dark Rags’ (from ‘Robespierre’) and then to ‘Elizabethan Balladeer’ (on the new Jacobites album ‘God Save Us Poor Sinners’). When I wrote ‘Elizabethan Balladeer’ I didn’t realise what the chords were I was strumming. I just played them. It wasn’t until I came to transcribe the text that I noticed the similarity, exactly the same chords and the same rhythm as ‘All The Dark Rags’, but manages to sound completely different. But the song had a different lilt than anything else I’d written previously. This is one way I often approach songwriting. Just play a chord sequence – turn the cassette machine on – sing any words that come into my head. Later you listen to the tape, transcribe the words and use the best ones. It’s an approach I’ve used on ‘One More String of Pearls’ as well as the three songs mentioned above. With ‘Elizabethan Balladeer’ I actually wrote the basic song in August, 1997, then when my brother died I recorded another two versions – just used the best words from each – I think it worked out fine.
RB: Dave Kusworth and yourself still remain the driving force behind the Jacobites. What’s the motivation to continue with the Jacobites, as opposed to just pursuing a solo career ?
NS: As far as the Jacobites go, at present Kusworth and I are the only remaining members. It’s back down to the two of us the way it was in the beginning. As Mick Jagger sang in ‘Torn & Frayed’: As long as the guitar plays/It’ll steal your heart away. That’s the way I feel about Kusworth’s playing. I just love the way he plays. Love his image. Plus, he’s a great songwriter, a good friend – and in this world you need as many of those as you can get. On the last Jacobites tour, we used my regular drummer, Robby Schmidt from Berlin and a Scottish bass player, Joe Armstrong from the band Impure Thoughts. Glenn Tranter and Mark Williams weren’t able to do the tour. But as long as it’s Kusworth and me on stage together it’s the Jacobites. Raúl Mirá from Chatterbox Magazine and Bomp Records of Los Angeles has arranged for ‘God Save Us…’ to be released in America. He called up the other day to ask if Dave and I would be up for doing a US tour early next year. We’ll just fly into LAX, find a backing band and do the gigs. So, the Jacobites will continue. Sometimes I think it’d be easier to just concentrate on my solo career – but why not do both ? When the band got back together in 1993 I dropped my solo stuff totally for a number of years. It wasn’t ’til I went to Chicago and wrote and recorded ‘Valley of Hearts’ with Kevin, Anthony, Russ and Todd Fletcher that I thought of doing another solo album. The song was too good not to release.
RB: I find many of your songs have an almost enriching feel, and a definite charm, yet others like ‘Death Is Hanging Over Me’ sound almost haunting. What inspires you as a songwriter ?
NS: Mainly it’s anything. Often it’s a girl or girls. Sometimes a phrase just comes into your head, you pick up the guitar and a few minutes later you’ve got a song. ‘Death Is Hanging Over Me’ I wrote while watching the film ‘Amadeus’ in a Hamburg cinema with my then girlfriend. The Germans have this annoying tendency to dub all films into their own language. She got fed up of translating for me, I got fed up of listening – I wrote the song in my head – walked out of the cinema, back home, grabbed a pen and paper as quickly as possible and wrote the thing down.
RB: You have been in rock n roll for over twenty years now, and experienced many of it’s highs and lows. Do you have one particular memory you can single out to share with us ?
NS: There’s so many, here’s one of the funniest ones. The following is an extract from my autobiography or what have you. I began writing this a couple of years ago, but gave up when I began work on my novel, ‘Albion Sunrise’. This is part of a chapter entitled The First German Tour. The year is 1985, the month October: The next thing on the cards was the Jacobites first ever German tour. Glass Records had put me in touch with this strange Gestapo type named Joachim Crouch who had an agency named JoJo based in Hamburg. Joachim had handled my label mate, the Jazz Butcher’s tours to date and was now prepared to do the same for us. Joachim seemed very pleased at our first meeting that I agreed that the band should only receive 10 DM per day P.D.’s. Unsurprisingly really as he was getting us very, very cheap. I just agreed for the good of the tour. If I had insisted on 50 DM per day as is more usual I think he would have agreed to this. It would certainly have been a lot fairer of him if he did. But I was still fairly naive about touring in those days. Although I claimed to be something of an old hand this would only be the third tour proper of my life. Two Italian ones being the only others I had yet done. Another time when I should have seen straight through Joachim was when I mentioned to him that my girlfriend, Brigitte Fahje, was coming on the tour with us. I told him how she was doing an accountancy course and would be perfect to look after the tour finances. He looked close to apoplexy at that moment but managed to cover very well. The idea of a band actually knowing how much money was coming in would be totally foreign to his way of thinking. So the tour was arranged. Epic was busy playing with Crime and the City Solution who he’d recently joined. Plus after the assorted misadventures we’d encountered in Italy I don’t think he would have wanted to do another tour with Kusworth anyway. So we decided to take the Rag Dolls drummer Carl Bevan on the tour with us. I also wanted to bring Duncan Sibbald on bass. Unfortunately I gave way to Dave’s suggestion that his old band mate (from T.V Eye days) Eammon Duffy should be included. Eammon is better known as ‘Big Duff’ or just ‘The Big Man’, and he is big in a short kind of way. He also is terminally balding. In no way did he look at all suitable for the role. Audiences must have wondered what on earth this oaf was doing on the stage. Especially after the first night’s misadventures when he managed to throw up over his jeans. He only brought one pair of trousers on the tour with him. Consequently until he was able to afford to buy a replacement pair he had to go on stage every night wearing this one vomit stained pair of jeans. The first night Dave, Carl and Duff arrived in Hamburg I had suggested to Joachim that he meet them at the airport and take us all out for a meal to cement the goodwill for the tour. This he agreed to. He was greatly shocked when Dave staggered out of the arrivals gate carrying his guitar wrapped in a blanket. Not even in a case. Joachim took us back to his office and generously offered to have the guitar set up that evening. He also offered Dave the use of a hard case for the guitar for the duration of the tour. Dave took him up on this. Later that evening Dave, Carl and Duff were booked into their hotel. A most decorative looking place run by two lesbians. A bad mistake as it was to turn out what with Duff’s homophobic attitudes. But Joachim was not to know this. Anyway he took Brigitte, myself and the rest of the band out for a meal. He handed over some spending money to Dave, Carl and Duff to see them over to the next morning. This was to be his last generous act of the tour. We dropped Dave, Carl and Duff at the hotel, wished them goodnight and went back to sleep in our flat in the Bismarkstraße. The next morning I was woken up at about 8 o’clock by Joachim. He said, “Nikki, the tour is cancelled!” My immediate reaction was: “What on earth are you talking about?” Dave, Carl and Duff had been kicked out of the hotel by the two lesbians and were loitering on the street outside. I decided the best thing would be for Brigitte and I to get there before Joachim arrived and try and sort out the situation. Arriving there we found Dave completely drunk. It was only about 9 a.m. so the boy was doing good. He’d woken up that morning and seeing a bottle of duty free vodka in the room had decided the best thing to do would be to drink it. It transpired that after we’d dropped the boys off they’d decided to go out for a drink. Not really necessary but they take some stopping once they’ve started. As Duff remarked incredulously the next morning: “They give us all this Monopoly money and expect us not to spend it.” Eventually arriving back at the hotel they had broken the lock on the front door by turning the key the wrong way. German locks working in reverse to English ones. They’d been let in by the two lesbians who had not been too pleased to be greeted by these drunken Englishmen. In the room after finishing off any open bottles of alcohol still left alive they had eventually decided to go to sleep. Carl had not been able to work out how to switch off the table-light and eventually kicked it until it went out. The next morning they were duly evicted as soon as humanly possible. When we arrived there I decided that the best thing would be to try and get Dave sobered up as soon as possible. I helped him to his feet and proceeded to lurch him round the block a few times. He wasn’t actually able to walk in any coherent manner. Stumbling and staggering would be a better way to describe his movements. After a while Joachim turned up. He did not look a happy man. I was able to calm him down a bit. Eventually he agreed the tour would go ahead as long as the band were actually able to rehearse that afternoon. Dave had sobered up a little by this point and was able to mutter a brief apology to Joachim. This actually helped a bit. Some hours later we rehearsed. Joachim was amazed to see us put on such a professional show. Especially after he’d seen the three wrecks and the state they’d been in earlier that day. The tour was back and running. That night my friend Trevor Austin turned up at Bismarkstraße. I’d invited him on the tour to: “Make a few drawings, take a few photos, that sort of thing.” He’d end up as roadie and generally taking care of things for us. The next morning we departed from Bismarkstraße after one last calamity struck. The driver who Joachim had sent shut the door to Brigitte’s flat after him as he was helping us load the guitars and luggage into the tour bus. Brigitte and I had both left our keys inside the flat not thinking that anyone would shut the door behind them. Two hours later the door was eventually opened by the caretaker and we set out for the Luxor Club in Köln. The scene for our first German concert. The gig was total chaos but in the best sense possible. At one point I broke a string and handed the guitar to Trevor and Brigitte who were standing side stage. “Can you fix this for me?” I asked hopefully. “We’ll have a go” they replied. Unfortunately their idea of changing a string was to put a string (any string) onto the neck of the guitar, slightly tighten it and that was it. “Thanks” I said upon being handed the totally useless guitar back. I scurried off stage to put on a correct string and put the guitar properly in tune. The next day arriving in Kassel I received the first of many angry phone calls I was to get from Joachim. “The Luxor,” he said, “said last night’s concert was the second worst performance they’ve ever had from anyone.” I retorted by saying that the show hadn’t been that bad. In fact we’d even received two encores. Secretly I wanted to know who the band had been who’d been even ‘worse’ than we were. This I never discovered. We had a night off in Kassel. We were sharing the hotel with Swedish band The Nomads who we’d be supporting at four concerts on this tour. Incidentally the first and last time I’ve ever supported anyone in Germany. The Nomads didn’t talk much. Not to us anyway. The next morning Joachim was on the phone again. His first comment was that he’d received complaints from the hotel that we’d been making too much noise in our rooms playing guitars all night long. We had actually been playing a bass guitar un-amplified. Which would have been impossible to hear from right outside the door of the room. Let alone from the hotel owner’s quarters. The hotel had also stated that we had ‘stolen’ some food from the breakfast room. The theft in question was a packet of two wafers. This grievous crime had actually been committed by one of the Nomads entourage not us. During the day we went out on a photo session. This took place at the Herkules Monument, Schloß Wilhelmsburg, just by our long-suffering hotel. The results of this photo session were later scattered across the Trevor Austin designed sleeve of our American only release “The Ragged School”. To ensure that we were well-behaved boys instead of the good for nothing’s that Joachim obviously took us for we arrived at the club where we were scheduled to play two hours early. The gig at the Treibhaus just outside Kassel went well enough. We more-or-less blew The Nomads off stage. We also once again got two encores, not too bad for a ‘support’ band. This showed through in the Nomads’ approach to us. Their road manager threatened to beat me up if the Jacobites did not vacate the shared dressing room within five minutes so he could make it pristine for his wards. Later that evening sitting in the bar of the club I remember saying to Duff that the tour seemed to be going quite well. To emphasis my point I put my hand on his knee. “Don’t touch me, you puff!” he shouted out immediately. I thought he was going to start hitting me. Homophobia of the worst kind, especially as at that moment my other hand had been entwined round Brigitte’s. A very strange person to be sharing a band with. The next day at Hirschwirt in Erding (just by Munich) I once again had Joachim on the phone. As in a scene from a cartoon I held the phone away from my ear but could still hear the words he was screaming at me. He called the rest of the band animals. “My friends are not animals.” I replied keeping calm despite the hysterics coming down the phone from Hamburg. Joachim said he would be joining the tour in a few days and he would reconsider matters till then. The Hirschwirt gig was brilliant. Everything a gig should be. We even got three encores that night. And the Nomads were nowhere in sight. I believe they were off playing a gig in Berlin that night. Dave was later seen going up to one girl after another with his charming chat-up line: “Fancy a shag?” It didn’t seem to work. We slept that night in the flat upstairs from the club. Dave later that night fell asleep in a pile of the flat owner’s washing. Dirty socks lay all about his head. Trevor the next morning made a great sketch of ‘Dave sleeping’. The tour was going well, we were having fun. The only cloud on the horizon was Joachim and his ridiculous histrionic manner. These two nights we played again with The Nomads. The first show at the Zéche in Bochum where Dave and I ended the evening doing an interview for a German magazine. Complete with a couple of brilliant photos of us mid-interview. Apparently we also drank all the Nomads’ beer. Or so they complained to Joachim at the time and assorted publications at a later date. The second of these shows was at Hamburg’s Markthalle. After a brief visit to our flat, Brigitte spent the whole of this day worrying in case she was spotted in our tour bus by any of the people from her course. The sound was also awful that night. But Duff did buy his replacement pair of jeans that day so something good happened. By this time we’d also been presented with a new mini-bus driver who’d obviously been told about how difficult we were and to take no trouble from us. He began his first day with us, the day of the drive from Bochum to Hamburg with the charming statement of: “Get in the van now. Either you get in or I go without you!” And we could tell he wasn’t joking. As soon as the gig ended we had to pack up the van straight away and head off down through Germany once again. All the way down to just north of Munich. We arrived and set up the equipment once again for a 10.00 am soundcheck. Time for an hour or so of much needed sleep. The weather outside was brisk. Trevor came back from a walk telling us the whole ground outside the hotel was covered in hoarfrost. In any other circumstances most attractive all round. We played at 17.15. An afternoon show for Bayern 2 Radio. The strange thing was that this show involved a local politician as well as us. Also some other un-remembered bands. The name of the event was the Zünd Funk Oktoberfest. Joachim had rejoined us for the show and by way of congratulating us for our exemplary behaviour of the last couple of days he took us out that night for a meal. Everything was fine at first but Dave and Duff got a bit drunk and slightly belligerent. Leaving themselves open to attack from Joachim who was well happy to be able to twist the knife in every which way possible. I was left feeling a little bit perturbed by the way the peace-making meal had gone. Duff’s best quote of the night, indeed of the whole tour was with reference to my penchant for visiting antique castles that we passed on our way. “I don’t want to see any quaint old castles, I’d rather see what our lads blew up during the war!” It was very funny at the time. The next day en route to Frankfurt we did visit a castle sheltering atop of some picturesque Bavarian valley. There, Trevor took the photos that ended up on the front cover of our American compilation ‘The Ragged School’ and our English collection ‘Fortune of Fame’. My first photo session in a dungeon. And also the last too date. I remember paying for the whole band, Trevor and Brigitte and myself to visit the castle as neither Carl, Dave or Duff thought it was a very wise investment when for a bit more you could get a stein of beer. That day brought a premature end to our first ever tour of Germany. This night’s gig became legendary for quite a number of years following and if we’d had a good enough publicist would still be legendary to this day. This was the first time in my life that I came to Frankfurt, a city where I was later to spend many years. The show that night of October 27th, 1985 was at the Batschkapp. Once again we had to open for the Nomads. We arrived at the venue, sat through the Nomads soundcheck. Put our equipment on stage and waited in the dressing room for our turn. Before we began our soundcheck I asked about the hotel. How far it was from the club, etc, etc. At this I was informed that we did not have a hotel that night but would be sleeping upstairs at the club. This seemed fair enough until we were actually shown the band accommodation. We were taken up some narrow winding staircase and shown a ladder going up to an attic. This I didn’t like the look of. I climbed up the ladder and saw some mattresses lying on draughty floorboards. I protested that this wasn’t good enough. If nothing else I said it would be too much to expect Dave to be able to manage the ladder when he got a bit drunk as he doubtless would later in the evening. I protested that our contract said we would have a hotel every night. I believe I may have been bluffing on this point, but no matter. Joachim chose this moment to reappear. He’d been off, predictably enough checking into his own hotel room. This reappearance of his did nothing at all to remedy the situation. Mr. Gestapo coat himself. In fact matters became worse straight away. Joachim’s worst side showed through straight away. He was accusing everyone in sight of every possible misdemeanour and felony possible. There’s a photo taken of him in the dressing room that night mid-argument and he just looks so fucking evil. Totally lascivious. Totally corrupt. A most horrible man. Joachim’s thought for the day (told to Brigitte during our visit to the castle): “The only way to make money in this kind of business is to rip off the weak!” Anyway so there the situation rested. Joachim was screaming invectives at us. We were determined not to play unless some more reasonable kind of accommodation was sorted out for us. The band were drinking heavily by this point, Brigitte as well. At Joachim’s request two Batschkapp bouncers came into the room, positioned themselves either side of the door and managed to look suitably menacing. Probably worried that we would start destroying the place if pushed much further. Stalemate! Brigitte turned to Trevor at one point and said to him: “Trevor, you’re the only person I can make revolution with.” She thought I was to prepared to give in under Joachim and the Batschkapp people’s tactics. What she didn’t understand was the desire every musician has in himself to actually get up on stage and play. Brigitte’s entry in my diary for that day merely reads: “Frankfurt: revolution!” At last her prompting led me to a decision. “Okay,” I said, “The equipment comes off the stage.” We walked up the stairs from the dressing room to the Batschkapp stage and started packing away the amplifiers, drum-kit, etc. Definitely the right move to make, Joachim didn’t like this. We’d obviously moved him into some kind of check situation. He’d obviously signed a contract for us to play and anything else could result in problems for him. After a brief discussion he and the Batschkapp people agreed that we would be given a hotel that night as long as we’d play first. Relieved we returned the equipment to the stage. Plugged in our guitars and did a quick soundcheck. Returned to the dressing room sat down and waited to play. Still the two Batschkapp security men took in our every move. You could tell that their sympathies lay with us though. They became more and more amenable as the evening drew on, especially when Joachim was out of the room as for large periods of time he thankfully was. We walked on stage that night high on something. Full of something and determined to make this gig something special. I walked on stage and announced: “I’m Nikki and this is Dave and we’re very happy to be here. We’re the worst band in the world; we cause more trouble than any ten bands put together. We even play sometimes as well.” Dave retorted with: “Sometimes when we’re not smashing up hotel rooms.” Then we launched into Steve Duffy’s ‘Big Store’. It was a discordant enough, completely out of tune version. Dave’s lead guitar in particular was completely out of key. The tape of the show actually sounds a total shambles. But also a totally inspired shambles. Dave tuned up his guitar at the end of the first song. Next song was ‘Road of Broken Dreams’. I churned out the chords on my acoustic guitar. Dave came in with lead guitar. I sang the words with a fierce glory. At the end of the number one of the audience called out “You are Johnny Thunders in disguise”. I replied with a gesture towards Dave: “And this is Keith.” My next comment was “The support band will be on later.” Dave pitched in with “Yea, you can get annoyed with them y’know. If you think we look funny you see the support band. They’re on after us but they’re still the support band, y’know what I mean?” For the Nomads had given us no encouragement whatsoever. They had their hotel sorted out and were still annoyed with us for drinking all their beer three days before. As they would be for many months afterwards. Rock and roll. Forget it! In my eyes the Nomads were never more than pale imitators wearing the cloth. That night at least we were the real thing. Rebels with some kind of a cause. ‘Heart of Hearts’ followed. More shambolic playing but still spirited. Dave: “At least you’ve got some wine. At least you’ve got some sex.” He’d been most taken with the fact that cheap German sparkling wine is called sekt and demanded bottles of sex at every given opportunity. “This is a song about revolution which I’m sure you’re acquainted with.” I announced. “Yea, if you want to start a revolution we’re into it.” Dave replied. “This song is called ‘Fortune of Fame’.” I said. Dave tuned up his guitar again “Only you and me.” he said before launching into the riff. We sung the lead vocal together. A most spirited version emerged from the maelstrom. Dave’s lead guitar was careering all over the shop. Brilliant. “This is a song.” I began, “ ‘Streets of Gold’.” I ended up as my comment was punctuated by Dave’s guitar emitting large clouds of feedback. Dave sung this song by himself. I joined in for the off key choruses. The drumming was a bit pedestrian but that was Carl Bevan’s way. Not the world’s best drummer but at least he kept the beat. It was all sounding glorious. To us up on the stage at least. I can remember turning to my left and seeing Trevor and Brigitte dancing like crazy at the side of the stage. The audience loved it as well. The chaos was only in our heads. To vast amounts of applause I announced, “This is our single, this is called ‘Won’t You Pin Your Heart To Me’, baby.” Dave and I started up the riff and then the drummer disappeared. Vanished from the stage. Dave suggested the likely explanation that, “He’s probably gone for a drink.” To fill in the gap until Carl Bevan decided to return I began my song ‘Kissed You Twice’. Carl reappeared on the stage and managed to come in on cue, Dave a few split seconds too late but made up for his lackadaisical entry by contributing a totally off-kilter guitar solo to the song’s coda. “Thankyou.” he said helpfully at the song’s end. “This one’s about life in Birmingham.” I said, “it’s called ‘Only Children Sleeping’.” “Yea, this one’s a slow one.” Dave responded. I immediately changed my mind and announced: “ ‘Pin Your Heart’.” I started the riff. Dave called out: “Yea, this is our groovy single, it’s called ‘Pin Your Heart To Me’.” I stopped playing. Dave: “My microphone doesn’t work so…” I responded with “The drummer’s broken something.” Dave: “The drummer’s broke his head off.” While waiting for the audience to ponder this statement I decided we should attempt to play another song: “This is a song called ‘Silver Street’.” I bravely announced. To my relief Dave responded with, “Yea, we’ll do this one.” And I began to play the chords. Dave sang the first verse. Carl tried desperately to mend his drum head. A bit of calm in the midst of the storm. Halfway through the second verse things faltered a bit but picked up fine enough. “We’re just as pretty as we used to be, just you and me.” Dave and I sung in unison. The drums started up at the second we ended ‘Silver Street’ and we at last managed to play a version of ‘Pin Your Heart’. Again as usual for that day a bit ragged around the edges but not too bad. Next up was a medley of my ‘Big Store (Orig.)’ with Dave’s and my ‘Too Many Girls’. These two songs work well enough as a medley due to both having the same chord sequence: But I don’t know what to say And it’ll never make no difference not anyway ’Cause we’re such bad boys You know we always complain We cause trouble everywhere Oh, we’re such a pain. Dave’s guitar was totally and completely once more out of tune by this time. We were trading lines of the lyrics to full effect (even if they were quite naïve in their sentiments): Oh, but I don’t know what to say And you know they want to send us home today And it’s easy making up these things ’Cause we’re terrorists, we’re anarchists But I’m such a nice boy. (Such a nice boy) And all we ever want to do is drink And the circles flash around (We never think) It’s not easy being all alone It’s not easy. And then into the spoken section from Johnny Thunders’ version of the Shangrilas’ ‘Great Big Kiss’: “Does she fuck?” “Very very much!” And then into a tortured version of ‘Too Many Girls’. Guitars swaying as close to the wind as was ever humanly possible. Dave’s lead so out of tune but perfectly complementing the mood of the day. The song had turned into some kind of heavy dub version as well. All most strange. Vocals meandering across the song in a magical way. The song just went on and on. Into a section where we just sang around the phrase ‘Lost In A Sea of Scarves’. Then Dave started some kind of rap about ‘rubber people’. All things must some day end and so eventually the song drew to a close, Dave announcing that he wanted to play ‘Kings And Queens’. However as soon as the medley ended he went straight into the New York Dolls ‘Personality Crisis’. Maybe the Dolls played a worse version than this but somehow I doubt it. At one point in the evening Trevor wandered on to the stage. Sat down on the drum riser and opened up a bottle of beer. I turned round saw him, went up to him and kicked him, calling out “Get off the fucking stage.” This might be an utter shambles but at least it was our shambles. I have no idea when in the proceedings this happened. I just remember very clearly that it did. Trevor turned round to Joachim at sometime during the set and remarked: “They’re playing well tonight, aren’t they.” Joachim responded with: “They should be. They’ve got something to play for.” And he was right. We had something to prove. That we couldn’t be stamped on, put down at will. That we were better than that. That that night we were the best fucking rock and roll band in the world and we could go to heaven on the laurels earned during the evening. ‘Personality Crisis’ the last song of the set. Amazingly enough we got an encore. A very well deserved one. Dave began the encore with an acappella version of ‘Kings and Queens’, getting the audience singing along with him. Then we launched into the song. Carl Bevan playing completely the wrong beat throughout totally regardless. Dave ranting on throughout his rap section of the song about jackboots and the like. Next up we went straight into a highly wired version of ‘Fortune of Fame’ which we’d already played as the fourth song of the set, but that was long in the past. This version seemed to lurch along in the manner of the Fall at their most reckless. Not necessarily a good thing. Dave’s tuning wasn’t improving with time. The song ground to a halt and Dave began ‘Shame For The Angels’. Then stopped it. And that was it. The applause was quite relentless and followed us as we staggered sternly off stage to face Joachim’s wrath once again.I turned to him as we came off stage and remarked that the set had gone down remarkably well. He agreed with me. But that was the last bit of agreement we had going between us that night. We sat down in the dressing room. Brigitte seemed to have calmed down from her ideas of making revolution of an hour or so earlier. We were still pent-up but relaxed slightly due to having played such an inspired set for despite the mayhem involved it had been a once in a lifetime sort of show. Very powerful. I doubt if anyone who witnessed it has ever forgotten it. The Nomads definitely haven’t for as soon as they went on stage the audience disappeared in droves leaving a few beleaguered souls to watch the night’s ‘headline’ band. We always knew it should have been us anyway. And in a way it was. So next step was to find out where the hotel was and get there for a good night’s sleep before continuing the last two dates of the tour. It was at that moment that Joachim decided to pull his checkmate stunt. “There will be no hotel for you tonight,” he announced in his most Gestapo-like manner, “In fact there will be no more concerts in Germany for you.” He made it sound like a wartime film where the hero is told “For you the war is over.” He then went on to tell our stunned ears that we could either get in the mini-bus and be driven back to Hamburg (where Dave, Carl and Duff were flying back from) or stay where we were, the luggage and guitars would be unloaded from the bus and we would be left to make our own way home from Frankfurt.It was like, “Well, thanks for giving us a choice.” We looked dazedly at each other while Joachim rambled on about how he’d make sure we never played in Germany again. Since then I’ve played more than 500 concerts in the country. He as I earlier stated went bankrupt a year or so later. Fate casts it’s own rewards.
RB: What does the immediate future hold for Nikki Sudden ?
NS: Back on tour next week:- Austria and Germany. Back to England to re-mix ‘Red Brocade’. Then off to Ireland to make a new album with Simon Carmody – a follow up to 1986’s ‘The Last Bandits In The World’ project. Beginning of December back to Deutschland for another week of solo acoustic shows then I’m off to the Czech Republic for an electric tour with my band. Then it’s back to England for Christmas and New Year. ‘Red Brocade’ comes out in January! 1999 starts there… Then, hopefully I’m off to Finland for a couple of shows with 69 Eyes. To the States with Kusworth for the Jacobites West Coast Tour. Then back to Europe for the March/April ‘Red Brocade’ Tour. In between which I’ll have to fit in some studio sessions.
RB: What was the first concert you ever attended ?
NS: Cliff Richard at Birmingham Town Hall, 1969. Second concert I attended was Caravan and Genesis at Solihull Civic Hall at Easter, 1972. Third concert was Mott the Hoople, Birmingham Top Rank a week or so later. Then Humble Pie, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie over the next months. Started off shaky, but quickly improved. Last band I saw was The Rolling Stones at Maimarktgelände, a big field just outside Mannheim in Germany. That was about a month ago. 12th September, to be precise.
RB: Can you name your five ‘desert island discs’ ?
NS: ‘Exile On Main Street’ – The Rolling Stones.
‘The Genuine Basement Tapes – Vols. 1 – 5’ – Bob Dylan.
‘Classic – The Complete Sun Recordings’ – Jerry Lee Lewis.
‘Electric Warrior’ or ‘Bolan’s Zip Gun’ – T.Rex.
‘Liege And Lief’ Fairport Convention (but the list would change every day).
Top 5 singles:
‘Telegram Sam’ – T.Rex.
‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ – Rolling Stones
‘Where Do You Go To, My Lovely’ – Peter Sarstedt.
‘Dead Or Alive’ – Johnny Thunders.
‘Pool Hall Richard’ – The Faces.
RB: Perhaps wishful thinking on my part, but any plans for a tour downunder ?
NS: Always planning, always hoping. If it happens, it happens.