Jacobites - Biography

By Charles Reece


             One would be hard-pressed to find a finer example of the difference between the classicist approach to art and the merely retroactive than The Jacobites. The classicist believes in the constraints laid down by tradition and attempts to derive new insights from it, whereas the merely retroactive artist is content with copying what has come before. When it comes to the marketization of popular music, the copy is as valuable as the real deal, since the target demographic is not supposed to remember what made the originals classic to begin with. At least we had The Jacobites reminding us of the distinction.


            Although one would not know it by listening to them, the English duo of Nikki Sudden (born Nicholas Godfrey on July 19, 1956, in London) and Dave Kusworth (born in March, 1960, in Birmingham) originated from their country’s late 1970’s punk and New Romantic scenes, respectively.

Raised by doting, musically inclined parents, Sudden and his younger brother, Epic Soundtracks (born Kevin Paul Godfrey on March 23, 1959, in South Croyden), were encouraged to pursue the musical career that their father had put aside to raise a family. The brothers formed the Swell Maps in the mid-1970s, a band that released only two albums before breaking up, but would be highly influential on the post-punk movement of the 1980s (e.g., Sonic Youth, Pussy Galore). Sudden wished to explore the more traditional songwriting approach of his influences such as The Rolling Stones and The Faces, whereas Soundtracks was more interested in experimental Krautrock. It is ironic that Sudden’s more narrative, melodic music that followed never achieved the popularity of his work with Swell Maps.


            As the Swell Maps was beginning its brief recording career, guitarist Kusworth, drummer Dave Twist and some of their school friends formed TV Eye, whose most memorable contributions to the pop landscape were preliminary versions of two songs that became hits for Duran Duran in the 1980s. When the two groups swapped lead singers in 1979, TV Eye’s departing Andy Wickett took with him “Stevie's Radio Station” and “Girls In Film,” which were re-imagined as “Rio” and “Girls On Film” (with Simon LeBon taking over for Wickett). In return, new vocalist, Steve Duffy, brought with him “Big Store,” a song that would appear on the first two Jacobites albums (albeit in a significantly rewritten form for its first recording). Rechristened The Subterranean Hawks, and subsequently shortened to The Hawks, the group played some shows around town and recorded a few songs.


            Sudden was introduced to The Hawks in early 1980 while working at the Rough Trade Shop. Duffy and Twist brought in a tape of the band’s music in an attempt to get on the shop’s label. The label was not interested, but Sudden was impressed enough, both with the pair’s style and their music, to begin attending their shows, which is where he met Kusworth. Both guitarists were fashionable throwbacks to the sybaritic imagery of early 1970s rock (Kusworth is a dead ringer for Keith Richards in his symbolic prime) and they shared an acolyte’s devotion to the playing of Johnny Thunders, Ron Wood, Marc Bolan, as well as Jagger and Richards’ songwriting. Once Kusworth could get some time away from his band, he and Sudden planned on working with each other.


            Still backed by his former bandmates, Sudden began purging what remained of the punk inclination with his first solo album, Waiting on Egypt (1982 Abstract Records), shifting towards the shimmery acoustic songs that he would spend the rest of his life trying to perfect. By mid-1982, The Hawks had disbanded and Kusworth began playing with Sudden as Six Hip Princes. Kusworth co-wrote a song (“English Girls”) for Sudden’s second album, The Bible Belt (1983 Flicknife Records), and played guitar. While the latter pursued a solo career, Kursworth joined Dogs d’Amour – led by his friend, Tyla – for the band’s inaugural release, The State We’re In (1984 Kumibeat Records). Tyla shared a similar musical mindset, but Kursworth was more interested in writing his own songs, so he left to undertake a full collaboration with Sudden as The Jacobites.


            With Soundtracks doing most of the drumming and Mark Lemon playing most of the bass lines, The Jacobites released, in 1984, its eponymous debut (on Glass Records) and a subsequent EP, Shame for the Angels (on Pawn Hearts, but was combined with the LP on Secretly Canadian’s 2002 reissue). Those were followed the next year by the duo’s masterpiece, Robespierre’s Velvet Basement, and Lost in a Seas of Scarves, a full-length album of outtakes from the Robespierre’s sessions (both were released separately on Glass, but combined for Secretly Canadian’s 2002 release). Tyla lent some country influence by playing slide on a few of the tracks. Sudden and Kusworth were perfect musical complements of each other. They both shared a pharyngeal singing style not that far removed from Nick Lowe’s (akin to singing through a slight cold), with Kusworth in the higher register. Their aesthetic was fully formed from the get-go: elegiac vignettes reminiscent of the The Stones’ melancholic side, but with more acoustic guitar and a chugging rhythm section closer to The Velvet Underground and Suicide. The historical references were largely nominal, derived most likely from Sudden’s love of historical fiction and used merely to connote the popinjay image the duo had developed. Their lyrics tended towards the more popular themes of loneliness, failed love and, of course, inebriation (Sudden was a lifelong proponent of moderate drug use).


            In 1985, Soundtracks left for the less traditional Crime & the City Solution, Simon Bonney’s band that then featured ex-Birthday Party members, Mick Harvey and Roland S. Howard. With new drummer, Carl Bevan (ex-Rag Dolls), and a new bassist, Eammon Duffy (an old friend of Kusworth’s from TV Eye), The Jacobites embarked on its first tour of Germany. By Sudden’s account, the tour was a disaster – due to the drunken antics of his bandmates, two-timing bar owners and a dastardly German road manager – but he loved the country enough to move there. Upon releasing two more EPs – Pin Your Heart to Me (a joint composition that is probably their best remembered) and When the Rain Comes (both on Glass) – the band was to have another go at Germany in 1986 that would extend to Austria. However, when Sudden went to meet Kusworth and new bassist Duncan Sibbald at Hamburg Airport, his collaborator had failed to get on the plane, deciding instead to go solo (at the behest of his then girlfriend). Sudden remained placid about the situation, despite never knowing what emotional issues his friend had, and went back to being a solo act. Sudden used ‘The Jacobites’ for his backing band on the next couple of albums (Texas in 1986 and Dead Men Tell No Tales in 1987 – both on the Creation label).


            For the next 6 years, Sudden was an incredibly prolific. In addition to his solo albums, he worked on a variety of projects with numerous collaborators, most notably Roland S. Howard on Kiss You Kidnapped Charabanc (1987 Creation) and all REM members but Michael Stipe on The Jewel Thief (1991 UFO Records; released as Liquor, Guns, and Ammo in the US). The latter was recorded during his brief stay at Peter Buck’s home in Atlanta, Georgia, at which time he got his first chance to tour around the States as part of an impromptu band Buck had formed. Meanwhile, Kusworth had begun his own short-lived band, The Bounty Hunters, releasing two albums (e.g., 1989’s Threads: A Tear Stained Scar) before he began recording solely under his own name with 1991’s All The Heartbreak Stories (both on Creation).


            Sudden and Kusworth reunited to record a few songs for Regency Sound’s CD reissues of the first two albums in 1993. Those few songs turned into an entire album, Howling Good Times (1994 Regency Sound), and the duo was officially back, but with a new band: Glenn Tranter on guitar, Carl Eugene Picôt on bass, and Mark Williams on drums. The guitars were a bit more amped, but the music pretty much picked up where it was left off in 1986 to a respectable amount of critical acclaim. With the singer-songwriters putting their solo careers on hold, they released two more albums over the next two years, Old Scarlett (1995 Glitterhouse Records) and Kiss Of Life (1996 Swamp Room Records), the latter a live recording from the New Year’s Eve show of the recent tour.


            A few more solo projects were released (including Sudden’s Seven Lives Later and Kusworth’s Princess Thousand Beauty, both in 1997) before the duo began writing songs for what would be the last Jacobites album, God Save Us Poor Sinners (1998 Glitterhouse). It was dedicated to Soundtracks, who had died in his sleep on November, 5, 1997, at his West Hampstead apartment for undetermined reasons. The album was also significant for being The Jacobites’ first full-length one released to the American market (on Burbank, California’s Bomp! Records). The only stateside release to this point had been a 1986 compilation, The Ragged School, on Twin/Tone Records. The Jacobites’ first and only American tour was in 1998, after which Kusworth and Sudden returned to their individual careers. The former recorded and toured with his band, The Tenderhooks, while the latter released a well-received album with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy called Red Brocade (1999 Glitterhouse).


            In 2003, Kusworth and Sudden wrote an album’s worth of songs for another Jacobites release, but never recorded them. Shortly thereafter, Sudden began working on his dream project, Treasure Island (2004 Secretly Canadian), an album that featured collaborations with many of his long-time associates (e.g., Kusworth and ex-The Waterboys Anthony Thistlewaite), plus a couple of his idols, namely guitarist Mick Taylor (ex-The Rolling Stones) and keyboardist Ian McLagan (ex-The Faces). As fate, or merely bad personal choices, would have it, this would be the last time the two Jacobites recorded together. Sudden died of a drug overdose after a performance in New York City on March 26, 2006. At least he went out a fairly satisfied artist. Kusworth continues to fight the good fight with his own self-titled band.


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