As the Eighties passed the halfway mark, Nikki Sudden parted company with David Kusworth after a fruitful series of albums as the Jacobites.

About the same time Rowland S. Howard’s post-Birthday Party group Crime and the City Solution broke up. Sudden and Howard had met through Sudden’s brother, C&TCS drummer Epic Soundtracks, in 1985.  They hit it off, and Howard guested on a few tracks from 1986’s 'Texas' and 1987’s 'Dead Men Tell No Tales'.

That led to a fuller collaboration on 'Kiss You Kidnapped Charabanc'. That album, along with an amazing live show has just been rereleased by Secretly Canadian.

The combination of romantic balladeer Sudden and Aussie guitar-torturer Howard provided rare inspiration.  It’s an album that deserves to be called a classic, a thrilling combination of Howard’s searing slide and Birthday Party distortion and Sudden’s folk rock jangle and troubadour tradition; filtered through a mutual fondness for the Rolling Stones (Sudden says the original idea was to remake 'Beggar’s Banquet'). Songwriting duties were split down the middle, apart from a cover of Billie Holiday’s 'Don’t Explain'.

Fans of Howard’s previous work with the Birthday Party will probably find 'Kiss You ...' somewhat understated compared to that band’s collected output; it’s more along the lines of 'Ho-Ho'  (the song from' Prayers on Fire' that Howard sang himself) than Gold Blade or King Ink, but there’s still a greater dedication to noise than you’ll find on most of Sudden’s post-Swell Maps work. Howling slide and distortion run through 'Sob Story' and 'French Revolution Blues', There’s the grinding “Snowplough,”  (as Sudden says in the liners: “This one’s for fans of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music!”) ; the insect buzz that opens 'Better Blood', the bass drum thuds over the end of 'Crossroads'.

The other side of 'Kiss You ...' is represented by the spectral slide work and gloomy harmonium of songs like 'Quick Thing', and 'The Girl With No Name' (the latter actually a track from Howard and Sudden’s 'Wedding Hotel' EP, which in addition to the title track has an earlier version of 'French Revolution Blues').

The second disc of 'Kiss You Kidnapped Charabanc' contains a Sept. 18, 1987 concert from Augsburg, Germany  recorded off the PA system.  Sudden is joined by Howard, Gun Club drummer Desperate and Duncan Sibbald on bass. The sound is excellent and the performance is stupendous. Howard’s guitar-playing really comes to the fore. It’s as ferocious as anything he’s done, yet amazingly doesn’t crowd out any of the vocals. Several of the songs are extended out to the eight-minute mark by Howard's stellar string-twisting. Sudden describes the sound as being akin to Stukas divebombing the stage — this may be too much of a compliment to the Luftwaffe.

The combination of 'Kiss You Kidnapped Charabanc', 'Wedding Hotel' and 'Live in Augsburg' is dynamite, an undoubted high point in both Sudden and Howard’s career.

'Kiss You ...' was released on Creation in 1987 as was 'Dead Men Tell No Tales'. The next LP in Sudden’s career was 1989’s 'Groove'. Although not quite up to the high water mark of 'Kiss You ...' and' Live in Augsburg', 'Groove', recorded as Nikki Sudden and The French Revolution, has its partisans. (For his part, Sudden himself seems somewhat unimpressed, describing the songs in the liners as “short stories I didn’t have the patience to write in full”, and complaining that bassist Sibbald was too busy watching 'Neighbours' to give the recording process the attention it deserved.)

What sets 'Groove' apart from most previous Sudden releases is that it really lays on the guitars (in the liners Sudden describes the multiple guitar tracks as “My version of the guitar army”). For better or for worse, it’s his most conventionally “rocking” effort.

The guitar choogle on 'See My Rider' sounds like something the Beasts of Bourbon might have spat out, and the chunka-chunka-chunka riff that comes in near the end of 'Sea-Dog Blues' wouldn’t disgrace a heavy metal band.  You also get a heavily reverbed Chuck Berry lick to start 'Poor Relation', a classic tune in the putdown vein. The instrumental ''Wild Cathedral' and top tune 'Beethoven’s Ring' show off further guitar firepower.

Lyrically, Sudden takes his inspiration from history (literary and otherwise). Among the influences mentioned in the liners: Hogarth, 'Confessions of an Opium Eater',  issues of 'London Life from the 1930s', the Scarlet Pimpernel ('French Revolution Blues'). Sudden credits old English murder ballads for inspiring 'Murder Valley', and makes passing reference  to Fairport Convention; it also sounds like something Nick Cave would record later in his career, but that’s murder for you. 

Bonus tracks on this album include a Sudden-ized version of Neil Young’s 'Captain Kennedy' done for 'The Bridge' tribute album, a rerecorded version of 'Wedding Hotel', Nick Drake’s 'Time Has Told Me' (again, for a tribute album — the start sounds quite similar to 'Poor Relation') and a previously unknown tune, 'Something About You' done live. Obsessives should note that 'Back to the Coast' has been cut and returned to the reissue of 'Texas'.

'Groove' has been paired with 'Crown of Thorns', a rare Italian release from 1988. Sudden tells the amusing story (in hindsight) of being talked into allowing Crazy Mannequin Records to release an album of songs, half live and half solo-with-acoustic guitar, to bolster interest in a tour of Italy — 300 copies only to journalists and the like for promotional purposes.

Thus, a select few were to be treated to a thumping 'Crossroads'  (it owes more than a small debt to Muddy Waters’ 'Mannish Boy') and 'Kiss At Dawn' from the Melkweg in Amsterdam ; 'Tell Me' from Frankfurt’s Batschkapp ; acoustic solo renditions of Marc Bolan’s'San Francisco Poet' ,  'The Rolling of the Hearse' (inspired by Bob Dylan’s 'The Drifter'), the Rolling Stones’ 'Wild Horses, his own 'Mafeking Blues', and T. Rex’s 'Jewel, and from The Loft in Berlin, a rough-and-ready jumble called 'Mess With Me'.

As Sudden recounts, Crazy Mannequin, however, actually pressed up thousands of copies. Creation boss Alan McGee went into the Oxford Square HMV in London a few weeks before a £1000 launch party for Groove to discover 20 copies of 'Crown of Thorns' in the racks. His reaction to this surprise competition?

Sudden: “He went mad — the launch party was cancelled — my relationship with Creation never really got over that moment.”

To add insult to injury (or is that injury to insult?) Crazy Mannequin then declined to pay him royalties on the grounds Sudden had tarnished their good name by calling 'Crown' a bootleg.

At any rate, Sudden now has his revenge. In addition to the original 'Crown of Thorns' there’s a plentiful helping of bonus tracks: Live versions of the Swell Maps classic 'Midget Submarines' , his own 'Such a Little Girl' , a heavily modified version of 'Captain Kennedy', another' Crossroads' (done in the same sessions as the solo acoustic numbers and previously released as a giveaway with Italian music mag 'Vinile'), the Stones’ 'Play With Fire' (previously released on an obscure Italian split single) and the T. Rex classic 'Buick MacKane'.

The sound on all these tracks is quite good, barring some background chatter on an energetic 'Buick MacKane' and the performances are solid all-round; 'Midget Submarines', 'The Rolling of the Hearse' and 'Jewels' are particular standouts. Sudden fans will appreciate the way he reworks songs, with bits and pieces from other tunes sometimes popping up in other numbers. The bare-bones versions of his own tunes and his idols’ give fans a good view into Sudden’s musical world.

'Groove' and 'Crown of Thorns' are both quality records, but probably more for the fan than the neophyte; 'Kiss You' ... and 'Live in Augsburg' should be in the home of every fan of guitar-based music.

In addition to the great music, Secretly Canadian has maintained the high quality of their previous rereleases of Sudden’s 1980s’ back catalogue. The packaging is about as good as you can get without buying a box set ... 24-page colour booklets loaded with photos and informative liners (like drummer Andy Bean’s memories of being force fed a steady diet of Led Zeppelin while on tour) and plenty of extra tracks. The only (minor) shortcoming of the 'Kiss You .../ Live' package is that there’s no contribution to the liners from Howard.

For the CD-ROM capable, on the 'Groove/Crown of Thorns' double-CD there’s a video for 'Great Pharaoh' and film of a live performance of 'Jump on Jack', a nascent version of 'Sea-Dog Blues'.

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