We're thrilled that our friend Jeremy Gluck has decided to pull a series of interviews from his archive and publish them in Outsideleft. Featuring major major stars and cultural icons, the interviews are mainly drawn from Jeremy's time at British music weekly, Sounds. The interviews will begin next week with Suicide. Ahead of all of that hullabaloo, here's a story about Jeremy himself, and his work with Rowland S. Howard, Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks... Watch the video at the end, it is a fascinating and amazing first person account from the ground floor of British music from the late 70s on...
In 2010 I was contacted by Ghost Pictures’ Richard Lowenstein inviting me to be interviewed for a forthcoming documentary on the life and music of Rowland S. Howard, with whom I had worked, and have always regarded as the greatest guitarist of his generation. I gladly accepted and went to Cardiff for a lengthy interview, a small fraction of which made it into the eventual documentary, Autoluminescent, which won an ATOM Award in 2012 in the Best Documentary Biography section. The world premiere was at the Melbourne International Film Festival in August 2011. Autoluminescent premiered internationally at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2012.
Over the years since the release of I Knew Buffalo Bill, the album I made with Rowland, Nikki Sudden, Epic Soundtracks - all of whom have long predeceased me - and Nikki’s close friend Andrew Bean, its cachet has been somewhat elevated, and especially in Italy is considered a classic. In the interview for Ghost, I recounted chunks of my career, with a focus on my work with Rowland. Below I have collected some material relevant to the album and that relationship.
My decision to post this interview stems from the release on SWND Archive Records on May 20th of an EP documenting my short-lived Swansea-based band The Yohawks (named for a gang in my home town of Ottawa active in the Sixties who equated roughly with the Mods, their Rocker nemesis being the Squirrels), and which includes a cover of a song from the Buffalo Bill sessions, Episode In A Town.
Below I have collected some material relevant to I Knew Buffalo Bill and my relationship with Rowland S. Howard, the siren of the underworld.
I Was Buffalo Bill by Jeremy Gluck (Written for the vinyl reissue of the album on Spain’s Munster Records 2011)
In 1987, at the time of its release, I Knew Buffalo Bill was greeted as little more than an underground curio. The “first indie supergroup” tag conferred upon it by Flicknife owner Frenchy Gloder was possibly true; in any case, having members of The Barracudas, Swell Maps, Birthday Party and Gun Club share its credits marked it out at least as a compelling creative cross-section of the alternative scene of the day.
In the years since I Knew Buffalo Bill has been heard more, evaluated further, loved by a few fiercely, liked my many more, overlooked by millions. In that time three of its key players – brothers Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks, and The Gun Club’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce – have passed away. It gladdens me that our work on the album has been the cause of one excellent shared homage, Italians Circo Fantasma’s I Knew Jeffrey Lee, and that one of its latter tracks – from the eponymous EP that followed the original album – “Burning Skulls Rise”, was covered by Bill player Rowland S Howard, and Lydia Lunch; subsequently it has appeared on a handful of European compilations and even one modern B-movie soundtrack, for “I Pass As Human”, directed I believe by former Flesheater Chris D.
Jeremy Gluck talks about BUFFALO BILL (C. 1988)
"I like images (of Buffalo Bill) which are also part of the West Coast thing which I guess carries over from The Barracudas: it looks good, sounds good. But what I'm doing now is not country and western music at all strictly speaking, it's like impressionistic country and western music! I just take the elements I wanna use and exaggerate certain things."
"I like bleak songwriting. Much as I love pop music, I've always come back to the guy with the bottle in the bag sort of number. And I've always loved the Western imagery, like a lot of other people. I like the songwriting style, the storytelling. I got sick of writing songs that were obviously personal, like a lot of rock music, which is why it's insufferably boring, people having to make everything mean something. I was listening to Marty Robbins, I've always loved that older country stuff. I'm obsessed with his "Gunfighter Ballads" album, which anybody who likes West Coast music should have, even though it's a Nashville album. It's got so much to do with the things people like Green on Red talk about, the whole mythology. Those songs are all recorded on eight track at most, there's an occasional fiddle but aside from that it's just one or two acoustic guitar tracks and a voice. It doesn't need anything else, part of it's his voice, he is a great vocalist."
"What I'm playing is not country - well, to me it's country, but when you play it ot other people they say, 'that's not country!' But there again, they don't know what it is. That's what I want to play: 'I Don’t Know What It Is Music', that I call country. I want to keep that elusiveness."
Nikki Sudden's autobiography, – “L’Ultimo Bandito” – "The Last Bandit" was been published in Italy. In it Nikki recounts our time together recording "I Knew Buffalo Bill":
Where The Wreckers Crawl…
We ended up in Dave Pegg's Woodworm's studio making three albums concurrently. I found Woodworm a perfect and idyllic surrounding to work in. Dead Men Tell No Tales and Kiss You Kidnapped Charabanc were financed by Creation Records—purse strings of same being controlled by Yvonne, the then Mrs. McGee. This time Creation agreed to cough up for a local bed and breakfast.
The third of the trio was led by my old friend, Jeremy Gluck—late of the Barracudas—and was blessed with the inspired title, I Knew Buffalo Bill. Frenchy Gloder's Flicknife Records bankrolled this. Seeing how Flicknife had never paid me for a single copy of The Bible Belt I'm sure I saw the hand of God there somewhere. They certainly paid more than their fair share of the recording budget, but they got a great album out of it. It's a great way to confuse record companies—no one knew who was paying for what. And as long as the dealers got paid we weren't too bothered…
The sterling line-up that made I Knew Buffalo Bill was referred to as the 'first independent super-group' by some of the English music press. But what do reviewers ever know?
It was a long, long time ago when I first met Jeremy Gluck. He and his band, the Barracudas, seemed to spend every Saturday afternoon traversing Portobello Road, looking for the surf or the big wave. I remember they looked so young and adorable back then, Times change and life rolls on! Swell Maps and the Barracudas occasionally gigged together. Maybe our fate was sealed from that moment.
Andy Bean set the scene as follows, "Nikki and I had been friends since Swell Maps days, and on several occasions Nikki had tried to find musical things for me to do, as I knew the songs intimately. There was a London show where I had to step in for an absent bassist, with a chord sheet on top of the amp—described in a review as 'too hesitant', I was actually scared witless. A couple of years later Nikki decided I should be his rhythm guitarist for a couple of English shows. I wasn't much better."
By 1986 Andy had begun playing drums—or rather, a large plastic tub with a layers of tape on top for a skin. Once I found out, he was drafted to play drum (singular) and tambourine on the session. We slowly upgraded him to extra pieces of percussion and a floor tom. Also involved in the trio of albums were a few more of the usual suspects. Genevieve McGuckin—Rowland's girlfriend and keyboard player from These Immortal Souls, plus long-time cohorts Duncan Sibbald—bass player and Typhoon Tracy look-alike and Jonathan Hodgson on violin. The only reason that Epic ended up playing drums on one track was so that he could get Creation Records to pay his train ticket back to London.
Jeremy recalled, "Moments I will always remember include walking into Woodworm to a playback of the backing for Gallery Wharf, a song so gorgeous that it lends credence to Rowland's mock protestation that he and Nikki were giving me all their best songs." One strong memory I have from the time is that my father told me that he liked Gallery Wharf. It was one of the first times that he commented on anything I'd done. I remember that. I shouldn't have given the track away. I should have at least made a mix with my guide vocal track on it. I have a version on cassette somewhere. Some day…
“L' ultimo bandito. Una vita rock'n'roll” by Nikki Sudden
Edited by Simon Caltabellota
Published by Arcana Books, 2008
Dead Radio: Rowland S Howard’s Wavelengths of the Underworld by Jeremy S Gluck by March 28 2006
In memory of Rowland S Howard and Nikki Sudden, the latter whose anniversary of passing approaches, I am posting this remembrance published recently in Bucketfull of Brains.
Where do you begin with death? Far from an ending it is the gesture the ambiguity of which dwarfs all others, save perhaps birth. Why, after about twenty years – despite our cult legendary collaboration – should the death of Rowland S Howard matter overly to me? We spoke last on the day I broke to him the news of Nikki Sudden’s death, shared our shock, commiserated over Nikki’s lovely parents’ loss of both their sons, without the forgiveness and redemption of grandchildren to comfort them.
They were dedicated artists, the four who, along with myself and Andy Bean, made “I Knew Buffalo Bill”. Already I had a young daughter, but Nikki, his brother Epic Soundtracks, Rowland and Jeffrey Lee Pierce (who I only met briefly before and during the sessions) had no children between them. I won’t pretend that Rowland and I had much personal chemistry; he once bemused me when, in rehearsal, in retort to my calling his playing “wacky” he said that if I repeated it he would impale my child’s head on his machineheads.
Where do I begin to unwind this death? In ‘82 I guess my friend the legendary old school PR Chris Carr told me an amazing new band from Australia had unwashed up on these shores. I went and saw The Birthday Party and was smitten by their Down Under on the Street Stooges meets the Wall of Death routine. And there was Rowland S Howard in his suspect raincoat, casting out leads like a feral and conniving conservator of guitar souls. Of course the Party were astounding and I duly interviewed them for SOUNDS. Rowland and Nick Cave were polite, articulate and almost too smart for their onstage aural abbatoir.
The wheel turned. It was 1986, autumn. Over the years Nikki and I had discussed, planned and written songs for an eventual collaboration. Nikki was working his music full-time; I was writing and raising my kid. One day Nikki calls pretty much out of the blue and says he is in Fairport Dave Pegg’s lush Woodworm Studio recording with Epic and Rowland, and do I want to tack a week on and do an album? I started packing.
When I arrived at the studio one gorgeous afternoon the band had just laid down the backing track to Nikki’s remarkably beautiful “Gallery Wharf”. I was awed and enchanted. I still love that song and my good fortune in performing its only recorded incarnation is humbling. Anyhow, we broke for lunch and Nikki and Rowland were tight, joking about Rowland’s father Jock and calling each other “mate”. I was a little on the outside but it was okay. I was in awe of Rowland as a musician and we were such different people I didn’t expect more than functional contact. Standing and watching – hearing – Rowland do his parts to our songs is one of my enduring memories as an artist. He was incredible. It was more than improvisation; it was like the tearing of veils between musical realities. That he was one of the greatest guitarists of his generation is beyond question. My luck in working with him is beyond belief.
Once only Rowland stopped by my place at the time, my very prim and proper ex-wife notably disturbed by his demi-monde mien. He was like that and I think he kind of enjoyed it; I may be wrong. We did a few small gigs and people would be hollering for “Shivers”, which he begrudgingly appreciated. I wanted to do more but it never panned out.
We finished “Buffalo Bill” and proceeded soon to an EP, “Burning Skulls Rise”. Rowland liked the title track and eventually covered it with Lydia Lunch. And there we pretty much lost contact. I did run into him once when he told me had pickpocketed my debut novel to read. He had a perversity about him, Rowland, that was actually endearing. I never got to know, as Nikki did, who he was at depth, but the surface was always fascinating.
Then two days ago or so I found out Rowland had died. I knew he was again very ill. I have gotten used to these goings, and it didn’t really hit me until the next day. I did clock the fact that of the six of us who made the album four were now dead. Myself and Nikki’s longtime friend Andy Bean survive.
Over the years “I Knew Buffalo Bill” has acquired a minor cachet. The unusual combination of players and pieces, and some great production, have earned it a niche all its own. It seems unreal to me now that four of them are gone. Great artists, wonderful characters, dedicated journeymen. I don’t ask why I am still here, what would be the point in that and, in any case, I know the answer: For them. I live for the dead sometimes now. To work for them, to celebrate them. I want to record some songs Rowland wrote, covered, whatever. His small body of work is incredibly important: listen to “King of Kalifornia” or his cover of “Don’t Explain” – my favourites from his canon – and you hear a rider of his own whirlwind in sound, almost a philosopher, wisdom filtered through bewitching technical command of his instrument, and a soul in collision with more than one god but afraid of none. Rowland S Howard played brave and important music engaged by his head and heart. I never really knew or understood him, but I am privileged to be a footnote in his discography. And to survive him, if only to tell you that, as you know, there is a certain kind of artist who defies description. Can there be any higher praise?
NIKKI SUDDEN: CROSSING THE LINE... by Jeremy S Gluck March 28 2006
Written originally just after Nikki's passing, and published in BOB.
Some people are part of your life all the time, some of them appear and disappear and come back again, still others are just about your life itself, and for me, Nikki is one of the latter. Although the time of our real closeness as friends goes back twenty years and more, I've always known that Nikki was important to me for having been a fellow traveler and artist whose work with me has been perhaps my best and also most representative. Nikki it was that made the line-up and locale for the recording of our Buffalo Bill sessions possible, and Nikki it was that - with Rowland S Howard - wrote with me some of my best songs, ranking with anything I have done with The Barracudas as my finest minutes.
In Gallery Wharf, which Nikki wrote and we recorded, "What's done can never be put down", and that says succinctly what another ten thousand words can't and won't. There are many memories of Nikki that I could share, but then that is true for many of us, for he touched many, many lives personally, as a performer and of course purely through his amazing music.
I will share one memory, though. Shortly after I had been informed of Epic's death - which shocked me terribly and was I realise now the start of a procession of friends and colleagues who would be taken young from this place - I was meditating one night and felt his presence very clearly. He was happy, I knew. We weren't to be concerned for him. I called Nikki thereafter and, with some circumspection, told him this. Now, Nikki, having lost his beloved sibling, immediately went into the studio. He listened to me and replied, "I know, he's been here all week." Nikki is still here, too, and when I put my vocals to the songs he wrote with me late last year for inclusion on a further Bufflao Bill I am certain he will be with me. Happily, I have his excellent guide vocals, too, and will, therefore, be able to duet with him, a prospect that makes me very happy.
Nikki Sudden dedicated his life to the pursuit of hipness, and he found it, God knows. We will all remember him with love and respect, not least for his art, but perhaps yet more for his spirit that shone so brightly. There is no doubt that we are missing him. The road goes on forever, though, and we are all still on it together. If you look ahead, you will see him, waiting. Jeremy Gluck at Rowland S. Howard Outta the Black
Main image, Jeremy Gluck onstage with the Yohawks.