Those Who The Gods Love
by Nikki Sudden
Kindly sent to me by Nikki a few years back.
Late last year I was approached by Russ Tolman and Pat Thomas from Innerstate Records of San Francisco. They wanted to know if it would be possible for them to re-issue my brother’s Normal Records compilation, Debris in the States. Without really thinking about it, I commented that Epic had also put together track-listings for Debris II, Debris III, and Debris IV. I was asked if instead of reissuing Debris it would be possible for me to compile Debris II from the tapes my brother had made. Rashly enough I agreed to see if this could be done.
When I was actually faced with the mass of cassettes, DATs, tapes and master tapes that Epic had recorded during his far too brief time alive I realised that I was setting myself a very difficult task. For although he had laid out track-listings with the titles of the songs he wanted to include, many of these listings gave little, if any, direction as to which particular tape a track could be found on, which version of a number he meant to include. In some cases there were multiple versions of the same song in different forms on the same reel. The answer to these problems was something that he would have known himself, but also something that no one else could easily begin to contemplate.
I quickly realised that to do the task properly would take a good two-three months wherein I would have to listen to my brother’s music constantly to the exclusion of all else. And this is not something I had the time to do at this period. My first response was to suggest to Russ and Pat that I put together an album of out-takes, my second that they issue a live album. The first suggestion they liked, the second they weren't so keen on. They agreed at a part studio / part live album. This is what I assembled and they eventually released as Everything Is Temporary.
My brother’s birth is the first memory that stands clearly in my mind. He was born during the afternoon of March 23rd 1959 in our parents’ bedroom at 34 Chapel View, South Croydon in England. Our parents were Lois Betty Bowden and John Trevor Godfrey. My father is always known as Trevor. My mother was known as Betty by her parents and has since come to prefer being referred to as Lois.
When I was eight years old and Epic was five our parents moved into a house at 214 Kineton Green Road, Solihull, far away from London. This is where what was to become Swell Maps began. In Easter 1972 I bought my first guitar, an acoustic with more-or-less completely unplayable action, from a school friend for the sum of 6.00. As soon as I’d decided to become a guitarist my brother announced that he wanted to become a drummer albeit with no drums as such for the first year or so (he tended to utilise any and every possible percussion implement at the time - everything from plastic tubs to model rubber tyres to the insides of our mother’s coffee percolator).
Our friend David Barrington went out and bought his own acoustic guitar two weeks later. Another friend, Steve “Jowe Head” Bird also followed suit at the same period of time and we gradually began to learn to play.
We begun making tapes, or “albums”, as we thought of them. Recordings were normally done under various group names featuring assorted line-ups of the four of us. The Black Riders (previously Xerox, Zerox and then Mithril) had consisted of David, Epic and myself. Sacred Mushroom was basically David Barrington and me. Odyssey was Epic and David. Cardboard Giant was Steve Bird and myself.
Epic and I tended to record at David Barrington’s every Saturday or every alternate Saturday (for I would go round one week, Epic the next week) and also some evenings in the week. Early recordings are basic to extreme. Two or three musicians who couldn’t really play attempting valiantly to do so. And, of course, the reason we began writing our own songs was that we couldn’t actually play anything by anyone else.
Soon after this we moved again, to 17 Widney Lane, Solihull. This was to become the base for the early Swell Maps years. During Easter 1974 our parents went away for a week and we were left in sole possession of the house. We turned the guest bedroom into a recording studio. By this time we had inherited our father’s reel to reel tape recorder. And for a whole week we and new band members Richard Earl and John Golden Cockrill recorded day after day.
If punk hadn’t happened Swell Maps would have been a far better band. There are tapes of songs such as Dresden Style, Forest Fire and the classic Hey Johnny! Where’s The Chewing Gum? which stand up far better than much of the released material which we actually recorded in the studio. Unfortunately these numbers were recorded on a cassette machine with one microphone handling all the necessary recording functions. Vocals were recorded by my singing close to the microphone while the rest of the band was bashing away in the background. A lot of these sessions took place on the landing of our parents’ house.
Swell Maps made their first single, Read About Seymour in September 1977. We spent much of the next year trying to sell the 2,000 copies we’d pressed up on our own Rather records label. Epic had left school by this time and was now attending Solihull Technical College doing an art course. He designed the cover for the single which was based on a photo I’d taken. The following October we recorded the first of three John Peel sessions. By the end of the following week we'd sold the remaining 1,000 singles we had left.
Swell Maps played their debut gig at a 12-hour Punk Festival at Barbarellas in Birmingham on Boxing Day 1977. The last time the band appeared on stage together was April 6 1980 in Vignola, Italy. The band played around 50 shows in those three years. The band recorded two albums, A Trip To Marineville and Jane From Occupied Europe, both of which went to number one in the independent charts. All of our four singles sold equally well.
In 1978 Epic left Solihull Tech and went to Portsmouth Art College to do a degree in fine art but dropped out before the end of the first year. He moved to London which was to be his base for the rest of his life. As well as drumming for Swell Maps he had been asked to contribute to Mayo Thompson’s Red Crayola project.
Swell Maps broke up in Easter 1980. My brother wasn’t sure what he wanted to do musically for the first half of the decade. For something to do he made a solo single, Popular Classical. The lead track Jelly, Babies was a nod in the direction he would later embrace. His next attempted project was a joint album with Richard Earl'the sessions resulted in only one finished track and this remains unreleased. Next he and Jowe Head went in the studio to work on an album provisionally titled Daga Daga Daga two tracks were released on a 12″ single, Rain Rain Rain / Ghost Train. Other numbers came out on assorted Swell Maps collections and on Jowe Head’s Strawberry Deutschmark album.
By this time Epic had discovered the Beach Boys and plunged himself totally into a knowledge of Brian Wilson’s genius. Every time I saw him he’d play me a further hitherto unreleased gem from Brian’s pocket. At this time he also fell madly for the Beatles and for Alex Chilton. His record collection grew daily. Every trip outside his house involved scouring the record shops of London. His reading expanded to encompass every word he could track down on his favourite artists.
His record collection took in everything from Sonic Youth to Frank Sinatra. Bing Crosby to Can. T.Rex to Gram Parsons, The Byrds, Chuck Berry, Sun Ra, Bobby Gentry, Glen Campbell, The Monkees, David Bowie. If there was a good record out there you could be 99% sure that Epic would have it in his collection. Alan McGee once stated that Epic’s record collection was the cornerstone on which Creation Records was based.
Epic also began working at Record & Tape Exchange in Notting Hill Gate, one of the best sources in the 70s and 80s of cheap records. He found working in record shops both rewarding and frustrating. Rewarding because of the rarities he kept on coming across on a daily basis and frustrating inasmuch as he had to often deal with some incredibly stupid members of the public. Record shops seem to attract a particularly dumb clientele at times. He had little tolerance for people who didn’t share his eclectic tastes in music. This was one of his strengths rather than a weakness. The knowledge that what he thought was right. This is a philosophy we both shared.
For most of the 1980s he found himself living first in Dalston and then in Hackney, both quite run-down parts of London Town. When our father had bought himself a baby-grand piano he had given his beautiful old upright to my brother. One day we transported it down from Harbury to Bodney Road in Hackney. It was placed in the front room of the two-room flat. Now he had his own piano he was able to start writing songs in earnest. He was always able to find solace in the black and white piano keys. Many of his songs were written in piano keys. Eb was a particular favourite.
Epic played drums on Jacobites and Robespierre’s Velvet Basement by my band the Jacobites. Then he was approached by Mick Harvey and Rowland Howard to join Crime And The City Solution. At this time he also played drums, piano and guitar on my third solo album, Texas. He played on the second and third CCS albums, Just South Of Heaven and Room Of Lights, but as he later admitted to me he never really liked the music. The music he was proudest of having worked on during the 1980s was the stuff we did together.
In the late 1980s Rowland and Epic left Crime to form These Immortal Souls. They recorded an album, Get Lost! (Don’t Lie) and toured occasionally but for my brother this was a very frustrating time. Five long years were to pass by before the second TIS album I Don’t Wanna Die Again was recorded. This period coincided with a move from the run-down streets of Hackney. Finally the area had got too much for him and he was relieved to find a place in West Hampstead, an altogether more genteel district. This basement flat at 129 Sumatra Road was where he wrote many of the songs that appeared on his 1990’s albums. Every time I went round there he’d regale me with songs he’d just written, songs that were coming together, or play cover versions of his favourite songs. His note books are full of jotted down ideas, finished songs, unfinished songs. And many, many lists. He loved making lists of his bands, favourite singers, drummers, guitarists, albums. Lists of lists. This was one of the ways he filled his time.
By this time Epic had already begun recording tracks for what was to be his first solo album, Rise Above. The project began when he’d entered New York’s Fun City Studio in May of 1991 and recorded the song Fallen Down with Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth. From that moment he knew what he wanted to do. He knew at last that he could sing and was confident enough to place his songs in front of others. Lee Ranaldo sent him the master tape of the song and in April of 1992 he went into Wake the Dead Studio in London to record the rest of the album. Rise Above featuring appearances by J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), Martyn Casey (Bad Seeds), Anthony Thistlethwaite (Waterboys), Will Pepper (Thee Hypnotics) and Rowland Howard was released that September, as was These Immortal Souls last album.
For the first time since Swell Maps Epic was in control of his own music. And at last he was confident enough with his vocals to let them be heard by the public. When he’d recorded his first solo single back in 1981 his lack of confidence in his singing led to his allowing his vocals to be semi-hidden beneath guest singer Robert Wyatt’s. When the two of us had been putting together the Swell Maps’ retrospective, Train Out Of It in 1986 Epic had suggested we use a backing track he had recorded of the Chuck Berry song, Downbound Train. He wrote some lyrics and re-christened the track Rundown Tube. At first he attempted to sing the lyrics himself and it sounded pretty cool but he wasn’t able to realise the effect he wanted. He asked me if I’d sing the lead vocal.
Epic’s second album was entitled Sleeping Star and saw him working with then Primal Scream member, Henry Olsen. Henry and Epic used to get together for a couple of weeks before beginning recording. Epic would play his new songs to Henry and together they’d work out the arrangements. Epic and Henry got very close during the last years of his life as he also did with Chicago musicians Kevin Junior and Anthony Illarde. Henry produced Epic’s third album Change My Life on which he also played under the name of Harry Georgeson. These second and third releases of my brother’s — there was also Debris but that was more a collection of out-takes than anything — were recorded at Chiswick Reach Studio in London. Epic felt relaxed there and particularly liked the fact that the studio had a grand piano. The cover photo of Change My Life sees Epic playing this piano.
His songwriting was improving all the time, his singing was getting better. He had recorded demos for his fourth album, which had the Carole King inspired working title of Good Things. These will be released one day. Some of his best ever songs were those he wrote in the last year of his life. I Haven’t Cried A Tear, Unfaithful Arms, C’mon Daddy. These he planned to record with Henry Olsen and the two Americans.
At the time of his death he was very frustrated that his American label Bar/None wouldn’t give him the money to go in the studio and record Good Things. He also found it frustrating that Change My Life remained unreleased in Europe. What he found incredibly devastating was that the American Immigration authorities consistently refused to let him back into the States. When he’d met the girl who would be his last girlfriend he’d flown to America to break up with his previous one. Immigration at Minneapolis airport had been strict, they found out that he had some gigs booked and no work permit. He was offered the choice of entering the States for a week and not being allowed to return for the next five years or of flying back to England on the next plane and being theoretically allowed back in a year later. He chose the latter. Over the last years of his life he applied for a US visa on two or three occasions but was always rejected.
Epic Soundtracks was born on March 23rd 1959 and died on November 5th 1997. He was thirty-seven years old at the time of his death. Much speculation has been made of the manner of his passing. Suicide, drug overdose, et cetera. None of these can be accepted as being the correct cause of death. Simply the answer is that we just don’t know why he died. We probably never will know.
I do know that over the past 6 months or so of his life he had been depressed about his last girlfriend. He had been looking forward to her return from the Caribbean - a few days before she was supposed to return she’d telephoned him and told him that she wasn’t coming back - why I don’t know. But then Epic always got depressed about ex-girlfriends. This was part of his character. One of the last things I remember him asking me was, “Don’t you get depressed?” I replied that I didn’t. His comment was that he couldn’t understand that.
Written for the German magazine, Superstar. July 1999.