It’s only children sleeping, just my heart beating
Christ where do I begin?
Nikki Sudden and Dave Kusworth, two gorgeous-looking tramps. With those scarves and with that hair. They called themselves Jacobites. They recorded an album called Robespierre’s Velvet Basement. They sang about French noblemen and English nights and Russian zoos. What I mean to say is – people of non-romantic disposition would be kindly advised to bugger off.
This album was recorded in 1985, a year when bad was bad and good was really good. Sudden (formerly of Swell Maps) and Kusworth were beyond good. Hell, they were beyond really good. For three years, from 1983 till 1985, they were Britain’s greatest songwriters. It was one masterpiece after another. In 1985 alone they released two classic albums, Lost In A Sea Of Scarves and Robespierre’s Velvet Basement. Decide for yourself which title you like best, but in terms of sheer songwriting quality Robespierre’s Velvet Basement is so heartbreakingly good I have to look to Australia to see who could provide any sort of decent competition in that most straightforward and mysterious of decades.
Boys looking for rivers and cheap champagne in the afternoon and mirrors smashed in the night. It’s that sort of album, raw and romantic. Kusworth and Sudden share songwriting duties but if you don’t pay attention to vocals (Sudden’s charming ‘r’ can’t be missed, though), you won’t even tell the difference. Peas and carrots. Milk and honey.
I guess I could mention Peter Perrett, but there’s just too much personality here to rely on reference points. The sound is lush and ragged, filled with acoustic rhythms and clever jangly lines. There's nothing unique in that sound, nothing at all, and you have to wonder how they managed to infuse this music with so much freshness and charm. Surely the answer has to lie in charismatic songwriting, articulate melodies and impressionistic poetry that is both vague and hard-hitting (do you know a better song about romantic yearning than “All The Dark Rags”?)
Out of these 14 songs, I don’t count one I could live without. There’s the anthemic opener “Big Store” which was an 8-minute long guitar epic on the band’s eponymous debut from 1984. There’s the driving acoustic rock’n’roll of “Fortune Of Fame” that is all intensity and wild harmonica. There’s the jangly, heavenly “Silken Sheets” that may have this album’s prettiest verse melody. There’s the whole of that ballad-oriented second side which is all tears and broken hearts. The haunting “All The Dark Rags” is a personal favourite, with that magical C-G-Am-F chord progression played against the hair-raising slide guitar/harmonica background. There’s one relatively upbeat tune in “One More String Of Pearls” (something almost reggae-ish about it), and then we fade out wistfully, on the gorgeous lights-out ballad “Only Children Sleeping”.
There are several versions of Robespierre’s Velvet Basement floating around. Pick any. However, my advice would be to go for the latest 2-CD version – because Jacobites could do no wrong at that point and songs like “Every Girl” and “Pin Your Heart On Me” and “When The Rain Comes” are some of the greatest things ever.
Oh and something else. Ironically perhaps, but it’s only now that I’m coming round to the fact that this whole feature, this whole ‘favourite albums’ nonsense, it was all invented to write about Robespierre’s Velvet Basement by Jacobites. There.