In the mid-Seventies, many a punk rocker used a pseudonym to keep signing on the dole while making music. The Damned featured Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible, the Sex Pistols were fronted by one Johnny Rotten and the Clash had Joe Strummer at the helm. Epic Soundtracks, who was found dead in his flat last month, had been a founder member of Swell Maps, the original DIY indie kids who emerged in late 1977.
Part of the second wave of British punk, the band built a loyal following and became regulars on the John Peel show. In the Eighties, their endearing, ramshackle, brittle style greatly influenced American acts like Sonic Youth, REM, Dinosaur Jr, the Lemonheads, Nirvana and Pavement. Later, as a member of the cult bands the Jacobites, Crime & The City Solution and These Immortal Souls as well as in his moody solo recordings, Epic Soundtracks kept the flame of independent music flickering throughout Europe.
Born Kevin Godfrey, Epic Soundtracks concocted his pseudonym by mixing Epic Records and Soundtracks, his favourite album by the avant-garde German group Can. With his elder brother Nicholas, who took up the alias Nikki Sudden, he would while away the afternoons in Solihull making music. Nikki played guitar and sang while Epic "drummed on anything that would make a noise, cardboard boxes, telephone books. We started out in 1972 but Epic only got a snare drum the following year. Gradually he built up his drum-kit but he also played piano very well," recalls Sudden. The duo tried out different names but settled on Swell Maps.
Various school and art college friends drifted in and out but the bassist Jowe Head was the only other musician joining the brothers for their first gig at Birmingham's Barbarellas on Boxing Day 1977. Taking advantage of Rough Trade's emerging alternative distribution set-up, the band released their debut single, the infectious "Read About Seymour", on their own Rather label and, in 1978, found their spiky, energetic sound at the top of the indie charts. Quirky follow-ups such as "Dresden Style", "Real Shocks" and "Let's Build a Car" enhanced their reputation but, unlike the Undertones and the Buzzcocks, Swell Maps never capitalised on their pop sensibility. They were musical magpies, one minute emulating T-Rex's heady melodies, the next drifting into strange improvisations worthy of the Krautrock giants Faust or Can.
They only completed two albums, A Trip to Marineville (1979) and Jane From Occupied Europe (1980). Their bedroom recordings, archives and John Peel sessions were however documented on compilations entitled Whatever Happens Next, Collision Time and Train Out Of It (rereleased in 1991) and attracted something of a cult following in Europe. More unexpectedly, along with British outfits like the Raincoats and Gang of Four, they became favourites on the emerging US college radio scene of the early Eighties.
Swell Maps split up in 1980 after an Italian tour. Nikki Sudden carried on with the Jacobites, in the vein of the Faces, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Epic Soundtracks was a regular member but also played with Red Krayola, Mayo Thompson's experimental outfit, and released two solo singles, "Jelly Babies" and "Rain Rain Rain".
In 1984, he joined the former Birthday Party guitarist Rowland S. Howard and his brother Harry who had reactivated the radical Crime & The City Solution. He played on Just South of Heaven (1985) and Room of Lights (1986) and appeared in Wim Wenders' evocative film Wings of Desire (1987), performing the haunting "Six Bells Chime". The following year, he followed the Howard brothers into These Immortal Souls and stayed six years, appearing on Get Lost (Don't Lie) (1987) and I'm Never Gonna Die Again (1992).
His fine drumming greatly contributed to the outfit's deranged, psychotic sound. But he had become frustrated with the sporadic nature of Rowland's activities and struck out on his own with a somewhat gentler sound. Sleeping Star (1994) and Change My Life (1996) and the excellent collection of demos entitled Debris (1995) saw Soundtracks in a more intimist vein. In 1994, he toured with Evan Dando of the Lemonheads. More recently, he had played all over Europe with the guitarist Kevin Junior and demoed enough tracks for a fifth album. A tribute concert is scheduled for the second week of January at the Garage in London.
Geoff Travis, Pulp's manager and former Rough Trade supremo, paid a fond tribute to Epic Soundtracks. "Swell Maps were an important part of the early Rough Trade," he said.
"Theirs was the second album we ever released. They were a wonderful band and played great gigs. Epic was an incredible drummer . . . His only fault was that he seemed to take everything so hard. He was really a lovely man, sweet, gentle and fragile; one of the great original indie spirits."Reuse content