Jacobites: Robespierre’s Velvet Basement – album review
Robespierre’s Velvet Basement
Limited edition double vinyl (black)/DL
‘It’s all about the songs. More successful in Europe than it was in the UK on its original 1985 release, the second album by Birmingham’s cult heroes Jacobites, ‘Robespierre’s Velvet Basement’, is testament to the sublime songwriting talent of frontmen Dave Kusworth and Nikki Sudden’, says Gus Ironside.
First released in a 14-track format on the independent label Glass Records in 1985, we have Easy Action Records to thank for this sumptuous, double-vinyl reissue of the album in its originally-intended 24 track format. Sleevenotes are provided by the surviving members Kusworth and bassist Mark Lemon, including comments by the late Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks. Original sleeve-art designer (and current drummer with the excellent Black Bombers) Dave Twist provides the 2019 design for this lovingly-crafted reissue, the first time the full 24-track album has been issued on vinyl.
Formed from Birmingham’s fecund post-punk scene by Nikki Sudden and Dave Kusworth in 1982, the classic Jacobites’ line-up was completed by the addition of Sudden’s brother and former Swell Maps bandmate, Epic Soundtracks on drums and Mark Lemon on bass.
Jacobites wore their hearts on their sleeves, drawing inspiration from the most elegantly-wasted of 1970s rock & roll, from the Stones to Neil Young to Big Star, yet creating a sound that was expansive, free-wheeling and gloriously unshackled from slavish emulation of the past.
The album is characterised by wide-screen, acoustic guitar-driven rock & roll ballads, which steadily engulf the listener like swirling sea-frets rolling in from the coast. Buoyed on Epic Soundtrack’s rolling, propulsive drumming and Lemon’s melodic, under-stated bass, the two frontmen’s sometimes wayward vocals and plaintive guitars conjure a disarming sense of romance and adventure. Kusworth’s impressive lead guitar is featured throughout the album, with additional slide guitar provided by Tyla from The Dogs D’Amour.
Spread across the album’s four sides is a consistently impressive collection of songs, with highlights including Kusworth’s ‘Hearts Are Like Flowers’, ‘Son of a French Nobleman’, ‘Country Girl’ and ‘I am Just a Broken Heart’; Sudden’s ‘Ambulance Station’, ‘Where the Rivers End’ and ‘Road of Broken Dreams’ (co-written with Mike Scott of The Waterboys); and the co-written ‘Pin Your Heart To Me’.
Small wonder then that this album has accrued a reputation as the group’s defining moment. The cumulative effect is somewhat similar to Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’, casting a powerful, heady spell that feels miles removed from the pressures of everyday life.
Nikki Sudden’s tragic early death (8 years following that of his brother Epic Soundtracks) seemed to cement his reputation as an under-recognised genius, while Kusworth continued to quietly release consistently fine work, untroubled by any sort of mainstream success. It’s only in recent years that Kusworth has finally started to receive the recognition his songwritng prowess deserves, although the evidence was there all along.
If you’re looking for an antidote to our communal 21st Century malaise, then this album may just be the answer; turn it up loud, kick back and let these none-more-romantic songs reconnect you with what life’s all about. ‘Robespierre’s Velvet Basement’ fully deserves its reputation as a mid-’80s lost classic, now beautifully realised in its intended form at last.
The Dave Kusworth Group is on Facebook.
All words by Gus Ironside, 2019