Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Nikki Sudden in Holborn Library

Now this is a very strange thing. As some of you will know I spend a lot more time than is healthy in Holborn Library. An establishment standing as a classic example of the destruction wrought over the last thirty years by central and local government on the once-admirable British public library. And as such you can often find very interesting books being given the heave-ho.

Yesterday morning I walked in to find a near-perfect hardback copy of Stanley Booth's Rythm Oil on the booksale. I remarked on this to the librarian who'd put it there and grabbed it. I have a very nice copy already that Mike Hart got for me from his brother a decade or so ago but I had no doubt that I'd find a deserving home for this one.

Later in the day the same lady approached me with a copy of Mystery Train - an 1977 paperback in hardback library binding - a bit mottled as it had been there for thirty years. I wasn't initially so interested as I have a couple of copies of later editions and it's always in print, but I did flick through it to remind myself as to how different the original discography was. That was when I noticed the handwriting on the back endpapers.

Someone had transcribed the opening verse of 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix' and looking down it was Nikki Sudden, in Cologne, on the 11th November 1986. It's definitely Nikki's handwriting, and one would surmise it's a goodbye note to someone he'd met on tour and maybe left sleeping.

Curiously, judging by the date label, the book was only loaned from Holborn a few days before the 11th but then saw no further activity till early 1988. How it got back from Germany is a little mystery. But if I was guessing how it got there I would start by remarking that Holborn Library is very close to the old Creation office at 83 Clerkenwell Road and that Nikki was seldom without a book; I believe he was actually reading at a kitchen table when he died. So perhaps Nikki used the Creation address to join Holborn, borrowed Mystery Train, had read it by the time he got to Cologne, and thus left it as a valediction for his brief encounter.

That may be far off the mark, but it's a nice idea. Of poignancy to me personally is that on the 10th January 2006 Nikki, Bleddyn Butcher, and myself spent several hours together in The Apple Tree in Mount Pleasant, again very close to Holborn, doing the photos to accompany Phil Shoenfelt's interview with him that appeared in BoB 69. It was a very pleasant day and we talked around all sorts of things after the pictures were done. And it turned out to be the last time I ever saw him - so it seems to me a sign of some grace that a trace of him should now turn up again, unlooked for but where he might be expected, in that same location.

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