I don’t exactly recall the first time I heard Dave Kusworth but it would’ve been 1983 or 1984. I’m guessing because back then I was 17 or 18 and blissfully idling through a just-left-school youth of no work and no prospect of work blessed by cigarettes, alcohol and the buzz of cheap speed. I was already enamoured by the Stones and the Stooges and the New York Dolls. Silk scarves probably. Leather trousers sometimes. Prescription sunglasses often. Bedsits in Leamington Spa weren’t exactly the Lower East Side but we could nod along to Sister Ray and pretend.
I might have first heard Kusworth and his band The Rag Dolls on the What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen fanzine EP. Or was one of the Rag Dolls gigs before that? (A Rag Dolls gig at Peacocks in Birmingham at Christmas either 1983 or 1984 remains one of the most exhilarating live rock’n’roll shows I’ve ever seen). Either way, the real killer was the Nikki Sudden Dave Kusworth - Jacobites album which took elements of the louche debauchery we dug from the 1970s Stones and solo Johnny Thunders (the picture of Dave on the back even looked like the photo of Thunders from the previous year’s Hurt Me album) but transformed it into something quintessentially English and somehow identifiably local.
One day I’m going to get around to writing that essay on the Albionic resonance of the first two Jacobites albums but now isn’t the time. For the moment I’m just here to recognise that the Jacobites albums, and Kusworth’s songs in particular, changed something fundamentally for me. I think Jacobites and Robespierre's Velvet Basement are the two records I have played most often of any I have ever owned. Everything I’ve ever written or recorded contains elements of how those records made me feel. It’s hidden, buried deep inside, but it’s there somewhere.
I saw Kusworth play countless times. Sometimes erratic but always engaging. I remember, some time in the 1980s, borrowing a car to drive to Rugby to see him in a pub and him playing only Where Do You Go To My Lovely? three times in a row and then falling off his stool. I remember a packed show in Camden during the Creation Records period where I thought he was about to get the recognition he deserved. That never happened. One of the last times I saw him, a couple of years ago at the Hope and Anchor, the poster read something like “Dave Kusworth – Thirty years untouched by fortune or fame”. He never did get the recognition he deserved. But all I can say is that Dave Kusworth was my favourite singer-songwriter. And I’ll continue to tell everybody just that.
Kirk Lake has selected the Dave Kusworth playlist below.
original photo: Wolfgang Burat.
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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