Taking Islands in Africa

‘a masterclass in synth programming’

In March 1980 Japan headed for the country of their band-name, embarking on a tour to support the Quiet Life album. Mick Karn later recalled how their travel was, ‘more often than not, by Shinkansen, the luxuriously smooth bullet train.. ..It was on one such journey I heard a cassette that was being circulated amongst the band, on my Walkman, the latest invention from Sony. Electronic music was the future, Kraftwerk were already a favourite, but there was something different about this band. YMO were the perfect accompaniment to the speeding scenery outside, it was one of those moments when music and visuals became one, quite by accident, and somehow captured the very spirit of Japan. We couldn’t believe that no-one had heard of them abroad.’ (2009)

It was during the same trip to Japan that the band first met Ryuichi Sakamoto, keyboard player with Yellow Magic Orchestra and in this context, interviewer of David Sylvian for Music Life magazine. Little did either party know that this would be the start of a friendship and musical partnership that would span decades to come. At the time of writing this article, ‘Life, Life’ from Sakamoto’s 2017 album Async features one of Sylvian’s most recently released performances, well over 35 years later. Continue reading “Taking Islands in Africa”

20th Century Dreaming – live

‘a shaman’s song’

As David Sylvian and Robert Fripp prepared to go out on the road in 1993 to support their album The First Day, it was clear that they would need a drummer as a key member of the band. The material had developed since the initial drummer-less Sylvian/Fripp/Gunn trio shows the year before, and the powerful yet intricate drive present on the album would now be critical in a live setting. Jerry Marotta had left the sessions for the album early in its gestation, with the drum parts on the record constructed from early recordings and samples of his playing, at times manipulated by David Bottrill. So, a new band-member needed to be found. Continue reading “20th Century Dreaming – live”

Darkest Dreaming

Climbing down from the mountain

David Sylvian really knows how to end an album on the perfect note. ‘Brilliant Trees’ captures a faltering faith but the wonder of human love as the summation of his debut release of the same name. Secrets of the Beehive, in its original incarnation, leaves the question ‘is our love strong enough?’ hanging in the air, extending beyond the last notes of ‘Waterfront’ and into our own thoughts. The ‘sunshine above the grey sky’ of ‘A Fire in the Forest’ calms the atmosphere after the brutal soul-searching of Blemish. Continue reading “Darkest Dreaming”

There is No Love

Assuming characters

October 2016, Cafe OTO in London, and a concert to celebrate twenty years of Confront Recordings, staged by the label’s owner Mark Wastell. Cafe OTO nestles in a side street in Dalston, a gloriously unpretentious venue where a small team share duties at front of house, attending to the bar, sound and lighting, creating a space for performances from some of the leading improvisers and experimental musicians from across the world. Its vibe is part bar, part cool village hall, part vinyl and cd boutique, making it without doubt one of my favourite places in the capital. Continue reading “There is No Love”

How Safe is Deep?

‘Stealthily as perfume..’

Like many fans of Japan, my first exposure to the work of Russell Mills was the cover of their post-split compilation on Virgin Records, Exorcising Ghosts, released late in 1984 after Sylvian’s solo debut Brilliant Trees had hit the record stores. In those pre-CD, pre-download days the artwork was such an integral part of the experience of a new release. A glorious gatefold with carefully crafted typography and art by Mills. I loved how tactile the image seemed, even when reproduced in the gloss of an album sleeve.. ..so expressive, suggestive of something natural and elemental. Continue reading “How Safe is Deep?”