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.

The centrepiece of the set is a performance by Rhodri Davies, Mark Wastell and – via pre-recorded reading – David Sylvian. OTO’s capacity can be barely more than 100, and as the musicians take their places glasses of craft ale are set down whilst those who arrived early to secure one of the low-key wooden chairs settle and other audience members gather round in anticipation. I love the way the convivial atmosphere subsides and you could hear a pin drop as a performance starts at this venue. It’s the music that compels people to gather here. To the left, Wastell and a sparse percussion set up: a tam tam – essentially a large concave gong – a 16 inch floor drum and some singing bowls. On the right, Rhodri Davies with a small electric harp placed horizontal on a table with various devices to manipulate and supplement the sound, including an e-bow, a real bow and a radio. In the centre, an empty chair for the ‘virtual’ reader, illuminated by a large angle-poised lamp stood beside. 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?”

Let the Happiness In

Lifting the spirit

I find it amazing how listening to a piece of music can take you back to a specific time and place. I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard ‘Let the Happiness In’. It was my first year in work after university, which involved taking a number of one week courses in Birmingham (UK), staying away from home. September 1987, Sylvian’s new single was coming out and I would be in Birmingham. I had to get my hands on a copy so, when the classes had finished on the day of release, I headed straight for one of the large record stores in town. As I climbed to the first floor, that introduction came over the powerful sound system.. ..it caught my attention although I didn’t know what it was until the vocal started. Realising this was the new song I stood and listened to it for the first time, then grabbed my copy of the 12″ single (still an absolute favourite with the ‘Buoy’ remix and gem ‘Blue of Noon’ on the b-side) and headed out, prize in hand. Continue reading “Let the Happiness In”

Victim of Stars

Poetic inspiration

David Sylvian’s first musical endeavour after the release of the Rain Tree Crow album was to provide input to a number of tracks for Hector Zazou’s project based around the  life and work of French poet Arthur Rimbaud. Contractual issues later led to the bizarre situation where this album, Sahara Blue, was first released in 1992 with two vocal performances by Sylvian – credited mysteriously as Mr. X – and then reissued that same year with replacement songs featuring Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard of the band Dead Can Dance.

Continue reading “Victim of Stars”

Forbidden Colours (version)

Unresolved questioning

When David Sylvian entered Berlin’s Hansa studios in the summer of 1983 to start putting together his debut solo album, Brilliant Trees, amongst his top priorities was returning to the recent chart success ‘Forbidden Colours’, in which his vocal melody was interweaved with Ryuichi Sakamoto’s soundtrack theme for Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. The intent of this was not to lend some familiarity and commercial impetus to the new release, but rather to re-work the composition from a new musical palette. It was also recognition that in this song, Sylvian found his voice for the new chapter. Continue reading “Forbidden Colours (version)”