Brilliant Trees – Steel Cathedrals – live

Re-taking the stage

Live performance was something that David Sylvian confessed he didn’t really relish with Japan. The occasional highs never seemed to outweigh the constraints of the experience. ‘I don’t really like touring and repeating material over and over,’ Sylvian reflected when the subject of taking to the road was raised just after the release of his second solo album, Gone to Earth. ‘You have to be in a certain frame of mind to do it, and it’s a quite uncreative frame of mind. It’s almost like, “It’s time to take a holiday, I’ll do a tour.” I always felt that way with Japan, because once I start touring I just don’t think creatively at all. But that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable, it can be very enjoyable if you’ve got the right people around you.’

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Pulling Punches

‘an explosion of frustration’

‘Red Guitar’ was the first song heard from Brilliant Trees, being the advance single heralding Sylvian’s debut album. But when we carefully removed the vinyl from its designer inner-sleeve for the inaugural play of a Sylvian solo LP, it was ‘Pulling Punches’ that launched our ride into the unknown. And what an explosive, energetic opener it is.

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Ghosts – live

‘some sense of nostalgia’

Sometimes it’s difficult to remember why you made a particular decision. Especially one that you wish you could change afterwards… It was late 1982 and I was in the final year at school. Important exams were looming the following year which would determine whether I would achieve my ambition of going to university, and if so, which one I might attend. My fascination with Japan had developed in the preceding months as the singles ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Cantonese Boy’ had been lifted from Tin Drum, catching my attention and drawing me to the album. The plethora of Hansa singles had got me exploring the back catalogue, and I was guided through by an enthusiastic friend.

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New Moon at Red Deer Wallow

‘One of the strangest tracks’

Following their excursion into commercial pop territory with The Dolphin Brothers, Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri’s next joint project was set to take a very different direction. ‘We try to alternate our recordings in terms of types of album,’ explained Jansen. ‘Our first album [Worlds in a Small Room] was instrumental, the next vocal; so this should have been instrumental. Also, the record company weren’t budgeting enough for a vocal album, which requires studio time. If they had said, “do another vocal album, here’s the budget,” we’d have done it. But we were quite happy not to.’

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In Vogue

Realising possibilities

Tin Drum was my introduction to the music of Japan and from there I explored the previous releases. These were my final years at school and it was an exciting time with a world of music opening up to me that I just hadn’t been aware of before. A friend encouraged me to listen, passing me C90 cassette tapes of his favourite music which I would lose myself in, then saving my Saturday job money so I could visit the local record shop to buy the vinyl. The skull-and-cross-bones symbols may have said that home taping was killing music, but it also helped to foster a life-long appreciation of some incredible recordings – many of which I now own in multiple copies: vinyl, cd, re-releases, remasters…

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