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”

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)”

Brilliant Trees

Music and lyrics in perfect harmony

‘Without wishing to embarrass you, I think that’s probably the finest piece of music that you have recorded to date.’ David ‘Kid’ Jensen made this comment interviewing David Sylvian on his UK Radio One show, having just played the title track from Sylvian’s new album two weeks ahead of its release, mid-June 1984. It was the first time that I – and I’m sure many others – had heard this piece. Continue reading “Brilliant Trees”