Red Guitar

‘my vice and my virtue’

Sat in the Reading Room for Rare Books and Music at the British Library in London, I don the headphones provided. I’ve come to this hushed space to listen to a conversation recorded with photographer Angus McBean in 1989, just months before his passing. Hearing the excited tones of the sprightly octogenarian it’s impossible not to be caught up in his enthusiasm for life and his sheer joy at recounting tales from a career in which he captured portraits of the stars of stage, screen and literary arts – Audrey Hepburn, Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Ivor Novello, Vivien Leigh, the Beatles, Sir Ralph Richardson, Dame Margot Fonteyn, T.S. Eliot, Benjamin Britten, the list is truly incredible. If a glint in the eye can be caught on audio tape then surely it is captured here. It’s the same playful energy that comes over in the settings created for his subjects, influenced as they were by his early career as a mask-maker and scenery designer for stage productions and by the impact of the Surrealist movement. Continue reading “Red Guitar”

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) 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”

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)”

Red Earth (as summertime ends)

‘A completely different approach and feel’

It seems that there were certain aspects of being in a band that David Sylvian felt liberated from after Japan split up, but there were others that he missed almost immediately when setting out as a solo artist.

In 1986, just after the release of his second solo album Gone to Earth, he explained that his desire for musicians from a jazz background to perform on his records ‘came out of the frustration of working within a band like Japan which was studio-bound. Nothing was improvised except in rehearsals when you are putting the track together. Going into the studio everything was well prepared and you really knew what you were doing, and it was only a matter of sound you were working with. So, when Japan split up I wanted to get into something that had a bit more life to it, a bit more spontaneity to it.’ Continue reading “Red Earth (as summertime ends)”