Excerpt from Chapter 5 of ‘Cries and Whispers’ (The Experience of Swimming.) The Making of ‘Buoy’ and ‘When Love walks in.’

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(Please note. The photos here do not appear in the book.)

With regards to Virgin’s stipulations, ahough Jansen was not truly a ‘name’ producer, the label were pleased that two ex-members of Japan were back in the studio together. However, Karn still needed a vocalist to meet Draper’s original stipulation for agreeing to the album. Apparently, Jansen suggested the obvious: his brother. ‘Such audacity to mention the ‘D word’ to my face!,’ recalls Karn in his autobiography, going on to add somewhat disingenuously that ‘I hadn’t actually spoken to or seen Dave since the split, and if there were any grudges being harboured, they should be mine and not his.’ Karn had in fact seen Sylvian occasionally since ’82, attending the Perspectives preview in ’84 and instigating a meeting in ’85 at his flat between all ex-members in order to propose a re-formation. Whatever the dynamics, real or otherwise, Karn allowed Jansen to put in the request to which Sylvian readily agreed. The base of operations moved to the Townhouse studios in London to ‘record instruments not easily found in Bury,’ and to save Sylvian a trip to Manchester. According to Karn, Sylvian had initially worked out a vocal to what would become ‘Buoy’. This track, originally demo’d by Karn, started off as a completely different song with lyrics and vocals by Karn himself; a breezy, near Poppy number with Karn’s typically angsty lyrics; ‘…every move is killing me.’ This song existed as a rough 8-track demo which at some point Karn reversed. The definitive ‘Buoy’ would be transformed by Sylvian’s stately vocal and melody, underpinned by Karn and Jansen’s exquisite musical bed which again featured a reversed bass line. ‘The environment was a little tense,’ Karn would recall of the session, ‘but Dave was very helpful with suggestions and the vocal to ‘Buoy’ is one of the best I’ve heard him deliver …I couldn’t have been more pleased.’ ‘It was certainly nice to be working with Mick again,’ Sylvian would state in a radio interview that year, also implying that Jansen’s presence helped facilitate the process, ‘it was a really nice experience to be doing that again, but it was under very different conditions [to working as Japan]. I was working for Mick and that was a very different circumstance. I had my own ideas about how it should sound but I gave the final say to Mick about everything. I’d push a point if I really thought it was right but I left it up to him …I recorded my vocal and then left it up to him to mix and edit it as he pleased, and that’s the way it has to be.’

1986 Alan Bangs interview.

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Sylvian was content to sit quietly in the studio once his vocal to ‘Buoy’ was completed and according to Karn it was then that Sylvian heard the music to what would become ‘When Love Walks In’ and jumped at the chance to put a vocal to it. Typically, Sylvian remembers the order of writing these two songs as the complete opposite. ‘When I went in to do the vocal for the first track, ‘When Love Walks In’,’ recalls Sylvian, ‘Mick played me some of the other tracks that he was working on and I heard what was to become ‘Buoy’. It wasn’t a track he’d planned to put a vocal on and when I heard it I said, “That’d be great with a vocal, have you thought about it?” He said, “No, but Steve had mentioned it,” and [asked] would I be interested in doing it? And that’s the way that worked.’ Whatever the timeline, the results spoke for themselves. Both vocal tracks were among the most accessible on the album, and ‘Buoy’ itself was a true jewel akin to Rupert Brooke crooning over a poppy Jaco Pastorius. Karn: ‘We were both incredibly nervous when we got to the studio, because we hadn’t been in a studio for longer than we hadn’t seen each other! But it went incredibly smoothly and turned out really well, because we both wanted to work together again.’ Sylvian would also contribute keyboards to ‘Land’. Another high profile guest was one time Manfred Mann main man, Paul Jones, who contributed searing harmonica to ‘First Impression’. ‘He was recommended to me by a company called Worlds End Management,’ explained Karn, ‘I just let him play what he felt and it was magic.’

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By May ’86, the recording of what was now known as Dreams Of Reason Produce Monsters (after Goya’s etching, The Sleep Of Reason Produces Monsters – ‘I know I’ll get slaughtered for that title,’ Karn admitted) was near complete. Karn, Jansen and Jiya then relocated to the Virgin owned Townhouse (studio 4) in London to mix the album throughout June. Dare (then Andy) Mason was the tape op at the sessions. ‘I’d been there about a year,’ he recalls, ‘and there’s a difference between working with big names and working with people you’re a fan of. I was definitely a Japan fan.’ Mason recalls the dynamic between the three as being ‘very relaxed. By then they had arrived at a very easeful level of communication. (Steve and Mick looked great, too. They were very handsome men and they came across as just old mates, really.) I wasn’t surprised that Mick didn’t hit it off with John Leckie. Leckie is undoubtedly a great producer but Mick was very, very fluid …he kind of made it up as he went along. It was a very relaxed session, one of my favourites in fact. Very clean sessions, no drink or drugs. You weren’t even allowed to smoke in the studio as I recall. The sessions ended late though …it was summer and I remember leaving the studio and walking home as it was getting light. When we first rolled the tape it struck me that it was quite an odd album, but then that would have been straight up my street. As I said, the dynamic was relaxed. Femi [Jiya] was one of the easiest-going men in the world and would never have inflicted his will on anything that Mick did. He understood how Mick’s thought processes worked. Mick definitely did need Steve there as a creative foil, and together they made a great team and I felt accepted by them all. We did only a few overdubs – some woodwind – and I don’t remember any disagreements at all, everything was very relaxed and smooth until …well, I think we all got a bit nervous when David came in to record his vocal.’

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Here the timeline of how and when Sylvian sang on Karn’s album warps once again. Mason remembers the tracks for ‘Buoy’ and ‘When Love Walks In’ as being set up and ready for Sylvian’s vocal overdubs, and that the vocals were one of the very last things done at Townhouse. This suggests that, if we believe Karn’s account, Sylvian must have sat in on an earlier session and at which point he may have contributed keyboards to the Jansen composition, ‘Land’. Whatever, Mason remembers Sylvian’s entrance. ‘He walked in and he looked immaculate, with this real charisma. And what’s more, he knew he had charisma. Inside I was like, “Fuckin’ ‘ell it’s David Sylvian!” He wasn’t chatty. We didn’t have a laugh. In fact I don’t think we exchanged one word – and I’ve worked with Paul McCartney and Prince – and they talked more than Sylvian did – so I just got to setting up his microphone. And I’ll never forget this – we were getting his vocal levels and ran the tape, and I was still fiddling around when I heard him sing. And it was like… “Wow! That sounds just like David Sylvian! Oh fuck. It IS David Sylvian!” And I don’t think I’ve ever had that in the studio before or since. He’s got such an iconic voice. A shiver ran through me…’ Far from being the perfectionist of Tin Drum, where Sylvian and Nye sometimes recorded vocals line by line, in this instance (and again, Mason’s account contradicts Karn’s) Sylvian was in and out of the booth in a day. ‘He did his vocals standing up and wasn’t being the archetypal fussy artist, he was there to serve Mick’s vision and was happy to do as asked. He offered suggestions, “what about this, maybe we could try that,” etc., but he went with what Mick wanted ultimately. It was done pretty quickly. I don’t recall us labouring over anything. He definitely came in prepared and then just refined the idea. I didn’t say one word to him, but then I was in awe and quite shy back then. And Sylvian isn’t a chatty person. It was all very business-like and we were all very happy he came in and did a great job.’

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‘Buoy’ had come and gone that January, peaking at 63 in the UK singles chart. Reviews were mostly good (it was single of the week in Melody Maker), and with Sylvian on board hopes were high – although not high enough to warrant a promotional video. Amongst charts dominated by Five Star, Nick Kamen and Madonna, ‘Buoy’, in all its out-of-time and other-worldly noble beauty, didn’t stand a chance of airplay. It was not Pop enough for daytime radio and not Indie enough for late night radio. Karn warranted enough space in the Pop press – it seemed almost everyone missed Japan – and the photographs of Sylvian and Karn together taken by Fujii were strangely touching considering their public history; but in retrospect this was the last time Karn would be given ‘the benefit of the doubt’ as it were. The album stiffed, peaking in the UK at 89 for just one week, a similar chart position for all of Karn’s solo releases proving that while he had a committed audience it was a niche one and one in decline, mostly made up of ageing Japan fans.

 

Buoy. (Single Mix.)

When Love walks in.

Buoy. (Extended mix.)

This is an excerpt from ‘Cries and Whispers : Sylvian/Jansen/Karn/Barbieri/Dean, 1983-1991.  Published by Burning Shed LTD. You can buy the book Here.

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EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER FOUR OF ‘CRIES AND WHISPERS.’

Author’s note :  “This was the first Sylvian album where at age 15, I was sufficiently ‘awake’ to be aware of its release. I was too young to appreciate, in the moment, any of the earlier releases. I bought it at Woolworths in Llanrumney Cardiff before school and carried it around with me all day, gagging to get home and play it…And I still play it”

(This is a mere extract from Chapter four.  To buy the book please follow the links below. Please note – Some of the photos here do not appear in the actual book although many lovely, previously unpublished ones do.)

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Chapter Four :  I HEAR YOUR VOICE

People always have an idea that one day they’d like to live somewhere, they’d like to have a house somewhere. I think that’s a longing for something inside; there’s a place inside where that serenity exists. Safe and sound with yourself. I don’t say I have it, it’s something I long for. But I know it exists and I’m working towards it in the most practical way possible.’ Sylvian, 1986

Mark Prendergast (Journalist): ‘There is a pub in Vauxhall called The Royal Oak which is near St. Peter’s church. Between 1986 and 1989, Russell Mills used to curate Echoes From The Cross – a series of concerts – at that church. I was at the pub before the concert one night in ’86 when Brian Eno was performing. He was there with Russell Mills having a Guinness. And someone introduced me to Yuka Fujii. We were talking about various things, sat on this couch. And I heard a sound come from behind the couch, so I looked behind it and there was David – hiding behind the sofa. He had a pair of John Lennon style dark glasses and a mac and cap on. And I instantly thought, “Oh, it’s David Sylvian …in disguise.” But the funny thing is, this ‘disguise’ just made him look more like David Sylvian! He was obviously extremely paranoid and self-conscious about anyone recognising him which was daft because Brian Eno was there and was in plain sight, just stood at the bar and not self-conscious at all. Brian was talking to Russell and various punters and then went off to do the concert. David was behind the couch the whole time …and no, he and Eno didn’t talk.’

The ‘new’ David Sylvian officially emerged from behind the metaphorical sofa in the July of 1986 for a two page spread in The Face magazine for a piece by David Rimmer. This was his first British interview since Record Mirror in December 1984. Back then, Sylvian had still been reassuringly blond and made-up, the thinking Pop fan’s pin-up, a reluctant Pop star with a coke habit (and a temporary intolerance to dairy products). By the spring of ’86, the peroxide, make-up and coke habit were gone. The Pop landscape had changed too; the once untouchable Duran Duran had lost two key members and were struggling commercially. The digital prefabricated pop of Stock Aitken and Waterman was on the ascent and The Smiths, with Morrissey as the nation’s neurotic boy outsider of choice, were at their peak. David Bowie was lost. In the midst of this, Rimmer encountered a Sylvian who was ‘small and neat, grey-suited with white shoes. His hair was a natural darkish-brown, a small silver crucifix dangled in the blood-red folds of his shirt. Owlish, tinted spectacles lent him a learned air while also obscuring most of his face. What remained visible was pale and clear …such a transformation had he undergone from the willowy blond, heavily made-up, with the fringe and the highlights, that I was unsure I would recognise him had he walked up in the street, sung a few bars of ‘Forbidden Colours’ and begun taking Polaroids …I keep musing, what if this ‘isn’t’ David Sylvian after all? Maybe it’s a hoax. Maybe this is a bloke who looks a bit like him, employed to impersonate Sylvian for reasons as yet unclear.’

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Given the intensity of the promotional duties Sylvian had now taken on, perhaps a professional stand in would have been a good idea. Sylvian had re-emerged to promote a new album. A double no less. Half of which was …instrumental. Compared to the Virgin birth of Brilliant Trees, Gone To Earth was put together piecemeal, as Sylvian explained, ‘I started on a variety of different musical projects but I hadn’t one specific direction. I had the soundtrack to the film Steel Cathedrals, I had Words With The Shaman on the go, and added to that was a body of work that didn’t necessarily sit well together. I then started writing songs, and I started recording a number: ‘Wave’, ‘Before The Bullfight’, ‘Laughter And Forgetting’. So I ended up with this kind of – what do you call it – an in-cohesive collection of material, that I somehow had to make sense of. So what I did was persuade Virgin to put out the Words With The Shaman EP, put Steel Cathedrals to one side for the time being – I think it was released as a video only at the time – and then take the songs that I’d been working on and sort of develop them further and flesh that out into a full album.’ According to Sylvian, Virgin had initially hoped for a straightforward sequel to the critically and commercially successful Brilliant Trees, and were reticent with him as regards to pursuing a solely instrumental path. ‘I’d also been writing these little instrumental pieces which I really loved, and I wanted to pursue them as well. And the deal was that the budget for the album would not cater for the instrumental work, and if I wanted to produce it then I had to produce it in the off hours, like the end of a session or the very first thing in the morning before sessions got underway, and therefore produce it in my own time and at my own costs. So that’s what I did. But for me it was a body of work, the instrumentals and the songs belonged together, and Virgin did allow me to release the album as a double ultimately. I’m not sure that they were that enthusiastic about it at the time, but they didn’t put up too much of a fight on the creative issues.’ Draper himself confirms this : ‘David’s freedom then was purely down to my support of him. I wouldn’t have put any pressure on David to do something he didn’t want to do, and as far as I recall we backed him all the way. At this point in his career David was obviously maturing and was very well respected critically, and was selling enough records around the world for him to do what he wanted to do. The success of ‘Ghosts’ had proved him right in a way. But what you also have to remember is that Virgin had a history of supporting and releasing left field music; even Tubular Bells wasn’t a commercial certainty before we released it, and we also had acts like Henry Cow and Robert Wyatt …also in the ‘80’s Virgin were the distributor for ECM records …and early on The Human League and Simple Minds were quite experimental. We weren’t just about Phil Collins, although those type of acts did sell enormously and in a way help fund artists like David. But as I say, he was selling enough records anyway and we imagined him becoming an artist along the lines of Peter Gabriel or Kate Bush …consequently we gave him a lot of freedom.’

Of course, the difference between Sylvian, Gabriel and Bush was enormous; at least as far as sales went. In Sylvian’s case there was no ‘Running Up That Hill’ or ‘Sledgehammer’ blazing a trail for the parent album. Instead a new single ‘Taking the Veil’ was released that August to mixed reviews and patchy airplay. No1 magazine loved it, calling Sylvian “a genius” and granting him with half a page, printing the lyrics over a photo of Sylvian dressed in white sat and perched on a chair.

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Sounds were slightly less complimentary, saying ‘…it ends with a wank.’ Mark E. Smith and then wife Brix Smith reviewed it more or less favourably in Record Mirror although, referring to Sylvian’s tortoise-like work rate, the former joshing, “The man’s bone idle! Get some work done you lazy sod.’

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The single was debuted on the Janice Long evening show on Radio 1 and sounded oddly dated. Fretless bass had just about fallen out of fashion. It also picked up a play on the Mike Read Sunday afternoon Radio 1 show, sounding profoundly out of place coming after Bananarama. ‘It’s got a great mood,’ was all the DJ could offer by way of explanation.

There was no promo video to accompany the single.‘I’m not sure why there wasn’t a video,’ recalls Draper, ‘and at that time it would have been a record company cost so David wouldn’t have had to recoup it. I think he just didn’t like doing them.’ Sylvian himself had initially pushed for a much more lugubrious song – ‘River Man’ – to be released as the lead single, but Virgin had gone for the more uptempo (if only by default) ‘…Veil’. ‘I think Virgin are going for an audience that isn’t mine,’ Sylvian lamented. The single was released in various formats: pic disc, remixed 12” and regular 7”, and housed in a beautiful sleeve with artwork appropriated from a 1970 Peter Blake work Just at this moment, somehow or other, they began to run. The title and theme of the song itself was lifted directly from a Max Ernst book, A Little Girl Dreams Of Taking The Veil, a book of collaged illustrations that intended to ‘provide bizarre images for a surrealistic novel about a young girl’s apocalyptic dreams of hell and marriage to the celestial bridegroom’ ‘The image that it [the book] gave me was very strong,’ said Sylvian, ‘so I just wrote down the lyrics quickly, and the music came immediately afterwards.’ ‘Taking the Veil’ was unique in one regard. For once, the lyrics didn’t seem to reference Sylvian himself, as their author was well aware: ‘I do think while I’m moving towards a more up-tempo music, writing about myself has gone far enough now,’ mused Sylvian. ‘It gets tiring, for myself and the public.’ This wasn’t an attitude Sylvian would endorse for long, however.

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While these literary and art references offered yet more opportunities of discovery for Sylvian’s still young fans and gave an insight to the singer’s own tastes, such elements in a Pop song were never likely to bother charts then consisting of Sinitta, Cutting Crew and Cameo. ‘Taking the Veil’ did however make it to number 54 and hung around for four weeks, a perfectly respectable performance for an artist as uncompromising as Sylvian, who had emerged from the studio with not just an album but a statement. Double albums were much less indulged in the ‘80’s than they had been in the previous decade; especially double albums that were half instrumental. With the currency of his porcelain Pop mask consigned to history, Sylvian’s ‘new look’ also posed a challenge to the fickle pop firmament. To counter this, in the late summer and early autumn of ’86, he would embark on a press tour of literally global proportions, one that saw Sylvian and Fujii travel to Europe, Japan and Australia. Nicole Fritton was then a junior press officer at Virgin. Fritton: ‘Me and Sian Davies who was then head of press worked together. I was a Japan fan before I joined Virgin at 17 and had been working there since ’82. At the job interview I had talked of nothing but Japan! David, Mick, Steve and Richard were even more beautiful in real life. They just put you at ease. David wasn’t difficult at all, he was gentle but driven and focused, and by now we knew him well enough to know what he would or wouldn’t do. So we may get…inappropriate requests but we’d still have to put them to him. So if No1 magazine asked if he’d be interested in posing on a donkey at Brighton pier for their summer special we knew he’d say no, but we still asked. The best thing was just to be open and honest. I remember one photo shoot where we all thought the results were amazing but he didn’t want us to use them. They were too typically ‘heart throb’ looking, I suppose. But apart from that David was very easy going and Virgin would never put undue pressure on its artists; we nurtured them and allowed them to be who they were.’

In place of Sylvian’s Smash Hits friendly blond fringe and foundation was an insatiable interest in philosophy and a new found confidence in his musical, technical and writing abilities. All would allow him to be taken unequivocally seriously both by (most of) the ‘serious’ music press, and the magazines that covered all aspects of music technology. Thus, while Sylvian never would grace the covers of Smash Hits, Record Mirror or No1 magazine again, he did appear as cover star of the NME and Electronics & Music Maker magazine. This suited Sylvian just fine.‘It was a natural progression, as he matured,’ says Fritton. ‘His vision got larger when he left the band and so the kind of press he did matured with him.’ In fact, Sylvian had made it plain to Richard Chadwick that he was no longer interested in the ‘Teeny’ press.‘The problem being,’ explained Chadwick in a letter to Virgin, ‘that when journalists are writing for ‘Teenys’, and however much they admire the artist, they are forced to write down to their readers. So I really think we’ll have to forget the ‘Teenys’ for this album. If the next album turns out to be more obviously commercial, David assures me he will consider them then.’ ‘I know now to keep away from Smash Hits type magazines and the tabloids and trash, OK?,’ replied the Virgin Press officer. When he had last spoken to Dave Rimmer for The Sunday Times in 1984, Sylvian had confessed that, ‘On the last [Japan] tour I felt so embarrassed by girls screaming down the front. During the quiet numbers it was horrifying to hear conversations going on in the front row.’ This time around, recalls Rimmer, ‘We spent much of the time talking about Eastern religion, a subject I knew fuck all about but was developing an interest in. David was obviously much further down that road. We even agreed to meet up and talk about it some more in a private conversation. But that never happened because I didn’t follow up – I was nervous about crossing personal/professional boundaries…’ Sylvian also explained to Rimmer where he now saw himself in the ‘Pop world’. If you think of the avant-garde as the bottom of the ladder and Pop as the top, then I tend to work somewhere around the middle.’ No matter how esoteric Sylvian wanted to be, Virgin ensured there was a place for him in the press. ‘It wasn’t a struggle to get him space,’ says Fritton. ‘As I’ve said, Virgin were totally supportive of all their artists – our dealings with them were based on our relationships – and we had so many successful artists to offer the press then, we could ‘trade’ if we had to, but with David it wasn’t an issue.’

Sylvian’s well honed charm and his metamorphosis from Pop candy to Left Bank dandy made him a favourite for sympathetic and intellectually aspirational journalists. Some of these writers would even garner their own fan base for a while. Chris Roberts’ piece, ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’, which appeared in the 27 September issue of Sounds was the perfect example of this. If you were a Sylvian fan in 1986 it was as if Roberts was speaking directly for you. One either ‘got’ Sylvian or didn’t. Roberts did, but says, ‘this may have been overstated by my “me-against-the-world” mentality. Of course some writers didn’t go for Sylvian, but others did. The tone of my piece is probably less that ‘most’ people were into less elevated music and more that I was quite a defensive and over-sensitive youth, railing against Ozzy Osborne and Saxon or whomever. Sylvian was the perfect projection to filter your own “down-with-denim-and-leather” rants through, and to champion the aesthetic and thoughtful. There were haters. Every artist/band has them. But, compared to the present day, the ‘80s were extremely fey-friendly and foppish and poetry-reading and glamorous. I should’ve appreciated it more really, before Oasis, Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Nirvana, etc. came along and things got really laddish and herd-y and anti-art. Sylvian, like Japan, appealed to narcissists and loners though he still had a large Pop-girls following too.’ Roberts met Sylvian in a borrowed Baker Street flat at the end of summer. Fujii (‘Quiet. Very quiet,’ according to Roberts) was there too, sketching at a desk. The setting was oddly informal for an interview but Sylvian and Robert’s found an immediate rapport.

The ‘new look’ Sylvian, dressed in Issey Miyake with still-porcelain skin and heavy brown fringe, did not disappoint the journalist: ‘The “plain” look is not plain. It’s more broad-shouldered than anticipated, more consummate and strong. He’s not shy or paranoid. At all. He’s very relaxed. It’s like his breathing is right or something. His talking voice is glacial harmonics. Playing the tape back you can detect just a trace of cockney running underneath the absence of accent, but that’s quite becoming …There are the yellow-tinted glasses and then the nose, the mouth, the jaw. All the angles are still, rest assured, angelic. If Sylvian wasn’t nonchalantly beautiful you don’t believe you’d believe the world was round.’

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Despite the recent commitment to instrumental work, Sylvian was well aware of his musical roots. ‘I wouldn’t dismiss Pop music,’ he stressed to Roberts, ‘It’s easy to generalise and say it’s all superficial and meaningless or whatever, but I don’t believe it is. A great deal of it is, it’s just based on ego and image and style …but in a way a lot of people need that. Music which just lifts them up for a moment and then can be forgotten. That’s quite important.’ There were some who would have described Japan as much of the above, and Sylvian himself was resolutely dismissive of his old group: ‘I don’t cringe as much as I laugh!,’ said Sylvian of the first two Japan albums, ‘I don’t take it so seriously as to worry about it. I understand the train of thought. It doesn’t bother me.’ Roberts: ‘And whatever happened to the self-conscious “political awareness” coquettishly lilting through ‘Rhodesia’, ‘Communist China’, ‘Suburban Berlin’…?’ Sylvian: ‘But they weren’t politically aware! Really! They were just playing with imagery. I get angry sometimes that I get letters from people who like those lyrics, and I think – how can I explain to them that they’re meaningless? But anyway, that’s not really worth covering …’ Why be bothered with the past when for Sylvian life was ‘getting better by the week’ since Japan ended? That said, Sylvian admitted that, ‘I’m far less satisfied with my solo work than I was with Japan’s. I’m less sure of it. But at the same time I feel it’s more valuable. If that makes sense.’ His lack of satisfaction could be down to the fact that his vision and thus goals were expanding by the day. The philosophy that now defined Sylvian’s life, and by default the work, could perhaps be summed up by a need, a yearning. This was evident enough in the music but still Sylvian summed it up to Roberts, explaining that, ‘People always have an idea that one day they’d like to live somewhere, they’d like to have a house somewhere. I think that’s a longing for something inside; there’s a place inside where that serenity exists. Safe and sound with yourself. I don’t say I have it, it’s something I long for. But I know it exists and I’m working towards it in the most practical way possible.’

The physical manifestation of this longing was achingly apparent in Gone To Earth. Released on 13 September 1986, the album made a worthy 24 on the UK album chart. Critically adored at the time it also remains Sylvian’s most ‘romantic’ (in the traditionally man/woman sense) album to date. Recorded through ’85 and mid ’86 at Jam studios (off the Seven Sisters Road in North London), Eel Pie studios (Pete Townsend’s studio near Twickenham Bridge), at The Manor in Oxfordshire and mixed at The Townhouse in central London, the album again saw Sylvian sharing a co-production credit with Steve Nye. ‘David had already started recording an album,’ Nye recalls, ‘and had completed an entire album which he wasn’t very pleased with,’ (released as Steel Cathedrals and Words With The Shaman). ‘So we basically started again with the album. He wrote five songs for it, with vocals; the other album was instrumentals. That was also the first time I’ve ever had demos (consisting of keyboard or guitar and vocal) from him – everything up to then had been done in the studio.’ Sylvian: ‘I don’t have a home studio. I just have a 4-track recorder which I tend to sketch ideas on. I tend to write on a piano or guitar and if a song works that way I know it’ll work in any other form of arrangement. I like to leave things quite open until I’m in the studio. The tapes are used as a sketch so that the musicians can get a rough idea. And they are a very rough idea of what I’m looking for. The area of central London I live in precludes the luxury of my having 8-track equipment. I don’t really see the need for a lot of home based equipment in the way that I work, except maybe on instrumental compositions where I work directly onto tape and build ideas.’ Nye: ‘Of course, because we were dealing with sound things – a lot of synth sounds for example – it changed a lot in the studio …[but] it was good to hear the stuff first.’ Nye’s role as a producer would usually involve ‘routining’ tracks – having the artist play through songs for the producer to make comments and modifications on the arrangements; ‘It can make a lot of difference to the end result,’ explained Nye, ‘… just having one less verse here or a break there – it’s quite interesting.’ In this case Sylvian knew exactly what he wanted in terms of structure and arrangement and so he and Nye concentrated instead on the musical performances and actual sounds within the songs. ‘It’s fairly easy to get sounds together,’ said Nye, ‘because you can recognize the atmosphere and everything you do is clued into that…’ The atmosphere on Gone To Earth would be predominantly warm, organic even. It glowed like the embers in a prairie fire.

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Steve Nye (Far right) with The Penguin Cafe Orchestra, 1985.

Sylvian: ‘When I’m working with Nye I steer clear of all the digital sounds that are coming from the keyboards I use and the effects I use. Steve steers clear of recording on digital tape and even mastering on it. I tend to prefer Czukay’s approach which is totally idiosyncratic approach to technology – he makes it work for him in his own way and that’s what I tend to do also. I use the studio to achieve a result and I’ve basically used the studio in the same way for many years. One of the major changes over the last few years is that most of the recording is now done in the control room. I mean a lot of time technology can get in your way – you can hold things up for a very long time while trying to keep say the standard of recording quality very high. That’s something that doesn’t bother me too much …I’ve learned from Holger that the deterioration of sound quality on tape is very interesting …sometimes Nye and I work in the studio trying to deteriorate a certain sound rather than make it better!’ Sylvian still spent as long as it took to programme original sounds into his synths: ‘If I use a synthesiser and I recognise the origin of a sound, then I’m loath to record it. I have to try and disguise it. You shouldn’t be aware of what you’re hearing – it should be more abstract.’ This illustrated a fundamental difference in Sylvian’s approach compared to his one-time contemporaries. Mick Talbot, keyboard player of The Style Council, was interviewed in International Musician a few months after Sylvian’s quote appeared. ‘I’m not particularly worried about coming up with sounds,’ said Talbot. ‘I read a thing in some magazine where some bloke said that he never wanted to use a standard preset on a synthesizer. Well I’d think that bloke is so busy creating unique sounds that he doesn’t care if he’s playing a good song with a strong melody and a decent lyric.’

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The majority of songs on Gone To Earth had been written on guitar and were then built up in the conventional manner at Jam studios and The Manor with specific players in mind, most notably Fripp and Nelson. ‘I’d started writing songs with the idea of two guitarists working against each other,’ confirmed Sylvian, who would also use some of the players he’d worked with on Brilliant Trees. Drums, bass and either keyboard and/or guitar (the latter in the early stages at least played by Sylvian himself) formed the foundations of the songs which were recorded in that sequence. For ‘Before The Bullfight’ for example, Sylvian initially worked at home, putting ‘the ideas straight onto [4-track] tape. I got a certain sound on a rhythm machine, then worked with just the drum sound. I then played around with chord shapes and recorded everything onto tape before I had any idea of what was coming next. Then I worked out the vocal to the chord shapes and I kept building, adding more guitar parts and so on. When I got into the studio I put down a click track and a chord sequence and played the demo to my brother.’ Jansen’s drums on ‘…Bullfight’ are a tour de force, sounding massive yet intricate and forged with a consummate authority. Jansen: ‘[On ‘Before The Bullfight’] the bull’s weight is represented by the heavy, sluggish [drum] pattern. The mic positions would have been pretty standard but with the mix relying more on the ambience mics than usual.’ This would account for their cavernous sound. Sylvian: ‘I spent a day just doing the drums and then one by one brought in the people that I want to play on the track. This was a simple piece of music and most of the recording involved me working on the atmospherics, which was the synthesisers, and then bringing in Bill Nelson to play the guitars.’

The basic structure of some songs was laid down initially at Jam studios in central London’s Tollington Park. Julian Wheatley was the in-house engineer there. Wheatley: ‘I first met Steve Nye on that session and as a person found him initially quite brusque, but after we got to know each other he opened up and was a really lovely guy. I think his original prickly exterior was just a cover for shyness maybe …He was more demonstrative about engineering (he was a very old-school one having been bought up through Air Studios), and less so in production. He was a man of few words who would somehow communicate through osmosis, rather than holding deep and meaningless dissections of the route the session should take. He was certainly a perfectionist, who wasn’t afraid of spending a good deal of time to get something just right. I was of course familiar with Japan, but not David’s solo work. He was quiet and fairly intense, intellectual and a real gentleman – softly spoken. I recall on the first day, he had brought in a book he was in the middle of which was about ley lines and holistic places in France which, for my 25 years, I thought was very cool. He also brought in his Prophet V synthesiser which had great sounds on it, and he would spend a good deal of time programming. Although I was only an assistant engineer to Steve and we spent just a couple of months working together, David often bumped into a friend of mine for some years after that and David always asked after me, which I thought was very kind of him. He and Steve had obviously worked a good deal together before and slipped immediately into their working routine while checking the ‘new guy’ out (me), which always happens on sessions when new people get into the studio. It’s difficult to say if one stronger character was leading the direction of the session – they both worked equally well with mutual respect for each other. There were never any disagreements or incidents that I can recall. We worked on 24-track tape via a Harrison console. The monitors were pretty horrid…’ Once ‘Before The Bullfight’s’ structure had been laid down to tape (in this case with Jansen’s drums – no bass guitar would feature on this track) Sylvian would also sometimes add a guide vocal. Wheatley: ‘I recall at the beginnings of the tracking for several songs that the first track would just be a long swirling guide pad from the Prophet V. It would last up to eight minutes or so, and I would punch into record – drift off to sleep (we worked long hours!) – and Steve would jab me in the ribs to wake me up just in time to punch out the vocals at the right moment. After a while, it got to a stage where when things took a really long time I would go and hang out in the kitchen for long periods until I was needed.’ After a few weeks Nye and Sylvian decamped to The Manor in Oxfordshire, home to the birth of Tin Drum some five years earlier.

 

Ian (now Jennifer) Maidman got the gig on bass for Gone To Earth having worked with Steve Nye in The Penguin Cafe Orchestra from 1984 on. ‘I met David for the first time at The Manor,’ recalls Maidman. ‘There was a good atmosphere in the studio. As for the songs, I didn’t hear anything beforehand. We basically ‘jammed’ the tracks, David, Steve Jansen and myself, live in the studio. I came up with my own bass lines, around the song structure David had. It evolved in the room. I was playing my Wal fretless custom, which was fed direct to the desk and via an amp too. Probably an Ampeg amp.’ Karn’s bass had been such a feature on Japan’s albums that Sylvian now seemed somewhat shy of replacing it. Several songs on Brilliant Trees had not featured bass at all and the same would apply to Gone To Earth. Sylvian: ‘I do like the idea of space …I don’t use the bass guitar a great deal because I find it tends to take up an awful amount of space. I think maybe Steve Nye would like me to flesh out the parts a bit more. But with this album I’ve tried to keep the promise I made myself when I started it. It’s very easy to become decorative just to enhance the drama, but I try to resist it.’

When bass guitar did feature, the resemblance to Mick Karn was obvious. Maidman: ‘I first became aware of Japan around ’81. I was recording at Air Studios, doing an album with Loz Netto (ex-Sniff ‘n’ The Tears). Japan were in the other studio working on Tin Drum. I would hear sounds floating down the corridor. I was struck by the bass I remember. Like Mick I was using Wal’s new custom basses too, so I knew that sound and was deploying it myself in a different way – more of a funky thing. Wal had a huge influence on a number of British players. I think it was Mick though who most effectively brought out the potential of the Wal fretless at that time. It was a very serendipitous combination of Mick’s unique musicality and the tonal possibilities of a particular instrument. When I heard Tin Drum I was blown away.’ On Gone To Earth Maidman was not deliberately referencing Karn however. ‘It wasn’t a conscious thing. I was influenced by other fretless players too, Jaco Pastorius being the most obvious. On Gone To Earth fretless just seemed to fit those songs. ‘Taking the Veil’ seemed to cry out for something swooping and elastic.’

 

At The Manor, Nye and Sylvian would greet a whole batch of musical guests, among them trumpet/flugelhorn player Kenny Wheeler and his colleague and friend, Jazz pianist John Taylor. At least one track was recorded at The Manor which would never be released. Jansen: ‘[There was] a jazzier track that had the working title ‘Saints And Sheep’ which again was a live performance with myself, John Taylor and Ian Maidman on bass. I was really pleased with the interplay between us but I guess it didn’t suit the album.’ Maidman: ‘I just remember The Manor sessions being very relaxed and enjoyable, and feeling good about my contribution. It was nice that David didn’t dictate. The bass lines were my own response to the songs. Some people are much more controlling! On ‘River Man’ I also played the main riff originally, but David ultimately preferred the hypnotic quality of the sample (played by Jansen), so on that track I’m really just playing the harmonics.’

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Sylvian and nelson at The Manor.

Once the rhythm tracks, guitars and keyboards had been recorded for ‘Wave’, ‘Silver Moon’ and ‘River Man’, Bill Nelson arrived at the studio. Nelson and Sylvian were of course already well acquainted and had enjoyed a letter writing correspondence in the last two years. (Sylvian and Yuka had also rented a room of their flat to Nelson’s future wife, Emiko Takahashi, in 1984.). Nelson was given a free hand to improvise over the backing tracks so far recorded. Nye: ‘With someone like Bill you’re not going to give him a part, you just let him play.’ Nelson played a Yamaha SG-2000S electric guitar and a Glen Campbell Ovation acoustic on the sessions, going so far as to share a writing credit on ‘Answered Prayers’ (this title borrowed from a Truman Capote book). Nelson however, didn’t recognize the pieces he played on as being finished songs. ‘I think it’s fair to say (at least from my own experience), that David’s approach depended on the input and contributions of other musicians to some degree. The tracks I played on for David were, in their raw form, bare skeletons. But David’s talent lay in his choice of musicians to flesh these skeletons out. My own recollection is that I was given free rein …I played several different versions or ideas over the rudimentary rhythm track, as did, I think, other musicians. David then later picked through the ideas we’d offered and carefully chose a certain selection of them …it was kind of composing by editing, making the best of the input of the musicians he’d invited to play on the recordings. He afterwards came up with lyrics and vocal lines to suit the tracks. I thought this was an interesting approach and didn’t ever think that he was putting songs together purely from other people’s creativity. I just saw it as a kind of Postmodern assemblage process and perhaps all the more fascinating for it.’ Sylvian: ‘There should be no rules. As soon as there are rules – even personal rules – everything becomes safe and predictable …I tend to view music emotionally and not intellectually. When I’ve reached a certain emotional layering in my work that for me is the cut off point.’ Such a tenet could have easily been applied to painting.

Nelson left the sessions impressed. ‘He [Sylvian]does take the craftsman’s approach in that he cares very deeply about the quality of his work,’ reckoned Nelson. ‘Not just in the technical sense, i.e. that it’s recorded well or played in time, but that he cares about what he is saying. You can get away with shoddy technical performances and a rough recording provided something is being said and communicated through the music. And for me, David’s example of the dedication he puts into the meaning of his work – the content side of it – shines more than anything he might do on a technical level with studio techniques or expensive keyboards. In fact, I’m sure that if David sat down with just an acoustic guitar and recorded his songs on a simple cassette recorder, he’d still communicate more than bands like Sigue Sigue Sputnik could in a million years!’

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With Nelson and the rhythm section departed, it was time for Robert Fripp to take a trip to The Manor. ‘He [Sylvian] asked me to play on his record,’ recalled Fripp. ‘The actual message I got was – this was from EG management, my office in London – “David Sylvian phoned. He has this piece of music and he says you’re the only guitarist in the world who can play on it.” Well I said “Yes!” I mean how could you say no to a line like that? So I went along and played. It’s called ‘Wave’ …sensational …that music has something about it, that particular piece. The song was originally called ‘The Holy Blood Of Saints and Sheep’. Now I don’t know why he changed the lyrics, but I loved the original vocal which I heard and worked through. The current one is fabulous too. He said, “Go. Here you are. This is what we’ve got. Come up with something. Go.” And I work well like that.’ Fripp had even discovered a new guitar tuning for his work on Gone To Earth. This resulted in ‘flurries of bum notes’ in spots, but he nevertheless found Sylvian’s record to contain ‘beautiful music,’ and he ‘was very pleased to have the opportunity to play on it.’ (Fripp had, of course, already played on Steel Cathedrals). The title track of Gone To Earth is a near duet between Fripp and Sylvian and was an explicit example of their collaboration on the album. Sylvian even allowed Fripp a co-writing credit on the song. Sylvian: ‘The lyrics for the song ‘Gone To Earth’ were written before I got in the studio. I had in mind to do two versions, one with Bill Nelson and another with Robert Fripp, but in the end I only had time to record the one with Robert. I sat down with him in the studio, picked out the song on guitar and he responded immediately by playing something very aggressive. I recorded the rhythm track there and then, and very quickly he came up with two or three takes on lead guitar that would be suitable. The vocal went down soon after, and in all it was a very spontaneously created song with a minimum of studio overdubbing.’ Among the squall of the song, the placid voice of John Godolphin Bennett (an acolyte of Gurdjieff) was suddenly heard: ‘The soul goes beyond being and enters this divine world.’ Sylvian: ‘The context the sample was used in…was like this moment of clarity in an otherwise chaotic universe. So it was to indicate, to some degree, the possibility of divine insight if you like.’ By utilising Bennett’s voice on this track, the continued impact of Gurdjieff’s philosophy on Sylvian was explicitly detectable. Sylvian: ‘My interest in all things Gurdjieff led me to the writings of J.G. Bennett. Of course on meeting Robert for the first time, I spent far more time enquiring about Mr. and Mrs. Bennett and their teachings than recording (actually Robert set up a number of Frippertronics loops so we put the machines into record and left them to it, allowing us to take tea and sit and talk while simultaneously ‘working’), which in turn quite naturally led to the inclusion of Mr. Bennett’s quotation on the title track.’ Gurdjieff had also made music himself. David Toop: ‘I’ve written about Gurdjieff’s improvisations on harmonium (recorded in 1949) in my book, Into The Maelstrom. Maybe this passage is relevant here: “Whatever one thinks of Gurdjieff and his teachings, the music is strange for its time, a slow meander through some ancient Asian landscape pictured within Gurdjieff’s imagination, the knocking and creaking of the bellows audible as if shoe leather on a mountain pass, its wheezing the breath of the footsore walker whose destination is uncertain but whose progress is inexorable.”’ Such a description perfectly suited Sylvian’s journey at this point.

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Fripp and Yuka Fujii at The Manor.

The song ‘Gone To Earth’ in particular was a prime example of him transposing into song the deconstruction Sylvian had observed in Auerbach’s portrait paintings. Sylvian: ‘I try to use a basic structure – I like ballads, and if you’ve got a strong melody it can stand up to any form of arrangement. I came to this idea through looking at abstract artists’ paintings. The most successful ones are those that use portraits as the basis for the paintings because something recognisable is always there, and from that they can take the painting wherever they want, making it as abstract as they wish. The enjoyment of working with a ballad is to destroy it and sort of rebuild it. Giving it a less defined structure. People are so used to listening to music that they know where things are going to happen. So …you don’t have to tell them in a dramatic way – “THIS is the chorus. THIS is the verse,” because they already have it programmed into their minds.’ Fripp’s wailing, keening guitar ejaculations were the perfect foil for Sylvian’s approach. Nye: ‘Fripp only ever plays something once. The next take is completely different – so you have to do lots of editing.’ This would be done to tape rather than digitally, ‘I’m not a big computer fan,’ confirmed Nye, although computer editing in music was still in its relative infancy in 1986.

Once the backing tracks (often with guide vocals) were completed, Sylvian would add further guitar and keyboards, often replacing his initial parts. Then, the ‘sweeteners’ were added. Nye: ‘These are instruments that are not vital to the compositional structure of the song but add that something special; trumpets, [harmony] vocals, bits of keyboards and stuff. They’re usually pretty straightforward.’ Among those adding ‘sweeteners’ were Kenny Wheeler and Harry Beckett on flugelhorns, King Crimson associate Mel Collins on saxophone, B.J. Cole on pedal steel guitar and Richard Barbieri providing programming and atmospherics.

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These musicians’ impressions of Sylvian varied. Harry Beckett: ‘[David] was a quiet guy, not at all that talkative. But his identity is all in his compositions and arrangements. You’d think he would have been a bigger name.’ Cole: ‘He seemed moody. Self-consciously arty, if you like. He was very specific about what he wanted me to play. But then, with a pedal steel guitar it’s very easy to play in a clichéd ‘Country’ way. And David was very dismissive of me when I started to play because it was leaning toward that style. Ultimately I became good at playing the instrument without using the clichés of it. I got the impression David hated Country music, basically. And in the end, my contribution to ‘Silver Moon’ sounded fantastic but I had to do it without bringing any hint of ‘Country’ to it.’ ‘Silver Moon’ was one of the more conventional songs on the album. ‘It’s quite a romantic piece,’ said Sylvian, ‘It’s almost a love song. The nearest I’ve got to writing one for a while.’ Sylvian was a fan of the beautifully left field ECM Jazz group Azimuth, which was made up of Norma Winstone, Kenny Wheeler and pianist John Taylor. Taylor: ‘He likes our playing and I think he wanted to incorporate the feeling of what we did in his music.’ On ‘Laughter And Forgetting’ Sylvian would work out the chords on piano in his own rudimentary style, show the progressions to Taylor and have the ace pianist reassemble the piece in his own nervous, fluid style. Taylor: ‘[The song took] only a few hours …we tried a few other ideas but only a few …I’d not really worked with anybody…in the world of more popular music …so I had very little comparative information …[yet] I was very aware that David was a seriously involved musician that realised using improvisers was something that could be of benefit to his music…’ Sylvian: ‘A lot of Jazz musicians think this is easy money, ‘cos it’s ‘Pop music’ and we pay a decent fee. But Kenny (for example) is a perfectionist, so I’ve enjoyed working with them.’ In using such consummate and highly regarded musicians, Sylvian himself was raising his game in part by association, yet at the same time was (and is) proud of his own ‘non musician’ status. ‘It’s almost like being a director getting the right cast together for a script I’ve got,’ explained Sylvian of his process. ‘I’m very good at creating the right environment for people to work in.’ In the end the material spoke for itself, beautifully.

As always, vocals were the last element to be added. ‘The voice is there to give out a human emotion and lyrically to give clues to the listener,’ explained Sylvian. ‘The lyrics come before almost everything else…’ Wheatley: ‘Steve Nye had an interesting mic technique to do David’s vocals. David would be pushed as far as possible into a corner and his head would bend down looking into a Neumann U47 FET mic, which was low and angled up to him very close to his mouth.’ Sylvian’s vocals were a highlight throughout the album. Stronger and more consistent than ever before, Chris Roberts would call Sylvian’s one true instrument ‘the coolest voice in the world.’ Yet Sylvian himself lacked confidence in his voice at this point: ‘I feel I can convey what I’m trying to put over in music more successfully without vocals. Maybe it’s because I’m not that good a singer and my vocals will always be mannered to a certain extent, whereas the instrumental work won’t suffer from that.’ Mark Prendergast recalls an informal conversation with Sylvian around this time. ‘He told me that he didn’t feel his diction was very good,’ recalls the journalist. ‘He was worried that people couldn’t understand what he was saying. This led him ultimately, to publish his lyrics.’

Original Label Credits for GTE. Note alternate and as yet unnamed titles.

The second disc of Gone To Earth did not feature Sylvian’s voice at all and Nye loved this instrumental aspect of the album. ‘I think that a lot of the time vocals take away from the music,’ Nye reckoned, ‘and it wasn’t called ‘New Age’ when Eno was doing it, ‘Ambient music’ is a much better phrase for it.’ For a while Sylvian would prefer the term ‘Environmental music’. Sylvian: ‘Music has to serve a different purpose nowadays. I don’t think people want to be overwhelmed by music. I think they really want it to enhance their own moods.’ This was apparent even as Nye and Sylvian were recording the pieces. Sylvian: ‘…it’s funny but you tend not to notice that it’s [the music] stopped. I thought that was very good. I liked that …the instrumental half lends itself to the way people don’t sit down and listen to music anymore. They aren’t as rewarding as vocal songs, no, but they’re not meant to be listened to in the same way. I wrote hundreds of them and recorded them very quickly, randomly, because Virgin weren’t really interested in them. I paid for most of them myself.’ Still, voices were used on the instrumental section of Gone To Earth. The writer/poet Robert Graves could be heard reciting his poem The Foreboding on ‘Upon This earth,’ and German artist Joseph Beuys featured on ‘The Healing Place’. (Oddly, Graves was not credited). Beuys would perhaps surpass even Cocteau as a kind of personal talisman for Sylvian. In particular it was Warhol’s portrait of the German artist that initially piqued Sylvian’s interest. ‘An abiding interest in contemporary art eventually led me to the work of Joseph Beuys and his theories regarding the role of art in society,’ Sylvian would explain. ‘Again, there is this reference [in the Beuys sample] to the alchemical process of transforming the base elements of society. Working with ideas and a strong sense of community to uplift society, restructure it, empowering the individual via recognition of their own creative impulses, etc. In relation to his own physical work I respected the way that he was able to transform the most mundane of materials, lending them magical properties. My original idea was to meet with Joseph Beuys and record a conversation from which I was going to take extracts to be used throughout the instrumental portion of Gone To Earth. We were in the process of making contact with him when he passed away.’ Sylvian actually heard the news of Beuys’ death on the car radio while travelling from Jam studios on 23 January 1986. ‘As I was driving back from the studio one evening I heard that he’d died. But he’s been so present in my life at different points in time. He’s turned up in dreams and his presence has been very tangible…’ Sylvian’s use of spoken word in his work had begun as far back as 1978 when he had French girls simulate a radio broadcast in the breakdown of ‘Automatic Gun’. He’d next used this device when Sakamoto spoke the lyrics to ‘Bamboo Music’ on the same track in ’82. The comforting, fatherly tones of Czukay had then turned up on ‘Backwaters’. Cocteau appeared on Steel Cathedrals. This device reached its summit on Gone To Earth. In his use of these authoritative voices perhaps Sylvian was inviting in a hallowed European sensibility he himself aspired to. ‘David told me that he thought of himself in the European tradition,’ confirms Prendergast. ‘He didn’t relate to American music forms at all at that point, besides Jazz. Of course, Fripp had also done the same thing – using ‘samples’ of J.G. Bennett – on his Exposure album. That may go some way into explaining the particular voices Sylvian used in his work at this point.’

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Sylvian abandoned his coke habit half way through the recording of Gone To Earth, apparently never to return to it. This was an audacious decision to make while halfway through an album. The first half of Gone To Earth was recorded with Sylvian under the influence but thereafter he swore off it for good. Sylvian: ‘I used to do all sorts of things. Alcohol enables me to forget myself, drugs don’t. I was only really using cocaine. It tends to intensify the mood I’m in. It began as a total boost but after a few months I found myself taking it in the morning, and I found that worrying. I never took heroin, no. I probably would have when I was younger, to find out.’ With the majority of the actual recording completed, he and Nye relocated to Eel Pie to add overdubs and then onto The Townhouse to mix it. For an album at times so densely layered, Sylvian was apparently keen not to ‘overpaint’ the musical canvas. Sylvian: ‘I tried not to decorate anything, and used more organic sound; everything drifts together. This album is getting everything out of my system. I would understand if the public wasn’t interested in it, because it’s the end of a period. Brilliant Trees is probably more successful in that way because I was entering into the dark; but I knew what I was doing this time. I can’t deny that musically it may be safer, but it’s certainly not safe in terms of sales.’ By the summer of ’86, the album was as complete as it ever would be, the canvas had taken as much oil as it could. Sylvian: ‘At this point in time, I can’t say I’m happy with the new album, there are elements of it that I would love to change. I could still go back and redo a vocal and remix a couple of tracks, but it’s got to the point where I’ve had to let it go, partly because my enthusiasm for it has begun to wear thin, and that’s worse than a bad mix or a bad vocal.’ With the album being mastered and the artwork printed, Sylvian celebrated the completion of Gone To Earth in a reassuringly down to earth fashion. ‘Getting drunk is the only way in this country of forgetting yourself,’ he explained to journalist Jim Shelley. ‘I do it frequently, yes. Especially when I’ve finished recording. I went through a week of getting totally drunk every evening. I never feel guilty, no, not at all.’

The cover of Gone To Earth, based on the ideas of English philosopher and alchemist Robert Fludd and painted by Russell Mills, was a work of art in itself and the first Sylvian album proper not to feature a portrait of its author. This was not something Virgin were happy about initially, but Sylvian was keen at this point to distance himself from an image of himself. (‘Is it harder without the mask?’ Jim Shelley asked Sylvian. ‘It’s a lot easier.’ ‘Don’t you miss it, the beauty?’ ‘I don’t think about it at all.’ ‘Did you fall out of love with it?’ ‘No, I still like the look. It just stopped being important.’ ‘Do you recognise yourself in those pictures?’ ‘Yes. I always thought I looked pathetic. I always used to laugh at them. It never meant much to me. I hate having my picture taken anyway, even still.’ ‘Why?’ ‘I don’t know. It’s like being asked to perform. I always thought I looked pathetic on stage.’) Thus the cover of Gone To Earth would use a painting to represent the music and ideals within and not to promote Sylvian as a ‘personality’. Sylvian had been overjoyed with Mills’ effort for Exorcising Ghosts. ‘I think it’s one of his best paintings,’ Sylvian reckoned, and had promised himself that the artist would provide another original work for the next available album. Sylvian would buy both original paintings, and Mills’ work for Gone To Earth would adorn the wall of the Opium offices for years to come.

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Robert Fludd Illustration.

From ‘Cries and Whispers : Sylvian/Jansen/Barbieri/Dean/Karn – 1983-1991.’

Published by Burning Shed Ltd.

Buy the book

Here

or

Here

 

ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN. ST DAVID’S HALL. CARDIFF. WALES. 15TH OCTOBER.2018.

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You have to wonder how each artist feels at the enforced meet and greet in this age of ‘VIP’ tickets.

For a few extra quid the punter gets a branded tote bag of goodies, a good seat and five minutes to nibble peanuts and gulp wine with their heroes in an awkward pre- gig rendezvous backstage.

Each artist gets the audience they deserve and one ponders at Will Sergeant and Ian McCulloch being called from their inner sanctum to shake hands and wag chins with a parade of boozed up middle aged men in Mod suits and feather-cuts, and women dressing for one night only as they did back in 1983. (And why not)?

Do they see an alternative reality in this awkward parade? A life they escaped in another age, one that could still befall them if ticket sales ever dried up?

Not that that seems likely tonight. This 2000 seater venue is full and the punters resent being seated.

The Bunnymen now are Mac and Will with a backing band. And it works. The two original Bunnymen have been everywhere and maybe seen too much of not enough in their 30 Odd year odd career but the drummer, rhythm guitarist – at least two decades younger – are still star shaped at this trip, the drummer in particular playing as if our lives depended on it. The keyboardist and bassist are competent and slightly more worn but together it’s a good combination, hot in the basement, median in the middle and icy and imperial on top.

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Will – heavy but well dressed and with great hair- is still the guitar scientist in love with his instrument. Mac – thinned down after a couple of years of bloat looks long and regal, focused and game and compared to the last time I saw him in his solo show- cool and sober  – although it’s wrong to see him denied his Marlboro.

‘Going up’ from 1980 begins the show (although it could have been written at any time after that) –and the sound is heavy and clear, Mac’s voice is worn but still impressive, like a battered, mighty Chesterfield in a neglected stately home. On cue the loaded fans directly in front of me…get up. One gangling chap, dressed like The Joker, shades on, Renaissance hair dyed blue black begins his own one man festival in the aisle. He’s rushed by gentle security. Handled back to his seat among protests from his neighbours. He continues to groove in his seat occasionally Jack in the box leaping to his feet and pointing at an invisible sky.

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Between songs, Mac invites the audience to Dance. Cue ‘Rescue’ a fistful do just that, bobbing in their seats, rushing the front of the stage, clogging the aisles. This brings in more security. ‘They won’t let us dance, Mac’! Shouts one forlorn forklift driver from Newport.

A subdued but amused Mac gently addressed the security : ‘Come on mate, it’s a concert…’

Security looks confused. The man in the Joker suits wiggles his hands while pointing at the ceiling.

The band power on.

Seven seas, Cardiff.

 

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‘Over the wall’ is astounding. The drum machine makes the song macro. When the real drums come in on the chorus we are widescreen and massive. Its epic, death valley stuff, reeking of stadiums and ballparks but the Bunnymen were never blank enough to be U2…

The mania slips a little mid set. ‘Nothing lasts for ever’ isn’t greeted like the great ‘comeback’ single it was and to me still sounds more like a solo McCulloch song with Will unsure of where his place in it is. During this and ‘Rust’ – sounding like a massive hit that never was – more Neil Diamond than Diamond White- most of the boozy blokes head for the bar.

‘Never stop’ brings on another onslaught. It’s like the Somme out there. And the jigging men and women, addled by lager and age, debt and divorce, loss and disappointment (like most of us) now confounding the sober security with their ad-hoc dance moves are right to do so. This is music that demands full physical expression, not polite nodding and finger tapping. As the security manhandle people back to their seats someone shouts ‘Have you got Bupa, Mac’?  ‘Have I got Bupa?’ retorts the singer. ‘Eh’? As Bowie said in the opening scene of Just a Gigolo ‘Get your own Pig’!’ There follows a rambling but accurate assessment by Mac of said film and director David Hemmings.

By now the man in the Joker suit and his beau have given up and leave.

Bad timing. There’s a temporary lull but by the time of ‘Lips like sugar’ the audience have won and the security have given up. The crowd are crowding the front of the stage, throwing shapes and spilling cider and at last everything is in place. Me and my partner vacate our seats and head for the top stalls. Going up we pass the Joker and his Girl, drinking forlornly and alone at the bar while behind the doors the venue goes ga- ga. Maybe some people want to be the only ones seen dancing.

The timeless majesty of ‘The Killing Moon’ ends the night. At last it allows the audience to connect with a Golden summer a lifetime before Mortgages and male pattern baldness… but it also connects us with something much more eternal…something that’s impossible to put into words outside of a song.

 

The Killing Moon, Cardiff.

Sylvian and Warhol. (Excerpt from Chapter 10 of ‘A Foreign Place’.)

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Sylvian and Warhol.  April 23. 1982. NYC.

(Author’s note :  I’ve been a ‘fan’ of Warhol and his work for almost as long as I have been of Sylvian and his work.  So I was always intrigued by any connection between them.  For a short period in 1980 Sylvian roughly approximated two looks from Warhol : The Bold ‘Two Tone’ hair with the battered brown leather jacket.  (Circa Warhol 1974). Then there was the tortoise shell glasses and suit jacket look, which in his autobiography, Mick Karn says Sylvian saw Warhol wearing on the cover of a magazine during their holiday in NYC, 1979. Sylvian wore both well and the affectation was short lived.

 

Sylvian also cited Warhol’s excellent ‘Autobiography’, ‘A to B and back again, the philosophy of Andy Warhol‘ as his ‘favourite’ book during interviews in the early 80’s. Warhol’s influence on Sylvian’s work and persona during this period are harder to quantify. The two would finally meet in NYC in early 1982.  I was elated to find contact sheets of their night out together in Warhol’s late work.

Regarding Sylvian’s visit to the Factory and his appearance on both Warhol’s cable TV show and in Interview magazine. (Mentioned in the excerpt below.) The former never aired and the latter never ran. (Sylvian wouldn’t appear in Interview magazine until 1988.) Sylvian’s appearance on MTV, filmed during that same trip has yet to surface. However, video footage of Sylvian by Warhol does exist.  The Warhol foundation told me :

“I’ve checked our database and files regarding David Sylvian. He appeared on an unfinished episode (# 19) Andy Warhol’s T.V. from 1982. Our database shows that there is a camera original tape labeled “Japan” that is 15 minutes in length which is the master tape containing the footage that would have been used for the show. The tape has not been preserved / restored so it is unavailable for viewing at this time.

The camera original tape I mentioned in my previous eMail does not have a date but the edited master of the finished show in which some of the material appears is dated May 1982. Here is what is written on the tape:

[on video cassette case – spine] #1 Japan
[on video cassette case – front] # Japan At Factory
[on video cassette] #1 Factory – Japan –

This tape would need to be sent out for preservation work before it could be viewed. The edited but never broadcast 19th episode of Andy Warhol’s T.V. is available for viewing but not outside of the museum at this time.”

While a diary entry of Warhol’s meeting with Sylvian probably does exist it is not published.  (Those dates are skipped in the book.))

 

Sylvian in NYC April 1982. Photographed for Life magazine.

Excerpt from Chapter Ten :  “Voices raised in Welcome.”

By the spring of ’82 America had once again taken an interest. For the first time since ‘Life in Tokyo’, Japan had a licensing deal in the US with CBS/Epic. That March they released a compilation entitled simply Japan, comprising songs from both Gentlemen take Polaroids and Tin Drum. In addition, a flexi-disc featuring ‘Life Without Buildings’ – hardly Japan’s most commercial sounding track, although perhaps that was the point – was given away free with Trouser Press magazine. Although Sylvian was offended by the Frankenstein approach the American album employed, he took the opportunity of a trip to New York to promote the release. He would go so far as to dismiss the album release in an interview with Trouser Press: ‘I’m not happy with it,’ he said, ‘I didn’t like the idea of splitting up two albums.’ At this point, some were still hoping that Japan would tour the US and that Tin Drum would earn a domestic release there, but neither would ever happen. Sylvian himself must have known that the group had no long-term future and such a trip, which he took with his manager and Fujii, was more akin to a short holiday. ‘Number one albums and hits in the States . . .’ Sylvian would reflect a few years on, ‘these things already seemed unimportant when Japan split up; I’d already lost that.’

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Blond and Sylvian.

Sylvian was chaperoned in New York by Susan Blond, one time Warhol ‘Superstar; and by now head of CBS. Aside from an awkward interview on MTV and some low-key magazine interviews (Japan would never be accepted by Rolling Stone magazine), her first remit was to introduce Sylvian to his long-term hero, Andy Warhol. ‘I remember David because he was so attractive and also a real artist,’ recalls Blond, ‘so I knew Andy would love him. Anyone I liked I would take down to the Factory, which was then at 860 Broadway. I believe David had his girlfriend with him. He was very beautiful at that point in time and Andy was smitten with him. In fact Andy would have always wanted to look like David. Andy was never really good-looking, but so wanted to be.’ Warhol filmed Sylvian wandering around the Factory and interviewed him for his cable TV show although the material was never broadcast, and resides in the Warhol archive in Pittsburgh. Sylvian and Warhol, along with Yuka Fujii and various friends of Warhol would share a happy evening in NYC on April the 23rd and Sylvian was not disappointed by the encounter.

 

‘I met him recently in New York,’ he would recall a few weeks later, ‘when I did an interview for Interview magazine, plus an interview for Andy’s cable TV show. You know that image he portrays, that of banality, like going along with everything that you say, everything’s great and wonderful? Well, he’s not really like that, you can tell that there’s something deeper than that. Most people have the impression that he doesn’t speak very much, that he just responds to people’s questions in that “Yeah, great” manner, but really he talks quite a lot and he’s a very interesting person.’ The two artificial blonds got on to the extent that a musical collaboration was planned although, like a similar venture planned with fellow New York resident Quentin Crisp, nothing would come of it. Warhol would shed some light on this a few years down the line in an interview with The Face magazine:

The Face: ‘Are you still working on some lyrics for the group Japan or did that all fall through?’

Warhol: ‘Oh, what is his name? David something.’

The Face: ‘Sylvian!’

Warhol: ‘Yeah, oh, what happened to him?’

The Face: ‘He hasn’t done very much for ages.’

Warhol: ‘Oh really, why? He was so cute. God, he was so cute. I really liked him a lot. He’s not doing anything? Why not? Does he wear make-up?’

The Face: ‘God, yes, he wears tons! What did happen to the lyrics?’

Warhol: ‘Well, because he went back to England and then he went to Japan, it was sort of hard for us to get together. Anyway, it was only going to be one line.’

The Face: ‘What was the line?’

Warhol: ‘That’s what we were having trouble deciding.’

 

Taken from “Japan.  A Foreign Place. 1974-1984.

Published by Burning shed LTD.

(Please note. The photos above do not appear in the book.)

You can order the book  here Japan Biography.

And Here.

 

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Sylvian by Warhol.  NYC. April 23. 1982.

NEW RELEASE – ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKS

I have a new release.

It’s the soundtrack to a French Noir crime Novel.

CD Only.

No Digital.41797174_10217497952304469_6659913255684669440_n

It’s 12 euros in France, 15 anywhere else.

This includes P&P.

41667387_10217497952944485_185897304241209344_n

 

This is the opening song from it.

Pour Luna

Here’s another-A Detective state of mind.

Please pay-pal the author of the novel if you’d like a copy.

PayPAL.ME/vincentlissonnet.

 

Lastly.

A film I’ve scored, ‘Adrift in Soho’ will be shown at the Prince Charles cinema in London for a week from November 14th. See you there.

Soho Movie in Soho

 

 

Excerpt from Japan : A Foreign Place. Chapter 8 : “The Tin Drum.”

Author’s note :  “I consider this to be the best chapter of any book I’ve written. Worthy of a stand alone release.  (A Kindle download?) This is because of the input I had from the two Steve’s – Nye and Jansen. They were kind enough to answer every nerdy question I could come up with and then some. Mr Jansen even dug into his diary from the time!  I did ask him to send me the whole thing so I could save him the trouble of transcribing but he declined for some reason…I also spoke to an engineer on the sessions as well as the stalwart Nick Huckle.  And I was honoured and blown away to sit with Mr Barbieri for an afternoon while he played me rehearsal tapes from the period.

Mr Jansen also supplied many photos from the sessions, which at the time were not widely seen. These appear in the book but not here.  You can of course view some of them at Steve’s site. Jansen Pics.

This excerpt starts at about a quarter of the way in and ends about a quarter before the end.  Links to buy the book so you can read the whole thing follow.”

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1981

Japan had rehearsed many but not all of the songs they were due to record. Rehearsal tapes from 10, 11, 15 and 16 June show Jansen and Karn in particular struggling to agree upon exit and entry points of songs like ‘Still Life in Mobile Homes’ to the point of exasperation. Jansen: ‘That was six rounds, I come in on eight.’ Karn [sounding impatient]: ‘It’s four rounds, then six rounds.’ Jansen: ‘Rubbish!’ Such stresses were a part of any serious band’s make-up and such efforts were more than worth it. It was essential, especially with this innovative new material, that the groundwork was paved before entering the studio. As Jansen explained, ‘We usually have a certain amount of the songs arranged before we go into the studio and once we get in that’s usually the most spontaneous part.’ Nye: ‘There were no demos and we made no plans. The only remit for me was to get the album done as efficiently as possible since the budget was so tight. I believe we were allotted six weeks in total to get the album delivered. Had I known what was in store in terms of the complexity of the tracks, I may have been daunted by the prospect, but I was blissfully unaware and that was a blessing.’ Nye was not particularly familiar with Japan’s previous recordings and didn’t make any effort to listen to them in preparation. As a result, Nye ‘had not formed any opinions as to their strengths and weaknesses. As it turned out, I don’t think there would have been much to gain in this particular instance, since Tin Drum was such a unique album and not really comparable, which I’m sure was the way Japan wanted it anyway.’

Karn and Jansen. Rehearsals, London. 1981.

After a restful night in their variously tiered bedrooms, Japan awoke on Monday 22 June, to begin their chef-d’oeuvre. That first day mostly involved the setting up of drums, microphones and any other instruments that would be needed at this stage. ‘Most of their equipment came down in a van with one of the regular “man with a van” guys we used,’ remembers Huckle. ‘Other bits and pieces were hired in as required and usually delivered by the Maurice Plauquet company. I remember on this occasion we rented a marimba and various bits of percussion and a Prophet V.’ The setting up of equipment and sound levels on that initial day had exhausted all concerned, but they still attempted a start. ‘In the evening we tried to get into working, but for some reason we couldn’t quite get the song ‘Talking Drum’ worked out so we left it for the night,’ recalls Jansen.

By the Tuesday, some actual recording had been accomplished, with the drums and bass to ‘Talking Drum’ being completed. At this point the song was mooted to be Japan’s next single with ‘Canton as the B-side. Sylvian would always see ‘Talking Drum’ as a personal favourite and as the key track to the album. Jansen’s drums were vital in this respect. Throughout the album, Jansen’s drumming is more expressive and yet in some ways more deadpan than ever before. Each beat and each hit sound exquisitely thought-out as if the drummer had programmed himself before recording the track. Unlike ‘Talking Drum’, some of the drum tracks on the other songs on the album would combine a mix of real playing and programmed drum sounds. In addition, Nye would add FX to the drums as they went along. ‘On “Talking Drum”,’ he states, ‘a lot of the sound comes from the room it was recorded in. That big stone room at the Manor had a great ambience, a natural reverb. Then, when you feedback the harmoniser I added to it you get a weird, unnatural sound. But I would only use the harmoniser on the ambient drum mics. Then I added a noise gate, which cuts off the reverb and makes it sound even more unnatural and I’d add a harmoniser in stereo. So the left-hand side is pitched down and the right-hand side is pitched up. It adds a queasy feeling to the drum sound.’ Whatever the methods of drumming, Tin Drum is far from devoid of feeling; on ‘Talking Drum’ itself, Jansen is almost aggressive in his authority, even as the drum pattern seems to de-construct and reconstruct itself as the song moves forward in zigzags. Their actual sound suggests a slight vertigo; a disturbance of the inner ear. Usually the drums and bass for the whole album would be set in place first before attempting overdubs, but instead – perhaps because it was a planned single – Japan decided to complete ‘Talking Drum’ as soon as it was begun. Karn added his bass immediately after Jansen finished. ‘The rush to finish it as we went along,’ says Nye ‘could also have been down to Virgin wanting to know what they were getting as soon as possible.’ The resulting rhythm track was a proto-funk scaffolding strobed with odd-angled grooves and holes with plenty of space left for Barbieri and Sylvian to interject their meticulously programmed synth lines.

Talking Drum. (Out of Phase).

Talking Drum. (Rare live version).

Gavin Harrison, a world-renowned drummer who would one day go on to play with Barbieri in the band Porcupine Tree explains the rhythm section thus: ‘[They] fascinated me. They broke all the rules; there was no sort of “follow-the-bass-drum-with-the-bass” Motown style or putting the snare drum on the 2 and 4. They just made up weird, quirky rhythmic patterns where Mick would play between Steve’s notes. Steve is a very stylistic drummer, but he’s very, very simple. I don’t think he’s ever played a hard fill in his life, and he would probably tell you that he can’t. He came at drumming like a photographer, or somebody who’s not a drummer. Pretty much any drummer I listen to, I can hear where they’re coming from; I can tell their historic path. Steve Jansen might as well have stepped off another planet. I couldn’t understand where he got any of this stuff.’ Jansen was never particularly keen on theorising his playing, but did at least attempt to explain some influence at the time. Jansen: ‘I’ve always admired [Yukihiro] Takahashi since I saw him in the Sadistic Mika Band [supporting Roxy Music] years ago, and he struck me then as being a really good drummer. Then when I heard he’d worked with YMO, I was convinced. He has influenced me – he’s about the only influence I can pick out.’ Takahashi and Jansen would go on to become firm friends and decades later Takahashi would return the compliment: ‘I did feel an immediate affinity with Steves drumming,’ he says. ‘This feeling grew stronger when he started playing in sync with the computer, but its hard to explain precisely why. What I can say with certainty is that his meticulously calculated and sophisticated drumming style felt very familiar to me.’ Karn and Jansen were the (drum and) base architecture of Tin Drum, but it was an architecture that showed its skeleton on the outside, an aural equivalent of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. This was a startlingly unique basis for a pin-up pop band in their early 20s.

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Working around the clock on Wednesday 24 June, Japan began recording the planned B-side to ‘Talking Drum’. ‘All was going well until we started work on “Canton”, Karn would remember, ‘and the Travis Bean bass began to let me down.’ The problem was that on this particular track the bass part required Karn to rub the aluminium neck ‘quite frantically, sliding notes continuously in one small area, and the heat generated from my hand was enough to bend the metal out of pitch.’ As a result, Karn would have to leave the bass to cool down mid-recording, which was interrupting the flow of the session and the tight schedule imposed upon them by Virgin. The ever-resourceful Huckle phoned round and had located a local bass manufacture, Wal Basses, who invited Karn into their workshop. Thus Karn, due to the pure luck of Wal having a workshop in Oxford, switched from Travis Bean to the bass that would become his signature. ‘The Wal worked perfectly on the first take,’ says Karn; it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Soon after, Wal would build Karn a custom-built bass with a Brazilian mahogany core and African tulip top, adding humbucking pickups and an active pre-amp. With this problem overcome, both the bass and drums to ‘Canton’ were soon completed. ‘Mick and I nailed it on the fourth take,’ says Jansen. An unusual looking instrument was found under some tarpaulin; constructed from bamboo and the height and width of several feet, the unknown instrument was an incredibly fortuitous find. The unique sound it produced by rattling peas within the bamboo suited the pentatonic Orientalism of ‘Canton’ perfectly. That Friday, Karn and Jansen recorded the ‘bamboo rattles’ that duplicate the piece’s main melody. It was a two-man job. ‘The two of us had to duck and dive in all directions to avoid hitting each other,’ recalled Karn of their playing of the instrument, ‘a synchronised choreography full of grunts and groans from stretching to reach the appropriate tubes.’ ‘Watching them play that,’ says Nye, ‘was comedy.’

With the foundations of two tracks laid down, the shape and direction of the album were beginning to reveal themselves. Sylvian: ‘We started with “Canton” which was the first thing we recorded along with “Talking Drum” and we just decided that they worked so well we’d arrange the rest of the album around the same ideas.’ Less than a week into recording, the two main men at Virgin – Branson and Draper – arrived to check on the progress. ‘We would visit them during recording,’ says Draper; ‘they were very self-contained and sure of who they were, but it wasn’t a closed set. They were very confident of who they were musically by now, but there was no sense of us or Virgin being cut off or alienated.’ Later that day on Thursday the 25th, Simon House, who had previously played violin on ‘My New Career’ and the unreleased ‘Some Kind of Fool’, arrived to add his arabesque contribution to ‘Talking Drum’. He would also double the melody part of ‘Canton’, but this remained buried in the final mix.

Canton (out of Phase).

Tin Drum was a different recording experience from previous Japan albums, both in content and context. The Manor was a world unto itself and one Sylvian wouldn’t return to until 1986. ‘Virgin were always trying to get him to record at The Manor,’ says Huckle, ‘but after his initial experience with Tin Drum, he wasn’t into it for some reason.’ Sylvian was a self-confessed hermit and it was perhaps the communal living aspect of the studio that didn’t agree with him. Nye: ‘The Manor was residential, so we were together for meals and after work for a beer or two and a game of snooker, but usually tiredness would put you quickly to bed.’ Huckle: ‘Unlike all their other albums where I spent most of the time in the control room, at the Manor there was tons to do if you weren’t recording. Steve, Rich and I spent a lot of time playing snooker in the games room. They also had a great lounge with a VCR and loads of what was then the latest thing – videos! Dave barely left the studio as I remember, apart from mealtimes. There was a huge kitchen where everyone assembled for meals. We had home-cooking for a change unlike the McDonald’s fare we lived on at AIR.’

The Manor even came with its own menagerie. Barbieri: ‘There were two giant Irish Wolfhounds at the Manor, Willie and Bowser. They used to come inside the studio for biscuits, but couldn’t stay long because the warmth caused arthritic problems for them.’ Huckle: ‘Yes, I remember the giant Wolfhounds that just seemed to sleep all day. Then there were the swans. There was a hysterical moment when Mick, in his inevitable fashion, managed to upset the swans in the lake, and was chased across the expansive front lawn by a giant, irate swan flapping its wings wildly. I think Mick did claim he’d caught a nip on the bum. A few of us were watching, doubled up with hysterics, from the games room.’ Nye himself was a refreshing, down-to-earth presence. ‘He would seem to eat a vindaloo every day, which resulted in much breaking of wind,’ laughs Barbieri. Jansen: ‘He was proud of his flatulence. He’d do so and say, “right, now get out and walk!”’ Barbieri: ‘He would also pinch our arses as we went up the stairs, but he was incredibly sensitive and tasteful when it came to artistic matters. A great musician, with perfect pitch I think, and very open to our ideas, however abstract they might have seemed. I consider him the fifth band member on that album. He had the patience and creativity to cope with some quite demanding sessions. It was intense at times, but we still had fun. That’s the weird thing with making albums. You take it so seriously and put every creative ounce into it, knowing you’ll never be able to change anything once it’s completed. Yet on the other hand, at times you can be joking around so much, you’re nearly incapable of recording an overdub.’

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Kate Bush with Willie and Bowser. {Or Bowser and Willie. I’m not sure.}

On Saturday 27 June, Japan awoke late and started final overdubbing on ‘Talking Drum’ at 2.00pm, which was mixed by midnight. They then did the rest of the overdubs on ‘Canton’ and finished mixing this it at 10.00am the following Sunday. This was the first Japan song to be co-credited to Jansen as a writer and, indeed, the drums on ‘Canton’ are a lead instrument, propelling the track forward before all else, almost dominating it. ‘Steve wasn’t a particularly loud drummer,’ says Nye. ‘He didn’t play hard, but didn’t play soft either. The sound of the room had a lot to do with it. His patterns were so unique, he would never play anything that was just “straight” and that was a relief to me, after years of recording straightforward drummers.’

There were no gigs booked that summer and any offers that came in were refused. The only focus was to write and record the new material. Japan’s approach was more meticulous and yet freer than on any previous album. For some this was down to a feeling of having nothing to lose; apparently Karn did not see much of a future for the band beyond the next year. ‘We started from the feeling that this would become our last album, so we only did what we felt like ourselves,’ he’d reason, ‘[it was] very spontaneous, and that put the frame for the whole album. That’s the strange thing about Tin Drum. It was made on instinct.’ Karn was hinting at the pressure exerted upon the group by label and management that if they did not secure a commercial breakthrough soon, then they would be dropped. Sylvian, seemingly aloof from such considerations, never saw this as a factor. ‘There were always worries that we would be dropped by our record company,’ he’d explain years later. ‘There was always that threat of being dropped, but I can’t ever say it affected my attitude to the writing of the music.’ Huckle says that, ‘I’m not sure whether Virgin actually could have just dropped them because they had a three album deal. But having lived under that threat almost since day one with Hansa, I don’t think the guys took too much notice of such threats by that time.’

Karn was also possibly considering a solo future, his confidence empowered by recent session work and the fawning reaction to his exhibitions. He and Sylvian were their least close during the recording of Tin Drum, with the bassist absenting the studio when he was not needed. Sylvian, on the other hand, never left Nye’s side and when he wasn’t contributing to a mix or recording vocals or guitar he was alongside Barbieri programming synths. Karn and Sylvian were fire and earth, the former with his outgoing, humorous personality, precocious sexuality and love of the hash pipe; the latter quieter, not given to demonstration, his humour rarer, dryer and more refined and his use of drugs confined to the occasional toot of coke to keep him focused and working long into early morning. In company, Karn invited you into his world and entertained you there, while Sylvian stood aloof but coldly charming, neither courting nor rejecting your friendship. When these two elements worked in harmony, as on stage, the effect was uniquely beguiling and dynamic; in day-to-day life, less so. ‘Making that album strained relations within the band considerably,’ Sylvian would recall. ‘We were beginning to close off from one another, which meant that we couldn’t give musically to one another. There were differing ambitions, and I was at odds with the band. They were also very dependent on me to write material.’

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Sylvian. London. 1981.

Sylvian would often speak of the pressure he felt in having to come up with an album’s worth of material each year. The problem was, of course, a matter of qualitative not quantitative control. Sylvian was capable of bashing out songs at will but such songs rarely meant anything to him and consequently he was unable to muster enough enthusiasm to record them; he wasn’t in the habit of mustering enthusiasm for anything. Even wonderful pieces like ‘Some Kind of Fool’ had been abandoned because their author had not sufficiently believed in them. Possibly because of this, Tin Drum would be the first album to feature co-writers, with Karn and Jansen being officially recognised as composers on three of its songs. Unlike all the previous albums, there was no surplus material begun and abandoned, and no out-takes. The group used everything they had. Tin Drum was the first Japan album properly to use space and sometimes even silence as an instrument in itself. In fact if Rob Dean had been replaced by anything, it was silence. Guitar on the album was so minimal that Nye can’t even recall recording any. It does of course feature on ‘The Art of Parties’ and ‘Still Life’, but on the former, the guitar tracks were used from the previous Punter sessions.

With Dean now gone (although he did visit the Manor before leaving for America), the group were a more efficient and finely honed unit. ‘Although I do think they lost something when Rob left,’ says Punter. ‘He grounded them in a way and his more traditional playing allowed them to go further afield as it were.’ Relationships in the band were generally amiable, although as they were all much more confident in themselves and their instruments, they were also becoming more independent. ‘We’d learnt to stay out of each other’s way,’ opined Karn. ‘There was much more individual time allocated to working alone with Nye, instead of everyone passing judgement on each other’s work.’ ‘David tried to keep a very loose reign on Mick,’ Huckle would explain, ‘he didn’t want him doing too much outside of the band, but he would be pissed off when Mick had been smoking too much hash and turn up late for a session with his eyes all bloodshot.’ Although Sylvian would later remark that Karn’s role was that of ‘a session musician’ during the recording, Nye says that, ‘I don’t recall any palpable tensions in the studio and certainly no bickering that I noticed, so mediation was never required. Anyway, I don’t see being “schoolmaster” as part of my job description. If there were any conflicts going on, then the participants were certainly professional enough not to allow it to manifest in the work.’ Huckle: ‘It generally felt like there was a high level of creativity and confidence among the guys. There was a different atmosphere from the previous two albums – it was much more workmanlike, which was partly down to Steve Nye producing; there was less larking about and he had a drier sense of humour than previous producers.

Further rehearsals of the new material began on 10 July for a period of three days and then again during the last week of July into the first sunny days of August. Nye was present at the latter, taking notes. Between rehearsals, Sylvian would continue to work alone on material at home, presenting it to the group during the intensive rehearsal periods at Nomis. The Nomis studio complex in Hammersmith was by now a commercial concern; a melting pot of successful names and faces of the time. Japan, however, didn’t mix. ‘Everyone who was anyone was there during that period – Police, The Jam, Adam and his Ants, Haircut 100, Graham Parker, David Essex,’ remembers Huckle, ‘and they were always kind of mingling during breaks in the large reception/relaxation area over coffees. However, Japan would avoid them by using the back stairs to and from the SNB office on the second floor and slip in and out of the building almost unseen. Not out of arrogance or rudeness, but from shyness. Mick perhaps would have been an exception to this, but had he lagged behind to chat he’d have been chastised for holding everyone else up.’ Although down to a four piece, Japan were now at their most formidable and Karn alone would have been a key player in any group, continually expanding his arsenal of instruments and bringing something new to the sonic table. On 3 August, he and Jansen took a trip to Ray Man, a music shop in Chinatown, where he purchased a dida. ‘I kept hearing a shrill but melodic sound on some of the records in Chinatown that I guessed was probably a reed instrument; it doesn’t follow Western scales and a lot of the notes had to be found by squeezing the reed with my lips or blowing harder, instead of fingering alone.’ The early 80s pop scene in Britain was infused with cod Oriental musical flavourings and pseudo pentatonic piddling – the aural equivalent of soy sauce with fish and chips – but what other groups were seeking out the source and adding arcane, authentic Asian instruments to their work? And which groups would have someone as talented and versatile as Karn to play such instruments? Japan were now an utterly seductive anomaly, the most beautiful looking freak in the pop circus.

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Barbieri, Karn. 1981.

On 5 August the band met with Fin Costello to shoot the initial photos for the cover for the, as yet, only half-finished album. Karn’s version of events concerning the photo shoot for Tin Drum casts Sylvian in a questionable light. He recalls that the singer arrived at the shoot ahead of schedule, presumably to dominate proceedings. ‘He had, behind our backs, arranged an alternative time for the session to begin,’ reckoned Karn. Nevertheless, a full band photo session was duly shot which Sylvian would reject and, according to Karn, go so far as to put a needle through the negatives of any Barbieri pictures of which he didn’t approve. ‘I don’t remember that,’ says the keyboard player, ‘but I know that Dave didn’t like the suit I was wearing so we had to do them again.’

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Initial Photo shoot for Tin Drum. Photo by Fin Costello.

Jansen’s diary notes that Sylvian didn’t like the look of either Barbieri or Karn in the photos and thus asked for a reshoot at a later date, but no one except Karn recalls the needle incident. Fin Costello: ‘I don’t want to get into a dispute over how the Tin Drum cover came together, but I will explain how it came about. I had a large number of books of photographs in the waiting area of the studio, one of which was Marc Riboud’s Visions of China, which was shot in China in the 1950s. There were several pictures that David saw in it, which we discussed. Coincidentally I had been building a set for an Ozzy Osbourne shoot, which looked like the Chinese peasant rooms in Riboud’s book, so I called David and suggested a test shoot. Mick and he came over that afternoon while the plaster on the set was still drying and we developed the shot there and then with them and my assistants Denise Richardson and Tony Harrison. The props in the picture are all from my kitchen except the poster of Mao, which we bought from Chinatown for 50p. Mick cooked the rice, which we ate while Tony developed the film (2 roll HP5) and made contacts. I still have the contacts and there are no pinholes in any of them, just chinagraph marks on the selected frames. The rest of the band were always going to be on the back cover in another shot based on an image from Riboud’s book [a photo of a divorce court]. Incidentally, technically it was a bit of film/chemical trickery to get the 1950s look in the texture of negative as the original type of film used by Riboud [orthochromatic film] was no longer available.’ Whatever the due process, the cover image would become a classic. It represented the music perfectly with Sylvian and the group as glam tourists in a contrived scene that was faked so sincerely it was almost more authentic than the real thing. The epitome of modern Western pop music. When he was later accused of Tin Drum being nothing more than ‘cultural tourism’, Sylvian, rather than take such an accusation as an insult, instead responded thus: ‘Of course it is. That’s obvious. But it led us to invent instrumentation. And that, as kids, is an exciting development.’

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The next day the band reassembled at Odyssey Studios near Marble Arch in central London to resume recording. ‘It could be a bit of a drag setting everything up every time we moved,’ says Nye, ‘but then again it kept us out of our comfort zone, which was a good thing.’ The group rarely all turned up at the same time. Outside of the studio there were still the ongoing day-to-day duties of interviews and photo shoots to be getting on with, many of which increasingly involved Sylvian and Karn only. Sometimes the recording sessions seemed to operate on a shift system, with different members working on separate parts at different times that occasionally overlapped. Barbieri sometimes sat programming in the control room with headphones while the painstaking process of assembling the drum parts took place or while Sylvian did a vocal.

On 6 August Jansen began building up the drums for ‘Cantonese Boy’ piece by piece, working solo in Karn’s absence until 4.00am. When the day’s studio session was over he continued to work back at Stanhope Gardens, programming a Linn drum part until 6.00am. He worked with headphones. ‘Steve also had a Simmons kit set up at home to practise on,’ says then flatmate Huckle, ‘and it’s fair to say the neighbours didn’t like it.’ The work ethic on Tin Drum would have impressed Chairman Mao himself. An excerpt from Jansen’s diary reveals the agonising attention to detail and the hours well spent:

07.08.81 ODYSSEY STUDIO. MICK WASN’T READY SO CAME IN LATER – I DECIDED TO RE-DO THE DRUMS ON ‘CANTONESE BOY’ BECAUSE THE SNARE WAS BUZZING TOO MUCH – TOOK A FEW HOURS – STARTED ON THE BASS – I THEN DECIDED THERE WAS ONE BASS DRUM BEAT THAT WAS TOO OUT OF TIME SO RECORDED THE DRUM TRACK AGAIN – DONE BY 11.00PM – MICK STARTED AGAIN ON BASS – BUT HE THEN DECIDED TO ALTER IT – SO INSTEAD I PUT DOWN THE LINN DRUM BASS DRUM FOR ‘STILL LIFE IN MOBILE HOMES’ – THEN STARTED RECORDING REAL HI-HAT AND SNARE WITH THAT.

08.08.81 – FINISHED PUTTING THE SNARE TO ‘SLIMH’ – MICK RECORDED THE BASS ON ‘SLIMH’ – FOLLOWED BY ‘C BOY’ – FINISHED AT 4.00AM.

09.08.81 – MICK FINISHED HIS BASS ON ‘C BOY’ EXCEPT FOR THE CODA – I PUT THE OCTOBANS AND CODA FLOOR TOM ON ‘C BOY’ – MICK THEN COMPLETED THE CODA BASS PART – STARTED ON KEYBOARDS – FINISHED 5.00AM.

Sessions continued at Odyssey for the next week, with more foundations being built for ‘Still Life in Mobile Homes’ and ‘Sons of Pioneers’, the only Japan track ever to credit Karn as co-writer. After initial difficulty (Jansen had a problem finding a suitable pattern for the track which was solved when he switched to beaters instead of sticks), the bass and drums to ‘…Pioneers’ were quickly completed. This was one of the most original pieces of music Japan recorded. Aside from the title, which could be traced back to the name of a 1930s American country and western group (The Sons of Pioneers) it was hard to link this piece with any of Japan’s obvious musical influences. Although Karn would claim that he did not begin composing seriously until 1982, this was not the first time he had offered a bass line for consideration by the group. Huckle: ‘Mick would sometimes play something in rehearsals and if it was rejected he’d simply say, “OK! That’s another one for the solo album then.”’ ‘…Pioneers’ was unique sounding, hypnotic and trance-like. It laid out an unfamiliar sonic terrain for the listener and like the group itself you either got it or didn’t. Sylvian: ‘[You could say] “Sons of Pioneers” is just a bass line over and over again with just a few things thrown on top. It will bore you if you don’t like the feel of it or if you don’t, for want of a better phrase, get into it, but that applies to all of our music.’

On the 13th, Japan and Nye moved once again to the less expensive Regent’s Park Studios. (‘A distinct lack of home comforts,’ noted Jansen in his diary). A 24-year-old Phil Bodger was there to welcome them. ‘I was the house engineer, the tape op. Any band might bring in another engineer as well as producer, but I came with the studio. I’d invariably make tea. Regent’s Park was about half the price of AIR. It would have been classed as a budget studio. I got the impression that they were on a budget and had to do things fairly cheaply. There was talk about that. I remember them coming down for the very first time because they all turned up in full make-up. That was quite striking. I knew who they were vaguely, but I didn’t know much about them. I was really into YMO at the time, so there was a connection. They were impressive looking . . . their make-up was great, they looked great. The studio was in a basement, quite a small room. They came with Steve Nye who brought a quarter inch tape just to test the monitors. I remember Nye was a bit abrupt. I asked him if I should set the tape machine up – pretty dumb question, admittedly – and he didn’t say anything, just looked at me with a disdainful expression, kind of like “of course! Don’t ask, just do it.” It was an odd room; heavily carpeted and very dead sounding.’

The varying studios and their respective acoustic qualities would work in the album’s favour, adding subtle colours to the recording. Nye: ‘I liked the heavily carpeted rooms at Regent’s Park. You can hear that “dead sound” perfectly on some tracks.’ Bodger was impressed by the dedication and skill of a group who many still regarded as faux musicians simply because of their appearance. ‘Their commitment was obvious,’ he says. ‘They were completely focused. I’d get in about 10 o’clock and open the studio up, set up the desk. Steve Nye would come in after that and then the group would drift in. I’d fix them a coffee. We’d do a 12-hour day, breaking for lunch; I’d get a sandwich for us all from a shop across the road. Jansen and Sylvian weren’t the easiest people to get along with, although Steve was friendlier than David. David was a little bit odd, very detached. I think I barely spoke to him. They weren’t overly friendly. Rich was nice, but incredibly shy. Hardly said a word. Very quiet. Steve Nye was the same as David in that he was detached but also, as I’ve said he blew hot and cold. One day he’d be fine and another day very moody. But you know, aside from being a producer he was a fantastic engineer, trained at AIR. I remember him telling me about working with Frank Zappa, who was a huge hero of mine. And the idea of this very English engineer working with Franz Zappa, who only worked with the best, kind of proved Nye’s credentials to me. He was obviously a brilliant engineer and they were all well into it.’

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Phil Bodger. Regent’s park studios. 1981.

Bodger was one of the few outsiders allowed a glimpse into Japan’s insular, workaholic world at this time. ‘The warmest one was Mick. He was lovely. Mick made the sessions fun. When he was doing his bass parts he cracked a lot of jokes, but apart from that it was hard work. Whatever David went on to say, Mick didn’t appear like a “session player” to me at all. He seemed very much a part of the band during those sessions. He was the most charismatic member too. He’d often play from the control room, straight into the desk rather than through an amp. And I’d be sat next to him operating the tape machine. That was an experience. He was unique and impressive and quirky.’ Bodger was obviously used to more traditionally rock and roll clients, but Japan had never fitted this archetype and were in the studio to work, not socialise.

There were few visitors during recording and little inclination to party afterwards, as Nye explains: ‘While we were in London I had an hour’s journey straight home after the sessions and an hour back on the train in the morning, so there was little time for anything but work, travel and sleep. There was not much in the way of socialising apart from the odd sake-lubricated visit to a Japanese restaurant. The levels of concentration for me were intense during the sessions. I always strove to do my best, as I believe I owed it to whoever I was working with to match their level of commitment and professionalism in order to achieve the desired result. That is not to say it was a chore, just the opposite. Itt is a joy when you love the music and admire and respect the musicians.’ The minimalism of this new material Japan were recording actually called for more effort. Sylvian: ‘We worked much harder on these arrangements simply because they’re so sparse; everything had to have the perfect sound for this or that line and it had to do just the right amount and no more because we wanted to leave it as barren as possible. We didn’t want to clutter it up like Polaroids where there were so many underlying things you don’t actually hear those that just work as texture.’

Such was the nature of this stripped down music that it was difficult for the ordinary listener or even other musicians to work out exactly where these songs on Tin Drum came from. It was hard to imagine any of them, with the exception of ‘Ghosts’, being written on an acoustic guitar. This would form part of its appeal. Japan themselves were discovering the album as they created it. It was even hard to hear a traditional triad chord played anywhere on the album; they were there, but far from obvious. Nye: ‘There are many chords on Tin Drum. Rich happened to mention that he and David used to tune their second oscillators to a fourth or fifth interval, thus providing a harmony of sorts, just played monophonically.’ Of course, Karn would sometimes play chords and Jansen’s drums were uncommonly musical, but this new music was as far away from ‘Adolescent Sex’ in its arrangement as London is from Bali. ‘Despite their glam image, I wasn’t surprised that they could play,’ says Bodger. ‘Steve and Mick stood out, but they were all good. Rich basically sat in a corner with a synth and headphones on. The genius of his programming to me was that the sounds he created sounded like real instruments. From my point of view – as someone who worked with loads of different bands in a short space of time – it was very impressive and it was very different.’

If Tin Drum was pop music, then the phrases, parts and the sounds used were shockingly unconventional. Sometimes it seemed as if Karn in particular would overstep some unwritten musical boundary – but he never did and neither did Nye have to curb his playing. ‘I never heard any bass parts prior to actually recording them,’ says Nye, ‘I remember spending time with Mick one-on-one recording some of the bass parts and they are treasured memories. Mick was always fun to be with and working with him was no exception. We all know what a great, innovative player he was. Technically and musically he was of the highest order and, although he took his playing seriously, it was always undertaken with such joyous panache and freedom of expression. It doesn’t get any better than witnessing Mick Karn transform a track with his trademark sinuous creations so effortlessly executed.’

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On 14 August work began on a song called ‘Ghosts’. It would take a while for this track to take shape, but it was instantly apparent that it was something special. Time was used efficiently, however, and another song, ‘Visions of China’, was attempted simultaneously with Jansen and Karn struggling to find a working rhythm part in an ante-studio. Meanwhile, in the control room, Sylvian, Barbieri and Nye began building the foundations for what would become, for many, Japan’s greatest song. Various synths (although no more than three at any time) were set up around the room, some anointed with an ashtray or, for the sugar-hungry Nye, chocolate digestives. Sylvian and Barbieri had spent hours programming these keyboards, laboriously searching for the correct sound for each phrase for each part of the song. Sylvian: ‘Tin Drum was a wonderful challenge to work on. Richard and I were stretching ourselves enormously in terms of programming new sounds. We only used a Prophet 5 and an OBX and tried to emulate fictitious musical instruments. It was really hard work, but it was worth it.’ Despite the incredibly rich variety of synth colours, Barbieri and Sylvian used only the aforementioned Prophet 5 and OBX, and some Roland System 700. Barbieri remembers: ‘We took such care over each individual sound that we got quite paranoid about all sounds being new and different. My big influence on that album was Stockhausen, especially the abstract electronic things he was doing in the late ’50s. Listen to a track like “Ghosts”, for example, and you’ll hear all these metal-like sounds that hardly have a pitch, yet subconsciously suggest a melody.’

There was no fanfare or announcement heralding this new ballad. It was introduced to the sessions as simply one more track to be recorded, as Nye recalls. ‘I knew absolutely nothing about the song until we started recording it. I imagine we started with some SMPTE time code and a rhythm box [later removed] of some description. Obviously without bass guitar and drums it was always going to be a bit different.’ It would be a cruel irony that the song which would go on to be Japan’s most respected and successful song in terms of chart placing would not even feature Karn. But no one was thinking of that then. Nye continues: ‘The first musical part we recorded was the synth-bass drone part of Dave’s. We had to leave plenty of space on the tape before the bass notes began to allow room for Rich’s intro sounds. The long sustained bass note in the bridge before the second verse was a bit of a mystery to me at the time, but it was early days.’

Barbieri and Sylvian sometimes played the same keyboard simultaneously, hip to hip, while a Gitane-smoking Nye looked over his shoulder at them to cue the track on tape. ‘Next were the three rhythmic “stab” chords at the beginning of the chorus part of the song [Dave again] and the answering “churchy” organ chords from Rich,’ explains Nye. ‘That’s the first familiar sound we hear on the track, somehow warm and comforting amidst the unnerving strangeness. Steve’s marimba part was added at a later date. I think this is when the melody and lyrics made their first appearance.’ Working tapes of the song – recordings made in the studio as the piece was developed – reveal different lyrics from the final version. Sylvian originally sings, ‘When the room is quiet/The day is dead and gone/And I feel like walking’. However, even while the lyrics are in flux the structure of the song is already firmly in place and there is absolute conviction in the voice. It’s as if Sylvian knows that in ‘Ghosts’ he has finally found the voice he has been working towards since ‘The Tenant’. It would also point a way forward for him personally and thus chime as the keynote in Japan’s demise. All of this lay in the future. Such notions were not yet an issue at Regent’s Park Studios in the summer of 1981.

Even hardened professionals like Nye, who had previously worked with many ‘highly esteemed’ artists, couldn’t help but be taken aback by the power of such material. ‘That vocal,’ says Nye, ‘when David first sang it as a guide . . . There are times when the first time you hear a singer put the vocal onto a track it is a moment of complete transformation. A revelation. Unexpected and instantly recognisable as something special. I remember recording Bryan Ferry singing “Love Is The Drug” for the first time on a completed backing track to which we had hitherto all sung “pirate tunes”. Suddenly it was a different track altogether. “Ghosts” was one of those occasions. Spine-chilling. Not a scary spine-chilling, despite the ghostly connotation, but an emotional one. A beautifully constructed melody and a lyric that touched something deep inside. I remember thinking, “Bloody ’ell, this is really something.”’ It wasn’t in Nye’s nature to be awestruck and, after this initial jolt, through a fug of coffee and cigarette smoke, work continued apace. ‘OK, that’s the song,’ says Nye, ‘now it’s time for the decorators to move in. So then we go to Steve with his hands full of marimba mallets, well two in each hand to be more precise. I don’t remember if he played them like that, but it looked good anyway and, as we know, Steve always looked good. It’s a tricky thing to have to play musical notes when you’re used to just hitting things, but Steve came up with a great part for the solo and after a while he mastered the instrument and also played, for him, the slightly easier rhythmic parts in the choruses. To be fair, Steve was not a stranger to the piano, but although the keys are laid out the same on a marimba, they’re huge and you have to play each note separately with a mallet so it’s a bit tricky at first. The way Steve played it, with a slight feeling of awkwardness, gave the part a kind of fragility and demented, childlike quality which, to me, greatly enhanced the unsettling atmosphere.’

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Jansen no doubt appreciated working with such an open-minded producer, one who did not baulk at the drummer effortlessly moving from drum stool to keyboards and onto marimba, (although it should be noted that this was the case since the band began working with Punter). ‘Working with Steve Nye you got the sense you were in some sort of boot camp together,’ says Jansen. ‘By this I don’t mean to imply he was strict and bound by routine; on the contrary he was quite laid back despite the constant filter-less Gitanes and strong black coffees. I mean that he had expectations. There was a standard of musicianship that needed to be maintained. He would mock any shoddy playing, much to the amusement of those not playing. He was very focused and serious about the discipline of getting things right, but not in a regimented way, more with the attitude of “well, you’re the musician, you really think that’s good enough?” And when inspired moments arose he would genuinely enthuse, by his standards. He was a real musician’s musician and loved to explore all possibilities as though there were better things being overlooked by leaving efforts unchallenged. I think Steve showed us that. I can recall that when I came up with the marimba solo on “Ghosts”, he was really engaged with where I’d stumbled to with the melody, but I just couldn’t figure out where the ending ought to go, so he was making suggestions from the control room through the headphones, until I said, “Please come out and show me what you mean,” which he did. That solo was subsequently tagged with the moniker, “the end is Nye”. I reckon he was in it for those moments and that’s where he really came into his own. Being a musician, his input on that level can not be overstated.’

Outtakes of the Tin Drum cover. Photos by Steve Jansen.

Ghosts. TOTP. March 1982.

This an excerpt from Japan : ‘A Foreign Place’.  Published by Burning Shed LTD.

You can buy the softcover here –  Book

And here – Book

The sumptuous Japanese edition can be found here. Shinko Edition

The latest reissue of Tin Drum can be bought here. Tin Drum 2018 edition.

You can also read my account of the making of Gentlemen take Polaroids Here

Or Here

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