For those of us who are unable to hot-foot it half-way across the globe, to catch Steve’s current exhibition in Kyoto, our lovely friend Keiko Kurata has very kindly offered to be our (quiet) eyes and ears.
Here is a short film she made of the installation, when she visited last weekend.
You wait 35 years for a SJ photo exhibition, only for 3 of them to turn up all at once 🙂
Steve last officially exhibited his photographic work at The Photographers’ Gallery, (just off Oxford Street, in London) in October 1983. Tomorrow (13th April) sees the opening of a small-scale installation at the ISETAN store (6F) in Kyoto Station. Mainly featuring prints from his 2015 book, “through a quiet window”, the exhibition runs for a month, ending on 13th May.
As the Kyoto installation ends, 2 further exhibitions are scheduled to take place, half-a-world away, in Nova Scotia and Ontario. The first takes place at Cape Breton University Art Gallery in Sydney, Nova Scotia (11th May – 6th July) and this will then move on to the Carnegie Gallery in August (final dates and time TBC)
Those of us not fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit any of these current installations (and I really am not at all bitter that I returned from a visit to Japan a mere 20 days ago. Oh no, not bitter at all. Really. Not. Bitter.) will just have to hope that other galleries and curators, slightly closer to home, will be encouraged to offer Steve the chance to extend his run of exhibitions.
Of course, failing that, there’s always the fact that we can actually buy copies of these gorgeous images, (as well as the “through a quiet window” book) direct from the man himself, and create our very own, small-scale exhibitions in our homes. That’s what I’ve done. 🙂
Earlier this week, the lovely Kerry Curtis approached her fellow JAPAN-fans (via one of the FB groups) to ask for advice on purchasing one of Steve’s prints. Her other-half has kindly offered to buy her one (in recognition of the alleged birth of a baby, some 2017 years ago) but she just couldn’t make up her mind; which one to choose?
Those of us who are lucky enough to own one of Steve’s prints leaped straight into the discussion, sharing our own favourites and suggesting other ones we coveted. This was a much easier task, prior to the release of ‘through a quiet window’, when there were but a few dozen options to choose from. However, since Steve bowed to the tremendous pressure of Shane crying “BOOK!” at every opportunity, and finally released all those sumptuous images he’d been keeping up his sleeve (or on umpteen contact sheets, more accurately) the job of whittling down 200+ photos to a mere one, is almost insurmountable. Having said that, it isn’t really much a hardship to spend a whole evening poring over the glorious pictures in Steve’s ‘imageshop’, is it?
Over the years, whenever there has been discussion on the FB pages about Steve’s prints, there are always a few fans who express their disappointment at not being able to afford to buy one. Whilst there is no doubting that £150 is fantastic value for what you receive, it is just too much for some people to be able to cough-up. Steve has always been aware of this, and about 3 years ago, he piloted an option where you could buy smaller, unmounted prints, at a reduced cost. I bought two of these smaller prints, but think I must’ve broken the system, as the idea was soon dropped.
However, fear not for I bring you tidings of great joy! For, on this day, Steve has just announced that he is now making smaller signed prints available, once more.
For those of you who don’t access FB, here is the post:
Images from Steve Jansen’s photo book ‘Through A Quiet Window’ (plus additional images) can now be purchased in a choice of formats. Previously offered only as larger, card mounted, signed prints you can now also purchase as smaller, unmounted, signed prints for approximately a third of the price. For this option simply email your image title choice(s) and you will be contacted with confirmation.
At roughly a third of the cost of the larger, limited edition prints, this means that more people should be able to join the JansenPrintOwners’ Club; the more the merrier, as far as I am concerned.
To add to this exciting news, I noticed that a couple more images have been added to the vast choice – so if you are stuck for something to do this evening, simply pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass of vino and spend a couple of hours scanning the array of photos in Steve’s imageshop.
It is now a full 10-years since the smoking ban came into force in England – following those which had been implemented a full 18-months previously across Scotland, Ireland and Wales – and it is now almost impossible to remember just quite how ubiquitous that most anti-social of habits once was, in our daily lives. I recall visiting Ireland in 2006, a few months after the ban had been introduced there, and wondering why every bar I visited smelt like it had recently been newly varnished; was there an annual ‘re-decorate the pubs’ festival, I had been previously unaware of? For, upon entering each and every hostelry on that trip, the heady combination of cleaning products, stale beer and the deadly waft of a thousand disintegrating urninal-cakes, produced an acidic, oily aroma – which had been so cleverly masked by the over-powering stench of tobacco, and was suddenly all too obvious. It really wasn’t that pleasant.
When I think back to my formative years, cigarettes where everywhere. My dad was the only adult I knew, who didn’t smoke. My mum smoked, all of their friends smoked, my four brothers all smoked. Interviewers on TV smoked, musicians smoked on stage, magazines were full of photos of the latest pop-stars, models and actors, staring moodily at the camera, with a cigarette dangling provocatively from their lip-sticked pouts.
Unsurprisingly, I started to smoke. At school during breaks, we’d stand outside the staff room and watch all of the teachers get settled in their chairs and start puffing away, then nick round the back of the science-block, and spark up a cheeky Player’s No. 6. When I went to uni, two of my lecturers would smoke all the way through classes, although we weren’t allowed to (ghastly double standards!) and one of my strongest memories of those hedonistic days, is waking up in the early hours of the morning, with my face buried in my pillow, with the stench of a thousand nightclub cigarettes clinging to my hair, clothes and bed. The thought of it turns my stomach now, but at the time, it seemed so normal.
In 1981, at the tender age of 13, I was lucky enough to see JAPAN in concert. It was my first ever gig, and I’d love to be able to recount every single moment of the show; however, my abiding memory of the evening, is of standing on a raised step, by the side of the stage (right up next to the speakers, which made my ears bleed during Canton!) and watching with amazement, as the smoke rose from the top of the 2,000 strong audience, and was caught up in the lights emanating from the stage. It was trippy and beautiful. Standing in the Great Hall, at Lancaster University, surrounded by glamorous beings, dressed in their finery and puffing away on their Gitanes – and all within pouting distance of my favourite band – was utterly momentous and life-defining. Despite all of the messages which clearly stated that smoking was bad for you, I fell for the hype. It was glamorous; it was cool; it was sophisticated. It was grown-up, and that is what I wanted.
And blimey, those JAPAN boys could smoke. And then some. There were so many photos of them, posing beautifully, with cigarettes clamped between their lips, or in between their fingers. I know it was the norm at the time, but with hindsight, as immaculate as they all looked, I can’t help but think they must’ve bloody REEKED! We all did.
Now, I am the last person to encourage anyone to smoke, or to glamorise this most anti-social of habits, but when I sit here now and look back at all of these wonderful images I still can’t help but think that they all look so freaking cool. It’s sheer madness, I know. I’m not 15 and easily manipulated, but…..well, take this photo of Mick, in a hotel room in Leeds, as an example. With the blonde shock of spikes and the filterless fag dangling dangerously from his jutting lips, doesn’t he just appear to be the most exotic and intriguing person who ever bestrode the planet?
When I first started this blog, I invited people who had bought any of Steve’s prints to contribute, and Adam Howard did just that. This was one of the ones he owned and he admitted to having mixed feelings about the inclusion of the cigarette. “My family bought (it for) me. At the time I thought it was an odd choice as we are all ardent non-smokers, but I can’t complain as I did leave it up to their discretion. I’ve grown to appreciate the picture over time, and the whole smoking thing was very ‘Mick’ I suppose.” Adam also said he had initially felt a bit uncomfortable with the image, due to Mick’s cancer diagnosis and untimely death. However, as he quite rightly stated, this IS a very Mick pose and no amount of revisionism, in the face of his sad passing, will alter that fact.
In fact, so strongly do some of us associate Mick with his smoking habit, that when I asked JAPAN-fan extraordinaire, Keiko Kurata, about her favourite SJ photos of Mick one of the ones she chose was this one…..
Her reasoning was simple and logical: “when I see Gitanes, I always think of Mick …. and Steve knew that Bass+Gitanes = Mick”.
You really can’t argue with that, can you? 🙂
Thankfully, the remaining members have now all kicked the habit; admittedly, some of them rather more recently than others. In fact, Steve has even suggested that he wasn’t ever really a serious smoker, despite the hordes of photographic evidence to the contrary. “I was surrounded by smokers therefore it was easy to grab one, but it wasn’t really for me. I’m not a smoker despite how it appears sometimes in those early photos.”
To be fair, he may have a point – that cigarette isn’t even lit!
Now, I cannot emphasise enough, how much I dislike cigarettes – and I truly hope that no-one reading this thinks that I am trying to glamorise smoking and make it seem like a GOOD thing to do. I really am not. However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that one of my all-time favourite shots – which resulted from the click of Steve’s A1 shutter-button -is the utterly sublime photo of Ryuichi Sakamoto, which graces the top of this page. And, like Adam Howard, I too feel horribly conflicted with my absolute love of this image.
We all know that Ryuichi was diagnosed with throat cancer, a couple of years ago. Certain cancers (but not all) are undoubtedly linked to smoking, and throat cancer is up there at the top of that list. Thankfully, he is now in full remission following extensive treatment, but it still feels a bit odd (and not a little warped) to wax-lyrical about a photograph which graphically represents something so dangerous and harmful.
However, the truth of the matter is that this photo also represents who he was, at that moment in time. When we look back on these images from nearly 4-decades ago, we have to remember that attitudes were different. This was a time when smoking was far more acceptable and seemingly ubiquitous – and I am really sorry to admit this, but I still think they all look really, really cool.
Can you believe that it is almost September? In fact, by the time I actually get around to posting this, it actually WILL be September. How did that happen? Up here in the frozen wastelands of northern England, we are still waiting for summer to start. Or, at least continue. Anyhoo, enough of my thoroughly British whingeing, about the passing of time and the weather, and on to more exciting things. For, the onset of September brings with it the promise of something rather wonderful…..Richard Barbieri is heading oop north at the end of this month, to play his last show of 2017, and it is going to be fantastic. Huzzah!
For those of us who have already bought tickets for the Liverpool show (and more than 3/4 of the tickets have sold, to date) I thought it would be a great opportunity to ask Richard what we can expect from this rather special event. For, this is not any old gig; this final show of 2017, will be played within the Gothic grandeur of the beautiful St Margaret of Antioch church, in the heart of this fine city.
Last week, Richard was kind enough to answer a few probing questions about his live performances, and his plans for the future.
So, without further ado, I give you, Mr Richard Barbieri:
VCC: Over the last 18-months, you have played a number of ‘solo shows’ – starting with the university masterclass in Huddersfield – where you have showcased new material, as well as featuring re-workings of older tracks, from throughout your career. How easy is it to step out onto that stage, on your own, knowing that it is all down to you?
RB: “It’s quite easy and I never ever thought I’d say this……I’ve always been rather quiet, and a little shy, so it surprises me that recently I feel very comfortable being alone on stage and communicating with an audience. Everything before and after the show is more stressful for me, especially all the technical preparation and concerns. There’s so many things to consider on a performance day, including the needs of the musicians with me, so any help I get is really appreciated.”
VCC: You seem to really enjoy these appearances, and having been fortunate enough to witness a number of the recent shows, I know how positively they have been received by the audience. Are there any memorable moments, which stand out to you?
RB: “I try to choose venues or spaces where the audience can concentrate and focus on the performance without distractions. It enables me to play some of the more sparse material – and to hear silence in the musical pauses is amazing for me – having toured with a rock band for so long where subtlety is very hard to achieve. I did really enjoy previewing an early version of “New Found Land” at the chapel in Huddersfield. I thought it sounded good in that environment.”
As someone who was lucky enough to be at that first solo-outing, in Huddersfield, I can only agree with Richard; hearing snippets of the new music, in such a beautiful setting (albeit, on a wet January afternoon) was a wonderful experience, and only whetted my appetite for what was to follow.
RB: “The “comedy” and more lighthearted moments come with the recent Q & A sessions, and at the last show in Birmingham a member of the audience was very concerned as to whether I was happy in myself, and what pension provisions I had made. Possibly he was hoping I would fall into a teary rant about the music industry and how broke I was – or maybe he was genuinely concerned?
Of course I hate the industry and I’m usually pretty broke – but mustn’t grumble… ” 🙂
VCC: Having the musical polymath, Lisen Rylander Löve, join you on the recent shows, seemed to create a whole new ambience – certainly from the audience’s perspective – and especially when you played at the beautifully-intimate, Hoxton Hall, in March. What can we expect from the up-coming Liverpool show?
RB: “Lisen has transformed the music and her input enables me to experiment a bit more and rely much less on any backing tracks. Of course we need rhythms, bass and some fx running in the background, but we can now improvise more and each performance can be different. For the Liverpool concert we will be joined by Luca Calabrese on trumpet, so I’ll have the two main contributors to my album with me. ”
VCC: What additional challenges will you face, playing this material in the Gothic splendour of a Victorian church?
RB: “I think the acoustics will present some problems for certain tracks and we will have to adjust our approach accordingly. On the other hand, some pieces like “Unholy, New Found Land and Experience Of Swimming” should work really well.”
(at this point, I desperately wanted to suggest that Richard could create a wonderful ‘mash-up’ of 2 of his songs…..just imagine ‘host to the unholy’!! However, common sense prevailed, and instead I used it as the title of the blog, Quite fitting, don’t you think?)
VCC: You have said that the Liverpool show is your final one for 2017, although you are also planning to join Lustans Lakejer on their 35th anniversary tour in Sweden, in October. Do you have any plans to step out onto the stage again in 2018?
RB: “There’s talk of possible concerts in Japan next year. I’d like to do a couple in Scotland and then hopefully Rome, and maybe Amsterdam? Scandinavia would be nice if something could be arranged. Beyond that I don’t know.”
(VCC immediately cancels her planned trip to Japan in March and awaits further news!)
VCC: What else may be on the cards for the coming year?
RB: “I’ll be releasing a series of EPs over the next 6 months. I can’t follow up my recent solo album just yet, but want to continue the creative process with diverse pieces and collaborations.”
So folks, there you have it. The promise of new music, some shows on foreign shores, as well as the upcoming performance in 4 weeks time. Exciting times, eh?
If you haven’t yet booked your tickets for the Liverpool show on 29th September, what are you waiting for? This promises to be a performance like no other, with Richard being joined by Lisen & Luca, in the most beautiful of settings. I have it on good authority, that there will be some new items available to purchase from the merchandise stand on the night, including a ltd edition print and concert posters.
To add to the fun, we have arranged an ‘aftershow’ get-together at Club 27, where a few dozen of us will be drinking, dancing and chatting the night away. If you fancy spending an evening, in the company of like-minded people, please feel free to join us.
Earlier this week, a Japanese fan kindly shared some photos of prints he had bought from Steve some years ago, on the JAPAN Facebook page. This caused a flurry of excitement amongst a number of people, as they included some shots taken during the Tin Drum cover-shoot, which many of us had never seen before.
I took to ‘sleepyard’ to ask Steve about the images, wondering if there were others and why they hadn’t been included in his recent book, ‘through a quiet window’? It was obvious that quite a few people were interested in the images, and would like to purchase copies, if they were available.
The answer was as bleak as it was brief –
The simple answer is that I can’t locate the negatives so these prints would have been made around the time the photos were taken. steve via sleepyard
I contacted the owner, Maasaki Fujisawa, who has very kindly given us permission to share the images here.
I can’t help but wonder how many other, unseen (by us, at least!) images have also disappeared over the years? Steve has made reference to other negatives going ‘walk-about’, including the ones which graced the ‘Art of Parties’ sleeve, so I can only assume there are others out there, just waiting to be re-discovered.
Non-UK residents will have to excuse me if I am being specifically Britain-centric today, but…..blimey, hasn’t it been hot? You see, us Brits get all excited when the big, yellow glare-ball comes out; then after about 15-minutes, we all start moaning about how “it’s too hot to be stuck in an office” or “it’s fine if you’re on holiday but try sitting on the #42 bus to Preston” and “it’s not the same as heat in the Med” – along with other such nonsense. However, it really has been particularly toasty over the last few days, and this has led to me spending most of my time, lounging around in a bikini and sarong, drinking far too many glasses of Campari Spritz and wondering why I haven’t written any posts on the blog for ages.
The answer to that is far too long and dull for me to bore you with, but at least I feel slightly more motivated, than of late. However, now that I am sitting here, keyboard at the ready, what on earth am I going to write about? Well, whilst I was wilting in the heat, over the weekend, I remembered a couple of ideas I had for posts many moons ago, which never actually made it to fruition. So, because I am a bit lazy, I thought I’d dig one of those out from the old archive, spruce it up a bit and get the blog-ball rolling again. And, considering the recent spell of tropical weather, this one is sort of in keeping with the theme.
As Ian Astbury once bellowed: “hot, sticky scenes; you know what I mean?”.
Well, no, not really; but here are some photos Steve took, featuring the band looking a tad toasty.
When Steve first published this shot of Mick and David, from a trip to Thailand in 1981, I was rather taken aback. Firstly, as Steve often shot with b&w film, and I was so used to seeing mainly monochrome images, his colour photos can sometimes seem to be unnaturally garish – almost too colourful, I suppose? It wasn’t just that, though. The photo positively oozes tropical clamminess. Mick, with his Cypriot heritage and horrific Hawaiian shirt, looks (ironically) cool as the proverbial cucumber; but, David? Well, let’s just say, that this was the first time I can remember clocking an image of him (from this era, at least) looking like an everyday kind of bloke. Seemingly devoid of make-up, his skin a bit pink and flushed, he looks oddly and uncharacteristically flustered, but also just so normal. I really liked it.
Taken during the same trip (same hideous shirt on Mick, but Dave had brought a spare), this image – which has been shared umpteen times on Tumblr and FB, and seems to make a certain kind of JAPAN fan sigh wistfully – suggests that a cool drink alongside the banks of the river, makes for altogether a less uncomfortable experience. The band spent a week in Thailand, after their promoter got the dates of their show confused, and they had time to just enjoy themselves (and the heat) before they headed back to the UK.
This visit to Thailand, which followed the band’s only Japanese live dates that year, in February 1981, also provided the inspiration for Steve’s first foray into photographing specifically for a record cover. The single was The Art of Parties, and he wanted to try to capture that “sweaty and unkempt look” – admittedly a massive departure, style-wise, for the band, but seemingly in keeping with the feel of the music, and the repeated “I’m burning” refrain of the lyrics. Although, as Steve said in Anthony Reynolds’ A Foreign Place’, “I have no idea what it has to do with any art of any parties” 🙂
The photos were taken in Mick’s Stanhope Gardens flat, a bucket of water on hand to give the impression of tropical humidity…….and resulted in the beautifully captured portraits of each of the members of ‘japan’, which grace the cover. These pictures were a million miles way from the perfectly sculpted images we had been used to seeing of the band; bear in mind that, only a few months earlier, they had released Gentlemen Take Polaroids, with the icily iconic shot of a heavily made-up Sylvian, looking almost otherworldly. And yet, here we see them in just a dash of eye-liner, looking sultry, sweaty and dishevelled. Marvellous stuff – and exactly the perfect way to confound the critics. Again.
art of parties – alternative composite
Compare these photos, as stylised as they are, with the images we are used to seeing of the band. Even though Steve was “on the inside” and therefore able to take rolls & rolls of film of the his friends in more relaxed mode, the majority of even his shots, show them looking cool, classy and composed. No dress-down Fridays, for this lot. Even when they were on the road, driving from London to Cornwall for the opening night of a tour, in the middle of a British winter, the band manage to pull-off looking remarkably coiffed. These images couldn’t be further away from the tropical, techni-colour of the Thailand shots, could they?
Maybe it is because I grew up in the north of England, during the 1970s and early 80s, but I have never felt particularly drawn to happy, summery music and imagery. JAPAN never suggested flowery meadows and long, sunlit evenings, to me. When I think of JAPAN, I tend to think of autumn and winter. Of long dark nights. Their music, and their image I suppose, was more intense and therefore far more interesting to the teenaged me. It still is. Which goes some way to explaining why I like Steve’s photography, so much. Yes, he was the drummer in my favourite band; but he also managed to reflect a sense of what I was yearning for, at a time when I was most easily impressed. Life did feel colder and certainly more monochrome back then. Possibly because the only times I ever saw JAPAN live, was in the middle of winter, and those are my strongest memories from that time? Who knows.
JAPAN may have been at the forefront of the move away from the dull and dank past; after all they were daringly colourful in their atire, with their perfectly made-up faces and hair, but they did it without the dreadful brashness of others. As they have often said, they lived that every day, they didn’t just pile the panstick on for the photoshoots.
So, how wonderfully refreshing, and occasionally hilarious, to see the odd photo of David looking a bit flustered in the tropical heat on a Bangkok evening. How lovely to see Mick, with massive shades clamped to his face, wearing a gaudy shirt and showing off his natural tanning ability. How exciting to see alternative shots from the AoP photo-shoot, with all the band looking sultry and sweaty (albeit in Kensington) whilst trying to recreate the humidty of their recent Thailand sojourn.
As is usual with a British heatwave, I imagine it’ll all be over by tomorrow, what with it being mid-summer, and all. In which case, we can all get back to our normal lives again, and start moaning about the rain.
All of the photos are available to purchase from Steve’s imageshop
Over the last few weeks, followers of Steve’s ‘sleepyard’ blog may have noticed him sharing a number of ‘previously unseen’ photos of JAPAN. The images, taken by a range of photographers and spanning the band’s full career – from the pomp & pout of the late 70s, to the pristine poses of the Virgin era – were discovered earlier in the year, and it has been fabulous to finally see some new photos emerge.
Whilst many of the images have not been officially published previously, some of the shots may seem familiar to many fans; there are a number of ‘alternative’ photos from sessions with Patrick Litchfield, which appeared in The Sunday Times magazine (and one of my least favourite JAPAN photo-shoots, for the record!) as well as lots of early promos by Günther Rakete and a whole slew of uncredited shots of the band in recording studios and on stage.
A number of these photos are now being auctioned on behalf of the band members. For those blog-readers who do not access the FB groups, where the auctions are discussed and promoted, here is the link to the goodies which are currently on eBay.
It has now been over 18 months since Steve released his photographic book, ‘through a quiet window’. It was an incredibly exciting time for those of us who had long wished for him to publish his photos. However, the fact that it is only available to purchase via artes publishing, has meant that there has been little mention of it, outside of the JAPAN FB pages and forums, which is such a shame, as it deserves a much, much wider audience. Here’s a review from ‘moving the river’ blog. If anyone has seen the book reviewed or discussed elsewhere, it would be great to know.
Mick Karn and David Sylvian, Stanhope Gardens, London, 1981
Ringo Starr was once asked: What do you remember about recording Sgt Pepper’s? His reply? ‘I learnt how to play chess on that album.’ Not to do Ringo down at all – he’s the reason this writer picked up the drum sticks – but the line does say something about the sometimes tedious nature of recording in the era of multi-tracking. The drummer may have laid down all his parts in the first week of a project, so he or she had better have a Plan B for when the rest of the band are tinkering endlessly.
Japan drummer Steve Jansen didn’t learn chess but he did use his time very productively while the band recorded their masterpieces, Gentlemen Take Polaroids and Tin Drum; he developed his formidable photography skills, and now his work has been collected in a…
The Japanese edition of Anthony Reynolds’ beautifully researched, written and designed biography of the group Japan focusing on 1974-1984 has now gone to press!
Our friends at Shinko in Tokyo will be receiving finished copies back from the printer soon, and they will be available to order by the end of May. We’ll have a better image plus some insides to show you once we receive our advances.
The UK paperback (Japan – A Foreign Place: The Biography 1974-1984, published by Burning Shed) is of course available now.