behind the scenes – recording with akiko yano

Fasten your seatbelts and hang on to your hats folks, for tonight’s post goes off on a slight tangent. As previously mentioned, now that the blog has made it unscathed through the first 12 months of life, it is time to stir things up a bit and for us to stray a little off the beautifully beaten path we have been marching down for the last year. This blog will always bear the name of the man who first inspired it, and the main focus will continue to be Steve’s photography; but, in an effort to keep things fresh, and to enable us to get another 12 months of interesting(ish) waffle out into the murky world of blogdom, we are also expanding our borders and taking a side-ways glance at some of the images he captured.

First up tonight, we take a peek behind the scenes of the recording of Akiko Yano’s “Ai Ga Nakucha Ne” album. Those of you who have been paying attention will be aware that some images from the recording of the album, at Air Studios in London, feature in Steve’s recently released book of photography and have previously been published on his ‘sleepyard’ tumblr.

Here, Paul Rymer takes us back in time for a closer look (and listen) to the artist behind the voice, and celebrates the coming together of 2 incredibly influential bands of musicians. Over to you, Paul.

drawing by Ryuichi Sakamoto
drawing by ryuichi sakamoto         photo by steve jansen

“Inspired by Steve Jansen’s “Through A Quiet Window” I thought I would share some “alternative views” with you, covering some of the same times and places that are featured in Steve’s book. For this initial post I’ll cover the recording of the album “Ai Ga Nakucha Ne” by Akiko Yano at Air Studios, London.

Akiko Yano (formerly Akiko Suzuki) was by 1982 an established star in Japan. Her debut release, aged 16, was as a member of the group Zariba, for whom she was keyboardist and vocalist. In 1974 she put her career on hiatus when she married record producer Makoto Yano and raised their son Futa. In 1976, now called Akiko Yano, she launched her solo career to great acclaim, scoring a hit album with “Japanese Girl”. Following that Yano was in demand as a songwriter and session musician, appearing as a guest performer with Haruomi Hosono and Ryuichi Sakamoto at a show in Yokohama in May 1976, the first time that the pre-YMO would play “Firecracker”. According to Hideki Matsutake, YMO’s computer programmer, Yano was the first Japanese musician to use sequencers.

In 1978 YMO performed as Yano’s back-up band for a Japanese tour, and at this time she became romantically involved with Sakamoto, following the breakup of her marriage. Although at the time this wasn’t noted in the press, once YMO became famous the story was spread across the papers, something that Akiko further highlighted herself by including clippings from the tabloid reports in a tour programme. In 1979 Akiko became a support member of YMO; taking a break in early 1980 when she gave birth to daughter Miu Sakamoto, before returning for the second YMO world tour.

Japan the band first became aware of Akiko Yano because Japanese fans gave the group mixtapes of music they thought they would like. At that time, according to Mick, they did not know that there was a connection between YMO and Akiko. This soon changed when Japan attended a YMO concert and were introduced backstage. David Sylvian, Sakamoto and Yano started to exchange letters, something referred to in the song “David” released later in the 80s.

steve, ryuichi, mick, akiko photo by pennie smith
steve, ryuichi, mick, akiko photo by pennie smith

For her 1981 tour Akiko recruited Masami Tsuchiya as guitar player, and he went on to play on her album “Tadaima”. Both artists came to London in early 1982 and booked time at Air studios, Masami to record “Rice Music” and Akiko “Ai Ga Nakucha Ne”. Akiko specifically chose to work with Japan members and to record at Air because of “Tin Drum”; she liked the clarity of sound and the feel of the album, and wanted that for her own recording. To that end, not only did Akiko recruit the Japan members, but she employed Steve Nye and David Rhodes for the duration of the recording. However, Nye would not be producing, that role would be performed by fiancé Ryuichi (the couple would marry before the album was released). As you can see, even though he didn’t appear on the recording, Richard Barbieri attended at least one session. Sadly I was unable to find any photos of David Sylvian at the Air sessions (he sang on “Goodnight”) – it is possible that his vocal was recorded in Tokyo later that Spring – certainly the piano backing by Ryuichi’s mentor Yuji Takahashi was not recorded in London. It may be the case that David was avoiding Mick at this time, hence his lack of visibility in the shots here that were taken by Pennie Smith and Ryuichi.

richard & akiko
richard & akiko  photo by ryuichi sakamoto

All of the photos come from the book that was an optional extra at the time the album “Ai Ga Nakucha Ne” was released. In an unusual move, the album was released at budget price initially in a plain sleeve – for an extra 1000 Yen purchasers could add in the photo book.

What about the music? Despite Akiko apparently wanting some of the “Japan sound”, it doesn’t really sound like Japan! The similarities are the use of Prophet 5, marimba, and Steve’s drumming is unmistakable. Somehow though, despite being there, Mick doesn’t sound like his usual self, and is lower in the mix than you would expect. Perhaps this is because Mick’s suggested bass lines didn’t meet with Sakamoto’s approval?

The title track “Ai ga nakucha ne”, “Onnatachiyo otokotachiyo” and “Aisuru Hitoyo” (a single in Japan) are the stand-out tracks, both moving on at a fair pace and showing off the drumming styles of Jansen and Takahashi respectively. (“Onnatachiyo Otokotachiyo”) (“Asuru Hitoyo” – with Yukihiro on drums)

“Michi di battari” sounds like something from Sakamoto’s “Left Handed Dream” and has some nice marimba, flute and synth interplay.

album cover shoot by Bushin Jumonji.
album cover shoot by Bushin Jumonji. (“Michi di battari”)

Of the rest of the tracks, “Sleep On My Baby” was a re-recording of a 1979 song from Sakamoto’s “forgotten” reggae inspired album “Summer Nerves”, notable that the middle eight has new lyrics that sound like the English musicians may have suggested improvements.

Finally, “Good night” is a simple, short piano duet featuring David:

It seems there were plans in ’82 to launch Akiko in the UK – a compilation of her songs sung in English was put together with the title “From Japan To Japan”, but sadly the collection only came out in Japan itself. The title, and the inclusion of several songs featuring the band, must have been intended to pique interest in Japan’s fanbase – indeed I have a copy with a typed insert highlighting which tracks Sylvian & co play on. Whatever happened, it was not to be, and until some albums were released internationally in the 90s, Akiko concentrated on the domestic market.

There is a final postscript to this tale; in 2011 Akiko recorded a cover version of “Bamboo Music” and has since then been playing the song live, such as in this 2013 TV clip. Now long since split from Ryuichi, Akiko seems to have fond memories of her time linked to Japan and YMO and along with Yukihiro has made a return to pop music using synths.

While I was looking for photos related to “Ai Ga Nakucha Ne” I found three reprints of polaroids taken by Ryuichi and Steve during the time in London in early ’82. All come from “YMO Book – Young Music Ozisan” and were probably taken during the recording of “Rice Music”. The first shows Mick and Masami, the second (by Steve) shows Peter Barakan with what may be Kermit The Frog (not the first time that a muppet would appear in a Japan related photo) and the final one: well, you can judge for yourselves.”

Paul Rymer

Thanks to Paul Rymer for providing the background to some of Steve’s iconic images and for giving us the chance to delve that wee bit deeper into an album that both Steve & Mick contributed to. Additional photographs are by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Pennie Smith.

Steve’s book, ‘through a quiet window’ is available to purchase here:

Limited edition prints of the images from the book are available to purchase from Steve – email for details

mick & ryuichi photo by steve jansen
mick & ryuichi
photo by steve jansen






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