Exactly a year ago, a group of around 100 music-loving misfits crowded into the (now sadly defunct) Buffalo Bar in Islington, to celebrate the launch of Anthony Reynolds’ long-awaited biography of our favourite band, ‘japan’. With hindsight, this was a tad premature, as the book took another 11 months to finally see the light of day, but at the time, we didn’t care about such things; we just wanted to spend the night listening to and talking about, our favourite 5 musicians. And what a night it was. I met so many wonderfully hilarious people that evening, some of whom have become real friends. I also have Jacki Cairns to thank for providing me with one of my favourite moments of all time, when she walked up to me and said “are you the Steve Jansen lady?”, which made me laugh far more than is seemly. (and yes, it would seem I am!)
When Anthony finally appeared, he regaled us with ‘behind the scenes’ tales from the book. As I had just started this blog, I was particularly interested in knowing more about the photos which Steve had contributed, and Anthony confirmed that along with some of his images, Steve had also given him access to his journals, which provided a whole new insight into the workings of the band. Heady stuff indeed. He also talked about the people he had tracked down and spoken to, and the contributions made by Rich and Rob, both of who were more than happy to share stories and debunk many of the myths which had continued to grow, long after ‘japan’ disbanded in 1982.
“In splitting when they did, Japan froze themselves in the public eye at a point of unrealised and therefore eternal potential” Anthony Reynolds Chapter 10 ‘Voices Raised In Welcome’
And so, here we are. Anthony’s book has finally been released and 2015 is almost over. It has been a year that has seen an unprecedented revival in interest in all things ‘japan’ – none of which we were expecting when we gathered in that small bar, listening & dancing to songs from our youth, and all wondering what would be revealed within the pages of ‘a foreign place’? For those who have yet to read it, I apologise if this post is full of spoilers, but I feel I have waited long enough before diving in and revealing some of the more interesting elements of the book.
It is hard for me, as a long-time fan of ‘japan’, to know whether there was much left to be learned about the history of a band I had followed since 1980. When the book was first published, I was a little sceptical (although incredibly excited) about whether there would be any real revelations within its pages. What I find fascinating about the whole project is, this feels like the first time we have really heard the ‘other voices’. I don’t just mean Steve, Rich and Rob; for their voices were always out there, even if a little subdued (in comparison to David and Mick’s, at least), but the opinions and recollections of the producers, road crew and friends, which give such a complete and rounded picture. It is fascinating for me, to read about all the stuff that went on behind the scenes; what may seem like the rather dull minutiae of life on tour or in the studio, is manna from heaven to this fan!
As excited as I was about the prospect of seeing some previously unpublished Jansen shots within the book, the real thrill comes from the huge number of ‘fan’ photos included. Perhaps because the book started out life as a Kickstarter project, the ‘buy-in’ from fans across the globe for this biography has been a real feature, and the quality and quantity of images provided by some of the band’s uber-fans has to be seen to be believed. I have always thought that ‘japan’ must’ve felt like they had cameras permanently pointed at their beautifully made-up faces, (which can’t have been much fun after the first few months of ‘popstar’ excitement died down, can it?) but these photos add to the compelling story that Reynolds weaves throughout the pages. Here is the evidence (should it ever be required) that the band lived their lives off stage, as they did on. It wasn’t an image just for the public, this was really how they dressed and behaved, day in, day out.
Obviously, as someone who has a healthy interest in Steve’s photography, I was particularly looking forward to seeing the images he had provided for the book. Somewhat frustratingly, the delay in the release of the biography, meant that Steve’s book of photos was actually published ahead of ‘ a foreign place’. However, the image at the top of this piece, featuring Mick standing in front of the incredible angklung at Manor Studios, was an absolute joy to behold. I have long wondered about this instrument, (which featured on the track ‘canton’) and could not even begin to fathom what it looked like, having read Mick’s description of it in his book, so to see it in full was astounding.
“Steve and I found an unusual looking instrument in the studio……what I can only describe as a wall of bamboo…..every tube had a small wooden pea inside that rattled when shaken….(it) needed two players, and meant we had to duck and dive in all directions to avoid hitting each other, shaking the bamboo tubes and then stopping each one, all accomplished at super speed….a synchronised choreography full of groans and grunts, thankfully inaudible.” Mick Karn – Japan & Self-Existence
Towards the end of the book, Anthony touches upon Steve’s growing interest in photography and his exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery in October 1983. However, and somewhat ironically, I have to admit that my favourite image in the whole book, is not one taken by Steve, but by Richard Barbieri. Now, if only Rich would follow in his friend’s footsteps and make his images available for sale, this would definitely be at the top of my ‘to buy’ list……
The final chapters, which deal with the last tour and the final days of the band, take me back vividly to 1982. If I am honest, back then, I think I always assumed there would be a time when Messrs Jansen, Karn, Sylvian and Barbieri (and hopefully Dean) would appear on-stage once more and this was only really scuppered once the fall-out of the RTC project became clear. It is interesting, 3 decades later, to read back through the events of this period and realise just how massive ‘japan’ had become and to wonder at what could have been? However, with hindsight, the sheer breadth of amazing material the individual members have produced over the intervening years outweighs any ‘what ifs’ for me.
What Anthony has achieved with this biography is what all of us were hoping for. Myths debunked, stories told and voices heard. Although I feel it is a missed opportunity for him, it doesn’t make any difference to me, that David refused to contribute to the book; I am not sure he could have added anything more to the story that has been told here. Anthony has interviewed him previously, and he has been more than vocal over the decades about his thoughts on his time with ‘japan’. For me, hearing the ‘other side’ has been far more illuminating and of interest. And, no pressure Anthony, but I am really looking forward to the next instalment – ‘japan – the solo years’ 🙂
‘japan – a foreign place’ is available to buy via burning shed
with thank to anthony reynolds for permission to use photographs from ‘japan – a foreign place’
limited edition prints are available to purchase direct from steve – email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website
photos by steve jansen are © 2015 steve jansen all rights reserved