barbieri in birmingham

Soundcheck in Birmingham. Photo by Debi Zornes

Two weeks ago, I witnessed something I never, ever thought I would see – and doubt I, or anyone else, shall ever see again. I actually saw (and heard, obviously) Richard Barbieri sing in public.

Yup, you read that right. Richard. Barbieri. Sang. In. Public.

Those of you who have followed Richard’s career, from the fledgling days of Japan, right up to his current incarnation of Most Accessible Musician Ever™ will be aware that this is not something he does often. At all, in fact.

Last year, someone asked Steve on his ‘sleepyard’ blog about this and his answer was pretty clear:

Did Richard ever sing on anything??¿

Not since turning professional !

So, for those of us lucky enough to get tickets for Richard’s sold-out shows in Birmingham this weekend, we witnessed something truly momentous. However, allow me to give you some context for this momentous occasion. This wasn’t actually Mr B belting out an acapella rendition of ‘Catch The Fall’ or ‘Cantonese Boy’; it was him merely singing a rather sweet and amusing version of ‘Happy Birthday’, to Tin Drum. Aaaaahhhhh.

barbieri & sylvian creating masterful sounds together on ‘tin drum’ 1981

For, on the very same day, exactly three and a half decades ago, that most masterful of Japan albums was released. Blimey.

How old do you feel, now?

35 years ago, I was a mere slip of a gal, but I was interested enough in Japan to have rushed out and bought Tin Drum when it still came replete with that gorgeous poster – and I had secured tickets to see their ‘Visions of China’ tour, at Lancaster University, the following month. Japan were finally finding favour in their home country, after years of trying and being unfairly maligned and mocked by the pompous British music press – and as Hansa tussled with Virgin for the glory of finally getting the band’s music into the Top 30, they once again confounded expectations by turning their backs on the lush and over-orchestrated sounds of Quiet Life and Gentlemen Take Polaroids, by releasing an album which fused sparse electronic elements with traditional instrumentation.

Richard reading about himself on the luxurious tour-bus. Visions of China tour, 1981

Tin Drum was a jaw-dropping release, at the time. Nothing else sounded like it, and as Richard quite rightly stated a couple of Sundays ago, nothing has sounded like it since. Which is odd really, isn’t it? He spoke at length about how they developed the sounds for the album, with Mick and Steve building up the rhythm-parts, whilst he and David programmed the synths. An album with such an obvious sound, which has been an inspiration to so many other bands over the years, and yet no-one has ever tried to replicate or reproduce most of those sounds.

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a triangle of talent – barbieri, sylvian and nye recording ‘tin drum’ at regents park studios, 1981

And so, a mere 35 years later, I once again find myself sitting in a room, listening to one of the men who sound-tracked my teenage years, talking about his life and career – and singing ‘Happy birthday’ to one of his finest creations. It was slightly surreal, if I am honest. Even more so, when he appeared on stage, resplendent in an ABBA t-shirt and uttered the words; “knowing me, Richard Barbieri; knowing you, the audience. A-ha!”

Richard’s recent outings, where he has introduced the audience to snippets of his new material, explained how he constructs his pieces, and chatted informally about his extensive career in music, are an absolute joy to attend. You don’t have to be a synth geek to get it, you just have to have an appreciation for the music. I have no idea what a flange is, nor can I tell a Roland V-Synth from a Moog Micromoog (and yes, I did have to just look those up) but watching & listening to him explain how he layers sound upon sound, working his magic upon samples which he seemingly turns inside out and upside down, to create the most atmospheric of soundscapes, is simply fascinating to me.

We were played some tantalising new pieces, from his up-coming ‘planets and persona’ album (due for release in March 2017) and a spine-tingling version of The Experience of Swimming, which pretty much floored the whole room. Richard also answered a series of questions from the audience, with good humour and grace, and regaled us with the story of the ‘C-shite minor’ (or was it major?) chord.

There are apparently plans in place for a series of shows throughout 2017; with additional musicians from the new album being added to different bills, so each show will be unique – and tickets for the Birmingham dates in March (with the wonderful Grice) are already selling like the proverbial hot-cakes. Go and see him. You know you want to.

image taken from’planets + persona’ which is due for release on 3rd march.

With thanks to Debi Zornes for the photo of Richard in Birmingham.

Prints of Steve Jansen’s photos are available to buy, directly from his website.

For more information

For details of Richard’s up-coming shows and album release, follow him on facebook:


4 thoughts on “barbieri in birmingham

  1. Over-orchestrated? I’d disagree with that. Tin Drum still blows my mind today, just incredible. With the exception of the wrong choice of Art of Parties, obviously! I actually felt guilty that we didn’t join in with RB on his rendition of Happy Birthday.

    Liked by 2 people

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