As I type this, the sun is setting on a beautiful winter-solstice evening and it feels like I can start to look ahead to the new year and wonder at what the coming months may bring. As is appropriate at the year’s end, I thought it wise to cast an eye back over the previous 12 months and assess all the good things 2016 brought us. For, in between the seemingly endless stream of grim news, and the loss of artists who shaped our formative years and sound-tracked some of the most important moments of our lives, there have also been some moments of pure joy – well, for me at least. I hope for you too.
If 2015 was the Year of the Retrospective (think ‘through a quiet window’, ‘hypergraphia’, ‘japan – a foreign place’, ‘lumen’, Mick’s back-catalogue on vinyl, re-mastered ‘stone to flesh’, etc etc), then 2016 has been all about new releases and some rather marvellous live experiences. However, in this household, it shall forever be known as the Year of the Signed Items.
Live stuff: 2016 started in a pretty shoddy fashion, I think we can all agree. I don’t want to dwell on the constant losses we seemed to face, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the passing of the man who possibly had the greatest impact on our generation (and by “our”, I imagine that would include pretty much everyone who loves music) Without Bowie, I cannot imagine what the music scene of the mid 70s-80s would have sounded and looked like. Can you? You didn’t even need to be a fan, for him to have an impact. He was just there. So, January dealt a blow that many people I know, are yet to recover from.
However, January also happened to be the month when I had one of the most joyful and, quite frankly, surreal days of my life. For, on a damp Thursday afternoon, in a re-vamped church in an old Yorkshire mill-town, I witnessed Richard Barbieri delivering a masterclass to a group of music students, and a few dozen grizzled old fans. It was the most wonderful of experiences, with Richard gleefully describing how songs such as ‘visions of china’ and ‘life in tokyo’ had been created, in between playing tracks from his solo albums, and giving us some sneak previews of the material he was currently working on. He was charming, witty and amenable – so much so, he ended up coming to the pub with around 15 of us, chatting away and regaling us with some of his more hilarious Japan-era tales. Like I said; surreal. And, this was not the only performance he gave; with similar masterclass-style shows taking place in Southampton and Sweden, and culminating in his 3 appearances at the 7th Wave festival in Birmingham, which I wrote about last month. For a group of fans starved of the sight and sounds of our favourite musicians, these events were truly wonderful.
Steve also came of out hibernation in August, to perform a couple of shows in Kyoto alongside some of the musicians who had contributed to 2015’s beautifully unique ALMA project; ‘music for a dying star’. Having visited Kyoto myself for the first time only a few weeks earlier, I was absolutely gutted to have missed the opportunity of seeing these concerts, but my lovely friend Keiko Kurata was fortunate enough to attend both of the shows and kept me in the loop with all that I had missed. Steve also joined long-time friend, and frequent collaborator, Yukihiro Takahashi onstage at the World Happiness festival, with Meta 5.
Richard has already announced further dates in Birmingham, Exeter and London (in March 2017) with the promise of more to follow; and Steve has suggested the possibility of his new collaborative-project, Exit North, playing some live dates; so already 2017 is looking bloody marvellous to me.
Recorded stuff: Onto the actual music then. And where else can we start but with the release of Steve’s long-awaited 2nd solo album, ‘tender extinction? Initially only available on CD or digital download, the vinylcoholics amongst us were thrilled when it was announced that a 180gm double vinyl version was on the cards; (and yes, I think I may have just made up a new word?) Much has been written here about ‘tender extinction’, most notably by Shane McElligott (see link below) but suffice to say, it yielded two of my favourite tracks of the year, with the achingly beautiful ‘her distance’, and the hypnotically addictive ‘give yourself a name’.
Steve creates the most sublime of soundscapes; I don’t want my music to be ‘easy’, I want to explore and discover new layers, with each listen. I’ve said it before I know, but it bears repeating so; in a perfect world, (the one where my place is queen and everyone does as I command), Steve’s next move would be to release instrumental versions of ‘slope’ and ‘tender extinction’, as a double CD and exquisitely packaged. I shouldn’t complain though, as Steve has indeed released 2 additional tracks this year, which fulfilled my wishes absolutely. STER1 & STER2 were quietly put out into the world, via Steve’s bandcamp page, and are pieces of intricate, discordant beauty. If you haven’t already done so, check them out.
Speaking of bandcamp, were you lucky enough to get your hands on the other ‘new’ release of the year? I am referring (of course) to ‘breakable moons’. 10 whole inches of JBK loveliness; all swirly-vinyl and evocative imagery, it was limited to only 250 copies. Containing out-takes from the ‘_ism’ sessions, it gave us the one thing many of us had long hoped-for and didn’t really think we would ever get – some new JBK tracks. Wonderful.
Over the last week, we have been teased and prodded with snippets of lush sound and imagery from Richard’s new album, ‘planets & persona’ due for release on 03/03/2017. KScope released this montage and announced that pre-orders were now being taken for the vinyl and CD. Marvellous.
Signed stuff: Did you also clock all those signed CDs which Steve & Richard made available this year? As I said, 2016 will definitely go down as the Year of The Signed Item for me. The photo at the top of the page shows just how many bits I ended up getting a Jansen and/or Barbieri squiggle on. Steve & Rich had seemingly been clearing out their respective closets and decided to sell-off the last remaining stock from the old ‘medium’ days. Of course, being ridiculously generous types, they agreed to sign all the CDs and flog them on bandcamp for incredibly low prices (some of the CDs had been selling on ebay for 4 times the amount they charged) As if this were not enough, they also chucked in the footage of JBK which was filmed at the Astoria, which had never officially seen the light-of-day. It was like manna from heaven.
Steve also offered signed copies of ‘slope’ and ‘tender extinction’ (both vinyl and CD) and at Richard’s live shows, he was happy to chat with people afterwards and sign their goodies; so for those fans who like their items to have a more personal touch, it was a win-win.
And then, there were the auctions. Oh my. Suddenly, a whole host of unique memorabilia was on offer – all from the personal collection of Richard, and with a couple of Steve’s items thrown in for good measure. We had the opportunity to purchase test-pressings, signed promo photos & records, items of clothing, tour-passes and itineraries….the list was endless. It was a lot of fun, even if most of the items ended up going for silly money – and the best part was that all the funds raised went towards the costs of releasing new music.
I think 2016 will be a difficult one to look back on, because it was such a tumultuous year. Time to turn our focus away from the past few months and to start looking ahead.We already know that there is much to look forward to in 2017 – most notably from Richard Barbieri, with the release of ‘planets & persona’ and the already announced March shows. Who knows what else may follow……keep your eyes peeled, folks. It’s going to be a good one.
Thanks to Paul & Keiko for the additional photographs.