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.
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
all photographs are © 2017 steve jansen all rights reserved