the occurrence of smoke

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It is now a full 10-years since the smoking ban came into force in England – following those which had been implemented a full 18-months previously across Scotland, Ireland and Wales – and it is now almost impossible to remember just quite how ubiquitous that most anti-social of habits once was, in our daily lives. I recall visiting Ireland in 2006, a few months after the ban had been introduced there, and wondering why every bar I visited smelt like it had recently been newly varnished; was there an annual ‘re-decorate the pubs’ festival, I had been previously unaware of? For, upon entering each and every hostelry on that trip, the heady combination of cleaning products, stale beer and the deadly waft of a thousand disintegrating urninal-cakes, produced an acidic, oily aroma – which had been so cleverly masked by the over-powering stench of tobacco,  and was suddenly all too obvious. It really wasn’t that pleasant.

When I think back to my formative years, cigarettes where everywhere. My dad was the only adult I knew, who didn’t smoke. My mum smoked, all of their friends smoked, my four brothers all smoked. Interviewers on TV smoked, musicians smoked on stage, magazines were full of photos of the latest pop-stars, models and actors, staring moodily at the camera, with a cigarette dangling provocatively from their lip-sticked pouts.

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Unsurprisingly, I started to smoke. At school during breaks, we’d stand outside the staff room and watch all of the teachers get settled in their chairs and start puffing away, then nick round the back of the science-block, and spark up a cheeky Player’s No. 6. When I went to uni, two of my lecturers would smoke all the way through classes, although we weren’t allowed to (ghastly double standards!) and one of my strongest memories of those hedonistic days, is waking up in the early hours of the morning, with my face buried in my pillow, with the stench of a thousand nightclub cigarettes clinging to my hair, clothes and bed. The thought of it turns my stomach now, but at the time, it seemed so normal.

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In 1981, at the tender age of 13, I was lucky enough to see JAPAN in concert. It was my first ever gig, and I’d love to be able to recount every single moment of the show; however, my abiding memory of the evening, is of standing on a raised step, by the side of the stage (right up next to the speakers, which made my ears bleed during Canton!) and watching with amazement, as the smoke rose from the top of the 2,000 strong audience, and was caught up in the lights emanating from the stage. It was trippy and beautiful. Standing in the Great Hall, at Lancaster University, surrounded by glamorous beings, dressed in their finery and puffing away on their Gitanes – and all within pouting distance of my favourite band – was utterly momentous and life-defining. Despite all of the messages which clearly stated that smoking was bad for you, I fell for the hype. It was glamorous; it was cool; it was sophisticated. It was grown-up, and that is what I wanted.

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And blimey, those JAPAN boys could smoke. And then some. There were so many photos of them, posing beautifully, with cigarettes clamped between their lips, or in between their fingers. I know it was the norm at the time, but with hindsight, as immaculate as they all looked, I can’t help but think they must’ve bloody REEKED! We all did.

Now, I am the last person to encourage anyone to smoke, or to glamorise this most anti-social of habits, but when I sit here now and look back at all of these wonderful images I still can’t help but think that they all look so freaking cool. It’s sheer madness, I know. I’m not 15 and easily manipulated, but…..well, take this photo of Mick, in a hotel room in Leeds, as an example.  With the blonde shock of spikes and the filterless fag dangling dangerously from his jutting lips, doesn’t he just appear to be the most exotic and intriguing person who ever bestrode the planet?

When I first started this blog, I invited people who had bought any of Steve’s prints to contribute, and Adam Howard did just that. This was one of the ones he owned and he admitted to having mixed feelings about the inclusion of the cigarette. “My family bought (it for) me. At the time I thought it was an odd choice as we are all ardent non-smokers, but I can’t complain as I did leave it up to their discretion.  I’ve grown to appreciate the picture over time, and the whole smoking thing was very ‘Mick’ I suppose.” Adam also said he had initially felt a bit uncomfortable with the image, due to Mick’s cancer diagnosis and untimely death. However, as he quite rightly stated, this IS a very Mick pose and no amount of revisionism, in the face of his sad passing, will alter that fact.

In fact, so strongly do some of us associate Mick with his smoking habit, that when I asked JAPAN-fan extraordinaire, Keiko Kurata, about her favourite SJ photos of Mick one of the ones she chose was this one…..

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Her reasoning was simple and logical: “when I see Gitanes, I always think of Mick …. and Steve knew that Bass+Gitanes = Mick”.

 You really can’t argue with that, can you? 🙂

Thankfully, the remaining members have now all kicked the habit; admittedly, some of them rather more recently than others. In fact, Steve has even suggested that he wasn’t ever really a serious smoker, despite the hordes of photographic evidence to the contrary. “I was surrounded by smokers therefore it was easy to grab one, but it wasn’t really for me. I’m not a smoker despite how it appears sometimes in those early photos.”

To be fair, he may have a point – that cigarette isn’t even lit!

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(photo taken from tumblr – photographer unknown)

Now, I cannot emphasise enough, how much I dislike cigarettes  – and I truly hope that no-one reading this thinks that I am trying to glamorise smoking and make it seem like a GOOD thing to do. I really am not. However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that one of my all-time favourite shots – which resulted from the click of Steve’s A1 shutter-button -is the utterly sublime photo of Ryuichi Sakamoto, which graces the top of this page. And, like Adam Howard, I too feel horribly conflicted with my absolute love of this image.

We all know that Ryuichi was diagnosed with throat cancer, a couple of years ago. Certain cancers (but not all) are undoubtedly linked to smoking, and throat cancer is up there at the top of that list. Thankfully, he is now in full remission following extensive treatment, but it still feels a bit odd (and not a little warped) to wax-lyrical about a photograph which graphically represents something so dangerous and harmful.

However, the truth of the matter is that this photo also represents who he was, at that moment in time.  When we look back on these images from nearly 4-decades ago, we have to remember that attitudes were different. This was a time when smoking was far more acceptable and seemingly ubiquitous – and I am really sorry to admit this, but I still think they all look really, really cool.

You can purchase ltd edition prints direct from Steve, via his imageshop. http://www.stevejansen.com/imageshop/

You can purchase Steve’s photographic book, ‘through a quiet widow’ via his bandcamp page. https://stevejansen.bandcamp.com/merch/through-a-quiet-window-photo-book-by-steve-jansen

all photographs (unless otherwise stated) are © 2017 steve jansen all rights reserved

 

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host to the unholy

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Can you believe that it is almost September? In fact, by the time I actually get around to posting this, it actually WILL be September. How did that happen? Up here in the frozen wastelands of northern England, we are still waiting for summer to start. Or, at least continue. Anyhoo, enough of my thoroughly British whingeing, about the passing of time and the weather, and on to more exciting things. For, the onset of September brings with it the promise of something rather wonderful…..Richard Barbieri is heading oop north at the end of this month, to play his last show of 2017, and it is going to be fantastic. Huzzah!

For those of us who have already bought tickets for the Liverpool show (and more than 3/4 of the tickets have sold, to date) I thought it would be a great opportunity to ask Richard what we can expect from this rather special event. For, this is not any old gig; this final show of 2017, will be played within the Gothic grandeur of the beautiful St Margaret of Antioch church, in the heart of this fine city.

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The venue – just imagine how Richard’s music will sound in here.

Last week, Richard was kind enough to answer a few probing questions about his live performances, and his plans for the future.

So, without further ado, I give you, Mr Richard Barbieri:

VCC: Over the last 18-months, you have played a number of ‘solo shows’ – starting with the university masterclass in Huddersfield – where you have showcased new material, as well as featuring re-workings of older tracks, from throughout your career. How easy is it to step out onto that stage, on your own, knowing that it is all down to you?

RB: “It’s quite easy and I never ever thought I’d say this……I’ve always been rather quiet, and a little shy, so it surprises me that recently I feel very comfortable being alone on stage and communicating with an audience. Everything before and after the show is more stressful for me,  especially all the technical preparation and concerns. There’s so many things to consider on a performance day, including the needs of the musicians with me, so any help I get is really appreciated.”

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recording ‘quiet life’ photo by steve jansen

VCC: You seem to really enjoy these appearances, and having been fortunate enough to witness a number of the recent shows, I know how positively they have been received by the audience. Are there any memorable moments, which stand out to you?

RB: “I try to choose venues or spaces where the audience can concentrate and focus on the performance without distractions. It enables me to play some of the more sparse material – and to hear silence in the musical pauses is amazing for me –  having toured with a rock band for so long where subtlety is very hard to achieve. I did really enjoy previewing an early version of “New Found Land” at the chapel in Huddersfield.  I thought it sounded good in that environment.”

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Richard performing in St Paul’s hall in Huddersfield  – photo by Paul Rymer

As someone who was lucky enough to be at that first solo-outing, in Huddersfield, I can only agree with Richard; hearing snippets of the new music, in such a beautiful setting (albeit, on a wet January afternoon) was a wonderful experience, and only whetted my appetite for what was to follow.

RB: “The “comedy” and more lighthearted moments come with the recent Q & A sessions, and at the last show in Birmingham a member of the audience was very concerned as to whether I was happy in myself, and what pension provisions I had made. Possibly he was hoping I would fall into a teary rant about the music industry and how broke I was – or maybe he was genuinely concerned?

Of course I hate the industry and I’m usually pretty broke – but mustn’t grumble… ” 🙂

Chortle.

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Richard and some technical-looking stuff, recording ‘tin drum’  photo by steve jansen

VCC: Having the musical polymath, Lisen Rylander Löve, join you on the recent shows, seemed to create a whole new ambience – certainly from the audience’s perspective – and especially when you played at the beautifully-intimate, Hoxton Hall, in March. What can we expect from the up-coming Liverpool show?

RB: “Lisen has transformed the music and her input enables me to experiment a bit more and rely much less on any backing tracks. Of course we need rhythms, bass and some fx running in the background, but we can now improvise more and each performance can be different. For the Liverpool concert we will be joined by Luca Calabrese on trumpet, so I’ll have the two main contributors to my album with me. ”

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The utterly mesmerising Lisen Rylander Löve, on stage with Richard. Photo by Martin Bostock

VCC: What additional challenges will you face, playing this material in the Gothic splendour of a Victorian church?

RB: “I think the acoustics will present some problems for certain tracks and we will have to adjust our approach accordingly. On the other hand, some pieces like “Unholy, New Found Land and Experience Of Swimming” should work really well.”

(at this point, I desperately wanted to suggest that Richard could create a wonderful ‘mash-up’ of 2 of his songs…..just imagine ‘host to the unholy’!! However, common sense prevailed, and instead I used it as the title of the blog, Quite fitting, don’t you think?)

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Richard in Japan 1982 Photo by Steve Jansen

VCC: You have said that the Liverpool show is your final one for 2017, although you are also planning to join Lustans Lakejer on their 35th anniversary tour in Sweden, in October. Do you have any plans to step out onto the stage again in 2018?

RB: “There’s talk of possible concerts in Japan next year.  I’d like to do a couple in Scotland and then hopefully Rome, and maybe Amsterdam? Scandinavia would be nice if something could be arranged. Beyond that I don’t know.”

(VCC immediately cancels her planned trip to Japan in March and awaits further news!)

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Soundcheck in Birmingham  – photo by Debi Zornes

VCC: What else may be on the cards for the coming year?

RB: “I’ll be releasing a series of EPs over the next 6 months. I can’t follow up my recent solo album just yet, but want to continue the creative process with diverse pieces and collaborations.”

So folks, there you have it. The promise of new music, some shows on foreign shores, as well as the upcoming performance in 4 weeks time. Exciting times, eh?

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More twiddly knobs (and Richard) photo by steve jansen

If you haven’t yet booked your tickets for the Liverpool show on 29th September, what are you waiting for? This promises to be a performance like no other, with Richard being joined by Lisen & Luca, in the most beautiful of settings. I have it on good authority, that there will be some new items available to purchase from the merchandise stand on the night, including a ltd edition print and concert posters.

To add to the fun, we have arranged an ‘aftershow’ get-together at Club 27, where a few dozen of us will be drinking, dancing and chatting the night away.  If you fancy spending an evening, in the company of like-minded people, please feel free to join us.

Tickets for the show are available here: https://www.wegottickets.com/event/397153

Details of the afterparty & meet-up are on the Nightporter FB group: https://tinyurl.com/ybo758tr 

Many thanks to Richard for answering my questions, and to Paul Rymer, Debi Zornes & Martin Bostock for the additional photographs.

 

red earth (as summertime begins)

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rob almost sunbathing on the lawn at manor studios June 1981

 

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.

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David Sylvian & Mick Karn, Thailand 1981

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.

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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.

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art of parties – alternative composite

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?

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brrrrrr, it looks a bit parky   - cornwall december 1981
brrrrrr, it looks a bit parky – cornwall december 1981

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.

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mick enjoying the early morning sun – breakfast time at miravel (recording rtc)

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.

Happy solstice!

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it was a really hot night, and he had to take his shirt off. or something like that. lighting test in store-room, stanhope gardens.

All of the photos are available to purchase from Steve’s imageshop

 http://www.stevejansen.com/imageshop/

all photographs are © 2017 steve jansen all rights reserved

Camera Obscura Alternatives

1982 Sons of Pioneers promo shoot
1982 Sons of Pioneers promo shoot Signed by Steve & Richard

Over the last few weeks, followers of Steve’s ‘sleepyard’ blog may have noticed him sharing a number of ‘previously unseen’ photos of JAPAN. The images, taken by a range of photographers and spanning the band’s full career – from the pomp & pout of the late 70s, to the pristine poses of the Virgin era – were discovered earlier in the year, and it has been fabulous to finally see some new photos emerge.

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Richard Barbieri – photographed by Yuka Fujii

Whilst many of the images have not been officially published previously, some of the shots may seem familiar to many fans; there are a number of ‘alternative’ photos from sessions with Patrick Litchfield, which appeared in The Sunday Times magazine (and one of my least favourite JAPAN photo-shoots, for the record!) as well as lots of early promos by Günther Rakete and a whole slew of uncredited shots of the band in recording studios and on stage.

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The Alternative Smiling Session – by Patrick Lichfield

A number of these photos are now being auctioned on behalf of the band members. For those blog-readers who do not access the FB groups, where the auctions are discussed and promoted, here is the link to the goodies which are currently on eBay.

http://www.ebay.co.uk/sch/karnsculpture/m.html?_ipg=50&_sop=12&_rdc=1

 

The auctions will run for 7-days. News and discussion about this, and other JAPAN-related announcements, are updated regularly on the ‘NIGHTPORTER’ facebook page. Come and join us!

https://www.facebook.com/groups/nightporter/

‘i’ll be here dreaming’ 2017

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Mick in Japan

For the last couple of years, I have written a post on 4th January to mark Mick’s passing. This year, I am not sure that I have anything more to add. I think everything has already been said. Instead, it feels appropriate to simply share some of the new images of Mick, which Steve has kindly published over the last 12 months.

Steve once said he reckoned he could post a new photo of Mick, every day for 2 years, and still have some left over. Let’s just hope he continues to do so, and allow us to revel in the joy of seeing some previously hidden gems.

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David, Richard & Mick in Japan
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recording ‘_ism’ at foel studios
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Mick at foel studios
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‘_ism’ sessions at foel studio (note ‘battman’ logo on monitor!)

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breakfast time at miravel (recording rtc)
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mick auditions for a part in the ‘addams family’

For those who may have missed the previous ‘i’ll be here dreaming’ posts, they can be found here:

https://jansenphotographyblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/ill-be-here-dreaming-2016/

https://jansenphotographyblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/04/ill-be-here-dreaming-remembering-mick-karn/

TMK are having their annual event to remember Mick and would like everyone to join in, and share their memories of him. Please join the discussion and add your own favourites – let’s all try to remember Mick as the vibrant and passionate man he was, rather than merely mourn his loss. 

https://www.facebook.com/events/617868491724809

Thanks, as ever, to Steve for allowing us to share these wonderful photographs.

all photographs are © 2017 steve jansen all rights reserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

lines in tokyo

One of the absolutely best bits about writing this blog over the last couple of years, has been trying to think up amusing and relevant titles for each post. Of course, the main aim of the blog, was always to luxuriate in an array of Steve’s photos, but the bonus was mulling over the content and trying to link it to a Jansen/Japan related song title, where possible. The only rule I ever set down for myself was that I would never, ever, EVER use ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’, (or any variant of that over-used song title), as it was just too obvious. Growing up as a teenaged-Japan fan, back in the early 80s, every magazine article used cliched and lazy headings, which always annoyed me; “Cantonese Boys”, “Looking for a Quiet Life”, “Turning Japanese” etc etc etc. I always thought I could do better, and I sincerely hope that I have done. Sometimes, the subject matter, or the slant I choose to take when discussing Steve’s photos, immediately suggests a title; other times it can create a bit of brain-freeze and I have to call upon the help of my trusty sidekicks for inspiration. There have been a couple of times when I have laughed myself silly when a title has popped into my head, but I don’t always use those ones – I think my favourite ‘one that got away’ was when I wrote a piece about Steve’s early forays into photography, and the inspiration and support he found in Fin Costello. As hilarious as I thought it was, I wasn’t quite sure everyone else would get the reference, had I titled it ‘A Batt & Costello’.

I still laugh at that, though.

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lines in tokyo photo by steve jansen

There have been a couple of ones which I wish I had thought longer and harder about. Last year, I wrote a piece about Steve’s preference for his Canon A-1, but also included shots taken with a range of other cameras. It was called ‘Optical Alternatives’ which works – sort of. The following day, I kicked myself when I realised I should have called it ‘Camera Obscura Alternatives’. …but then, hindsight is a wonderful thing, innit? My absolute favourite though, which did make it, was one which popped into my head whilst I was reading a post Mischa had written, about the infamous 1982 Zig Zag interview and photo session with Mick & Steve; what else could it be called, other than ‘Beginning to Meltdown’?

So, all of this is a rather roundabout way of explaining the glaringly obvious title of today’s post. The minute I saw the photos that Steve recently posted on his ‘sleepyard’ blog, it sprang straight to mind. It is possibly the least creative and laziest caption yet, but it absolutely sums up the images and it brought to mind some strange idiosyncrasies that I had noticed on my recent trip to Japan.

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lines in tokyo (2) photo by steve jansen

I have no idea if this is the same for young people these days, but for those of us who came of age in the 1970s/80s, Japan seemed like country from another planet; a planet from the future where people lived a completely different existence to ours. We would watch TV programmes like Tomorrow’s World, where they would showcase the new technologies, and our minds would be filled with images of bullet trains whizzing past Mt Fuji at incredible speeds, looking like something out of Space 1999; we were told of magic, spinning-discs which held hours of music, and would still play after a full cycle in the dishwasher – and they would never scratch, regardless of what you did to them (lying bastards!) Japan seemed to come up with every new, hi-tech invention; CDs, Polaroid cameras, robots, capsule hotels – it all seemed incredibly glamorous and not that far removed from science fiction. In my imagination, the country was full of cities which were shiny and white and clean and immaculate and a little bit scary. Fast-forward 35 years and I finally find myself wandering the streets of Tokyo with my friends, and beyond the obvious, “blimey, it’s a bit humid and aren’t there a lot of people” observations we made to each other, the one thing that seemed to occupy our middle-aged brains more than anything else was; “oh, aren’t there a lot of wires everywhere, and doesn’t it look a bit – erm – untidy?”  Over a few glasses of Asahi, we decided it was probably something to do with the risk of earthquakes, but we never quite got over the sight of seemingly dozens & dozens of random wires, tangled and snarled, snaking from building to building, across alleyways and roads.

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lines in tokyo (3) photo by steve jansen

 This was not the slick and sleek world we were expecting. In fact, on the original  ‘sleepyard’ post, someone from Chile commented that he too was surprised to see such a sight in ” a first-world country”. It really does seem to be completely out of synch with our view of such a technologically advanced country, doesn’t it?  It isn’t just Tokyo, either. I took similar photos in Kyoto. Steve also explained that images of “Tokyo power lines were the inspiration for the ‘Lumen’ vinyl cover. It’s a very familiar sight if you’re not too busy dodging people to look up.”

The theme of combining  Japan-related song and album titles with photography, is one which is in full flow on Paul Rymer’s ‘Nightporter’ fb page at the moment. If you aren’t a member, I would encourage you to nip over there and join, as there is rather hilarious competition running at present – Richard Barbieri has been having a bit of a clear-out and has some spare photographs he is offering as prizes, for the most creative and amusing photographs, inspired by Japan songs. There have been some great entries so far (I like to think that mine have been particularly marvellous. Obviously) but the more the merrier. The rules are simple; the photos must be your own work and they must have been inspired by a song or album title – it can be Japan or any solo effort. Pop over to the ‘Nightporter’ page for more details…….

https://www.facebook.com/groups/nightporter/

I shall leave you with one of my entries. No prizes for guessing correctly, but feel free to think up your own and join in with us on Facebook.

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*hint – think JBK*

memories of a long-imagined place (2)

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Sumiyashi bridge

Leaving Hiroshima was difficult, because it felt like we needed longer there to explore everything it had to offer. The city gets under your skin and into your psyche, and the lure of discovering more of its charms was strong. However, we had a very important date to keep, with a very special person, and I was eager to get back on the Shinkansen and to head to Osaka.

When I initially planned this trip, the only thing I was certain of, was that I would visit Osaka and finally get to spend some time with the lovely Keiko Kurata – someone who had become a good friend over the previous couple of years and who I was longing to see. For those who don’t know Keiko, (and I can’t believe there are many people who read this blog who aren’t aware of her), she is legendary in Japan-fan circles. One of the original fans from the very beginning, Keiko is an incredible source of information about the band – if you have read Mick’s autobiography, where he recounts stories of the band being chased around Japanese cities by fans in taxis and being mobbed in hotel lobbies – well Keiko was one of those fans. With other like-minded people she produced the rather professional-looking ‘adonis’ fanzine, but unlike many of those old fans who fell away over the years, she has maintained a healthy interest in the band, and recently contributed dozens of photos and anecdotal evidence for Anthony Reynolds’ excellent biography of Japan.

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Vol 8 ‘adonis’ fanzine

So, meeting up with Keiko was my priority; she had promised us all a night of good Osakan food and karaoke, and we were more than ready for the challenge that lay ahead of us. However, before we could hit the sake and shochu, she had a rather more sedate experience awaiting us; the opportunity to witness a traditional wedding which was taking place at the beautiful Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine. What an incredible spectacle that was. We followed the wedding procession through the grounds of the shrine, across the barrel bridge and to the temple itself.  Even though we remained outside, the fact that the ceremony took place in a wall-less room, open to the elements, meant that we were able to observe the whole thing; with Keiko quietly explaining the symbolism and meaning behind the myriad gestures and chants we witnessed. It was a truly wonderful hour, spent soaking up the atmosphere and submerging ourselves in the traditions of a culture which differs so very much from our own.

wedding

From Sumiyashi, we jumped on to a tram and headed over to the colourful chaos that is Shinsekai – and never has the expression ‘from the sublime to the ridiculous’ been more appropriate. Shinsekai is Japan’s answer to Blackpool; it is gaudy, loud, brash and tacky. It was completely compelling and totally at odds with what we had experienced of the country so far. I wouldn’t want to live there, but I am pleased I got to see this rather exciting and slightly seedy underbelly of Japan.

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fugu and billiken in shinksekai

Keiko’s reason for showing us this part of Osaka, was to visit the Tsuutenkaku Tower, where we would be able to view Osaka from its lofty height. It took almost an hour to get to the top, not because it was particularly high but because this tower is a temple to gaudy, corporate tourism; every few feet, we had to stop and have our senses assaulted with a bewildering choice of crappy plastic things to buy. The whole place seemed to be sponsored by Pocky (those delicious chocolate-biscuity things we know as Mikado over in here in Europe) and the walls were covered with posters of a Japan’s current favourite boy-band, advertising the calorific sticks. There was even a poster featuring a rather different (and much, much older) Japanese boy-band, which brought a smile to my face for a brief moment….

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ymo love pocky

Osaka from above is a sight to behold. The city is huge and stretches out as far as the eye can see, hemmed in by distant mountains. Seeing it from on high, as dusk was falling, was something I will always remember. Even the rampant materialism, which constantly assaulted our senses, couldn’t ruin the experience of watching a baseball game from hundreds of feet above the ‘diamond’, with the players looking like the proverbial ants as the sun started to set, bathing the city in a golden-pink hue.

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osaka from above

What followed next is probably best left to the imagination. We were treated to an incredible meal, at Keiko’s favourite restaurant – she wanted us to experience her Osaka, so we found ourselves in a tiny, private dining room and course after course of food was brought to our table; including the most amazing sukiyaki and kushikatsu, all washed down with Sapporo and cold sake. In fact, we  ate so much amazing food, I am surprised we could summon up the energy to stagger to the karaoke bar……but somehow, we (sadly) did. Oh dear. Let’s just say that whilst Keiko and her friend have really wonderful voices and are seasoned karaoke veterans, we four Brits were, without doubt, absolutely horrific. As the beer and shochu continued to flow, so did our dignity (out of the building, never to be seen again) as we slaughtered any number of songs by Bowie, Elvis and The Beatles. I had got rather excited at the prospect of Keiko and I dueting on ‘adolescent sex’, which she assured me was available, but when we got to the bar, the only Japan song they had was ‘quiet life’. Which we murdered. Dead. Deader than dead. As authentic Japanese experiences go, it was pretty incredible, but let’s just say that it is best for all involved if we never go for a repeat performance of that night’s antics.

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very drunk in the karaoke bar, with some ‘japan’ goodies

 The next day, we were lucky enough to visit Keiko in her home (and I finally got meet her fabulously grumpy dog, TT.) For a geek fan like me, this was like being let loose in Eldorado for an afternoon……we spent ages looking through all of Keiko’s photographs, magazines and records; constant squeals of delight emanating from me and scaring poor old T.T. It was absolute bliss.

We then took T.T. for a lovely wander round Sumiyashi park, close to where she lives, and enjoyed people-watching, as the locals went about their leisure time….and then it was time to leave, as  we had to head back to Tokyo, for the final leg of our journey. Our 24 hours in Osaka with Keiko was one of the absolute highlights of the trip for me; not just because of the ‘Japan’ links, but because she is one of the most beautiful and generous people I have ever met, and I feel incredibly lucky to call her my friend.

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with Keiko and T.T. in sumiyashi park