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.

art of parties - alternative composite
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?

karn, barbieri & sylvian 1981 in not very tropical Fowey
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

legal tender extinction – so many lovely things to buy, so little money

Despite my best of intentions to try and keep the Jansen Photography Blog focused upon the very specific subject of Steve’s photography (rather than it becoming a fan blog for all-things-Jansen) there are times when events beyond my control conspire to make it impossible for me to remain on message, and I find myself veering wildly off course into the murky waters of all sorts of Japan/Jansen-related topics. So, forgive me friends, if today I am guilty of doing this yet again; but the news that has been coming out over the last couple of weeks deserves sharing far and wide.

When this blog first came to life, there was little going on in the world of Japan-related news. Steve had started sharing some of his photos via his tumblr site and there was a steady growth of interest in the few facebook fan-pages, but other than the promise of Anthony Reynold’s Japan biography and the long-awaited publication of David’s ‘hypergraphia’ being on the horizon, it was all pretty quiet. Then, it all got a bit exciting.

K-Scope announced re-releases of Jansen/Barbieri material, as well as vinyl editions of much of Mick’s back catalogue, which was incredibly welcome news to many of us. Steve then published ‘through a quiet window’ (hurray) and started hinting that his long-awaited second album may well be forth-coming (hurray again). Then, just at the back-end of 2015, came the incredible news that Richard Barbieri was going to perform a master-class and concert at Huddersfield University in January.

Whatever next?

Along came 2016 and with it the surprising news of a new JBK release ‘breakable moon’, as well as the sale of the limited remaining stock of some the Medium titles, which had been discovered languishing under Richard’s bed (or so I like to believe). Following this, came the announcement that Steve was indeed gearing up to release his new album, ‘tender extinction’ in a matter of weeks. I was more than delighted to note that it was being released to coincide rather beautifully with my birthday, which has to be just about the best present I could have asked for.  So much better than another M&S voucher and an out-of-date Easter egg (such is the curse of an early April birthday). Surely, we all thought, this would be it for now? Could our middle-aged tickers take any more excitement?

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I have a feeling that this may just be the beginning….in which case, we may all need to reach for the beta-blockers.

Having lived through somewhat of a drought, it now feels like we are in full monsoon season, doesn’t it? It is as if Steve has just awoken from a particularly long and restful snooze and, having stretched and yawned in a rather Bagpuss-like way, he has looked around and thought “OK, just how many pies can I stick my fingers into?”

(N.B. For legal reasons I feel I should point out that my reference to ‘pies’ here is not related in any way, shape or form, to the ‘pies’ Mick mentioned in his book. Please do not sue me.)

For, alongside the impending release of ‘tender extinction’ comes the news this week of Exit North, a collaboration between Steve, Thomas Feiner, Ulf Jansson and Charlie Storm, who have been working on material and have plans for an autumn release.In response to a question on ‘sleepyard’ today, Steve has also hinted at a possible live, improvised performance with his long-time collaborator and friend, Yukihiro Takahashi. Good grief.

As if this wasn’t enough, following the incredibly successful (and for me, rather emotional) performance by Richard Barbieri in Huddersfield in January, he has announced 2 further concerts (now sold out) to be held in Birmingham in November.  Richard, who has been hoarding Japan-related memorabilia for 4 decades, is also now in the process of sorting through his collection, and is now selling off items, including some unique personal pieces; including these fantastic glasses, as worn by Steve on the cover of ‘obscure alternatives’ and Richard in the picture below. (thanks to Keiko Kurata for the photo)

 

The auctions of items are being held on alternate Sundays on ebay – I would strongly urge anyone who may be interested in knowing more about the actions, to join the ‘Nightporter’ facebook page, as Paul Rymer posts intriguing clues as to which items may be appearing next.  It is also worth joining this page, as Richard sometimes posts personal photographs for our amusement and edification, which can lead to some incredibly surreal threads!

I have a strong feeling that 2016 may well be the most interesting of years for anyone who follows the careers of Messrs Jansen, Barbieri, Dean, Karn and Sylvian. I just think it may also be one which leaves many of us pretty skint….but, as Doris would say, que sera sera

(Many of you are regular readers and contributors to a number of facebook groups which focus upon the members of Japan, so some of this news will be familiar to you, but I know that we have a large number of blog readers who are not part of this community, so it feels appropriate to share this information with as many people as possible.)

You can join the Nightporter facebook group here:

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

Follow Steve and JBK on bandcamp here:

https://jbkmusic.bandcamp.com/

https://stevejansen.bandcamp.com/

Steve and Richard both have facebook pages where they post information on up-coming releases:

https://www.facebook.com/Steve-Jansen-Official-803014983085400/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/Richard-Barbieri-467964556684204/?fref=ts