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.
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 So much better than another M&S voucher and an out-of-date Easter egg (such is the curse of an early April birthday).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?
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.)
If I am honest, my interest in photography is more cerebral than practical. As with my other main ‘hobby’ (a word which makes me sound as if I am about eight years old) – archaeology – I am far happier when gazing upon the work other people have produced/discovered, than I am scrabbling around trying to do it myself. Having said that, I did once go on a dig at Flag Fen and within about an hour of working a trench, dug up a Bronze Age flint dagger, which is about as exciting as it gets. Trust me.
However, I digress……..but suffice to say, generally I am more of an observer than a producer of the goods. So, I will happily trot along to any number of photography exhibitions and I spend a good deal of my time reading about, and looking at, the work of a range of talented ‘snappers’. However, it has been years since I last owned a half-way decent SLR and I have fallen victim to the lure of the phone camera as much as the next person. I did have a rather snazzy Polaroid camera back in the day, but that sadly ended up being lost during a house move, so I am now left with a couple of OK-ish P&S digital cameras and my ever-present phone. Not very impressive for someone who spends an inordinate amount of time thinking and writing about the subject, is it?
Fortunately, Steve’s interest in photography led him to try out a whole range of cameras and techniques,the results of which we are now able to pore over at leisure. We all know that he favoured his trusty Canon A1 for the majority of the time but he has also recently published shots taken with some rather interesting pieces of kit. Last year I wrote about the Widelux self-panning camera which Steve had in the 1980s and the amazingly trippy shots he took on a trip across Europe – I loved the way the image blurs and the ‘Alice In Wonderland’ effect this creates. I had assumed the “softening” was all part of the appeal of the camera, but it is actually a fault – or at least a happy accident – possibly from being hand-held. Whatever the reason for the blurring of the image, I think it adds a beautifully surreal and almost sensual feel to the images.
Recently Steve published these images (below) of his fellow band members in Hong Kong in 1980, taken using a Pentax Auto 110 miniature true SLR, which was the world’s smallest SLR, and is an incredibly cute looking piece of kit! However, as cute and record-breaking as it may have been, it was less than versatile as it required specific film. At the time though, it was the most impressive of the 110 cameras and it must have been interesting for Steve to have had the chance to play around with these new technologies. It also produced some lovely looking images……
mick in hong kong 1980
Equally as interesting at the time – but equally as limiting – was the Polaroid camera. Oh, how I loved mine. It was so exciting to be able to take a photo and see it develop in front of your very eyes! I suppose anyone under the age of 25 will be slightly bemused at the sheer joy that could be gained from watching the colours start to seep onto the square of shiny white paper, but I loved it back in the day. From the photos he has shared recently, it seems as if Steve was more likely to use his Polaroid for snapping away drunkenly with his friends, which has given us all a fabulous insight into how a night on the town with the various members of Japan and YMO could end up! Messy.
When Steve released his photography book last year, he was kind enough to answer a whole glut of questions for the blog, but I didn’t actually ask him why he favoured the Canon A1 over other quality kit at the time. He did speak of his preference for Analogue via Digital cameras though, saying “using a view finder is essential for me to feel engaged with photography; I can never fully appreciate framing up a shot on a display. You don’t feel as though you’re ‘in’ it. Camera obscura (Latin for ‘dark chamber’) is the place from which you, as the photographer, are observing; from the inside looking out. A display is like watching something already filmed and is playing back …. you’re on the outside looking in, and for me that takes away much of the magic.”
Thankfully, he was once again more than happy to respond when I asked him more recently about his choice of camera, explaining that the options were pretty limited, unless you had vast amounts of money to spend – so it was basically Nikon or Canon. He had become used to using the Canon – “the functions were really versatile and the fact that it was one of the first to have an LED readout in the viewfinder is probably what sold it for me…. and the operation modes were also very cleverly designed so it made switching between the four modes (fully manual/fully auto/auto shutter-manual aperture/auto aperture-manual shutter) very accessible.”
Steve still has his Canon A1 and has said that if he ever went back out on tour he would pack his camera with him for the trip….”it was fit for all purposes and has a great feel to it.”
And fact fans, here’s something that I assume most of you won’t know but will have you dashing straight off to your stereo-gram to check out – Steve’s camera can actually be heard on the downbeat at the end of the chorus of the song ‘Red Guitar’. It took me about 5 attempts before I could hear it, but then I do have rather old ears!
“How does one address in words a subject that is better addressed in silence through the heart?”
These words were written to me this week by my friend Becky Olenchak, when I was musing on how to approach writing today’s blog post. The clarity of Becky’s words made me pause and ask ‘why am I doing this and who is it for?’. Why do I feel the need to share my thoughts, with friends and strangers, which are just as valid if left unwritten? I suppose the truthful answer to this question is that I write this blog, first and foremost, for me. The fact that a fair few people choose to read it and seem to enjoy it, is an absolute bonus. So, I suppose today’s piece is no different; I want to somehow mark this date in a way which (to me, at least) seems most appropriate and fitting.
This is also a question that the good folk at TMK ask themselves every year, when 4th January comes around. The global community of Karn fans clearly want a focal point, somewhere they can ‘gather’ and remember Mick, but we are also very aware that this is a day on which (unlike the joyous ’24/7′ events) there is little to celebrate. This year, we hope that people will share their memories of Mick and join us in a quiet, respectful but loving tribute.
This time last year I wrote a post about Mick’s passing which has proved to be the most read post on the Jansen Photography Blog. It was an incredibly hard piece to write for a number of obvious reasons; but sadly, it was also an easy one for me to come up with, as I had experienced my own significant bereavement in 2011. My husband Mark died 10 months after Mick, aged just 50, having spent 18 months battling cancer. As I wrote that piece, focusing on Steve’s and Mick’s friendship, I could vividly empathise with the loss that his friends and family were feeling, as I am sure many of you could.
Steve acknowledged this loss when he published an incredibly poignant image of Mick on his website, with the beautiful words he had written in memory of his life-long friend. The prose blew me away and I felt an absolute connection with the words, which are not merely mournful, but encapsulate the experience of losing someone through terminal illness; the moments shared where you laugh and remember, with the knowledge that, even as you are sharing these moments, time is running out. These words had a profound impact on me and still do, to this day.
However, you do not to have suffered your own loss to appreciate and empathise with Steve’s words. Here, Craig Hamlin recounts seeing the image and reading the words for the first time:
“In late 2010, plans were made to hold a ‘gathering’ for a few close `Japan` buddies, with an agreement to all meet up in London in early 2011. When events took a sadly poignant turn, with the news of the devastating loss of Mick in early January 2011, it was decided our gathering would be our own tribute to Mick. A glass raised, memories shared, from a fan’s perspective.
The memory is still vivid. We were all gathered around a circular high table, happy and comfortable in each others’ company; catching up on everyone’s latest news, with an air of frivolity surrounding us all. I was checking something on my smartphone, (I don’t recall what…..a random fact no doubt) and …… there it was…….Steve had posted a beautiful photograph of Mick on his website. As I passed the phone around, each one of us took a deep breath, read the words, and exhaled loudly. How pertinent, that this image, these words were posted up, at the very moment when we were all gathered together – a group of friends who had met because of a shared love of Japan – paying our humble tributes on that day, some 100 yards from Air Studios, where these two friends created some of their finest works.
To say this is my `favourite` image by Steve, of Mick, would sound trite …. but it is, for me, the most powerful. An image and words of true love.”
It is now 5 years since we lost Mick. In that time, and certainly in the last 12 months, there has been a renaissance of sorts when it comes to his legacy. KScope have been re-releasing his solo material in beautiful heavy-weight vinyl and new fans are discovering his art and his music, via social networking platforms such as tumblr and facebook. Anecdotes from his auto-biography are now often quoted by people asking Steve questions on ‘sleepyard’ – a situation he could probably never have foreseen. Whilst it is natural for us to mourn the loss of someone who has had an impact upon our lives, I think it is a far more positive response to continue to celebrate the life they lived and the joy they brought to us.
And Mick brought so many of us so much joy, didn’t he?
Buy his records, listen to his music, revel in those bass lines, read his book ……and continue to spread the word far and wide, in his memory.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MICK KARN 24TH JULY 1958 – 4TH JANUARY 2011.
Always loved never forgotten
images from Steve’s book ‘through a quiet window’ are available to purchase vis his website here:
I’m not quite sure why it has taken me so long to get around to recording my own thoughts on ‘through a quiet window’? Knowing that the book was in the offing, I had assumed that as soon as I had a copy in my perfectly manicured hands/grubby little paws (delete as applicable), I would have leapt straight onto the scanner and keyboard, reproducing my favourite shots and boring you all stupid with my obviously very intelligent comments about the new images which lay before me….and yet, somehow, it has taken me the best part 10 weeks to actually sit down and make sense of it all. A few weeks ago, I threw down the gauntlet to a number of blog readers to share their thoughts, but I stepped back from that post, and let them do most of the talking.
I guess there are a number of reasons for this; the most obvious one being that sometimes real life gets in the way of virtual blogdom – and I have been pretty busy recently, what with starting a new job and eating a lot of halloumi. Also, living in the wild and windswept North as I do, I have just spent the last week mopping up after Storm Des decided to drop 14 inches of rain onto my rather ancient roof….and a special thanks must go out to Craig Hamlin, whose first question when he heard that my house had flooded was “are your Jansen prints OK?” Classic.
However, if I am honest, I believe the real reason for the delay is this; I had waited so long for Steve to publish a book of his photos that when it actually happened, and the book was finally here, I really didn’t know what to say about it. For once, I was slightly muted about the whole thing. Yet, for whatever reason, it now feels like tonight is the night to finally set aside some time, and really explore this beautifully modest tome.
“‘Through A Quiet Window’ is a beautiful little treasure and Steve’s introduction highlights his talent with the written word, as well as a camera and music and…. bastard!” Shane McElligott
Indeed, Shane. For I feel we cannot really start talking about some of the images in this book, without first looking at the man behind the lens. Steve Jansen; percussionist, composer, multi-instrumentalist, producer, amateur photographer and, it would appear, all round clever (yet modest) bloke, with a keen mind and a great sense of humour. Bit annoying, isn’t it? There is a wonderful moment in Anthony Reynolds’ book, when he mentions the birthday card Danny Morgan gave to Steve on his 18th birthday which simply read; “You’re now too old to be a child prodigy!” There was a time when I wondered if he was one of those god-awful people who could turn their hand to absolutely anything. However, his recent admission that he had to abandon a planned documentary about Japanese musicians, when it turned out that he “had failed miserably as an interviewer”, made me realise that he is a flawed human being after all…..and if you have ever witnessed the toe-curling spectacle of him furiously struggling through a turgid 5-minute chat with “ooooh Gary Davies” back in 1985, you’ll notice he is a pretty rubbish interviewee too! Thank goodness for that.
However, as Shane noted, Steve’s introduction is indeed rather lovely and really does set the tone for the rest of the tome. Here, he reflects vividly on his tendency to record what was going on around him, unaware that the photos he was taking and the journals he was writing would result in him capturing such significant moments in time, but knowing that he wanted to document the life he was living; “to pause events, capture moments and take notes, before they expired forever…..I had no masterplan except to have a back up. In essence, some recall.”
And aren’t we all pleased that he did?
So, where to start? The book is not chronological in its design; although some of the photos are published in ‘sets’, it jumps around from recording Tin Drum in 1981, to touring in ‘82, to studio shots from ’79, to a montage of polaroids from a range of dates, onto Takahashi tours from ’82 and ’92, then back to touring with Japan in ’82. I am quite pleased about this, as I think it would have felt a tad laboured if all the photos flowed seamlessly, in date order. Much more interesting to keep jumping around; to have a polaroid of David from ’82, followed by a colour photo of him on the Champs Elysees in ’79, and to then turn the page to witness the shock of Mick’s magenta hair in the back of a cab in 1978 (see above). It makes for a much more stimulating experience, turning the pages and wondering ‘what next?’ And as there are around 200 photos here, there is always something to beguile on the following page.
Of the ‘previously unseen’ photos (and as Steve had spent the last 12 months periodically uploading a lot of his photos onto ‘sleepyard’, I did wonder just how many of these there would be?) some of the informal studio shots really stand out for me. The shot of Steve Nye at the mixing desk, the room reflected in the glass behind him, with a relaxed David chatting to Mick in the background, is one of those images which speaks volumes to me. For all the austere perfection of the public face of Japan at this time, this shows the other side; David seems relaxed in this environment and we get to peep into that insular world of theirs, when they would spend all of their waking time perfecting the music we all wanted the hear. What Steve manages to do, with many of these shots, is show the real people behind the public mask; as he notes, ‘naturally projecting themselves out of the everyday’.
This may seem as if I am stating the bleeding obvious somewhat, but I doubt that anyone else could have managed to capture such intimate shots of all of the band members, in such an in-obtrusive way. Although many of the shots are posed, (and it seems as if Mick and Steve spent many an hour fannying around the streets of South Kensington, trying out different ideas and having a bit of a laugh) the ones where he catches them relaxed and unaware, are the most successful for me. Sylvian grinning his infamous ‘Joker’ grin, but without any sense of pretence, whilst recording the vocal for Art of Parties; Mick honking on his sax during the recording of Quiet Life; and the quite extra-ordinary shot of Rich pointing out goodness only knows what to a shockingly unkempt, grinning Sylvian is remarkable. Could you ever have imagined seeing a shot of David looking less Sylvian-like at this time? For all those people who continue to insist that the elder Batt sibling never smiles (which is bizarre in itself, isn’t it?), you need to check some of these shots out!
So, just how am I supposed to pick my favourites out of 200 photos? For me, some of the images are so familiar now, that they have almost become background noise, so it is fantastic to be almost forced to re-evaluate them again, in this context.
The shot of Karn, Barbieri and Sylvian on South Molton Street had long been a favourite of mine, but I had somehow stopped looking at it. Sitting with the book in my lap and turning the page to see it once again – but this time being able to really study the scene in such detail – and to have the accompanying shot of a dishevelled Sylvian and Barbieri (as mentioned above) for context, brought it back to life again for me. However, of the new images on show, I think the one of Karn and the pigeon, swamped by the sheer might of the gigantic reclining Buddha in Holland Park, has to be top of my list (along with the pilot at Toronto airport). I had seen so many shots from this day, but this one just leaps out from the page. Just how big is that bloody statue?? It also reminds me of the time I spent hours wandering around Holland Park trying to locate this very statue, eventually stopping a policeman and asking “excuse me, can you tell me where the giant reclining Buddha is, please?” only to be met with a blank stare. Ha ha. It seems it is no longer there. Or maybe it was hidden behind the world’s largest bench?
So, now the book is here I guess I have to ask; was it worth the wait? Well, of course it was, and from the point of view of me starting the blog last year, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, could it? It feels as if my growing interest in Steve’s photography has been paced by the publication of ‘through a quiet window’, and despite some of you believing otherwise, it really was all just a beautiful coincidence. Steve already had plans well under way when I first contacted him about the blog, so let’s just put this down to an act of seamless synergy.
The book has confirmed my long held beliefs that I really do prefer Steve’s monochrome images to the full technicolour ones; and I am fascinated by some of the shots from the Takahashi tours, which show again an intimacy and informality which Steve seems so capable of capturing. Yukihiro’s lyrical reference to Steve being ‘the quiet eye of the camera looking at us’ is as accurate as it is beautiful.
I guess the biggest problem for me now, is that the publication of the book just leaves me wanting even more (I am very greedy. You should see how much cheese I eat.) I am left wondering why there aren’t more shots from 1980? Why so few from the recording of ‘Polaroids’? Or from the UK tours of ‘81 and ‘82? I have long been a fan of Steve’s ‘japanscapes’, as well as the series he had taken in a number of almost identical hotel rooms across the country, so I was slightly disappointed that there weren’t any new ones included here. Steve himself has alluded to the fact that he has even more unseen photos, which he has said will possibly see the light of day, at some point.
So, maybe (just maybe) there will be a 2nd volume of ‘through (another) quiet window’ released in the future? We can but dream.
Exactly a year ago, a group of around 100 music-loving misfits crowded into the (now sadly defunct) Buffalo Bar in Islington, to celebrate the launch of Anthony Reynolds’ long-awaited biography of our favourite band, ‘japan’. With hindsight, this was a tad premature, as the book took another 11 months to finally see the light of day, but at the time, we didn’t care about such things; we just wanted to spend the night listening to and talking about, our favourite 5 musicians. And what a night it was. I met so many wonderfully hilarious people that evening, some of whom have become real friends. I also have Jacki Cairns to thank for providing me with one of my favourite moments of all time, when she walked up to me and said “are you the Steve Jansen lady?”, which made me laugh far more than is seemly. (and yes, it would seem I am!)
When Anthony finally appeared, he regaled us with ‘behind the scenes’ tales from the book. As I had just started this blog, I was particularly interested in knowing more about the photos which Steve had contributed, and Anthony confirmed that along with some of his images, Steve had also given him access to his journals, which provided a whole new insight into the workings of the band. Heady stuff indeed. He also talked about the people he had tracked down and spoken to, and the contributions made by Rich and Rob, both of who were more than happy to share stories and debunk many of the myths which had continued to grow, long after ‘japan’ disbanded in 1982.
“In splitting when they did, Japan froze themselves in the public eye at a point of unrealised and therefore eternal potential” Anthony Reynolds Chapter 10 ‘Voices Raised In Welcome’
And so, here we are. Anthony’s book has finally been released and 2015 is almost over. It has been a year that has seen an unprecedented revival in interest in all things ‘japan’ – none of which we were expecting when we gathered in that small bar, listening & dancing to songs from our youth, and all wondering what would be revealed within the pages of ‘a foreign place’? For those who have yet to read it, I apologise if this post is full of spoilers, but I feel I have waited long enough before diving in and revealing some of the more interesting elements of the book.
It is hard for me, as a long-time fan of ‘japan’, to know whether there was much left to be learned about the history of a band I had followed since 1980. When the book was first published, I was a little sceptical (although incredibly excited) about whether there would be any real revelations within its pages. What I find fascinating about the whole project is, this feels like the first time we have really heard the ‘other voices’. I don’t just mean Steve, Rich and Rob; for their voices were always out there, even if a little subdued (in comparison to David and Mick’s, at least), but the opinions and recollections of the producers, road crew and friends, which give such a complete and rounded picture. It is fascinating for me, to read about all the stuff that went on behind the scenes; what may seem like the rather dull minutiae of life on tour or in the studio, is manna from heaven to this fan!
As excited as I was about the prospect of seeing some previously unpublished Jansen shots within the book, the real thrill comes from the huge number of ‘fan’ photos included. Perhaps because the book started out life as a Kickstarter project, the ‘buy-in’ from fans across the globe for this biography has been a real feature, and the quality and quantity of images provided by some of the band’s uber-fans has to be seen to be believed. I have always thought that ‘japan’ must’ve felt like they had cameras permanently pointed at their beautifully made-up faces, (which can’t have been much fun after the first few months of ‘popstar’ excitement died down, can it?) but these photos add to the compelling story that Reynolds weaves throughout the pages. Here is the evidence (should it ever be required) that the band lived their lives off stage, as they did on. It wasn’t an image just for the public, this was really how they dressed and behaved, day in, day out.
Obviously, as someone who has a healthy interest in Steve’s photography, I was particularly looking forward to seeing the images he had provided for the book. Somewhat frustratingly, the delay in the release of the biography, meant that Steve’s book of photos was actually published ahead of ‘ a foreign place’. However, the image at the top of this piece, featuring Mick standing in front of the incredible angklung at Manor Studios, was an absolute joy to behold. I have long wondered about this instrument, (which featured on the track ‘canton’) and could not even begin to fathom what it looked like, having read Mick’s description of it in his book, so to see it in full was astounding.
“Steve and I found an unusual looking instrument in the studio……what I can only describe as a wall of bamboo…..every tube had a small wooden pea inside that rattled when shaken….(it) needed two players, and meant we had to duck and dive in all directions to avoid hitting each other, shaking the bamboo tubes and then stopping each one, all accomplished at super speed….a synchronised choreography full of groans and grunts, thankfully inaudible.” Mick Karn – Japan & Self-Existence
Towards the end of the book, Anthony touches upon Steve’s growing interest in photography and his exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery in October 1983. However, and somewhat ironically, I have to admit that my favourite image in the whole book, is not one taken by Steve, but by Richard Barbieri. Now, if only Rich would follow in his friend’s footsteps and make his images available for sale, this would definitely be at the top of my ‘to buy’ list……
The final chapters, which deal with the last tour and the final days of the band, take me back vividly to 1982. If I am honest, back then, I think I always assumed there would be a time when Messrs Jansen, Karn, Sylvian and Barbieri (and hopefully Dean) would appear on-stage once more and this was only really scuppered once the fall-out of the RTC project became clear. It is interesting, 3 decades later, to read back through the events of this period and realise just how massive ‘japan’ had become and to wonder at what could have been? However, with hindsight, the sheer breadth of amazing material the individual members have produced over the intervening years outweighs any ‘what ifs’ for me.
What Anthony has achieved with this biography is what all of us were hoping for. Myths debunked, stories told and voices heard. Although I feel it is a missed opportunity for him, it doesn’t make any difference to me, that David refused to contribute to the book; I am not sure he could have added anything more to the story that has been told here. Anthony has interviewed him previously, and he has been more than vocal over the decades about his thoughts on his time with ‘japan’. For me, hearing the ‘other side’ has been far more illuminating and of interest. And, no pressure Anthony, but I am really looking forward to the next instalment – ‘japan – the solo years’ 🙂
‘japan – a foreign place’ is available to buy via burning shed
Fasten your seatbelts and hang on to your hats folks, for tonight’s post goes off on a slight tangent. As previously mentioned, now that the blog has made it unscathed through the first 12 months of life, it is time to stir things up a bit and for us to stray a little off the beautifully beaten path we have been marching down for the last year. This blog will always bear the name of the man who first inspired it, and the main focus will continue to be Steve’s photography; but, in an effort to keep things fresh, and to enable us to get another 12 months of interesting(ish) waffle out into the murky world of blogdom, we are also expanding our borders and taking a side-ways glance at some of the images he captured.
First up tonight, we take a peek behind the scenes of the recording of Akiko Yano’s “Ai Ga Nakucha Ne” album. Those of you who have been paying attention will be aware that some images from the recording of the album, at Air Studios in London, feature in Steve’s recently released book of photography and have previously been published on his ‘sleepyard’ tumblr.
Here, Paul Rymer takes us back in time for a closer look (and listen) to the artist behind the voice, and celebrates the coming together of 2 incredibly influential bands of musicians. Over to you, Paul.
“Inspired by Steve Jansen’s “Through A Quiet Window” I thought I would share some “alternative views” with you, covering some of the same times and places that are featured in Steve’s book. For this initial post I’ll cover the recording of the album “Ai Ga Nakucha Ne” by Akiko Yano at Air Studios, London.
Akiko Yano (formerly Akiko Suzuki) was by 1982 an established star in Japan. Her debut release, aged 16, was as a member of the group Zariba, for whom she was keyboardist and vocalist. In 1974 she put her career on hiatus when she married record producer Makoto Yano and raised their son Futa. In 1976, now called Akiko Yano, she launched her solo career to great acclaim, scoring a hit album with “Japanese Girl”. Following that Yano was in demand as a songwriter and session musician, appearing as a guest performer with Haruomi Hosono and Ryuichi Sakamoto at a show in Yokohama in May 1976, the first time that the pre-YMO would play “Firecracker”. According to Hideki Matsutake, YMO’s computer programmer, Yano was the first Japanese musician to use sequencers.
In 1978 YMO performed as Yano’s back-up band for a Japanese tour, and at this time she became romantically involved with Sakamoto, following the breakup of her marriage. Although at the time this wasn’t noted in the press, once YMO became famous the story was spread across the papers, something that Akiko further highlighted herself by including clippings from the tabloid reports in a tour programme. In 1979 Akiko became a support member of YMO; taking a break in early 1980 when she gave birth to daughter Miu Sakamoto, before returning for the second YMO world tour.
Japan the band first became aware of Akiko Yano because Japanese fans gave the group mixtapes of music they thought they would like. At that time, according to Mick, they did not know that there was a connection between YMO and Akiko. This soon changed when Japan attended a YMO concert and were introduced backstage. David Sylvian, Sakamoto and Yano started to exchange letters, something referred to in the song “David” released later in the 80s.
For her 1981 tour Akiko recruited Masami Tsuchiya as guitar player, and he went on to play on her album “Tadaima”. Both artists came to London in early 1982 and booked time at Air studios, Masami to record “Rice Music” and Akiko “Ai Ga Nakucha Ne”. Akiko specifically chose to work with Japan members and to record at Air because of “Tin Drum”; she liked the clarity of sound and the feel of the album, and wanted that for her own recording. To that end, not only did Akiko recruit the Japan members, but she employed Steve Nye and David Rhodes for the duration of the recording. However, Nye would not be producing, that role would be performed by fiancé Ryuichi (the couple would marry before the album was released). As you can see, even though he didn’t appear on the recording, Richard Barbieri attended at least one session. Sadly I was unable to find any photos of David Sylvian at the Air sessions (he sang on “Goodnight”) – it is possible that his vocal was recorded in Tokyo later that Spring – certainly the piano backing by Ryuichi’s mentor Yuji Takahashi was not recorded in London. It may be the case that David was avoiding Mick at this time, hence his lack of visibility in the shots here that were taken by Pennie Smith and Ryuichi.
All of the photos come from the book that was an optional extra at the time the album “Ai Ga Nakucha Ne” was released. In an unusual move, the album was released at budget price initially in a plain sleeve – for an extra 1000 Yen purchasers could add in the photo book.
What about the music? Despite Akiko apparently wanting some of the “Japan sound”, it doesn’t really sound like Japan! The similarities are the use of Prophet 5, marimba, and Steve’s drumming is unmistakable. Somehow though, despite being there, Mick doesn’t sound like his usual self, and is lower in the mix than you would expect. Perhaps this is because Mick’s suggested bass lines didn’t meet with Sakamoto’s approval?
The title track “Ai ga nakucha ne”, “Onnatachiyo otokotachiyo” and “Aisuru Hitoyo” (a single in Japan) are the stand-out tracks, both moving on at a fair pace and showing off the drumming styles of Jansen and Takahashi respectively.
Of the rest of the tracks, “Sleep On My Baby” was a re-recording of a 1979 song from Sakamoto’s “forgotten” reggae inspired album “Summer Nerves”, notable that the middle eight has new lyrics that sound like the English musicians may have suggested improvements.
Finally, “Good night” is a simple, short piano duet featuring David:
It seems there were plans in ’82 to launch Akiko in the UK – a compilation of her songs sung in English was put together with the title “From Japan To Japan”, but sadly the collection only came out in Japan itself. The title, and the inclusion of several songs featuring the band, must have been intended to pique interest in Japan’s fanbase – indeed I have a copy with a typed insert highlighting which tracks Sylvian & co play on. Whatever happened, it was not to be, and until some albums were released internationally in the 90s, Akiko concentrated on the domestic market.
There is a final postscript to this tale; in 2011 Akiko recorded a cover version of “Bamboo Music” and has since then been playing the song live, such as in this 2013 TV clip. Now long since split from Ryuichi, Akiko seems to have fond memories of her time linked to Japan and YMO and along with Yukihiro has made a return to pop music using synths.
While I was looking for photos related to “Ai Ga Nakucha Ne” I found three reprints of polaroids taken by Ryuichi and Steve during the time in London in early ’82. All come from “YMO Book – Young Music Ozisan” and were probably taken during the recording of “Rice Music”. The first shows Mick and Masami, the second (by Steve) shows Peter Barakan with what may be Kermit The Frog (not the first time that a muppet would appear in a Japan related photo) and the final one: well, you can judge for yourselves.”
Thanks to Paul Rymer for providing the background to some of Steve’s iconic images and for giving us the chance to delve that wee bit deeper into an album that both Steve & Mick contributed to. Additional photographs are by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Pennie Smith.
So, how has 2015 been for you? Good? I do hope so.
It may seem a bit premature to be asking such questions, when we are still 8 weeks away from the end of the year, but I am feeling in a somewhat reflective mood this evening. The reason for this is pretty obvious from the title of this post – for this weekend marks the 1st anniversary of the Jansen Photography Blog’s first ever post (pauses for the clapping and cheering to subside). A whole year since it stumbled, blinking frantically into the light, with little idea of what it was and where it was going. Those first few posts were spectacularly rubbish, if I do say so myself. They read like the ramblings of someone who had no idea what she was doing, or who she was doing it for (funny, that) but it didn’t take long for things to straighten up and a sturdy pair of feet to be found. And here we now are. 52 weeks later. Whodathunkit?
And what a year it has been.
The idea for the blog was (unwittingly) timed to absolute perfection; for whilst I was busy chatting away to TMK’s Penelope about the idea of ‘hosting’ a place for fans to access and discuss a range of Steve’s photos, Mr Jansen was busy digitising the very same images and planning to release a book of his photography a few months down the line. Fortuitous, eh? When I first mentioned to Steve my idea for the blog, he was incredibly supportive, but also hesitant about discussing his photography publicly, at a time when the book was still in the early stages of development. However, his blessings were bestowed upon us, and off we went.
As I have previously explained, the blog was initially set up to be accessible only via the TMK facebook site but that proved to be a ridiculous idea. Facebook just isn’t the right platform for such a venture and it soon became apparent that there was a much wider audience for my hilarious and often incredibly insightful witterings (heh!) so we dropped that idea, and opened it up for anyone who wanted to access it. And I am so pleased we did.
With the increase in access, came a growing interest in people wishing to contribute their own stories and thoughts to the blog, which was exactly my intention. This was always intended to be a place where people could share their thoughts on any of Steve’s photos and I was hoping that those who had their own Jansen prints would contribute to the process – so it is really lovely when that happens.
And now for the boring maths bit: as of today, the blog has had 26,059 views, from people across 6 continents (still awaiting that first one from Antarctica) and over 90 countries (and I am pretty sure I know who the occasional visitor from Costa Rica is……)That, my friends, is quite remarkable, for a blog about photos mainly taken 3 decades ago, isn’t it? As well as being able to work out how many people have read each and every post, one of the joys of ‘wordpress’ is that you can track pretty much everything to do with your blog; including the search terms used, which lead people to the page. So, out of interest, hands up who ended up looking at monochrome images of a band who split up nearly 33 years ago, after googling the following: “how old is Yuka Fujii?”, “implausible blog” and my all time favourite, “hairy micks“.?? Oh, and from these searches, it would also seem that quite a few people are keen to know whether Steve currently has a girlfriend/wife……definitely not a question that will be addressed on this page.
So, why create a whole blog, just to focus on one aspect of Steve’s work? After all, he is far more renowned as a composer and musician, than a photographer, so it may seem a little unusual for this to be the sole focus of the blog.
I had long been aware that Steve had an interest in photography; I think this first became obvious to me late in 1981, when his name started appearing on some of the ‘Japan’ single covers, (Steve’s photos graced all the Virgin single releases, from ‘art of parties’ through to ‘cantonese boy’) but I never realised quite how active he had been as a photographer until relatively recently. Occasionally, his name was alongside a photo of David or Mick used in an interview in UK music press, but we British fans never had the same exposure to his images as our Japanese counterparts – where his photos regularly featured in the magazines which had been sticking the photogenic South London boys on their covers since 1978. Even the ‘expressions’ exhibition he held in 1983 was only made up of 12 images, despite it creating massive amounts of publicity at the time. So, until recent years, access to Steve’s photos was pretty limited to his own website and a few images floating around on the internet.
And then along came ‘sleepyard’………
…….and suddenly we started to get a real sense of just how many photos he had taken. Out-takes from the GTP photo-shoot; studio shots from the late 70s, right through to JBK recording ‘-ism’ in the late 90s; back-stage japes on the ‘shamans’ tour; Steve’s ‘holiday snaps’ whilst relaxing with Yukihiro, or travelling across Europe using the fabulous widelux self-panning camera…..a whole world was opening up before our eyes, and it was as astonishing as it was welcome. Seeing Mick (now complete with eyebrows) looking like a bit of a grumpy geezer, with a couple of days’ growth on his face, at Foel studios in Wales, was simply staggering. So, alongside Steve’s imageshop, we now had a whole new raft of photographs to peruse. And some of us had a lot to say about them. The blog made perfect sense.
There are countless other platforms where Steve’s musical activities are discussed and promoted, but his photography didn’t seem to be as visible (ironic, huh?). I kept seeing photographs I knew he had taken, shared on tumblr or on countless facebook groups, where he was never credited as the photographer. So, rather than sit here getting frustrated about it, it seemed a more positive approach would be to celebrate and share these images in a way people could also engage with. Focusing on the spectacular images he had taken of Mick over the years, was our starting point. And the rest is history (all 12 months of it)
For me, the highlight of the last 12 months has obviously been the release of Steve’s book ‘through a quiet window’; something many of us had been waiting a long, long time for. The fact he also agreed to do an exclusive and informal interview on the blog, about the book, was an absolute bonus – and one the teen-aged me would never have conceived as a possibility, when she first heard Japan back in 1980. Funny old world, ain’t it?
Looking back over the last 12 months, at the photos that have been newly released and hearing some of the stories behind them, I can honestly say that it has been beyond what I ever imagined. Steve has been incredibly generous with providing some of the back stories to his photos; recounting the time he stepped backwards and fell through the skylight on his roof, (whilst taking the shots for the ‘ghosts’ cover), is possibly the most memorable; but there have been many other snippets of info we have gleaned over the months which have filled in a bit of the history for us. There was the classic moment when I had written a whole post about Steve’s use of black & white film vs colour. where I focused on the stills he shot during the ‘visions of china’ video shoot as an example of him photographing in colour but reproducing in b&w, only for him to explain (after I had published the post) that he actually shot 2 rolls of film that day; one in monochrome and one in glorious techni-colour. Oops.
I have long been a fan of Steve’s ‘non-Japan’ images, and along with Shane McElligott (a regular contributor to the blog) I adore his ‘hotel room’ shots; possibly because these were some of the earliest images of his I remember seeing, as they were used in the publicity surrounding the ‘expressions’ exhibition in 1983. The juxtaposition of the 2 ‘worlds’ captured through Steve’s lens; that of the room itself, and the ‘other’ world beyond the window (or within the TV screen) was something Mischa Rose focused upon in one of the fantastic pieces she has contributed. This is one my all time favourite posts and, with hindsight, it acted almost as a precursor to the release of Steve’s book – I mean, check out the title! https://jansenphotographyblog.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/captured-through-a-quiet-window/
The collaborative pieces which occasionally appear on here are an absolute joy to create – having the opportunity to weave a narrative between the words of fellow fans is wonderful, and I love reading the thoughts of so many people, who share a passion for these images. The joyful sense of elation which came from the ‘birthday’ blog we dedicated to Mick this July, was the epitome of this for me. I can’t thank all the people who have contributed enough……..and the door is always open to anyone else who would like to join us in waxing lyrical about any of Steve’s photos. The more the merrier, as far as I am concerned.
A few months after starting to blog, Steve mentioned that he didn’t really think I would be able to find much more to write about – the bottom of the barrel was becoming ever more discernible and I had pretty much covered all bloggable topics, he reckoned. I did share this concern, wondering just how long I could keep writing about what was after all, a finite number of images – but that was before the reality of 2015 kicked in. For, whilst the blog has been merrily bobbing along for the the last 12 months, we have also witnessed a truly remarkable year for Japan-related material. From the Jansen/Barbieri releases of ‘lumen’ and ‘stone to flesh’, to Mick’s back catalogue being re-issued in vinyl via KScope, along with books by Anthony Reynolds, David Sylvian and Steve……it has truly felt like best of times to be a fan of Messrs Jansen, Karn, Barbieri, Sylvian and Dean. Again, the timing couldn’t have been better, as it feels like there is a real groundswell of interest in the past work, as well as new releases, of the band once known as ‘Japan’. Long may it last.
And with the release of ‘through a quiet window’, there is now a whole glut of new images for us to get all wordy and hifalutin about…….however, as Steve quite rightly pointed out, there will come a time when the bloggable topics do run out. With this in mind, the Jansen Photography Blog will be broadening its scope somewhat as it enters its second year of existence. Over the coming months, we will be looking not just at photos taken by Steve, but peeking around the corners, to unveil more of the back-story – delving further into the world that created the back-drop to some of these images. First up, Paul Rymer will focus upon the recording of Akiko Yano’s ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ album. One to watch out for.
So, all that is left to say is a massive THANK YOU to everyone who has supported us over the last 12 months, including all those who have ever commented on, shared or contributed to the blog……and of course, a heartfelt and grateful hunk-a-hunk o’ burning thanks to Steve himself.
The reproductions of the photos on this site are not indicative of the quality of the images in the book. Sadly, I have a crappy scanner and so they look a bit rubbish. Apologies to Steve for ruining all of his hard work.
Images from the book ‘through a quiet window’ are available to purchase as individual prints, as are selected images from ‘sleepyard’ – all enquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The recent welcome news that Steve is finally publishing a book of his photographs, (which I may have mentioned in passing over the last couple of weeks, I’m not sure???) has brought forth a wave of excited comments and questions on a number of Jansen and Japan-related forums……….and one of the most commonly expressed opinions is, that whilst this is very, very good news indeed, there is going to be one glaring omission from the tome of beautiful images. For, as ‘the man with the (stills) camera’, rarely do we get to see Steve in his own photos. This is the pre-digital, pre-selfie, world of photography we are talking about here – when the only way to take a photo of yourself was with the aid of a well-placed mirror, or with a self-timer setting on your camera. And, let’s be honest, who could actually be bothered with all that faffing around? I certainly couldn’t, at the time.
When I first started the blog last year, I did a piece about Steve’s ‘selfie’ photos, which I rather amusingly (to my mind, at least) titled ‘the art of selfies’ – and so, with the recent discussions around Steve being pretty much absent from his own book, I thought I would play Steve Nye to my previous John Punter, and remix, remaster and generally arse around with something I did earlier – here is the ‘art of selfies’ re-mixed and re-mastered…..12″ DJ edit.
Steve has been responsible for taking some of the most iconic photographs of his former band-mates over the years, such as this incredible shot of Mick, Richard and David in South Molton Street…..pictures which give fans an insight into the admittedly insular and sometimes isolated world they inhabited during Japan’s tenure as ‘band most likely to…..’ However, this means that he is usually absent from the scene, his presence only felt from the observer’s point of view; as the man behind the camera, looking down the lens, at the image that we now see before us.
Fortunately, Steve pre-empted today’s seemingly rampant enthusiasm for “selfies” with a few of his own…..so, here we celebrate the few photos where Mr Jansen is actually on the other side of his own lens. Most of these photos have been published by Steve on his sleepyard tumblr
“It’s an early, not very effective form of ‘selfie’” – a photo of Steve and Rich from the days when we had to utilise a mirror to take a selfie…
“This is as close as it gets to a selfie … using a timer, camera placed on the desk. I remember this being a very productive few days with all in good spirits.“
This is a great photo and made even more fabulous by the fact that David Sylvian is present only by virtue of his ear! Not that I have anything against seeing photos of Mr Sylvian; it is just such an unusual state of affairs when he isn’t the main focus of a photo.
I have long had a bit of a ‘thing’ about the widelux photos Steve has published. So much so, that I devoted a whole blog to his photos taken using this remarkable piece of kit. Steve had this camera on hand, whilst he and Richard Barbieri were recording the Dolphin Brothers album, ‘Catch The Fall’.
In this photo, he was able to literally jump into shot, as the lens panned around the room.
Another widelux shot which features Steve taken in a hotel room in Venice after the initial sessions for the Rain Tree Crow album had ended. Here he is, reflected in the mirror on the wall……in fact, I love this image so much, I have a copy of it in my bedroom!
So far, we’ve seen examples of Steve utilising mirrors and self-timers to capture his own image in a shot.
Here, he uses the tried and tested ‘reflection in a shop window’ technique, to record himself and Rich Barbieri.
Regular blog readers will be aware that this is one of my all time favourite shots, and will have noticed that I try to shoe-horn it into as many posts as possible, (mainly so I can get the phrase ‘dangly thing’ in frequently as I dare). What isn’t that apparent until you see this image full sized, is how the real focus of this photograph is on Steve’s image, beautifully reflected in Mick’s shades. Had the fault not occurred (when light leaked in and damaged the film), which tends to draw the viewers eye away from the darkened lenses, then I think it would have been far more obvious.
and finally…..a ‘self-mirrored’ and ‘reflected in the glasses’ shot…….
There are a number of photos of Steve, taken on his camera (and available on his website or his tumblr page) which are not strictly selfies, …….his habit of leaving his camera lying around, meant that, at times, it ended up in the hands of one of his fellow band-mates and these are the results.
and finally……this photo which Steve published last night, on his tumblr; showing him and Ryuichi Sakamoto relaxing. Lovely, isn’t it?
Not sure about you lot, but I am still smiling like a total goon, at the more-than-welcome news that Steve’s much longed-for book of photography is finally about to be published. Tantalising snippets of information are being bandied about on various forums; a drip, drip, drip of enticing facts & figures – A5 in size! 200 pages! 170 photos! never-seen-before polaroids! …..the mind boggles! (too many exclamations? I think so.) Such was the interest in the book, that people were sharing the information within minutes of it being posted on the Hints Music facebook site – in fact, it seemed to even catch Steve by surprise, as he only got around to posting a picture of the cover of his own book, after it had already been shared on numerous Japan/SJ forums. Which seems a bit rude to me – but then maybe I am just a tad old-fashioned? Such is the way of social media (makes me wonder just how Bowie managed to hoodwink us all and release an album without *anyone* realising he had even been in the studio?) so immediate is everything, these days.
However, I digress……
Prior to the book being published, the only way to actually get your hands on your favourite Jansen print was via Steve’s ‘imageshop’; a gallery featuring an array of mainly monochrome images of his ex-band mates – as well as some amazing Japanscapes, and the odd shot of a random stranger or a glinty-eyed dog. Many of you already have one (or more) of these limited edition prints hanging on your walls at home, (as do I), and soon we will also be able to have access to these images, and many more previously unseen shots, all compiled into a beautiful art book. Heady stuff.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing this blog is the contact I have with fellow fans, who all seem more than happy to share their anecdotes about attending Steve’s exhibitions in the early 80s, or will gladly contribute to a collective piece about his iconic images of Mick. So, whilst we eagerly await publication of the Jansen tome, I thought we could have a little look at some of the images that are already out there, hanging on people’s walls, and ask “why that particular one?”
So, please join me in welcoming the newest member of the Jansen Print Owners Club, Natasha Bain. In fact, she is such a ‘newbie’, that she hasn’t actually taken delivery of her prints yet, having only ordered them this week. However, let’s not quibble over such inanities…..she has been a lifelong fan of the band Japan, and she was motivated to grab herself a couple of prints after having a pretty grim week – what better way to cheer yourself up?
Natasha’s first choice was this photo of David, smoking in the snow. Her reasons for choosing this image were complex and personal; she had recently received some distressing news and she felt that this image summed up how she was feeling – she longed for solitude and the time to just sit and think (and maybe smoke a tab or two) but she also saw the snow – as bleak and cold as it appears – as a temporary thing; it would eventually melt and life would get back on an even keel again……the possibility of the positive future is as strong as the reality of her current situation.
Natasha’s second choice was also influenced by personal reasons, although much happier ones; she went for the rather spectacular shot of Karn, Sylvian and Barbieri in South Molton Street (a technically beautiful shot, if I may say so) because it reminded her of family shopping trips! Whatever her reason, I certainly cannot argue with her choice, as I truly believe that this is one of Steve’s most accomplished photographs. (The only criticism I have with this image, is that bloody awful jacket, which David seemed to have welded permanently to his back, throughout 1981 *shudders*)
Next up, is Craig Hamlin, who finally got ’round to ordering two Jansen prints last month, after many, many years of procrastination. He had always loved the image of the Rickshaw Man, which had been used in publicity for Steve’s 1983 photographic exhibition at The Photographers’ Gallery. Even knowing that the shot had been taken off a TV screen didn’t cool his ardour, and he eventually decided to go for it. It does have a beautifully hazy quality to it, and Craig always said it reminded him of early 1960s footage, which I can see….Steve has no recollection of the programme which happened to be on his telly that day though, merely that is was a documentary. However, this matters not a jot; what Craig has ended up with is a pretty wonderful image, not only signed by Steve but, as he was the first person to purchase it, a geek-tastic number 1/250.
Craig has always been fascinated by the image of Steve and David, taken from the ‘Visions of China’ video shoot, which was published in the ‘journal’ section of Jansen’s website. The image places Steve front and centre of the shot, whilst David is awkwardly positioned behind him – small and almost unnoticeable (and weirdly reminiscent of a scene from the film ‘How To Get Ahead in Advertising’!). Anyone who was aware of just how often the focus was placed upon the elder Batt sibling during the Japan years, couldn’t fail to be intrigued by this positioning – not specifically posed, but beautifully captured, never-the-less (most likely by Rich Barbieri) On Steve’s website, the image is published in black and white, even though it was actually a colour shot; Craig had seen the original colour version and felt this was the one he wanted. He felt it dated the picture in a way he liked; it reminded him of the technicolour 1980s, a time when he first heard and saw Japan, and he was sold on having it in its original glory – although eventually, he decided to go with the monochrome version you see below. (A wise move, if I may say so) As Steve didn’t actually take the picture (although it was his camera and film the image was caught on) he didn’t number the print, although he did kindly sign it for Craig.
And Craig has assured me that, as soon as he gets back off his holidays, he will be collecting them from the framers and putting them up on a wall, where they belong.
Not quite sure why, but recently people seem to have been buying a brace of Jansen prints at a time! Here, we have the wonderful Pat Innes, who also chose not one but two images…….and Pat’s first choice was based upon a similar train of thought as Craig’s. This shot of Japan was the one she also chose to write about when we did the MK 24/7 blog post to mark the occasion of Mick’s birthday, last month.
I’ll let her explain……..
“I love Japan and their two “orphaned” lps, I love JBK and their individual forays, but I’m not a David fan. This group picture places Mick clearly in focus; David is there, but is not the centre of attention. I confess to a little delight at that thought every time I look at it. To me, the group shot gives Mick a bit of the acknowledgement he deserved. Drums and bass – that does it for me, with a hefty serving of (cute, fuzzy, pouty-faced) Barbieri on the side”
Pat’s other choice was a beautiful image of Mick, which Steve also published this year on Mick’s birthday. Taken in Firenze during the ‘Alice’ tour in 1996….”the Firenze shot is of Mick alone, looking off at who knows what…It’s just Mick, not on stage or with Japan…just Mick, presumably out for a stroll in Italy while touring. I chose two shots which show Mick at different places in life; one young, flamboyant, and without eyebrows, and one later – sombre, with boatloads of hair and eyebrows. Both are gorgeous.”
When I first started this blog, I had 4 Jansen prints hanging on my walls……I now have another two and, like Natasha, my purchases have been motivated by specific things happening in my life. The last two I bought, were prompted by a house move – always a good reason to get yourself some new art, I feel! Earlier this year, Steve had published some shots taken in deepest, darkest Wales during the recording of jbk’s ‘_ism’, and I was immediately enamoured of the beautifully trippy image of the Foel Studio sign and gatepost……something about it drew my eye and I kept returning to look at it. So, that ended up being top of my ‘must have’ list. When it arrived, it proved to be even more beautiful than I had realised; there is an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ quality to the image – in fact, scrub that thought…….I’ve got the wrong literary Lewis….I have just realised that it reminds me of the picture in ‘The Voyage of The Dawn Treader’, which comes to life whilst Edmund and Lucy are looking at it! It is difficult to explain just how the perspective draws your eye and it really feels as if it is a 3-D image – you’ll have to take my word for it (or pop round for a brew and a nosey one day, so you can see for yourselves) as it isn’t that obvious when viewed on a computer screen.
My final acquisition (for now!) was one I wasn’t sure would actually work……Steve is a bit of a stickler for quality when it comes to his photographic work, and he always runs a test-print of any ‘new’ image before agreeing to sell it. I had been intrigued by a shot of Mick which had appeared on ‘sleepyard’ a few months ago – an out-of-focus, close-up shot of him wearing Banana Splitz shades, with a crisp reflection of the photographer in his darkened lenses. And, of course, the ‘dangly thing’…….which turned out to be a fault in the film, where light had leaked in. Because of this, I wasn’t sure it would reproduce well enough once enlarged (the prints are approx 40cm x 30cm). Weirdly, of the 2 prints, it was actually the ‘Foel’ one which had to be tested twice; the MK one reproduced perfectly first time round.
Mick Karn aka ‘dangly thing’
It is surprisingly easy to get your hands on one of Steve’s beautiful, limited edition, signed prints – simply check out his ‘imageshop’ for details of how to order.
Angela Crook did just that and grabbed herself a shot of David taken during the Visions of China video shoot, which now has pride of place in her living room (and she assures me she gazes adoringly at it every morning!)
Thanks to everyone who contributed photos and anecdotes to this piece. All other photos by Steve Jansen.
I have said this before, so apologies for repeating myself, but 1982 must have been a really odd year to live through for the 4 remaining members of Japan. The band had split, even though they were publicly stating that it was just a temporary thing; they had a tour looming at them, but no new material to write or rehearse, and they were all off, doing their own things.
The first real sense of just how difficult inter-band relationships had become, came with the publication of an interview with Mick in Zig Zag magazine in April 1982. Anyone who was a fan of the band at the time, will be able to recall the sort of gut-wrenching shock that accompanied reading this article for the first time – Mick’s words were caustic and chaotic, and were ‘helpfully’ illustrated by a series of the most startling photographs, where he appears tormented, stricken and half-naked – all taken by Steve.
Mischa chose to write about these photos, when we did the collective TMK post a couple of weeks ago – however, as she is as much of a stranger to brevity as my good-self, her piece was far too large to be included in all of its glory – so here it is…….over to you, Mischa.
“I am, of course, completely rubbish at choosing a favourite anything. I mean, I could probably narrow stuff down to a list of ‘possibles’, but any particular favourite would be pretty consequent on what was going on at the time. For example, I have a miserable playlist, a cheerful one, and a running one; but whilst they’re all favourites, you wouldn’t be catching me listening to Nick Cave’s ‘Murder Ballads’ while I was running through the woods at night…..
Strangely though, it is easy enough for me to pick favourite pictures of Mick. Not just ONE, obviously, but the whole series of utterly uncharacteristic shots that appeared in the infamous Zig Zag magazine article in April 1982. Steve’s colour shot of Mick graced the cover—with a ‘Mick Karn Reveals All’ strapline that wasn’t all that far from the truth, in more ways than one. Shirtless, damp haired and alarmingly hairy; the image is more edgy Goth than cool Japan.
We were used to a Mick who had a variety of images over the years – from the Glam, post-Bowie, bright-haired years, through to the vivid orientalese-chic of silk pumps and Chairman Mao and onto the ‘slicked hair and suit combo’ that flirted with the ’40s. We were also used to a Mick that, in front of the camera, would make eye contact – a Mick who perhaps had a slightly less icy, quizzical stare than David, and who looked, on the whole, to be slightly more approachable. So, the Zig Zag pictures, after all that, were actually rather shocking.
Back in those days of course, I’d like to think we were rabidly innocent, but we probably weren’t. I certainly wasn’t, anyway. But bands – decent bands anyhow- were defined more by what they actually wore, than what they didn’t (and for a lot of them it was pretty irrelevant anyhow. I still can’t get over how ordinary Joy Division looked). Madonna’s Sex was what, another ten years in the future?, and by then things were changing. It was 1995 when I noticed that Antony Kiedis kept his shirt ON for a whole ten minutes during a gig (London in the summertime being perishing, I suppose?) Back then it wasn’t normal to look like a blow up sex-doll on the cover of your latest album. The very idea of a trout pout was probably more likely to suggest Bernard Manning in drag, and the only person I can think of who made any effort towards looking oiled, rippling (or at least not pale & wobbling) and semi-clad, was Freddie Mercury. Maybe there were loads of other folks too but to be honest I can’t remember them looming very large on my musical horizon at the time. I’d have probably dismissed them as frauds anyway.
But, back to the band in question – this wasn’t of course the first time that the boys had got their nips out – there are several shoots from the early years where doing that sort of thing clearly seemed like a good idea at the time (as it does when you’re a teenager) but once that phase had passed in a blur of testosterone, terrible scarves, and Max Factor, Japan had projected a certain androgyny; a defiantly challenging sexlessness, in all meanings of the word. So, a semi-naked Mick, looking all hairy, arrogant, and a bit macho, was, well……disturbing. We were used to more cerebral challenges from Japan, weren’t we? That undeniably fabulous, but rather aggressive, mirror imaged Mick, gaunt-faced, a bit cocky, and definitely not the victim of too many pies (since by his own admission he liked his food) he looked more like he belonged (ironically enough) in a Bauhaus video, than in the sort of poised, clinical, slightly awkward pictures of the later Japan years. Or, as Craig Hamlin put it in a previous blog, this is Mick in full-on Rock Star mode.
What on earth was going on? The theatrical shot of his twisted neck, Mick posing in a way that recalled his equally contorted, sharply defined sculptures – as does the other image of his tense hands, pressed to his temples above an anguished expression. Satchmo hands.
If you read the images in the context of his sculptures, then a pattern of sorts emerges: this was somehow closer to Mick’s own image of himself, more of a way Mick saw the world, and himself, rather than the tidy restraint of the Mick that conformed (or was made to conform) to the Japan aesthetic. If you look back, it becomes a bit more clear; there are other earlier shots of Mick, posing with his sculptures, where he arranges himself in certain stylised ways, making himself into echoes of the graphic shapes he liked to sculpt.
I assume that everyone has read the text by now – the uncomfortable interview with a journalist who managed to bring out the very worst of Mick’s anger and resentment; at the band’s demise, at Yuka moving in with David, at a whole number of things that Mick would cover more fully in his own autobiography. If the photographs are a bit alarming, then the text is so much worse. The shots make more sense then, particularly if they really were supposed ‘to annoy the hell out of Dave’; more, one suspects, for the desperate and defiant insistence on Japan-free, independent identity and image, than for any amount of chest hair.
Who knows what was going through Steve’s head too. Impossible to know whether there really was an element of rebellion going on, whether it was all Mick’s idea, or whether they were all simply having a laugh and trying to do something different. If I thought it was only the latter, of course, I would LIKE the pictures a whole lot better. Because while they remain favourites – for their complexity in context, and because they are strong (and peculiarly ’80s) images in themselves – I don’t actually like them very much. Even now (even more-so, in fact) they seem to poignantly evoke a particularly unhappy period, and that is perhaps the most discomforting thing of all…….” Mischa Rose