For those of us who are unable to hot-foot it half-way across the globe, to catch Steve’s current exhibition in Kyoto, our lovely friend Keiko Kurata has very kindly offered to be our (quiet) eyes and ears.
Here is a short film she made of the installation, when she visited last weekend.
You wait 35 years for a SJ photo exhibition, only for 3 of them to turn up all at once 🙂
Steve last officially exhibited his photographic work at The Photographers’ Gallery, (just off Oxford Street, in London) in October 1983. Tomorrow (13th April) sees the opening of a small-scale installation at the ISETAN store (6F) in Kyoto Station. Mainly featuring prints from his 2015 book, “through a quiet window”, the exhibition runs for a month, ending on 13th May.
As the Kyoto installation ends, 2 further exhibitions are scheduled to take place, half-a-world away, in Nova Scotia and Ontario. The first takes place at Cape Breton University Art Gallery in Sydney, Nova Scotia (11th May – 6th July) and this will then move on to the Carnegie Gallery in August (final dates and time TBC)
Those of us not fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit any of these current installations (and I really am not at all bitter that I returned from a visit to Japan a mere 20 days ago. Oh no, not bitter at all. Really. Not. Bitter.) will just have to hope that other galleries and curators, slightly closer to home, will be encouraged to offer Steve the chance to extend his run of exhibitions.
Of course, failing that, there’s always the fact that we can actually buy copies of these gorgeous images, (as well as the “through a quiet window” book) direct from the man himself, and create our very own, small-scale exhibitions in our homes. That’s what I’ve done. 🙂
It is now a full 10-years since the smoking ban came into force in England – following those which had been implemented a full 18-months previously across Scotland, Ireland and Wales – and it is now almost impossible to remember just quite how ubiquitous that most anti-social of habits once was, in our daily lives. I recall visiting Ireland in 2006, a few months after the ban had been introduced there, and wondering why every bar I visited smelt like it had recently been newly varnished; was there an annual ‘re-decorate the pubs’ festival, I had been previously unaware of? For, upon entering each and every hostelry on that trip, the heady combination of cleaning products, stale beer and the deadly waft of a thousand disintegrating urninal-cakes, produced an acidic, oily aroma – which had been so cleverly masked by the over-powering stench of tobacco, and was suddenly all too obvious. It really wasn’t that pleasant.
When I think back to my formative years, cigarettes where everywhere. My dad was the only adult I knew, who didn’t smoke. My mum smoked, all of their friends smoked, my four brothers all smoked. Interviewers on TV smoked, musicians smoked on stage, magazines were full of photos of the latest pop-stars, models and actors, staring moodily at the camera, with a cigarette dangling provocatively from their lip-sticked pouts.
Unsurprisingly, I started to smoke. At school during breaks, we’d stand outside the staff room and watch all of the teachers get settled in their chairs and start puffing away, then nick round the back of the science-block, and spark up a cheeky Player’s No. 6. When I went to uni, two of my lecturers would smoke all the way through classes, although we weren’t allowed to (ghastly double standards!) and one of my strongest memories of those hedonistic days, is waking up in the early hours of the morning, with my face buried in my pillow, with the stench of a thousand nightclub cigarettes clinging to my hair, clothes and bed. The thought of it turns my stomach now, but at the time, it seemed so normal.
In 1981, at the tender age of 13, I was lucky enough to see JAPAN in concert. It was my first ever gig, and I’d love to be able to recount every single moment of the show; however, my abiding memory of the evening, is of standing on a raised step, by the side of the stage (right up next to the speakers, which made my ears bleed during Canton!) and watching with amazement, as the smoke rose from the top of the 2,000 strong audience, and was caught up in the lights emanating from the stage. It was trippy and beautiful. Standing in the Great Hall, at Lancaster University, surrounded by glamorous beings, dressed in their finery and puffing away on their Gitanes – and all within pouting distance of my favourite band – was utterly momentous and life-defining. Despite all of the messages which clearly stated that smoking was bad for you, I fell for the hype. It was glamorous; it was cool; it was sophisticated. It was grown-up, and that is what I wanted.
And blimey, those JAPAN boys could smoke. And then some. There were so many photos of them, posing beautifully, with cigarettes clamped between their lips, or in between their fingers. I know it was the norm at the time, but with hindsight, as immaculate as they all looked, I can’t help but think they must’ve bloody REEKED! We all did.
Now, I am the last person to encourage anyone to smoke, or to glamorise this most anti-social of habits, but when I sit here now and look back at all of these wonderful images I still can’t help but think that they all look so freaking cool. It’s sheer madness, I know. I’m not 15 and easily manipulated, but…..well, take this photo of Mick, in a hotel room in Leeds, as an example. With the blonde shock of spikes and the filterless fag dangling dangerously from his jutting lips, doesn’t he just appear to be the most exotic and intriguing person who ever bestrode the planet?
When I first started this blog, I invited people who had bought any of Steve’s prints to contribute, and Adam Howard did just that. This was one of the ones he owned and he admitted to having mixed feelings about the inclusion of the cigarette. “My family bought (it for) me. At the time I thought it was an odd choice as we are all ardent non-smokers, but I can’t complain as I did leave it up to their discretion. I’ve grown to appreciate the picture over time, and the whole smoking thing was very ‘Mick’ I suppose.” Adam also said he had initially felt a bit uncomfortable with the image, due to Mick’s cancer diagnosis and untimely death. However, as he quite rightly stated, this IS a very Mick pose and no amount of revisionism, in the face of his sad passing, will alter that fact.
In fact, so strongly do some of us associate Mick with his smoking habit, that when I asked JAPAN-fan extraordinaire, Keiko Kurata, about her favourite SJ photos of Mick one of the ones she chose was this one…..
Her reasoning was simple and logical: “when I see Gitanes, I always think of Mick …. and Steve knew that Bass+Gitanes = Mick”.
You really can’t argue with that, can you? 🙂
Thankfully, the remaining members have now all kicked the habit; admittedly, some of them rather more recently than others. In fact, Steve has even suggested that he wasn’t ever really a serious smoker, despite the hordes of photographic evidence to the contrary. “I was surrounded by smokers therefore it was easy to grab one, but it wasn’t really for me. I’m not a smoker despite how it appears sometimes in those early photos.”
To be fair, he may have a point – that cigarette isn’t even lit!
Now, I cannot emphasise enough, how much I dislike cigarettes – and I truly hope that no-one reading this thinks that I am trying to glamorise smoking and make it seem like a GOOD thing to do. I really am not. However, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that one of my all-time favourite shots – which resulted from the click of Steve’s A1 shutter-button -is the utterly sublime photo of Ryuichi Sakamoto, which graces the top of this page. And, like Adam Howard, I too feel horribly conflicted with my absolute love of this image.
We all know that Ryuichi was diagnosed with throat cancer, a couple of years ago. Certain cancers (but not all) are undoubtedly linked to smoking, and throat cancer is up there at the top of that list. Thankfully, he is now in full remission following extensive treatment, but it still feels a bit odd (and not a little warped) to wax-lyrical about a photograph which graphically represents something so dangerous and harmful.
However, the truth of the matter is that this photo also represents who he was, at that moment in time. When we look back on these images from nearly 4-decades ago, we have to remember that attitudes were different. This was a time when smoking was far more acceptable and seemingly ubiquitous – and I am really sorry to admit this, but I still think they all look really, really cool.
Can you believe that it is almost September? In fact, by the time I actually get around to posting this, it actually WILL be September. How did that happen? Up here in the frozen wastelands of northern England, we are still waiting for summer to start. Or, at least continue. Anyhoo, enough of my thoroughly British whingeing, about the passing of time and the weather, and on to more exciting things. For, the onset of September brings with it the promise of something rather wonderful…..Richard Barbieri is heading oop north at the end of this month, to play his last show of 2017, and it is going to be fantastic. Huzzah!
For those of us who have already bought tickets for the Liverpool show (and more than 3/4 of the tickets have sold, to date) I thought it would be a great opportunity to ask Richard what we can expect from this rather special event. For, this is not any old gig; this final show of 2017, will be played within the Gothic grandeur of the beautiful St Margaret of Antioch church, in the heart of this fine city.
Last week, Richard was kind enough to answer a few probing questions about his live performances, and his plans for the future.
So, without further ado, I give you, Mr Richard Barbieri:
VCC: Over the last 18-months, you have played a number of ‘solo shows’ – starting with the university masterclass in Huddersfield – where you have showcased new material, as well as featuring re-workings of older tracks, from throughout your career. How easy is it to step out onto that stage, on your own, knowing that it is all down to you?
RB: “It’s quite easy and I never ever thought I’d say this……I’ve always been rather quiet, and a little shy, so it surprises me that recently I feel very comfortable being alone on stage and communicating with an audience. Everything before and after the show is more stressful for me, especially all the technical preparation and concerns. There’s so many things to consider on a performance day, including the needs of the musicians with me, so any help I get is really appreciated.”
VCC: You seem to really enjoy these appearances, and having been fortunate enough to witness a number of the recent shows, I know how positively they have been received by the audience. Are there any memorable moments, which stand out to you?
RB: “I try to choose venues or spaces where the audience can concentrate and focus on the performance without distractions. It enables me to play some of the more sparse material – and to hear silence in the musical pauses is amazing for me – having toured with a rock band for so long where subtlety is very hard to achieve. I did really enjoy previewing an early version of “New Found Land” at the chapel in Huddersfield. I thought it sounded good in that environment.”
As someone who was lucky enough to be at that first solo-outing, in Huddersfield, I can only agree with Richard; hearing snippets of the new music, in such a beautiful setting (albeit, on a wet January afternoon) was a wonderful experience, and only whetted my appetite for what was to follow.
RB: “The “comedy” and more lighthearted moments come with the recent Q & A sessions, and at the last show in Birmingham a member of the audience was very concerned as to whether I was happy in myself, and what pension provisions I had made. Possibly he was hoping I would fall into a teary rant about the music industry and how broke I was – or maybe he was genuinely concerned?
Of course I hate the industry and I’m usually pretty broke – but mustn’t grumble… ” 🙂
VCC: Having the musical polymath, Lisen Rylander Löve, join you on the recent shows, seemed to create a whole new ambience – certainly from the audience’s perspective – and especially when you played at the beautifully-intimate, Hoxton Hall, in March. What can we expect from the up-coming Liverpool show?
RB: “Lisen has transformed the music and her input enables me to experiment a bit more and rely much less on any backing tracks. Of course we need rhythms, bass and some fx running in the background, but we can now improvise more and each performance can be different. For the Liverpool concert we will be joined by Luca Calabrese on trumpet, so I’ll have the two main contributors to my album with me. ”
VCC: What additional challenges will you face, playing this material in the Gothic splendour of a Victorian church?
RB: “I think the acoustics will present some problems for certain tracks and we will have to adjust our approach accordingly. On the other hand, some pieces like “Unholy, New Found Land and Experience Of Swimming” should work really well.”
(at this point, I desperately wanted to suggest that Richard could create a wonderful ‘mash-up’ of 2 of his songs…..just imagine ‘host to the unholy’!! However, common sense prevailed, and instead I used it as the title of the blog, Quite fitting, don’t you think?)
VCC: You have said that the Liverpool show is your final one for 2017, although you are also planning to join Lustans Lakejer on their 35th anniversary tour in Sweden, in October. Do you have any plans to step out onto the stage again in 2018?
RB: “There’s talk of possible concerts in Japan next year. I’d like to do a couple in Scotland and then hopefully Rome, and maybe Amsterdam? Scandinavia would be nice if something could be arranged. Beyond that I don’t know.”
(VCC immediately cancels her planned trip to Japan in March and awaits further news!)
VCC: What else may be on the cards for the coming year?
RB: “I’ll be releasing a series of EPs over the next 6 months. I can’t follow up my recent solo album just yet, but want to continue the creative process with diverse pieces and collaborations.”
So folks, there you have it. The promise of new music, some shows on foreign shores, as well as the upcoming performance in 4 weeks time. Exciting times, eh?
If you haven’t yet booked your tickets for the Liverpool show on 29th September, what are you waiting for? This promises to be a performance like no other, with Richard being joined by Lisen & Luca, in the most beautiful of settings. I have it on good authority, that there will be some new items available to purchase from the merchandise stand on the night, including a ltd edition print and concert posters.
To add to the fun, we have arranged an ‘aftershow’ get-together at Club 27, where a few dozen of us will be drinking, dancing and chatting the night away. If you fancy spending an evening, in the company of like-minded people, please feel free to join us.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…….
I have been musing long and hard this week over the strange world of the avid music collector. This has been influenced by a number of factors, not least the rather fabulous experience we had last week, when Steve & Richard announced a ‘flash sale’ of some of the remaining (and hard to come by) JBK stock via their bandcamp page. There was an almighty virtual scrabble as fans desperately tried to grab themselves a signed copy of the ‘medium sampler’, along with ‘seed’ and ‘playing in a room with people’. Included in the price of the CDs/downloads was the added bonus of the live JBK gig filmed at the Astoria in April 1997, which we have waited a long time to get our hands on, and this created a huge amount of excited conversation on the various Japan/JBK/Jansen/Barbieri facebook pages. It also highlighted, once again, just how avid some people are when it comes to getting every single version of every single release, regardless of whether there are any discernible differences. As someone who is, at best, a half-hearted collector of music memorabilia, I am fascinated by the people who go the whole hog, as it were.
My own collecting has been – to use the old football cliche – very much a game of two halves and can be split into two distinct categories; ‘back in the day’ and ‘mid-life crisis’. My former collection was created in the early 80s when, as an obsessed, teenaged Japan fan with a part time job and no overheads, I spent all my spare cash on every new release (7″, 12″, picture disc, Japanese imports etc) and I would buy every magazine (and sometimes multiple copies) which featured any of the band members.
Fortunately, other than chucking away a lot of posters and bootleg cassettes during a house move and selling a few rarer items when I first became aware of ebay (*sad face*) I kept hold of most of this collection; and I have been adding to it now for the last few years, when I entered the ‘mid-life crisis’ phase of collecting.
I tend to limit my purchases to Jansen/Barbieri related items and some of the more obvious Japan releases, and I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to coveting all those lovely Japanese releases, complete with their sexy obi-strips and added extras. However, seeing some of the photographs of some people’s vast collections puts my feeble attempts to shame, and hearing some of the stories and anecdotes about the lengths folk have gone to secure certain items, is utterly mind-boggling and ofteen highly entertaining.
Obviously, it isn’t just the recorded music which appeals to collectors; there have been sales of items of clothing, instruments and photographs which have roused the latent collector in many of us over the last few years. Recently, Steve offered some test prints for sale on ebay, along with a couple of old cymbals and a drum, all of which went for pretty astonishing prices. When something unique or personalised comes along, then competition is pretty fierce out there and the prices can soon rocket beyond most people’s range. Fortunately though, for those people who don’t have massive amounts of spare cash lying around, but who would still like to invest in something other than the latest download or physical release, there is the prospect of owning one of Steve’s prints to look forward to.
Since starting this blog, I have been amazed by just how many people have taken the plunge and joined the Jansen Print Owners Club™ – we are a select breed but our numbers are growing on a weekly basis! With the publication of ‘through a quiet window’ the number of prints available to purchase suddenly increased 10 fold and with the this has come the rise of ‘serious collector’ – those of us who are not content with just one, or possibly two, of Steve’s iconic shots of his band-mates…..it can become quite addictive let me tell you.
One such person, who has surpassed even the most ardent admirer of Steve’s photography (i.e. me!) is Seymen from Turkey. Some of you will recall that he contributed a piece to the blog last year, when he was the proud owner of a mere 10 of Steve’s prints. Well my friends, let me tell you…since then Seymen has added a further 6 to his collection. Yep, he is now the proud owner of 16 of Steve’s signed, limited edition prints. Blimey.
I shall leave it to him to explain just why he is such a fan:
I’m starting with one word… “why?”
“Why” I love Mr. Jansen’s photography?
While i was buying my first two prints by the help of dear Joseph from Steve’s team, i can able to answer this simple question: “Cause they are great…” Japan was one of my fave band from the 80s and, “hey”, their drummer is also a brilliant photographer. What a great chance for me… A great musician who also take photographs from one of my fave band… Its a perfect chemistry.
So, all started after this simplicity…I was pretty sure i couldn’t stop after my first purchases. Yes, i was right, i just couldn’t…I can find everything what i need when i look the whole details of each Mr. Jansen’s photographs.
I can see colour even it is a black & white frame. I can see his naive, young passion. I can see humour, I can see tension, I can see anger.
I can see both Japan’s great days and also I can see Japan’s fading terrible future for their beloved fans… I can see a good band’s splitting…I couldn’t call myself collector… even after, I so far have 16 Jansen prints… I do not know, how can I call myself.
All i can say, I’m doing what i love… Steve Jansen is a great photographer for me. Yes, he is not a big name at photography. But who cares, I love his way of framing, his way of looking around, his way of documenting a band, his band mates.
Thank you Mr. Jansen… Thanks a lot to you for opening a very special part of your life to us. Thank you indeed.”
And thank you Sey, for sharing your thoughts with us!
Obviously, Seymen isn’t the only person who has a number of Jansen prints adorning the walls of their inner sanctum, and over the coming weeks we will focus our attention on other folk who have been bitten by the collecting bug.
And……to ensure that none of the avid collectors out there feel offended by the title of this piece, there are a couple of photos from my own collection included – you can rest assured that I include myself in the gentle mocking. Always.
JBK bandcamp: https://jbkmusic.bandcamp.com/
Signed, limited edition prints are available to buy direct from Steve: http://www.stevejansen.com/imageshop/
It may seem hard to remember now, but not that long ago information about, and access to, Steve’s photography was pretty hard to come by……18 months ago, the only sure-fire way of being able to find his images was by trawling through his website and ogling the few prints available for sale via his ‘imageshop’ or in the ‘archival shots’ sections. You could of course spend a good few hours lost in the world of ‘tumblr’ and come across random photos he had taken, but these were often not credited, so you were not always certain they were definitely his.
Then, all that changed; up popped his ‘sleepyard’ tumblr, followed a year later with this very blog, whose sole intention was to (unofficially) celebrate the world as seen through the lens of Mr Jansen. Then, at the back end of last year we had the utter joy of the publication of ‘through a quiet window’ which answered my oft repeated question ‘just how many photos must Steve have in his archive?’ with a resounding ‘bloody loads of them!’
Marvellous, isn’t it?
With the publication of the book, came the realisation that maybe, just maybe, that was it. Maybe he had published all the photos he saw fit to release and the heady delight of seeing a notification ping up on your phone saying ‘sleepyard has just posted a new image…..’ may well be over? When I asked Steve about this his answer was typically modest – “I guess I have more to share if there are people still interested. We’ll see.”
Well, people are still interested and guess what? – he definitely still has plenty to share!
Since September, the odd new image has appeared on ‘sleepyard’, including this rather trippy double-exposed Sylvian shot which is pretty beautiful, and the absolutely joyful Karn/Punter double-act image from the Quiet Life sessions. And then, just as we were preparing to say ‘adieu’ to 2015, with little fanfare and just a small notification on his tumblr/facebook pages Steve announced that the ‘imageshop’ had been updated to include shots from his book……and things got a bit giddy!
It went from offering a few dozen, mainly monochrome, images of his ex-band mates, alongside a couple of stunning Japanscapes and hotel interiors, and the odd shot of a random stranger or a glinty-eyed dog, to hosting a couple of hundred prints, all available to purchase directly from Steve. That was some leap, it has to be said, and it caused as massive flurry of excitement amongst the many Japan/Jansen related fan-sites which exist on-line. Even more excitingly, there were even more never-before seen pictures; some of them so eye-achingly perfect, you had to wonder why they weren’t included in his book?
There was one image which caused a certain amount of hilarity amongst a few folk, with the identity of the unknown jogger testing the imaginations of many. There was definitely a festive feel to the air, as some rather short-sighted people claimed they thought it was David Sylvian (wearing joggers and running? really?? surely he would have at least have had a fag in his hand?) dashing past a beautifully gurning Karn in Holland Park. To my eyes, it looked more like legendary grumpy-as-feck drummer Ginger Baker (thanks to Rob Dean for helping me to put a name to a chin!) but whoever it was, it certainly made for an entertaining hour over on TMK……..
The array of images available to own is slightly mind-boggling and I am seriously considering moving home to somewhere with bigger walls and fewer windows, just so I can accommodate all the ones I now covet………although that may be a tad extreme? I once thought that owning 6 Jansen prints was rather OTT but seeing all the new ones available, I am now certain that I am a mere amateur and until I hit double figures, I cannot really call myself a bona fide ‘collector’……
For those of you who have not yet succumbed to the slightly addictive joy that comes from being a member of the Jansen Print Owners Club, I am now about to dangle a metaphorical bag of powdery white substance in front of your eyes and tempt you to ‘become one of us‘……for it is ridiculously easy to get your hands on one of these beautiful images.
The process is quick and simple.
You simply choose the image you want and pay via paypal.
Once the print is ready you get an email informing you of the delivery date and time.
The prints are sent via courier and are securely packaged – in fact, getting into it is akin to a playing a particularly physical game of pass the parcel! – and they are signed and numbered by Steve.
And that, my friends, is it. What are you waiting for?
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