Monday, 7 February 2011

MICK KARN [R.I.P.] - Titles (1982) + Sensitive + JANSEN BARBIERI KARN - Bestial Cluster live 1997 + JAPAN - Gentlemen Take Polaroids live 1982

I had to put the blog on hold for a long time because of insane work commitments but here it is again after a sad start to 2011 with the unfortunate, untimely deaths of three music luminaries. First, MICK KARN:

On January 4th, multi-instrumentalist Mick Karn died from cancer, aged 52. Born Andonis Michaelides on July 24 1958 in Cyprus, Karn will probably be remembered as Japan's bass guitarist but he also made a number of memorable solo and group project albums following Japan's acrimonious split in 1982 after a falling out with singer/frontman David Sylvian. His life and career have been eulogised widely, and rightly, but to me his passing is wistfully symbolic of the gradual severing of connections to a great and misunderstood era. Japan were widely dismissed as style-over-substance 'New Romantics' by commentators who couldn't see past the extravagant clothes and make-up, or listen past the first few notes, but there was much more substance to them than almost any other band of their type.

JAPAN: Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri, David Sylvian, Mick Karn

Japan were a little too cerebral to match the success of their more commercial electro (Gary Numan, OMD), or New Romantic (Duran Duran, Adam & the Ants) peers, and a little too 'artistic', i.e. complicated, for the pure dance crowd; that said, they had a large and devoted following, and were of course huge in Japan. They moved away from their initial glam-tinged post-punk spikiness, reducing guitars in favour of atmospheric electronics, but their sound was always centred around Karn's inspired, mesmerizing, fluid fretless basslines.

Mick Karn's first solo album, Titles, was released on Virgin in 1982. He retained the services of two ex-Japan colleagues - percussionist Steve Jansen and keyboardist Richard Barbieri - with whom he would continue to collaborate regularly. More esoteric than Japan, Titles pivots upon Karn's unique bass playing, often situating it as a lead instrument, and features his virtuosity on woodwinds and keys.

Download the album here, link courtesy of Totally Wired blog.

01. Tribal Dawn
02. Lost Affections In A Room
03. Passion In Moisture
04. Weather the Windmill
05. Saviour Are You With Me?
06. Trust Me
07. Sensitive
08. Piper Blue
09. The Sound Of Waves

The magnificent single Sensitive is below:

After guest slots with the likes of Gary Numan (Dance) and Bill Nelson (Chimera), Karn's next album The Waking Hour was the fruit of a 1984 project called Dalis Car with ex-Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy. It's strange, quirky, sparsely minimal, hypnotic, with tinges of Karn's solo arrangements behind Murphy's trademark vox, and it's a grower.

Karn produced his second solo album Dreams Of Reason Produce Monsters in 1987; certainly up to the quality of Titles and well worth seeking out. In 1991 the members of Japan reunited briefly for a one-off album as Rain Tree Crow - Sylvian did not want the old name used, and the music was very different from their previous incarnation - before, under Mick's name, Jansen, Barbieri and Karn released the stunning jazz fusion album Bestial Cluster in 1993. This video of the title track is from Dutch TV in 1997 and showcases three immensely talented musicians, augmented by Steven Wilson on guitar. Barbieri later became a member of Porcupine Tree, Wilson's art-prog rock band.

Karn continued to make music for as long as he could, both solo and a string of eclectic side projects. His final album The Concrete Twin was released in 2010.

Lastly, a dose of the mighty Japan in their heyday, with one of my favourite tracks of the era, Gentlemen Take Polaroids live on the Oil On Canvas dvd:

Karn was a tremendous musician/composer/arranger and I can think of no-one remotely like him, both in his overall stylings and the diverse musical paths he trod. Although he was a true virtuoso he couldn't read music and said he didn't really know what notes he was playing; it was just instinctive. I was lucky enough to catch Japan a few times and they remain among the greatest live experiences. One of my most spine-tingling memories from that period is of Karn, fretless held upright in front of his face, in jumpsuit and karate slippers, moving gracefully across the stage in a heel-toe-heel-toe motion. When the strobes shone on him it looked like he was floating from one side of the stage to the other.

That his latter years should have been lived out in relative poverty - so much so that a campaign was raised to bring him back from Cyprus and pay for cancer treatment in London - is a tragedy. In a just world he would have been at the very least comfortable through his musical talent and legacy. The guy could make a bass guitar sit up and talk like very few others and deserved much more recognition for it. The world is just too slow to tune into such innovators.

R.I.P. Mick. Your music enriched many lives, including mine. Thank you.

To find out more about Mick's music, and his sculpture, visit his site at His autobiography, Japan and Self Existence, is recommended and available to buy from here.

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