Japan – A Foreign Place – The Biography (1974-1984)

10 10 2015

Japan – A Foreign Place – The Biography (1974-1984) is a new in-depth look at one of the most influential (and often neglected) bands of the late 70s / early 80s.Japan - A Foreign Place

Published exclusively by Burning Shed in deluxe hardback edition, the book features contributions from former band members Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Rob Dean, with archive material from David Sylvian (who did not contribute directly to the book) and the late Mick Karn.

Anthony Reynolds 212 page book starts with the early years of the band, and provides a fascinating insight into the musicians formative years in South-East London (Catford and Lewisham).

Along with the obvious 70s musical and cultural starting points, such as Bowie, Bolan, Lou Reed and Roxy Music, other surprising influences such as Motown and New York’s Television crop up as feeding into the mix of what was to become Japan.

The influence of Simon Napier-Bell and the lack of money making its way to the band, even during their most successful Tin Drum period, is well-documented in the book. In these days of a reduced and weakened music industry, you often hear about the golden era of the 70s and 80s when artists sold millions of albums, so its easy to forget that not everyone reaped the financial rewards during this bygone era.

The most interesting part of the book for me was the pre-fame years – especially stories about the early gigs, where Japan shared the stage with acts as diverse as Blue Öyster Cult and The Damned. The often negative audience reaction seemed to give the band the strength to ride the criticism that was to come their way over the next few years.

As well as talking to the band members, Anthony Reynolds also gives a voice to key-collaborators such as guitarist David Rhodes, along with school teachers and friends of the band. This helps to frame the time-scale of the story, as the band moved from being a guitar-heavy, new wave inspired band to the more electronic, layered experimental outfit that eventually found chart success and critical acclaim.

The Tin Drum album and the farewell tour are covered in depth in the book. Listening today to the bands most famous song Ghosts reinforces that its as moving now as it was when originally released all those years ago – late 1981 to be precise. The songs stark arrangement has certainly helped the song age gracefully.

The role of producers – particularly John Punter and Steve Nye (who worked with David Sylvian on several of his post-Japan solo albums) is explored and the sections on the recording of the later albums makes for fascinating reading.

Some awkward moments are also touched on in the book – including the falling out between Karn and Sylvian that led to the band’s disintegration, and the Gary Numan misunderstanding on a Japanese tour.

Reading Japan – A Foreign Place made me listen again to the bands catalogue with renewed enthusiasm. I rediscovered songs that had passed me by at the time, such as Fall In Love With Me and Alien. I also fell back in love with the Tin Drum album, especially the percussion work of Steve Jansen (Visions of China has such a unique drum pattern).

Japan – A Foreign Place is well-paced, and clearly written by a fellow musician who is a lifelong fan. The words and (many) pictures give a flavour of the various stages in the bands short but colourful career. It is also pretty fair in the amount of time devoted to individual members – its not the David Sylvian story, and its good to hear more about the contribution and personalities of Richard Barbieri, Steve Jansen and Rob Dean.

My only criticism is that the period covered by the book ends in 1984. I would have liked to have read about Rain Tree Crow, the post-Japan collaboration from 1991 that remains one of my favourite 90s albums, and is a period that is not really well-documented. Also, because of the timescale, there was no opportunity to discuss the time Jansen, Barbieri and Karn spent working with no-man in 1992. Maybe Anthony Reynolds will consider writing a post-Japan book?

Ok, I’m off to listen to Quiet Life and Tin Drum, followed by Gary Numan’s Mick Karn infused Dance. Why don’t you join me?

Buy Japan – A Foreign Place – The Biography (1974-1984) from Burning Shed

Buy Gentlemen Take Polaroids on Amazon

Buy Tin Drum on Amazon

Buy Exorcising Ghosts on Amazon

Buy Quiet Life on Amazon

Buy Gary Numan – Dance on Amazon





no-man – mixtaped / returning

29 11 2009


mixtaped
is no-man’s first DVD, and it serves as an excellent introduction to the band once described as “Britain’s most underrated sorrowful sonic architects”, as well as offering much for the long-term fan.

The double DVD comes in two parts. DVD one is mixtaped, which is the whole recording of no-man’s London show from 2008 (the band’s first full live performance in 15 years), plus a live photo gallery.

The second DVD is titled returning, which contains an 85 minute documentary, the complete videos for several no-man songs, a no-man chronology and deleted scenes.

disc one – mixtaped

Wilson, Bowness & Bingham

One thing that really stands out on the live DVD (as it did at the concert) is that no-man live are a very different beast to the studio incarnation.

The 2008 European shows surprised many with the power behind some of the songs. time travel in texas from this DVD is a prime example. The studio version (from 1996’s wild opera) is from the trip-hop era, and is dark and glitchy. The 2008 live version keeps the main arrangement but adds real muscle to the performance.

all the blue changes is one of the stand-out performances on this DVD. A slow-building crescendo, the song includes some wonderful interplay between guitarists Michael Bearpark and Steven Wilson. 

no-man live on the "mixtaped" DVD

days in the trees is a re-invention of one of the more well known no-man songs. Whilst it still keeps the spirit of the original song intact, this classic song, served up without the break-beats, and performed by this 2008 version of no-man, had a fresh new momentum.

lighthouse, from 2001’s returning jesus album, stayed faithful to the studio recording, and seemed to be a definite highlight for the audience on the night.

In fact, this performance reminded me why lighthouse is my most-played no-man track, and why the final section of the song is one of my favourite pieces of music ever. The guitar / violin interplay and subtle mood changes within in this performance are so moving.

A wonderful, slide-guitar infused take on carolina skeletons follows, and the atmospheric returning jesus is performed with a real lightness of touch.

The mixtaped DVD ends with two flowermouth tracks. things change features a guest performance from former no-man member Ben Coleman, who gives a blistering performance on electric violin. The concert ends with the beautiful watching over me.

Ben Coleman guests on "things change"

The clarity of sound on this DVD, especially if played on a 5.1 system, is amazing. There is wonderful separation between the instruments, and tracks such as returning jesus, lighthouse and all the blue changes raise the bar on what a live DVD should sound like. The picture quality on the live disc is sharp and the colours are vibrant.

The detail is such that you can read the set-list on Stephen Bennett’s Mac that shows that the early no-man track housekeeping was to have been the last song in the set. In the end, this song was only played on the German date, and an audio only soundboard recording of this performance plays whilst the picture gallery is displayed on the mixtaped DVD.

The Director, Richard Smith, deserves special mention for the way the live disc is presented. It’s free of un-necessary quirky / gimmicky fade-ins and camera tricks.  As someone who was at the concert, I feel that mixtaped serves as an honest and accurate reminder of that special evening.  For those who were not lucky enough to see the live show, and are maybe new to the bands music, this DVD is a perfect introduction to the music of no-man.

DVD tracklist:

only rain / time travel in texas / all sweet things / pretty genius
all the blue changes / truenorth / wherever there is light /
days in the trees (version) / lighthouse / carolina skeletons /
returning jesus / mixtaped / things change /watching over me

Oh, and before anyone pulls me up on the lack of capitals in the song titles, no-man are a band best experienced in lower-case, always.

disc two – returning

All too often, documentaries are tagged onto DVD’s merely as extras, and they often consist of a few soundbites tagged onto clips of the main feature. This is not the case with returning. Producer / Director Richard Smith has put together a feature that could have easily been issued as a standalone disc.

Steven & Tim in nomansland

The 85 minute documentary features contributions from all previous members of no-man, as well as collaborators such as current live band members and the man responsible for the bands iconic artwork, designer Carl Glover.

The most revealing parts of returning come from seeing Bowness & Wilson working together in the studio and from some of the painfully honest comments about the background to certain key no-man albums.

One particularly poignant section is where the departure of Ben Coleman is discussed, from Ben’s perspective as well as from Tim & Steven’s. The wounds still seem to be raw, which make Ben’s appearance in the live show particularly touching.

The only disappointment with the documentary is that the bands’s former label One Little Indian declined to take part, and that some no-man material could not be used in the documentary (wild opera‘s music had to be replaced by demo versions).

The new video for "back when you were beautiful"

The whole history of the band is covered, from the early days (including clips of a key 1989 gig) through to the recent schoolyard ghosts album. The collaboration with former Japan / Rain Tree Crow members Jansen, Barbieri & Karn is also covered, along with clips of videos and TV appearances from various points in the band’s history.

Disc two also includes the complete videos for several no-man songs, including a wonderful newly commissioned animated film for back when you were beautiful.

So, if you come to no-man as a curious outsider who is maybe a fan of Steven’s other band, Porcupine Tree, or as a long-time admirer, the mixtaped DVD is a must-have purchase, and one that stands up to repeated viewings.

View the mixtaped trailer:

Buy mixtaped at Amazon UK
Buy mixtaped at The Burning Shed

Visit the no-man website





Porcupine Tree – The Incident

1 10 2009
Much has been made of the song-cycle approach of disc 1 (The Incident), and how SW wanted the album to be treated as a
whole.  It certainly pays off listening to Disc 1 in isolation, and in order, but some tracks do stand out in
isolation, especially “The Blind House” and the two most melancholic tracks on the album, Kneel and Disconnect and I
Drive the Hearse.
Kneel and Disconnect is a gentle piano and guitar driven piece, that seems to be refer to the younger Wilson leaving
his steady job and dedicating his life to music.
I Drive the Hearse has already become one of my favourite Porcupine Tree tracks.  There is a real pastoral feel to
this track, with some beautiful layered synths and mellotron from Richard Barbieri.
“You were always my mistake”
As a long-standing Porcupine Tree fan, this, to me, is the album where SW has really found his voice – the chorus of
The Blind House and the delicious close-knit harmonies on Kneel and Disconnect contain the most accomplished vocals
I’ve heard on a PT song so far.
Some sections repeat throughout The Incident, with recycled musical motifs and repeated or similar lyrics in a couple
of songs, but this is not laziness, rather a way of joining all the songs together to make one song cycle, especially
as there is no clear concept to the album.
Nods to SW’s childhood and musical upbringing, especially in “Time Flies” (Beatles, Hendrix & Pink Floyd references,
both lyrical and musical).  Great Expectations was mentioned in an online interview as referencing a childhood friend
whose life followed a troubled path.
“Hey there’s you, with placid eyes
Oblivious to what’s to come”
Drawing the Line features a haunting sample and an uplifting radio-friendly chorus that will surely work wonders live.
“Recording all my problems onto memory cards”
The Incident is inspired lyrically by a fatal road traffic accident that was described by a police sign as an
“incident”.  Musically it’s far removed from any other Porcupine Tree song, and maybe owes a sonic debt to Trent
Reznor, or Berlin era Bowie.
Time Flies was made available as an edit in Classic Rock magazine prior to the album’s release, and if you read fan
feedback on the various Tree forums, wasn’t universally accepted.  The version on the album that weighs in at a
healthy 11 minutes 41 seconds is the real deal though, and it feels like the centre-piece of “The Incident”, lifting
the mood after the darkness of the 8 tracks that preceded it.  Now this IS what I would refer to as Classic Rock.
Octane Twisted is a slow-burner that reveals its charms after repeated listening, and will surely appeal to new fans
that the band picked up from Deadwing onwards.
The Incident was clearly made to be listened to in isolation (you wouldn’t read a book or watch a film whilst checking
your Facebook messages so why do this with music) and it does sound amazing in 5.1, but by the same token over time I
think I will add key tracks to my ipod playlist (no, this is simply verbotten in PT Land!).
I must admit to being disappointed with Disc 2, as the songs just aren’t as strong as those on the main disc. Maybe
its me, but Flicker is a bit too PT by numbers for me. Black Dahlia is the strongest track of the 4, and the only
track from Disc 2 that I play regularly. Remember Me Lover seems to be lacking the magic of the tracks on the main
Incident disc, and whilst its probably a good song to hear live, I don’t choose to play it often.  I think Disc 2
suffers in comparison to the quality of the main part of the album.
The limited edition special edition of the album (the most expensive album, by far, that I have ever bought, so my
credit card statement regularly tells me!) comes with the 2 disc CD of “The Incident” plus a stunning 5.1 mix on DVD,
and a 116 page hardback book that includes lyrics and Lasse Hoile photography, and a 48 page softback of drawings
inspired by the album by Hajo Mueller.  Carl Glover, who produces the excellent artwork for no-man, is responsible for
the graphic design.
Tracklisting: CD1 – The Incident: Occam’s Razor / The Blind House / Great Expectations / Kneel and Disconnect /
Drawing the Line / The Incident / Your Unpleasant Family / The Yellow Windows of the Evening Train / Times Flies /
Degree Zero of Liberty / Octane Twisted / The Seance / Circle of Manias / I Drive the Hearse
CD2: Flicker / Bonnie the Cat / Black Dahlia / Remember Me Lover

The Incident (2009)Much has been made of the song-cycle approach of disc 1 of Porcupine Tree’s new album, The Incident, and how Steven Wilson wanted the album to be treated as a whole.

It certainly pays off listening to Disc 1 in isolation, and in order, but some tracks do stand out in as songs you could listen to on their own, especially The Blind House and the two most melancholic tracks on the album, Kneel and Disconnect and I Drive the Hearse.

Kneel and Disconnect is a gentle piano and guitar driven piece, that seems to refer to the younger Wilson leaving his steady job and choosing music as his full-time career.

I Drive the Hearse has already become one of my favourite Porcupine Tree tracks. There is a real pastoral feel to this track, with some beautiful layered synths and mellotron from Richard Barbieri.

“You were always my mistake”

As a long-standing Porcupine Tree fan, it feels as if this is the album where SW has really found his voice – the chorus of The Blind House is supremely confident and the close-knit harmonies on Kneel and Disconnect totally hit the mark.

Some sections repeat throughout The Incident, with a couple of recycled musical motifs and repeated or similar lyrics in a couple of songs, but this is not laziness, rather a way of joining the pieces together to make one complete song cycle, especially as there is no apparent over-arching lyrical theme to the album.

The are references to SW’s childhood and musical upbringing throughout the album, but especially in Time Flies (The Beatles & Hendrix mentions in the tracks lyrics and the Pink Floyd musical allusion). Great Expectations was mentioned in an online interview as referencing a childhood friend whose life followed a troubled path.

“Hey there’s you, with placid eyes
Oblivious to what’s to come”

Drawing the Line features a haunting sample and an uplifting radio-friendly chorus that will surely work wonders live.

“Recording all my problems onto memory cards”

The lyrics to the title track of The Incident were apparently inspired by a fatal road traffic accident that was described by a police sign as an “incident”, which is a cold, impersonal way of describing something so damaging and catastrophic.  Musically the track is far removed from any other Porcupine Tree song, and maybe owes a sonic debt to Trent Reznor via Berlin era Bowie.

Time Flies was made available as an edit in Classic Rock magazine prior to the album’s release, and if you read fan feedback on the various PT forums, wasn’t universally accepted.  The version on the album that weighs in at a healthy 11 minutes and 41 seconds is the real deal though, and it feels like the centre-piece of the album, lifting the mood after the darkness of the 8 tracks that preceded it.  Now this IS what I would refer to as Classic Rock.

Octane Twisted darkens the mood again, and reveals its charms after repeated listening, and is one that will surely appeal to new fans that the band picked up from Deadwing onwards.

The Incident was clearly made to be listened to in isolation (you wouldn’t read a book or watch a film whilst checking your Facebook messages so why do this with music) and in the order it was sequenced, and it does sound amazing in 5.1, but  over time I think I will add key tracks to my ipod playlist (no, this is simply verbotten in PT Land, what am I saying, forgive me!)

I must admit to being disappointed with Disc 2, as the songs just aren’t as strong as those on the main disc. Maybe its me, but Flicker is a bit too PT by numbers for me. Black Dahlia is the strongest track of the 4, and the only track from Disc 2 that I return to regularly. Remember Me Lover seems to be lacking the magic of the tracks on the main disc, and whilst its probably a good song to hear live, I don’t choose to play it often.  I think Disc 2 suffers in comparison to the quality of the main part of the album. But this is only a minor criticism, as this album is slowly becoming one of my favourites from the band.

The Incident (Special Edition)The limited edition special edition of the album (the most expensive album, by far, that I have ever bought, so my credit card statement regularly tells me!) comes with the 2 disc CD of The Incident plus a stunning 5.1 mix on DVD, and a 116 page hardback book that includes lyrics and Lasse Hoile photography, and a 48 page softback book of drawings inspired by the album by Hajo Mueller.  Carl Glover, who produces the excellent artwork for no-man, is responsible for the graphic design.

Tracklisting: CD1 – The Incident: Occam’s Razor / The Blind House /
Great Expectations / Kneel and Disconnect Drawing the Line / The Incident / Your Unpleasant Family / The Yellow Windows of the Evening Train / Times FliesDegree Zero of Liberty / Octane Twisted / The Seance / Circle of Manias / I Drive the Hearse

CD2: Flicker / Bonnie the Cat / Black Dahlia / Remember Me Lover

Lyrics quoted © Porcupine Tree
Roadrunner Records B002GZQY6Q Release Date 14th Sep 2009
Porcupine Tree website
Buy The Incident on Amazon UK
Buy The Incident on Amazon US








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