Tag Archives: Japan (band)

March 2017 – upcoming gigs – Richard Barbieri and Grice’s brief English tour with Duncan Chave and Lisen Rylander Love (16th, 26th, 28th); plus ’80s synthpop heaven at Birmingham’s Seventh Wave Festival with Rusty Egan, Chris Payne, Test Dept. and more… (23rd-26th)

26 Feb

Richard Barbieri + Grice on tour, March 2017In mid-March, Richard Barbieri heads out on a five-date English tour supporting his new album ‘Planets & Persona’: on all but one of the dates he’ll be sharing the bill with art-pop singer-songwriter Grice.

Over a five-decade career as a keyboard player, Richard has exemplified a precise balance between pop and the avant-garde. Initially compared to both Brian Eno and Karlheinz Stockhausen, his work anticipated the likes of Aphex Twin and a host of shrouded twenty-first century electronica artists. Initially finding fame as the keyboard player in art-pop band Japan, his approach reached its first apogee in the chimes-and-sibilance atmospherics of their 1982 single Ghosts: unwilling to be restricted by the glamour-punk through which he’d entered music (yet unsuited to either roots playing or the formal technicalities of progressive rock) he’d concentrated instead on developing electrophonic timbre and immaculately-planned textural arrangements, allied to subtle pop tunefulness.

Richard went on to refine his techniques in the post-Japan realignment projects Rain Tree Crow and Jansen Barbieri Karn, to work with left-field instrumentalists and bands (including Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Percy Jones, No-Man and The Bays), and to become an experimental sonic foil for singer-songwriters (Steve Hogarth, Tim Bowness, his own wife Suzanne on ambient folk project Indigo Falls). For seventeen years he was a member of Porcupine Tree, helping to shape the texture of the band’s music as it shifted from psychedelic space rock through prog to metallic adult rock, while simultaneous honing his own skills with more conventional keyboard playing on organ, clavinet and Mellotron. Richard’s recent string of solo albums – including ‘Planets & Persona’ – marry his past experiences with further inspirations from contemporary dance, electronica and left-field progressives.


 

One of the singer-songwriters who’ve benefited from Richard’s textural input, Grice is a more recent art-rock emergent. London-born but now Devon-based, he began as an early ‘90s arty Britpopper with the bands Laugh Like A Madman and The Burning Martyrs before refining his work with the successor project hungersleep. Since 2012 he’s been a solo artist.The subsequent ‘Propeller’ and ‘Alexandrine’ albums – plus last year’s ‘Refractions’ EP – have explored Grice’s drive towards dramatic and emotive songcraft. Blending his ballad-singer openness and the feathered strength-and-vulnerability of his high, breathy voice with a wide range of acoustic and electronic ingredients (brass-band and acoustic guitar, Uillean pipes and violins, touchstyle instrumentation and electronic glitch) they’ve rewarded him with acclaim in art-pop and progressive rock circles, plus the opportunity to collaborate on his own terms with instrumental and production luminaries such as BJ Cole, Markus Reuter, Raphael Ravenscroft, Lee Fletcher, Hossam Ramzy and Steve Jansen.


 

Dates:

  • Vibraphonic Festival @ Exeter Phoenix, Bradninch Place, Gandy Street, Exeter, EX4 3LS, England, Thursday 16th March 2017, 8.00pminformation
  • Seventh Wave Festival of Electronic Music @ The Blue Orange Theatre, 118 Great Hampton Street, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, B18 6AD, England, Sunday 26th March 2017, 1.30pminformation
  • Seventh Wave Festival of Electronic Music @ The Blue Orange Theatre, 118 Great Hampton Street, Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, B18 6AD, England, Sunday 26th March 2017, 6.30pminformation
  • Hoxton Hall, 130 Hoxton Street, Hoxton, London, N1 6SH, England, Tuesday 28th March 2017, 7.00pminformation

On all dates, GRICE will be performing with his collaborator Duncan Chave, a Devon-based theatre composer and sound designer who (in addition to handling loops and programming) plays the Eigenharp, an intriguing breath/strip/finger-flex MIDI controller. In Exeter, they’ll also be joined by the rest of GRICE’s band (Jo Breban on drums, Al Swainger on bass and pedals).

In contrast, Richard Barbieri performs solo at Exeter, but at the Birmingham theatre shows and the London date will be performing with Swedish singer/saxophonist/electronics player Lisen Rylander Löve, formerly half of experimental pop/jazztronica duo Midaircondo and one of the major guest contributors to ‘Planets & Persona’.

* * * * * * * *

While I’m here, a little more on the other events in the Seventh Wave Festival in Birmingham (for more information on Exeter’s Vibraphonic event, go browsing, since they don’t seem to have put a website together this year…) Put together by the people behind the local electronica radio show of the same name, Seventh Wave Festival expands the show’s sideline of putting on electronica, synthpop, post-punk, Goth and New Wave music nights in Birmingham.

Seventh Wave Festival of Electronic Music 2, March 2017This particular concert series has a strong late-’70s/early-’80s focus, calling in some big names from the first synthpop wave. Visage mainstay and onetime ‘Blitz’ club DJ Rusty Egan will be performing material from his new album ‘Welcome to the Dancefloor’, as well as providing DJ slots and talks. Rusty’s ‘Fade to Grey’ co-writer Chris Payne (who also worked with Dramatis and Dead or Alive, as well as spending a decade in Gary Numan’s band) will be showing up with a brief resurrection of his early ‘80s post-Numan project Electronic Circus – for more on that, have a read of his recent interview with ‘The Electricity Club’. There’ll also be appearances by Richard Barbieri and by Human League/Heaven 17/British Electric Foundation’s Martyn Ware.

Although late ’80s dance-poppers Scarlet Fantastic (of ‘No Memory’ fame) have had to pull out, they’ve been replaced by Peter Coyle of the revived The Lotus Eaters; his fellow New Wavers Blue Zoo are also in place. At the more experimental end, two members of electro-experimentalists Test Dept (Graham Cunnington and Paul Jamrozy) will be on hand with “an electronic remix preview of upcoming Test Dept album material” complete with audio-visual mix.

Also contributing are representatives of newer takes on the electronic approach – Salford’s expansive Gnod collective, Ade Bordicott’s drone project Mutate, the vintage synthpop movie soundtrack-inspired Agents Of Evolution and Tony Adamo’s Ten:Ten project.

  • Test Dept:Redux (Graham Cunnington/Paul Jamrozy) + Gnod + Mutate – The Flapper, Cambian Wharf, Kingston Row, Ladywood, Birmingham, B1 2NU, England, Thursday 23rd March 2017, 7.00pminformation
  • Chris Payne’s Electronic Circus (Gary Numan/Visage) + DJ Rusty Egan + Peter Coyle (Lotus Eaters) + Ten:Ten – The Flapper, Cambian Wharf, Kingston Row, Ladywood, Birmingham, B1 2NU, England, Friday 24th March 2017, 7.00pminformation
  • A Morning with… Richard Barbieri – Birmingham and Midland Institute, 9 Margaret Street, City Centre Core, Birmingham B3 3BS, England, Saturday 25th March 2017, 9.00 aminformation
  • Electronic Music Conference (featuring Martyn Ware, Chris Payne, Richard Barbieri & Rusty Egan) – Birmingham and Midland Institute, 9 Margaret Street, City Centre Core, Birmingham B3 3BS, England, Saturday 25th March 2017, 12.00pminformation
  • Rusty Egan (with Chris Payne) + DJ Martyn Ware + Blue Zoo + Agents Of Evolution – The Flapper, Cambian Wharf, Kingston Row, Ladywood, Birmingham, B1 2NU, England, Saturday 25th March 2017, 7.00 pminformation
  • (see also the Birmingham Richard Barbieri/Grice dates above…)

 

Image

October 1997 – album reviews – Indigo Falls’ ‘Indigo Falls’ (“luxuriates in rich, sensual detail and blooms into a hothouse of musical perfumes”)

16 Oct

Indigo Falls: 'Indigo Falls'

Indigo Falls: ‘Indigo Falls’

This is as lovely as the insensuous smoke from a joss stick… and, in many respects, suffers from the same flaws and failings. But we’ll come to that later.

Indigo Falls are the husband and wife songwriting team of Richard and Suzanne Barbieri. He provides a mass of detailed keyboard fabric, she leads with a voice of immense clarity (a sort of cleaned-up, smoothed-over, less affected mixture of Kate Bush, Holly Penfield, and Sarah Brightman). And though the phrase “New Age songwriter album” may be loaded with suspicion, that’s precisely what this is, despite efforts to sell them as a pop duo or the noisy, mannered rock gestures of Only Forwards. All of the tell-tale signs are here: a soft delicacy of sounds, a rejection of urban tensions (and inspirations) in favour of vague spiritual atmospheres, and – inescapably – an unmistakeable ingenuous desire to play earnest folk music on synths, to touch the fragrant earth but keep your twenty-four-track studio regardless. Plenty of people have slid into waffle on those premises.


 
However, Richard Barbieri’s astonishing sonics elevate Indigo Falls far above the genre’s usual weediness. From his Mary Quant-ed days behind the Japan keyboards back in the early ’80s, through his ethnological textures with Rain Tree Crow and his contemporaneous dreamy synthwork as part of Porcupine Tree, he’s been one of the absolute masters of textured electronics. And ‘Indigo Falls’ is no disappointment in this department. Check out the undersea music boxes and the froth of musical bubbles building up the aquamarine tints of World’s End: and mixing with the inevitable organs are jangling harp sounds, harmonious turbojet squalls; swathes of thick, scalding distorted guitarry smears; the sounds of the air being sliced with a palette knife and refracted into traces of luminous colour.


 
The synths here have an organic tenderness, merging flesh-on-flesh with Jakko Jakszyk‘s lyrical, passionate guitar flourishes and Theo Travis‘ verdant saxophone. Consequently, ‘Indigo Falls’ luxuriates in rich, sensual detail and blooms into a hothouse of musical perfumes. Tunes flutter, soothe and arch like lazy ecstatic cats – in particular on Falling Into Years – where sax notes flutter down like rose petals, and which melts into an instrumental coda of sublime sensuality, breaking down out of its gentle pop rigour into fragmented little archipelagos; islands of sax, piano, bells and trade-wind electrophonics.


 
But even if Richard provides whatever big name cachet there is (as well as most of the duo’s sound) this is very much Suzanne Barbieri’s album. Her lyrical preoccupations shape and define the songs for better or worse, and whether or not you go for them will depend very much on whether you see eye to eye with her vision. And – unfortunately – relentless, vaporous symbolism dominates these songs. Shadows, nights, seas; dreamers, Babylon, totem animals; inner children. None of which are explored so much as checked off, as if the album was a spotter’s guide to mystical furnishings.

Let’s be fair, sometimes it works well. As on The Wilderness, where Richard’s sounds and Suzanne’s words mesh together most effectively. Sandstorm-under-stars synth, a big lazy open-skinned clatter of percussion, and Suzanne’s most direct singing: “no sign of life, just sand on sand / and hollow bloodless trees”. Steve Wilson‘s sparse acoustic guitar shadow-boxes with Suzanne’s rituals. Bones rattle, shadows pass overhead, past lives regress before our eyes… The magic works. But…


 
The thing about incense is that it transforms rooms and moods, making you feel as if you’re in touch with something… but it’s only smoke in the air. You’re being moved by something insubstantial. Immaterial. And if such a thing reaches towards profundity, and fails, it’s glaringly obvious. Feed the Fire obviously wants to fly with Rain Tree Crow: a thick percussive pulse propelled by Mick Karn‘s muddy bassline while Suzanne delivers her throaty take on Native American chanting (“The burning birds in spiral flights. / The hide within breaks through the skin. / The beast inside, the silent guide… / Muscles stretch and sinews snap / and spirits rise. / Sundancing…”). But unlike Rain Tree Crow’s immersive cultural explorations, this feels more like tourism: someone trying on a feathered headdress in one of those sad little souvenir shops scattered round the edge of the Navajo Nation.


 
The Achilles’ heel of Indigo Falls is the sheer bathetic naivety that slinks in under the cover of beauty. On Towards the Light, the ambition in Jakko’s yearning wails of aspirant guitar and Richard’s stratospheric synths (mountains carving notes out of the wind – oh, please, indulge me: here I can genuinely enthuse) is brought low by Suzanne’s beautifully-sung codswallop about sleepwalkers and her lurches into mediocre therapy speak. “We are all children, we are all crying”. No, we aren’t all crying: some of us are just griping because we want the nice lady to start singing something we can relate to. Music this sensuous should be devoted to something human, something real. Not to supernatural, psycho-babbling vagueness.


 
And if Indigo Falls ditched the New Age posing and got down to the nitty-gritty, they’d truly be on to what the sound of the record only hints at. There is a suggestion of what this could be like: on Sky Fall, which closes the album. The ghosts of beats sway sleepily, a pillowing organ and soprano sax curve gently around the melody as Suzanne sings. The hippy-chick histrionics are sloughed off. Instead, in comes a swathe of human vulnerability: the naked relief and wonder at the risks of love paying off. “We crossed a line, but the world still turns / The sky didn’t fall, and nothing has changed… we’re home again, home again.” There are flickers of doubt (“should I believe this is real? Should I believe in you?…”) and the knowledge of fallibility (“Keep a light in your heart for me / I’m not as strong as you think / I could slip away so easily.”) A whole album like this could melt the most cynical heart. Most of the songwriting on ‘Indigo Falls’, sadly, provides the cynical heart with as much ammunition as it requires.

Undoubtedly very beautiful. But is that enough? After the smoke clears, we need a genuine vision.

Indigo Falls: ‘Indigo Falls
Medium Productions Ltd., MPCD5 (6 04388 42402 3)
CD/download album
Released:
13th October 1997
Get it from: (2020 update) Best obtained second-hand; download version and some CDs available from Bandcamp.
Indigo Falls online:
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November 1995 – live reviews – David Sylvian’s ‘Slow Fire – A Personal Retrospective’ @ Royal Festival Hall, Southbank, London, 4th November (“self-effacing chameleonics”)

6 Nov

David Sylvian: 'Slow Fire - A Personal Retrospective' 4th November 1995

David Sylvian: ‘Slow Fire – A Personal Retrospective’ 4th November 1995

With former Japan leader David Sylvian, a show or an album is rarely as simple as being just a show or an album. Since 1983 he’s swum in and out of focus on a collection of artistic cross-fertilisations (sombrely beautiful songs albums, collaborative ambient vaguenesses, art installations): a shadowed, near-invisible chameleon with an enigmatic past ranging from over-exposed greasepaint-and-trash glamour to composer-effacing sound-sculpture. Tonight’s show – given extra weight by its ponderous title of ‘Slow Fire’ – is billed as a solo retrospective plus work in progress. Given Sylvian’s occasional tendency to enmire himself in inconsequential sound-tapestries, this could be grim. But the reality of ‘Slow Fire’ is more straightforward. Since we last saw him, touring with Robert Fripp, David Sylvian (like so many progressive artists) has decided to re-examine himself, unplugged.

With any contemporary electric musician, this is a risk: for Sylvian, much more so. The man now best known, post-Japan, for wall-to-wall electronic shrouding spends most of tonight perched on a stool behind a classical guitar. It’s the old rebirth scenario: once a travelling encrypter of decadent European and subtle Oriental sensibilities, Sylvian’s currently settled down into domestic bliss in America with a new wife (Prince protégé Ingrid Chavez), a new accent (decidedly transatlantic) and – judging by the credits on the appallingly pretentious programme – a guru. This would explain the brilliant white kaftan (has Jon Anderson missed any clothes recently?) and the four-cornered bowing as he takes the stage.

Though he’s dropped a few clues about an acoustic direction on recent recordings (on the Sylvian/Fripp B-side Endgame, for example), accepting Sylvian as an acoustic musician is not so easy. That marvellous voice, deep and rich as fortified honey, is still there, but over the years he’s made so much mileage out of his electrophonic atmospheres that his actual songs have been able to camouflage any flaws within the soundcraft.

The often disappointing collaboration with Fripp laid bare the aridity that Sylvian songs can often shrink into – tonight, Jean the Birdman is tricky and interesting but (even with a ludicrous attempt at scat singing) ultimately uninvolving, and there’s nothing like an acoustic performance for exposing juicelessness. Unsurprisingly, material from Sylvian’s song-centric 1987 album ‘Secrets of the Beehive’ fare well (the lilting menace in the folk-premonitions of The Boy with the Gun, a magnificent Orpheus and a hushed Waterfront) as do the few treasured songs from the Rain Tree Crow project: a reverberant Every Colour You Are, and a version of Blackwater which releases the song’s submerged country elements.

There are even one or two surprises during the guitar set, such as a rich rendition of Before the Bullfight and the shocking reinvention of keystone Japan hit Ghosts. From the beatless, icy original, Sylvian turns it into a wry Latin pop-inflected shrug of acknowledged doubt, Gilberto Gil meets Scott Walker. Even more shockingly, it works. But material from the schizophrenic ‘Brilliant Trees’ era has a tougher time making the jump to simple gut strings. Twitchy artiness such as Red Guitar and a limp Pulling Punches stumble out as embarrassing feynesses. Weathered Wall becomes a dull drone when denied the support of Jon Hassell‘s vaporous trumpet. With his shamanic atmospheric arrangements missing, too much of Sylvian’s once-epochal material is revealed as mere spectral verbiage, irresistibly crooned but superficially moodist. “Words with the charlatan,” mutters someone next to me, sarcastically.

It’s when he’s at the keyboard, with renewed access to a broader range of textures, that Sylvian delivers real magic – the rueful piano balladry in September and Earthbound Starblind, or the swathes of synth around the frozen pain and stone tears of Damage. When he allows himself the luxury of backing tapes, the dream deepens. A medley of Maria and Rain Tree Crow sees him keening over a wafting mist of chilling ambience punctuated by a ghostly chuckle. The First Day (graced with a wisp of taped Fripp skysaw) is as lushly majestic as ever. The deep dark indigo melancholy of Let the Happiness In acquires a meditative drum loop along with the shadowy orchestras of synth: it becomes hymnal, filling the great yearning emptiness at its heart with a sense of renewal, of return and redemption. It’s at moments like these that faith returns, and we can remember the subtle yet profound impact that Sylvian’s music has made in the past.

The trouble is that that was the past; and that the present is looking decidedly lumpen. The keyboard is also where Sylvian unveils his new material. For work in progress, it seems suspiciously complete… and already possesses a distinct form. A piano version of Tim Hardin’s It’ll Never Happen Again is the touchstone, with the interminable Ingrid’s Wheels and the rambling I Do Nothing (the latter most notable for its repeated, listless “alleluia”s) sketching Sylvian’s way forwards. Dusky, Americanised ballads with a strong element of that empty piano-bar pomposity that’s invariably damned with the kiss-of-death tag “quality songwriting”. Superficial sheen generating superficial applause. It’s difficult to escape the thought that David Sylvian’s self-effacing chameleonics have finally led him into a trap, a territory where he can no longer find his own face, where he will blur into a line of indistinguishable piano-song hacks whose albums will receive polite plaudits and gather dust on the lower shelves, where the fire will slow to a flicker.

The old Japan acolytes queue up tonight to touch the hem of King David’s gown. He smiles and bows like a bashful messiah. I can appreciate his showman’s smoothness… but I’ve lost my faith. I have a horrible suspicion that despite the handful of wonderful moments held to the light this evening, the shaman has swapped his books and his wisdom for a Cadillac, and the tin drum which once sounded out a musical challenge has just stopped beating.

David Sylvian online:
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Additional notes: While there’s no footage available for the London ‘Slow Fire’ show, you can get an approximation of it from footage of the Bari show from the same tour, in Italy, which is compiled here.
 

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