Sunday, 24 January 2021

Beautiful country

 David Batt (no relation to Mike!) is better known as the artist David Sylvian. I use that description deliberately as besides being a singer, song writer, musician and producer, Sylvian has had books of his lyrics and poetry published, directed videos, curated festivals, is an accomplished photographer and was once voted the world's most beautiful man!!  So if you only know him as the slightly effeminate lead singer of Japan then you've some catching up to do!

I first came across him as the lead singer of the aforementioned Japan in early 1980, when I bought their break through album "Quiet Life". It was the early 1980's and fitted the new romantic sounds but had "something else" too, which in part is down to sounds created by both the keyboards of Richard Barbieri and Mick Karn on fretless basses and saxophones. Guitarist Rob Dean also used an Ebow (an electronic bow) as part of the guitar sounds. The other difference is best summed up by the final 7 minute plus track "The Other side of Life'. This was orchestrated and referenced both early Roxy Music and "Berlin era" Bowie in style and sound. While other "New Romantics" would cite both as influences this was more than that. 

It was the next album "Gentlemen take Polaroids" that sealed the deal however. While there were echos of the previous album this was a slightly more austere sound reflected in the black and red used on the album cover with a very heavily made up David Sylvian doing his best Steve Strange look. The lead single was a the title track and while it charted, it wasn't a big hit. The best song on the album, maybe's Japan high point for me was Nightporter. It's nearly 7 minutes of Satie-esque piano led melancholy, which to me brings images of slow dances in empty ball rooms and videos in black and white of steam engines in European railway stations. Oh and Dirk Bogarde.

The last studio album Japan produced was "Tin Drum", which had a heavy Chinese influence and a lot more keyboard textures and atmosphere partly because Rob Dean had left but in some ways that sound with little guitar was why he left. The album came complete with Sylvian in Chinese styled clothes on the cover eating rice with chopsticks, with poster of Chairman Mao behind him. The first single was a slightly funky dance track, called "The Art of Parties", which had a brass section and three female backing singers. I loved it and still do. The album version is, however, completely different in sound, with no brass or backing singers and is much more in keeping with the feel and sounds of the rest of the album. The album is best known for it's hit single "Ghosts" which reached the top 10. It's another slice of melancholy, albeit with keyboards and marimbas rather than pianos and oboes as in Nightporter. 

After that Japan split, in part allegedly due to Sylvian's relationship with Yuka Fuji, who was Mick Karn's ex girlfriend. Although the members generally kept in touch and continued to work together, helped no doubt by Japan's drummer being Sylvian's brother, Steve Jansen. (both took stage names from the singer and guitarist of the New York Dolls and early influence)

Sylvian's first act post Japan, was to record with Ryuichi Sakamoto, from the Yellow Magic Orchestra, who had worked with Japan on Gentlemen track Poloriods. After a double A sided single, they recorded "Forbidden Colours" for the soundtrack of the film "Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence" which became a top 20 single and remains a piece of music for which he is widely admired.

Sylvian then set about recording his first solo album "Brilliant Trees" He involved his brother on drumsand Richard Barbieri, on keyboards, along with Sakamoto, Holger Czukay from Can, (who is credited among others things as playing dictaphone) Danny Thompson (from Pentangle) on bass, trumpeters Mark Isham and Jon Hassell and Phil Palmer played some guitar. Sylvian played, guitar, piano, synthesiser and "tapes". To me it's a great album, a step away from the music of Japan but with some stylistic similarities. The first single "Red Guitar" could have been a Japan song in structure but without Mick Karn's fretless bass moves towardswhat Sylvian's "sound" would be for the next 2/3 albums. The album finishes with the title track, which is over 8 minutes of reflection and doubt in two parts. The first, a gentle song with  Sylvian singing to an unknown deity/love. The second part is a slow rhythmic instrumental with the "music" of the first part underpinned by gentle percussion, (sticks, hand claps, and oriental drums). It very sparse and quite beautiful. At the ends it just fades away.

One of the quirks of David Sylvian's recording career is that every so often he goes off into a "side projects" that emerge with little fanfare but are important none the less. The first of these happens now when the next release is an instrumental album of various projects that was a limited edition release on cassette! It sort of signposts in part where his thoughts were progressing and reflects his interest in jazz, encouraged by his partner Yuka Fuzii.

The next solo album proper "Gone to Earth" sees him working with two icons of the 70's, Robert Fripp guitarist with King Crimson and Bill Nelson, best known from his time as singer and guitarist with BeBop DeLuxe. Hindsight shows this as a key sign of the direction Sylvian's career would follow as the 17 tracks form effectively two albums, one with vocals and one totally instrumental. It's a gentle album almost ambient in parts and when released was a double album although on CD the record company just dropped 4 tracks! 

Two years later came, what I feel is Sylvian's best solo album, "Secrets of the Beehive". Released in 1987, it's a another change with more acoustic instruments, orchestral arrangements and a brooding, desolate feel. Lyrics include references to domestic abuse, lots of doubts over love/life and even the first single "Let the happiness in..." is a sad song but does allude to the writer's hope, hence the title. It's the overall feel of the album as a whole that makes it work for me.

In the late eighties, Sylvian and Mick Karn made up and thus his next release was effectively a new Japan album with the four members recording together as a unit. The album started as them wanting to make a pop album, but the resultant release is far more of a sign as to how far away they had all moved from that market. According to Mick Karn, while they all worked well for about two weeks the old disagreements soon resurfaced and it became clear that this was a "one off" and the record company decided that the only way to get it profile was to call it a Japan album.  Sylvian was, however, completely against this, despite the others seeing no problem and thus when it was released the band name was "Rain TreeCrow". The album cover does however have the four band members surnames on it, just to be clear who makes up the band! It's a good not great album but with no real melodies that you find yourself humming days after you've listened to it! But that's not always a bad thing.

After the relative failure of the Japan reunion, Sylvian reconnected with Robert Fripp after initially being offered the singers role in King Crimson (which he declined), they recorded an album "The First day" together which they then toured and also released a live album too. The duo's overall sound was more muscular which reflects Fripp's musical background.

The next major release didn't then come until 1999, with another solo album, Dead Bees on a Cake. It's another long album with 14 tracks (expanded to 17 on a subsequent vinyl rerelease) and is a strong indication of a future directions of travel. It's dense in parts, weird in other parts and beautiful on occasions. It was sadly, the start of my falling out of love with his music. The last track "Darkest Dreaming" is however, one his best ever songs.

The next two solo albums were "Blemish and "Manafon". Both see him experimenting with the form of song and in an interview he references Stockhausen. Both seem to move away from melody as a concept! I've listened to both as best I could but they're not for me. Having started his own record label, Samadhi Sound and built a recording studio in New Hampshire, he has become more of the artist than musician, which he is perfectly entitled to do. 

So, finally, we come to the song of the title "Beautiful country". As last I fear you cry. In 2011 he started working with Joan Wasser, who is better known as "Joan as Police Woman. She was full of hope about this collaboration and they were planning a 10 track album, but in early 2012 Sylvian sustained a lower back injury, that firstly postponed a planned tour and also seems to have ended the proposed album. But in 2017 Sylvian started a Soundcloud account and one of the first postings was this song. Sylvian said "This song was recorded back in late 2011/2012. It’s a love song of sorts, dedicated to my adopted country, the birthplace of my children, an ode to the many travels taken through most States of North America, and to Joan with whom I recorded the piece. I attempted to capture something of the spirit of the best of country and western pop, the kind peddled by the likes of Glen Campbell or Willie Nelson (I’m sure they could’ve done a better job with it than I. Well, Willie, it’s not too late). It was recorded with the core trio of Joan Wasser, Parker Kindred, and Fred Cash. For reasons I can’t explain, I’ve been unable to release the track, so I offer this rough mix if for no other reason than my daughters would love for me to share it with you.’

To me it's a real return to the music he's made that made me a fan and shows a frustrating glimpse of what he is still capable of recording. As to the future who knows (there's an Instagram account in his name that  posts photos with obscure comments) but whatever happens his music remains a large part of my music library, both physical (vinyl and CD) and digitally. The right song at the right time can still make everything seem alright.

Brilliant Trees


Darkest Dreaming


Beautiful Country


Saturday, 16 January 2021

Parked Car


Tina Dico is a singer songwriter, who first came to my attention as a vocalist on a couple of Zero 7 tracks and then when she released her album "In the Red" in 2004. 

I sort of forgot about her for a while (streaming services serve up huge amounts of content we fail to hear) but in 2018 she released "Fastland" from which this song comes and the whole album became a favourite, with regular listens. This track and "Not even close" are the ones I play the most often, but I also stream the whole album occasionally when working from home.  I particularly like the “for all eternity” part of the chorus and the multipart harmonies. 

She’s Danish and has actually released 11 albums, albeit that includes a sort of “best of’ and a live album with the Danish Radio Chamber Orchestra. Like most recording artists (except maybe Taylor Swift!) last year proved to be a year of spending time with family at home (which is in Iceland) but in June she started writing again and in October announced on Facebook that she had formed a band with her husband, two Icelandic singer songwriters and the Czech singer Marketa Irglova (who wrote and recorded with Glen Hansard the music for the film “Once”). This was specifically for a virtual festival but who knows what might come in the future?

Friday, 15 January 2021


Forget Fish.....

Forget Fish.....

Forget Fish....

He left Marillion in the late 1980’s. This band may have 4/5ths of the members of the “Kayleigh” version of the band, but musically they have progressed significantly from “that” version of the band.

Today they are a mature rock band with intelligent songs played by 5 musicians of great ability and to pigeonhole them by reference to a 30 year old version of the group is at best lazy, at worst ignorant. Replacing the lead singer with another was an issue in 1990, not now they’ve released 15 very successful albums. (It didn’t help when Alan Partridge included a detrimental joke in his “Alpha Papa” film!). 

These days they have a dedicated fan base who attend regular fan conventions across Europe at which the band play 2/3 shows, each different and curated to please the fans (they do even drop in the odd “Fish” era classic!). They were one of the first bands to “crowd fund” albums which tapped into the dedication of the fan base. These days they describe themselves thus “if Pink Floyd and Radiohead had a love child that was in touch with their feminine side, that would be us”. 

I’ve only seen this version of the band once, late in 2019, and they were brilliant, augmented by a string quartet, flautist and french horn. It’s a night I’ll always look back on fondly (and not just because doing anything like that now would be soooo welcome!)

This track is the first song on the 2012 album “Sounds that can’t be made” and was also the opener when I saw them in 2019. Yes it’s 17 minutes long so the prog tag gets used, but it’s about the Palestinian situation. On their YouTube channel, under the studio version of the track, Steve Hogarth, the lead singer wrote

“This is a song for the people – especially the children – of Gaza. It was written after many conversations with ordinary Palestinians living in the refugee camps of Gaza and the West Bank. I spoke also to Israelis, to NGO workers, to a diplomat unofficially working in Jerusalem, and took their perspectives into account whilst writing the lyric. It is not my/our intention to smear the Jewish faith or people – we know many Jews are deeply critical of the current situation – and nothing here is intended to show sympathy for acts of violence, whatever the motivation, but simply to ponder upon where desperation inevitably leads. Many Gazan children are now the grandchildren of Palestinians BORN in the refugee camps - so called "temporary" shelters. Temporary for over 50 years now. Gaza is today, effectively, a city imprisoned without trial." 

For me the key section of the song and the lyrics that hit home to me from the first time I heard it are

There are grieving mothers on both sides of the wire
And everyone deserves a chance to feel the future just might be bright
But any way you look at it - whichever point of view
For us to have to live like this
It just ain't right
It just ain't right
It just ain't right
We all want peace and freedom that's for sure
But peace won't come from standing on our necks
Everyone deserves a chance to feel the future just might be bright
But any way you look at this - whichever point of view
For us to have to live like this
It just ain't right
It just ain't right

It just ain't right

The version on Facebook along side this post is a live version, which shows how good they are live and below I’ve put a link to the studio version

Sunday, 10 January 2021



Bryan Ferry is one of my heroes, mainly since I saw Roxy Music at the Gaumont Theatre, Southampton (now The MayflowerTheatre) in 1979 on the Manifesto tour. I wasn’t a huge fan but they were so tight as a band that night and Ferry was on top form and I was converted! 

He’s 75 now and still tours as a solo artist and while like many of his contemporaries needs backing singers to augment the vocals, can still put on a show full of great music. While Roxy Music are effectively no more, many of the musicians used to augment the live band still form part of the solo band and he adds talented musicians to good effect. 

 This song is the title track from a solo album in 2014 and is far far better than a 69 year old should be producing. The song gets its name from Ferry’s recording studio in London and includes Niles Rodgers, Jonny Marr and Flea making the wall of sound that backs Ferry’s vocals. What I like about this track compared to the rest Ferry’s recent material this has an epic sound, you can dance to it, play it very loud and it’s also really good to drive too, but watch your speed! 

The lyrics are another of Ferry’s lost in love genre (Dance Away, Running Wild, Just Another High).

“I want a love that's never ending
Through all the thunder and the rain
But there's no sense in pretending
I know I'll never fall in love again”

One of the quirks of Ferry’s most recent career, is the number of producers and remixers who rework his material and at the bottom of this piece is a video of one of the remixes of this track which in some respects is better than the original! (Play this loud too!!)

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Elegy for Extinction

 Enter Shikari are a band that my eldest son, Matt, was a massive of when he was about 16/17. My engagement with their music was mainly therefore second hand and what I heard came under the description of “the sort of noise Fathers tut very loudly when they hear it”. Most of the music was alright, loud techno and some drum and bass, the challenge for me was the vocals. When the singer tried to sing properly then it was acceptable but then someone pushed a button and he went to “shouting very loudly into the void” mode and I would ask for it to be turned off!!! 

Matt’s love of them was so strong that when in 2009 we went to the Isle of Wight on holiday, we had to find The White Lion in Arreton, as firstly, they drank there while they recorded the album “Common Dreads” at the nearby Arreton Manor and secondly the album cover used the lion on the pub sign as the design for the album cover!

Last year they released a new album, “Nothing is true & everything is possible” and for some strange reason I gave it a listen. Well, it’s a more mature album, more normal songs  better singing (virtually no shouting). I think that the emergence of Alt-J and Everything, Everything had shown them a direction of travel while remaining true to their values and roots. 

The 10th track on the album is 3’49” instrumental that can only be described as “classical” music and it’s brilliant. When interviewed by Apple Music frontman Rou Reynolds said “ This is a track about climate change. There’s always at least one track on all of our albums that tries to address it. This time around, I wanted to try and tell a story with only music. It’s an instrumental, what they call ‘program form’ in classical music, where the music itself is taking the narrative forward. Rather ambitiously, the narrative for this one is the story of life on earth, from the big bang and the birth of life, continuing to get bigger, up to the modern day and the horrific stuff that’s happened, such as losing 60 percent of [animal populations] to extinction. It’s one of the heaviest points on the album, even though it’s an orchestral piece.”

It’s also, thanks to Simon Mayo, the only Enter Shikari song ever to have been played on Scala Radio.

Friday, 8 January 2021



Released in January 1976 on the Genesis album "A Trick of Tail" this track is a very mellow acoustic guitar led track, with a two minute choral solo keyboard ending. 

This is the first album the band recorded after Peter Gabriel left and it features the debut of Phil Collins as lead vocalist. Gabriel's departure was seen by many fans as the end of the band but the songwriting ability of all of the remaining members  along with Collins voice not sounding too dissimilar to Gabriels meant that the album was well received.

This song was mainly written by the guitarist, Steve Hackett, which, when he took what he had written so far to the band, was reportedly liked so much by the keyboard player, Tony Banks, that he then finished it with the final two minute section. Not a song regularly played live by Genesis, the song has received a renaissance since it was covered by Steve Hackett on his Genesis; Revisited album (sung by Amanda Lehmann) and featured on the subsequent tour, again sung by Amanda. (video below)

In a recent poll conducted by the Genesis fan podcast "Table Top Genesis" (where they play and review every album) when fans voted for their favourite track on this album, "Entangled" came second. Considering the album contains three long term staples of the Genesis live sets, that's a reflection of how over the years this song has grown in fans affection.

It remains one of my favourite Genesis songs and every listen makes me feel slightly better. 

(One connection between this post and yesterdays, is that the Yes drummer Bill Bruford, left the band after their Close to the Edge album and as Phil Collins couldn't sing and play drums, joined Genesis for the Trick of the Tail tour.)

Entangled live (with Bill Bruford) 

Entangled live (Steve Hackett with Amanda Lehmann)

Thursday, 7 January 2021


Lockdown 3.0 and I thought I'd write pieces about bits of music that inspire me and that others might enjoy as we all muddle along together.

"Roundabout" first appeared on the Yes album "Fragile" and was released in 1971. That was the second album they released that year ,Taylor Swift isn't unique! They also toured extensively as well, they had no lock down! The song soon became a firm fan favourite and has become the last song they play as an encore. If they haven't played Roundabout, they haven't finished! It was one of two songs they performed when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (the other was "Owner of a Lonely Heart").

While there have been many many versions of the band (including a couple of time when there has been 2 versions touring at the same time!), the musicians on this song (and album) were what became known as the "classic" line up. Led by singer/lyricist Jon Anderson, who sings like an angel but whose lyrics made little sense, "purple headed wolfhounds" being an example, (but there are many others).  Steve Howe plays guitar etc, Chris Squire bass, Rick Wakeman is on keyboards and Bill Bruford plays drums. They are each regarded as amongst the best players in their field. Squire is regularly cited as being the bass player that inspired other bass players, Wakeman is regarded as probably the best keyboard player of the 70's (he played on many other records including Cat Stevens, Black Sabbath and most famously David Bowie). Bill Bruford is seen as one of the very best "jazz" drummers of his age and Steve Howe as a guitarist has few peers. (He also has collection of instruments that must be worth thousands). It's that unique blend of skills that won me over in the mid 1970's. 

This is not my favourite Yes song but it's one of the most accessible and it shows both the musicianship of a band at their best and Andersons singing is great and the words sort of make sense. At the bottom I've put a link to a YouTube video by Rick Beato that breaks the song down part by part and it's that complexity that shows how good there are as musicians. I've also put a link to "Lost in Vegas"  hearing it for the first time. Chris Squire died in 2015 (Geddy Lee from Rush played bass on this song at the Hall of fame induction) but it's significant that both videos point out his bass playing that underpins this song. 

The version on my Facebook page that goes with this post (and is linked below too) is the Steve Wilson remix, which I think is the best version of this song now available. There are also lots of live versions!!

Rick Beato -

Lost in Vegas -

Steve Wilson remix  -

Beautiful country

 David Batt (no relation to Mike!) is better known as the artist David Sylvian. I use that description deliberately as besides being a singe...