Category: Lost Albums (Page 1 of 12)

Lost Albums: NEON NEON Stainless Style

Before synthwave’s obsession with John DeLorean and the imagery of his gullwing doored DMC-12 sportscar became ubiquitous along with palm trees, VHS grids and magenta skylines, NEON NEON released a concept album about the controversial industrialist entitled ‘Stainless Style’ in 2008.

The album was the brainchild of Gruff Rhys, the frontman of Welsh rock band SUPER FURRY ANIMALS and DJ producer Boom Bip, real name Bryan Hollon. Having previously collaborated on ‘Do’s & Don’ts’ from Boom Bip’s 2005 album ‘Blue Eyed In The Red Room’, the idea for “a bonkers disco record” came up.

Originally naming themselves DELOREAN, NEON NEON began as a side project for the pair in 2006 with the specific aim of telling John DeLorean’s life story with music. It all could have come straight out of Hollywood; a successful playboy businessman blinded by greed and ego, known for his unscrupulous business practices, he hooked up with maverick Lotus F1 legend Colin Chapman to obtain £54 million in grants and subsidies from the UK government, while US celebrities such as Sammy Davis Jr, Roy Clark and Johnny Carson were among the additional private investors.

This was all under the premise of regenerating the Northern Irish city of Belfast at the height of the sectarian troubles by establishing a factory for the DeLorean Motor Company. The aim was to build a safe, economical and rustproof dream car that had 30,000 orders in the US. The orders proved to be false while using an existing Lotus-based chassis and suspension design, the stainless-steel veneered car was neither safe, fuel-efficient or reliable with the spectacular gullwing doors also causing teething problems. Quite why Colin Chapman was getting involved in engineering a direct rival to his own Lotus Espirit was a mystery.

But Chapman had a ruthless streak which he had applied in motor racing, particularly in the fragility of his cars, compromising safety over speed. The ethos had cost the lives of his top drivers Jim Clark, Jochen Rindt and Ronnie Peterson as well as seriously injuring Sterling Moss.

Chapman had reasoned that if millions in government cash was going to be given out, then Lotus may as well have some of it. Nearly £9 million disappeared, half of it via a Swiss bank account under the name of GPD which had not been declared to Lotus shareholders as an upfront profit payment in the deal while the other half passed through DeLorean’s own complex financial network.

Only 8,500 DMC-12s had been produced since 1981 as sales were poor and the company went into receivership in February 1982. While said to be attempting to raise money for ailing company, DeLorean was arrested by the FBI for cocaine smuggling in October 1982 but was acquitted after citing entrapment in August 1984; on the charges of defrauding the UK government, he managed to escape extradition! Chapman died suddenly of a heart attack in December 1982 with conspiracy theorists claiming he faked his own death as he had passed an insurance medical only days before.

In 1992, the brains behind the fraud and Chapman’s right hand man, Fred Bushell was sentenced to 3 years in prison and given a £1.5 million fine but when he failed to pay it, he had another year added to his sentence. Summing up, the judge said this was “a bare-faced outrageous and massive fraud” and that had Chapman and DeLorean stood trial, they would have each faced at least 10 years imprisonment.

As part of the admistration process, the DMC-12’s engineering concept was sold by the administrators to Toyota who later used the plans to develop the first generation MR2. While DeLorean’s reputation as a businessman was tarnished, the DMC-12 became iconic when it was featured prominently featured in the 1985 film ‘Back To The Future’ and its two sequels, despite being named among ‘The 50 Worst Cars of All Time’ by Time Magazine.

Such a stranger-than-fiction story had plenty to mine lyrically and while it had not been the intention to make a synthetic pop record, the concept’s era pointed towards using instruments such as the Casio SK-5, Korg MiniKorg 700 and Roland SH-101 as well as electronic drums. The gritty sci-fi funk ‘n’ synth instrumental ‘Neon Theme’ acted as the starter. But swapping Detroit for Belfast with some “Motor City Blues”, the shiny optimistic emulation of DURAN DURAN on ‘Dream Cars’ with its rugged jerky snap provided by THE STROKES’ drummer Fab Moretti and engaging call-and-response vocals made for an ideal first song-based salvo.

Rumoured to be about a date rejection by Carrie Fisher, ‘I Told Her On Alderaan’ sounded as if it could have come from a John Hughes Brat Pack movie, but DeLorean was a renowned swordsman who was said to have squired the likes of Bond girl Ursula Andress, actress Candice Bergen and singer Nancy Sinatra.

DeLorean’s most celebrated conquest was Raquel Welch and on the NEW ORDER versus LES RITA MITSOUKO disco hybrid ‘Raquel’, in character Gruff Rhys cannot quite believe his luck: “I saw you as a movie star, but now you’re riding in my car.”

In a slight diversion, something more Super Furry was offered in the alternative-rock of ‘Steel Your Girl’ but with a self-explanatory title, the bleepy electro of ‘I Lust U’ was a Cate Le Bon duet that recounted DeLorean’s womanising but also that anything went for either party “if the price is right”. Brimming with hooks, the punchy ‘Belfast’ was a synthy paean to Ulster while the Hollywood life was documented on the sinister hypnotism of ‘Michael Douglas’ where DeLorean looked at his reflection in the pool to redesign his own chin at a party hosted by the current Mr Catherine Zeta Jones.

Despite the primarily retro-futuristic austere, ‘Stainless Steel’ took several excursions into rap and while ‘Sweat Shop’ with Yo Majesty provided some fitting drive-by tension, ‘Trick For Treat’ featuring Spank Rock and Har Mar Superstar and the Fatlip fronted ‘Luxury Pool’ confused the flow although these three tracks would probably have worked as an EP on its own for a hip-hop audience.

Closing with the short sombre drone folk of the title track featuring THE MAGIC NUMBERS on backing vocals, stylistically ‘Stainless Style’ was an eclectic adventure capturing DeLorean’s excess and ultimate downfall. The album’s musical culture clash represented the pacey party-driven lifestyle of John DeLorean, a life of cash, sex, plastic surgery, celebrity and questionable ethics.

Reaching No 67 in the UK album charts, ‘Stainless Style’ was a moderate success and earned a 2008 Mercury Music Prize nomination, but did not reach the commercial heights of SUPER FURRY ANIMALS or Gruff Rhys’ solo work.

While NEON NEON was initially intended as a one-off project, an unreleased song ‘Wheels’ from the ‘Stainless Style’ sessions was included on the 2011 ‘Complex’ compilation celebrating 10 years of Lex Records.

Then in 2013, a second album ‘Praxis Makes Perfect’ about on the life of Italian socialist publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli was released. Best known for translating and publishing Boris Pasternak’s ‘Doctor Zhivago’ in the West after being refused publication domestically in the Soviet Union, he died violently under mysterious circumstances in 1972. And that was another story…


‘Stainless Style’ is still available via Lex Records as a vinyl LP and download, available from https://neonneon.bandcamp.com/album/stainless-style

https://lexrecords.com/artists/neon-neon/

https://www.facebook.com/neonneonband

https://twitter.com/neonneonband

https://www.instagram.com/neonneonofficial/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
13th May 2022

Lost Albums: DRAMATIS For Future Reference

Following the retirement of Gary Numan with his spectacular farewell shows at Wembley Arena in April 1981, four of his erstwhile backing band officially went solo under the moniker of DRAMATIS.

RRussell Bell, Denis Haines, Chris Payne and Ced Sharpley toured the skies with the Machine Music pioneer and had been instrumental (pun totally intended) in the success of Numan’s powerful live presentation.

While success for DRAMATIS for not exactly assured, several things were in place for a smooth transition to independence.

First the quartet had signed a deal with Elton John’s Rocket Records. Secondly, they had also secured the services as engineer and co-producer of Simon Heyworth who had worked with on Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’. And finally, they had use of Ridge Farm Studios, one of the best residential recording facilities in the UK at the time.

DRAMATIS were a brainy bunch. Guitarist RRussell Bell had a degree in Physics / Psychology and was versatile enough to handle unusual instruments such as the Moog Liberation keytar, Chapman Stick and Vi-Tar electric violin.

Drummer Ced Sharpley previously had cult success with prog rockers DRUID who were signed to EMI and had appeared on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’; his clean, dynamic drum breaks on ‘The Pleasure Principle’ tracks such as ‘Cars’, ‘Films’ and ‘Metal’ became very influential within the US Hip-Hop community.

Handling mostly keyboard duties, both Chris Payne and Denis Haines were classically schooled; Payne had also co-written VISAGE’s ‘Fade To Grey’ and been noted for his viola playing on Numan standards such as ‘M.E.’ and ‘Complex’. He had even mastered a Medieval reed instrument called a Cornamuse. Meanwhile it was Haines who had played the piano version of ‘Down In The Park’ that made it onto the flip of ‘I Die:You Die’. However, it was exactly this type of musical background which the British music press still had total disdain for in the wake of punk.

“Between Denis Haines and myself, we used a Prophet 10 and Prophet 5, CP70 piano, Minimoog, ARP Axxe, Roland 330 vocoder, and Moog Taurus pedals” Payne said of the instrument armoury, “RRuss also had a Chapman stick which was sometimes heavily effected to sound synth like, and to complete the madness on the song ‘Human Sacrifice’, I played the cornamuse for that ancestral sound!”

Released after Gary Numan’s Wembley concerts, the grandiose debut single ‘Ex Luna Scientia’ showed DRAMATIS’ potential immediately. Celebrating the adventurous spirit of NASA, it coincided with the launch of the first Space Shuttle and sounded like a cross between ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA and VISAGE.

But it was too much for the savage journalists who already had their knives resharpened following usage on their former employer. “We had a lot to prove musically because Gary Numan had been getting so much flak in the press which reflected on us.”

Chris Payne remembered, “They said the music was naïve, the band couldn’t play and that was quite hurtful.” 

Unfortunately, comments like “chicken without its head” were being banded about while other writers couldn’t get their brain cells round a catchy vocodered chorus sung in Latin!

Undeterred, a follow-up single ‘Oh! 2025’ was put out but this was quite pedestrian synth rock compared to ‘Ex Luna Scientia’. Incidentally, its beautiful B-side ‘The Curtain’ was later recycled by ULTRAVOX’s Billy Currie for a solo track called ‘Requiem’!

With Rocket Records still sniffing for a hit, the next single ‘No-One Lives Forever’ was swiftly issued. This was much better; the anthemic chorus, deep chanting bridge and Bell’s heavy metal guitar solo contradicting the dystopian resignation of Haines’ lead vocal.

Gary Numan said on the Radio 1 review show ‘Roundtable’ that it was “the best thing they’ve done yet”. It even got played by Steve Wright although he was unimpressed; “I know it’s deliberate but those vocals are awful” he quipped. It would be fair to say vocals were DRAMATIS’ Achilles heel and sounded strained at best. But RRussell Bell explained: “When we recorded the first DRAMATIS album, we recorded the backing tracks first, then I’d lock myself in a room and write the lyrics. Then we’d start putting the vocals down, that’s when I discovered that they were all in keys that were a bit high for my voice. Basically, I’m a baritone…”

To attract interest in their forthcoming album, Rocket Records came up with a bold strategy with the release of ‘No-One Lives Forever’… they put a one minute sample each of four songs on the B-side.

The idea was ahead of its time as snippet based promotion is now standard practice on many platforms. Alas, the single wasn’t a hit and the album (which had already been advertised in the press) was now delayed.

A total remix of the album was made at the behest of the label while a new sleeve depicting the band as futuristic university lecturers was necessitated.

“The initial idea was supposed to be a Victorian glass display in the British museum with us as an exhibit” recalled Bell of that photo session, “The concept of glass cases came in but it was like four glass telephone boxes with us standing in them in an empty office. There was nothing British Museum about it. We looked at the pictures and they were crap. So that idea was scrapped!”

“Oh God, it was a mess!” remembered Payne, “I never understood why we spent ages recording it in one of the best studios in England at the time, only to remix it at Marcus studios in London, which was bloody awful. All this messing around when we had perfectly good mixes drove me to despair. It took forever, cost a fortune, we had to re-do the cover of the album. Denis Haines and I thought the album lost something. Having said that, the time spent at Ridge Farm was brilliant. It was a really inspirational environment and had a great pub in the village just up the road. Needless to say where we were most evenings.”

Meanwhile while they were recording the album, Gary Numan paid a visit to his former colleagues at Ridge Farm Studios before he departed on an ambitious round-the-world flight. He particularly enjoyed the backing track of a song that had been written about their days touring together. Entitled ‘Love Needs No Disguise’, Numan asked if he could sing it. The band happily accepted.

With Sharpley’s sparse drum machine intro dressed with his timbale rolls and Haines’ stark piano chords, this was a lot barer than Numan’s own recordings although he himself had been experimenting with minimalism on ‘Dance’. Some pretty guitar and viola was the final touch and the track was released as a joint single on Numan’s label Beggars Banquet. It reached No 33 in the UK chart but not as high as many had hoped.  The parent album ‘For Future Reference’ then slipped out in December 1981 almost unnoticed. It was though Rocket had decided to pull back on it.

Overall, the album had many impressive moments but also had several flaws. Featuring all the singles, one of the highlights was ‘Turn’, voiced by Chris Payne and throwing in everything from a classical intro, progressive interludes and pounding drums to clattering rhythm box, synth solos and angry if slightly ham vocals. “I have never felt comfortable about my own voice” Payne clarified, “It was always put down whilst I was at music college and as a result I really didn’t care that much. ‘Turn’ was composed by me and I only recorded my own voice for either Denis or RRussell who were the principle vocalists on the album. But after I recorded it, everyone thought it fitted the track so we kept it.”

The following ‘Take Me Home’ had the drama of a vintage silent movie with Chaplin-esque piano and strings heart wrenching as Haines cried like a disturbed teenager, repeating the title over and over again. Haines’ Peter Gabriel impression could grate and was not to everyone’s taste but his ‘On Reflection’ was another musical highlight on the second half of the LP, a sad lament about lost friendships. With a more conventional if limited rock oriented vocal, RRussell Bell had his moment with the incessant ‘I Only Find Rewind’ while ‘Human Sacrifice’ possessed aggressive tribal synthetics and an LFO squence from the Moog Liberation but was spoiled by a weak chorus.

DRAMATIS’ only album so far showcased the band’s virtuoso abilities and while the use of four different lead vocalists confused the continuity of the album, instrumentally, there was much to enjoy. Chris Payne certainly agrees: “I think it’s a really good album. My only regret was that we didn’t have just one person who could have sung everything to make it more of a cohesive album. We had Gary as a guest which was fair enough but me singing a track… c’mon? We should have stuck to one singer, that was a big mistake… but musically, it stands up.”

Very much the outsider even when he was in Gary Numan’s band, Haines left DRAMATIS after he declined to tour the album and embarked on a solo career.

He released a Numan-esque 12” single in Germany called ‘It Spoke To Me Of You’ and an ambient album entitled ‘The Listening Principle’ which featured versions of ‘The Curtain’ and ‘Take Me Home’ retitled ‘In Loving Memory’.

But at the start of 1982, the remaining trio released a great 7 inch pairing featuring the ULTRAVOX-like ‘Face On The Wall’ backed with the neo-classical jig of ‘Pomp & Stompandstamp’. They then topped it with ‘The Omen’ Goes Disco magnificence of ‘The Shame’ a few months later although further chart action didn’t materialise.

RRussell Bell thought it was one of their best songs and in a 2007 interview with NuReference amusingly recalled: “the line ‘train crash killed the heroine’ was about a starlet who died in a train crash. But the music press thought it was about heroin, which shows how bad their spelling is and also how f*cking stupid they are to even think I’d write a song about the most evil, insidious drug in the world. However, the guitar solo was pretty cool.”

Following an appearance on ‘The David Essex Showcase’ (a short lived BBC talent showcase which also featured TALK TALK amongst others!), their final John Punter produced single ‘I Can See Her Now’ reached No 57 in late 1982.

But just as they were about to make a breakthrough with a second album on the way, the politics of the music biz had worn the threesome down.

While losing interest in their own band, Gary Numan meanwhile had got the bug back for touring and played clubs in the US during the summer of 1982 with a new backing band which featured Rob Dean, ex-JAPAN and soon-to-be-in-demand fretless bassist Pino Palladino. However, for his forthcoming ‘Warriors’ assault, Numan decided to call up his former band. With the prospect of more secure employment, DRAMATIS were no more.

Fast forward to 2000 and with Gary Numan getting critical reappraisal for his imperial years, ‘For Future Reference’ was rather misleadingly reissued and promoted as a lost TUBEWAY ARMY album under the title ‘The DRAMATIS Project’ by Castle Select.

The CD was pressed from a vinyl cutting master while the seamless join between ‘Turn’ and ‘Take Me Home’ was spoiled by the atmospheric intro of the latter being faded out and then restarting again on its chilling ivory motif after a gap!

Meanwhile, the clueless booklet notes also implied that Messrs Bell, Haines, Payne and Sharpley were actually members of TUBEWAY ARMY… most Gary Numan fans knew the band effectively didn’t exist when ‘The Blue Album’ was released in 1978!

RRussell Bell was dismayed when asked about this reissue: Oh don’t! The DRAMATIS ‘project’, it was never a project, it was a band!” But he had good news: “I’ve recently got back control of the album and bought back the rights, so we now own it again. And DRAMATIS is back together and releasing the second album”.

So a properly remastered ‘For Future Reference’ finally gets its first official resissue on CD thanks to Cherry Red Records and the three post-album singles make their belated digital debut too with the B-sides ‘Lady DJ’, The Curtain’, ‘Pomp & Stompandstamp’  and ‘One Step Ahead’ also appearing. The BBC In Concert recorded at the Paris Theatre in 1982 featuring the unreleased ‘Sand & Stone’ and all the extended 12 inch versions are additionally included in the plethora of bonuses.

Looking back recently on the period, Chris Payne said: “Personally the standout for me is and always will be ‘The Shame’. It started with the chord patterns whilst rehearsing at the old Nomis rehearsal studios in Earls Court and gathered pace from there with RRussell adding his parts with melody and lyrics, plus a brilliant guitar solo in the middle eight. I seem to remember that we recorded that at the old Trident studios in London, and it was a shame (excuse the pun) that we didn’t continue there as I found this to be the perfect studio sound for DRAMATIS.”

DRAMATIS were undoubtedly finding their feet as a solo proposition in 1982 but their tenure was cut short. Sadly, Cedric Sharpley passed away in 2012 but with a new single ‘A Torment of Angels’ and a live return in 2021, DRAMATIS can now finally reference their past for a future.


In memory of Ced Sharpley 1952 – 2012

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to RRussell Bell and Chris Payne

Special thanks also to Stephen Roper at The Numan Arms

‘For Future Reference’ is reissued as a 2CD set by Cherry Red Records on 22nd April 2022, pre-order from https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/dramatis-dramatis-2cd-digipak/

The Numan Arms YouTube channel featuring an interview with Chris Payne and an archive audio only chat with the late Ced Sharley is located at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-rRuX6k___Y4ZkTHwQg–Q/videos


Text and Interviews by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Brian Aris
14th April 2022, based an article originally published 19th April 2012

Lost Albums: BANDERAS Ripe

Released in 1991, ‘Ripe’ was the only album by BANDERAS.

The pairing of Caroline Buckley and Sally Herbert met in 1987 when they were in the live band of THE COMMUNARDS, the duo comprising of Jimmy Somerville, formally of BRONSKI BEAT and Richard Coles, now a BBC TV vicar and more recently, a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ contestant.

THE COMMUNARDS had HI-NRG hits with covers of the disco classics ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ and ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’, so were in demand on the concert circuit.

Buckley filled the big shoes of Sarah-Jane Morris who had moved on to pursue a solo career while Herbert was in the string section which also included Audrey Riley, Jocelyn Pook and Anne Stephenson. After THE COMMUNARDS disbanded and Jimmy Somerville loaned the pair a Yamaha DX7 and a sampler, Buckley and Herbert became BANDERAS, the Spanish word for “flag”. Adopting a striking shaven headed image, they began writing songs and gigging, eventually coming to the attention of producer Stephen Hague’s manager.

THE COMMUNARDS’s second and final album ‘Red’ featured contributions from Buckley and Herbert, so having worked with Stephen Hague in his capacity as its producer, the American was an obvious and natural choice to helm BANDERAS’ debut long player. And to keep things in THE COMMUNARDS’ family, they also signed to their label London Records.

Things looked promising for BANDERAS and this was outlined by the cast of players on the album; special guests included Bernard Sumner, Johnny Marr and old pal Jimmy Somerville while there were noted sessioners on board such as Luís Jardim, Guy Pratt and Stevie Lange as well former band mates Audrey Riley and Jocelyn Pook.

The album’s ace was the magnificent ‘This Is Your Life’, one of the last songs written and recorded for ‘Ripe’. Using a sample from Grace Jones’ ‘Crack Attack’, it had a distinct Pet Shop Girls behavioural vibe to it. Meanwhile there was also the added bonus of Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner on rhythm guitars plus a terrific middle eight section featuring Sumner’s vocals before an emotive synth solo. “There is no rehearsal, no second chance” sang Buckley and Sumner together but rather prophetically, despite ‘This Is Your Life’ reaching No16 in the UK singles charts, there were no more hits for BANDERAS.

With a banging drum mantra and a catchy riff, the more uptempo second single ‘She Sells’ was a shopping list song that just missed out on a Top40 chart entry. But despite lyrics attacking the advertising industry’s use of sexist stereotypes, the message proved to be less appealing than the melancholic but uplifting YOLO stance of ‘This Is Your Life’.

The third BANDERAS single ‘May This Be Your Last Sorrow’ fared even worse, but despite being inspired by a scene from a film in Arabic where the mourners were reciting to a bereaved family, the funereal trip-hop with its dub-laden backdrop foresaw the likes of ONE DOVE, THE ALOOF and PORTISHEAD.

Alongside the singles, ‘Ripe’ had other highlights. It was not difficult to imagine either Neil Tennant or Jimmy Somerville singing on ‘The Comfort Of Faith’, a song questioning unconditional religious devotion that came with a typically classic Stephen Hague production while with an orchestral arrangement that undoubtedly seeded Herbert’s future career as a film score composer, ‘Why Aren’t You In Love With Me?’ was BANDERAS’ take on Philly soul with Buckley’s emotive resignation in harmony with a comparatively understated falsetto from Jimmy Sommerville.

Most striking was ‘It’s Written All Over My Face’, a bare self-produced song which despite its countrified acoustic guitar recalled the pulsing electronic arrangement of Marianne Faithfull’s version of ‘The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan’. Also quite stripped down was ‘Too Good’ featuring a stark percussive groove augmented by fretless bass runs while the album’s closer ‘Never Too Late’ saw the duo offer their take on Patsy Cline.

Interestingly in the booklet notes, neither Buckley nor Herbert express any great enthusiasm for ‘First Hand’ or ‘Don’t Let That Man’ but while these do not hit the heights of the album’s highlights, they are not bad but sound very much of their time.

A second album was in the works to be produced by Alan Moulder but London Records lost interest and BANDERAS quietly disbanded. In the past 5 years, both Caroline Buckley and Sally Herbert have worked independently with Jimmy Somerville on various projects, so it is apt that the wee Scotsman conducts the short interview with them for the reissue of ‘Ripe’.

Anthologised by Cherry Red on their 90/9 imprint, ‘Ripe’ has been remastered as a double CD edition with the album plus B-sides coupled with a collection of remixes, many of which actually seem to feature the structures of the various songs, documenting a period just before the club DJ remix madness went into overdrive.

‘This Is Your Life’ may be considered something of a one hit wonder but to have written such a timeless song that resonates with the public, even if it is for a limited moment in time, is a gift to any composer. Regardless of that, based on the evidence of ‘Ripe’, BANDERAS delivered an album that was worthy of the supporting cast that helped embellish it.

If you missed ‘Ripe’ first time round, now is a good time to catch up 30 years on…


‘Ripe’ is released by 90/9 on 14th January 2022 as a 2CD edition, available from https://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/banderas-ripe-2cd-expanded-edition/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
10th January 2022

Lost Albums: AKIKO YANO Ai Ga Nakucha Ne

World music reissue label Wewantsounds release Akiko Yano’s 1982 solo album ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ outside of Japan for the very first time. Co-produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto, the record was notable for featuring the talents of JAPAN band members Mick Karn, Steve Jansen and David Sylvian.

Fusing rock, jazz, avant pop and Japanese folk, Akiko Yano was a successful singer/songwriter in her homeland before touring the world as a keyboardist with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA. Her high pitched vocal style inevitably drew comparisons with Kate Bush but in 1981, her husband’s connections led to a new approach.

With Ryuichi Sakamoto having already collaborated with David Sylvian on ‘Taking Islands In Africa’ from JAPAN’s fourth album ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’, he and Yano travelled to the UK. With a strong Yen, recording facilities in London proved to be cheaper than in Tokyo and so it was at Air Studios that they teamed up with the Lewisham combo and their producer / engineer Steve Nye following the completion of ‘Tin Drum’.

Translated as “there must be love”, ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ states its case with the bilingual opening title track of the album, giving a platform for the JAPAN rhythm section both instrumentally and vocally, while not deviating from Akiko Yano’s own distinctive style. The glistening textures of Sakamoto emanating from his beloved Prophet 5 also leave no doubt as to who is producing.

Although ‘Kanashikute Yarikirenai’ adopts a West Coast demeanour, particularly when complimented by JAPAN live guitarist David Rhodes’ solo, it is all offset by Sakamoto’s haunting synth tones. Continuing on a similar highway, ‘What’s Got In Your Eyes’ has more that driving Californian feel to it and translates smoothly thanks to English lyrics provided partly by YMO collaborator Peter Barakan.

‘Oishii Seikatsu’ and ‘Michi De Battari’ come as appealing interludes, the former shaped by a marimba figure and the latter with traditionally Japanese textures although all approximated using electronics.

The best track on ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ is the vibrant and funky ‘Onnatachiyo Otokotachiyo’; it sees Steve Jansen demonstrating why highly regarded session drummers like Gavin Harrison regard him as a key influence in the art of percussive painting without overplaying. Stabs of synthetic brass from Sakamoto, Yano’s own piano work and Mick Karn’s trademark fretless slides combine to make this a superb highlight.

The speedy ‘Aisuru Hito Yo’ is more four-to-the-floor despite the tribal congas from Motoya Hamaguchi, containing the spacey overtures that these days gets referred to as Citypop and laced with the jazzy cosmic surfin’ of early YMO. But this is hardly surprising as the drums are helmed by Yukihiro Takahashi plus there is also much to enjoy with Sakamoto’s technopop work here ranging from blips and rings to pulses and sirens to sweeps and growls.

Written entirely in English by Yano, ‘Sleep On My Baby’ is a slice of quirky fusion pop with the distinctive backing vocals of Mick Karn.

But while Karn was perhaps less fluid trhough much of ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ than he had been with  his bass work as part of JAPAN on account Sakamoto directing the exact notes that were required, he provides a bit more of his fretless signature sound here if a bit more sedately and less up front.

The guitar driven ‘Another Wedding Song’ is more of a funk soul art piece rather than a conventional song but Haruomi Hosono joins the party on bass guitar with Takahashi for a YMO reunion on the jazzy pop of ‘Donnatokimo Donnatokimo Donnatokimo’ which evokes the magical sunsets of the Ryukyu Islands with its rootsy Japanese variation on steel guitar from Hiroki Komazawa.

The gorgeous piano lullaby ‘Good Night’, written by the unconnected classical musician Yuji Takahashi with words by Yano and Peter Barakan, saw the Japanese songstress duet with David Sylvian and its interplay will delight any fans of the JAPAN frontman or Sakamoto’s film soundtracks. A fittingly perfect if very short closer, it was subsequently used on a domestic Seiko watches TV commercial.

A number of JAPAN and YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA enthusiasts are likely to be hearing ‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ for the first time as this sixth Akiko Yano solo album was only released in Japan and they will undoubtedly enjoy a number of the tracks due to their instrumental and vocal connections. While Akiko Yano’s music didn’t export in large numbers, she gained a cult following in Europe and her music broke down barriers.

Today female Japanese singers are able to perform to packed theatres in London while the synthwave fraternity has adopted within its wider family, the Citypop that was pioneered by YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA when she was part of their live presentation.

Always prolific and often releasing an album per year, as recently as 2018, she worked with American synth duo REED & CAROLINE on ‘When We’re In Space’ for her collaborations collection ‘Let’s Go Together’ while she has released three more long players since. It may have taken nearly 40 years but the vast catalogue of Akiko Yano is now able to be more widely appreciated.


‘Ai Ga Nakucha Ne’ is released by Wewantsounds on 8th October 2021 as a vinyl LP and CD, pre-order from https://wewantsounds.bandcamp.com/merch/akiko-yano-ai-ga-nakucha-ne-deluxe-black-vinyl-edition-with-24p-colour-booklet-and-gatefold-sleeve

https://www.akikoyano.com/

https://www.facebook.com/akikoyano.official/

https://twitter.com/Yano_Akiko

https://www.instagram.com/akikoyano_staff/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Colour photos by Bishin Jumonji, studio photos by Pennie Smith
18th September2021

Lost Albums: ALAN VEGA Mutator

Sacred Bones Records release the lost album from Alan Vega, entitled ‘Mutator’.

Vega was best known as a member of the trailblazing electronic-punk duo SUICIDE with Martin Rev who confused audiences with their lack of a drummer and would go on to influence the likes of SOFT CELL and SIGUE SIGUE SPUTNIK.

Vega sadly passed away in 2016 but he left a vault of previously unreleased work at his New York studio. ‘Mutator’ was recorded during 1995-1996 with Liz Lamere who became his wife and key collaborator in his solo career.

It wasn’t intentionally shelved but so prolific was Vega with his numerous projects that eventually included 11 solo albums he was already focussing on another work before this was completed. “Our primary purpose for going into the studio was to experiment with sound, not to ‘make records” remembered Lamere, “I was playing the machines with Alan manipulating sounds”

Given a final production treatment in partnership with fellow Vega collaborator Jared Artaud 25 years after the material was first put to tape, ‘Mutator’ will be the first in a series of previously unheard recordings to be made public. Influenced by the streets of New York, Vega makes his presence felt with a collection of moments that are at times uneasy, but also paradoxically beautiful.

As an introduction, the drone sound sculpture ‘Trinity’ is a ghostly séance as if Vega is communicating from the other side. Meanwhile the album starts formally with ‘Fist’ as its percussive variation shaped by repetitive rhythm construction, coming over suitably gothic and gloomy.

The rumble of ‘Muscles’ provides a sinister backdrop for Vega’s preaching but the gorgeous ‘Samurai’ is poignant with Vega giving a resonant speech before shouting “GOODBYE- GOODBYE- GOODBYE”, reflecting on life with a backdrop that could have come off the ‘Twin Peaks’ soundtrack.

The slow industrial of ‘Filthy’ utilises a combination of distorted mechanical noise and a nail bed of ice, with Vega stamping his wayward personality throughout while ‘Nike Soldier’ rises and reverberates in a manner akin to THE SISTERS OF MERCY reworking a DEPECHE MODE B-side.

Doing away with percussion, the sombre ‘Psalm 68’ relies on a bassline pulse and uncomfortable screeching ambience for its effect before ‘Mutator’ closes with the sustained synthesizer collage ‘Breathe’, with Vega eerily proclaiming “the show is now over”

“’Mutator’ bridges the gap between the past and present” Jared Artaud said, “It’s something we feel he would have been really proud of, seeing this lost album released today. In so many ways, his music is needed now more than ever.”

A fitting epitaph to the experimental spirit of Alan Vega, anyone who has ever enjoyed cult SUICIDE classics such as ‘Ghost Rider’ and ‘Frankie Teardrop’ will find much to savour on the eight tracks that form ‘Mutator’.


‘Mutator’ is released by Scared Bones Records on 23rd April 2021 in various LP formats as well as CD and digital, available from https://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/products/sbr271-alan-vega-mutator

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Text by Chi Ming Lai
20th April 2021

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