This Gentleman Takes Polaroids

Prolific to a fault… but then how else to explain the solo success of David Sylvian, musican, photographer, film maker and graphic designer nearly a quarter of a century after the dissolution of his group Japan.

Born David Alan Batt, he came to the publics attention as lead singer for the glam rock band Japan. Formed in 1974 as a quintet, the group also consisted of bassist Mick Karn, keyboardist Richard Barbieri, drummer (and Sylvian’s brother) Steve Jansen and guitarist Rob Dean. Often if dismissedly compared to Roxy Music , their debut albums, 1978’s Adolescent Sex and Obscure Alternatives, sold well in Japan and the Netherlands but were ignored in the US, and dismissed by a British music press enamored of the emerging punk and new wave movements, as hopelessly outmoded.

1979’s Quiet Life would prove the critics wrong as it marked a distinct turning away from guitar driven music towards a more electronic sound

“with more emphasis on Barbieri’s synthesisers, Sylvian’s svelte baritone style of singing, Karn’s distinctive fretless bass sound and Steve Jansen’s odd-timbred and intricate percussion work”.

1980’s Gentlemen Take Polaroids continued to broaden the band’s increasingly atmospheric sound, while 1981’s Tin Drum found them drawing inspiration from sources ” as diverse as funk and Middle Eastern rhythms“.

Tin Drum was the group’s final album as long simmering differences between band members came to a head causing the band to break up in 1982. They reunited in 1991 as Rain Tree Crow and released the one off album of the same name. The reunion didn’t last as relations again soured and the members went their separate ways.

Of all the band members David Sylvian has achieved the greatest solo success. Early solo albums mined familiar territory; but he later collaborated with artists like Bill Nelson (BeBop Deluxe), Robert Fripp (King Crimson), Holger Czukay (Can ) and Ryuichi Sakamoto; but it was his personal relationship with the photographer, artist and designer Yuka Fujii that inspired him to follow musical avenues that hadn’t been open to him previously.

1985’s Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities is entirely instrumental, 1986’s Gone to Earth featured atmospheric vocal tracks and ambient instrumentals and 1987’sSecrets of the Beehive emphasized acoustic instruments and shimmering string arrangements. His collaborations with Can’s Holger Czukay produced a pair of instrumental albums that were based on ” random chance, found samples and group improvisation”.

The collaboration with King Crimsons Robert Fripp arose when Fripp asked him to be the vocalist for a new line up of the band. Knowing of the problems that plagued the band’s previous incarnation he declined but suggested that they collaborate instead. the resulting The First Day (1993) helped to put him back in the Top 40 for the first time in a decade. 1994’s Damage documents the group’s tour in support of The First Day.

Dead Bees on the Cake released in 1999 was his first solo album since 1987’s Secrets of the Beehive. Wildly eclectic the music on the album encompasses a wide range of musical influences, including soul music, jazz fusion, blues and Eastern inspired spiritual chants. As eclectic as the music so were the albums guest musicans; avant-garde guitarist Marc Ribot, jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, jazz trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, British Indian tabla player Talvin Singh and long time friend Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Following the release of Dead Bees on the Cake Sylvian released the two-disc retrospective Everything and Nothing and the instrumental collection Camphor. Both albums contain a mixture of previously released material, along with new or previously unreleased material.

Parting ways with Virgin Records he launched his own independent label Samadhi Sound. Experimenting with treated guitar and computer sounds the labels initial release was the stark sounding album Blemish.

The group Nine Horses developed from a joint project of brothers Sylvian and Jansen. The projects other participants included Ryuichi Sakamoto, vocalist Stina Nordenstam, trumpeter Arve Henriksen and keyboardist/programmer Burnt Friedman. Their debut album Snow Borne Sorrow, released in 2005, fuses elements of pop, avant-garde jazz, folk and electronica. Their follow-up EP, Money For All , released in 2007, includes new material and remixes of selected songs from the first cd.

Commissioned by the Fukutake Art Museum Foundation 2007’s When Loud Weather Buffeted Naoshima

was intended to give the aural sensation of walking around the island during the wintry month of February.

Contributors to this environmental piece included flutist Clive Bell, trumpeter Arve Henriksen, guitarist Christian Fennesz and programmer Akira Rabelais.




Selected Singles

“Don’t Rain On My Parade”/”Stateline” , 1978
“The Unconventional”/”Lovers On Main Street” (Japan) 1978
“Adolescent Sex” (re-recorded version)”/”Transmission” , 1979
“Adolescent Sex” (re-recorded version)/”Sometimes I Feel So Low” ,1978
“Sometimes I Feel So Low”/”Love Is Infectious” , 1978
“Deviation”/”Suburban Berlin” 1979
“Life In Tokyo”/”Life In Tokyo (Part Two)” , 1979
“Quiet Life”/”Halloween” (Japan) 1979
“I Second That Emotion”/”European Son” (Japan) 1980
“I Second That Emotion”/”Quiet Life” , 1980
“The Art of Parties”/”Life Without Buildings” , 1981
“The Art of Parties”/”My New Career” , 1981
“Quiet Life”/”A Foreign Place” , 1981
“Visions Of China”/”Taking Islands In Africa” , 1981
“European Son (remix)”/”Alien” (Hansa), 1981
“Ghosts”/”The Art Of Parties” , 1982
“Cantonese Boy”/”Burning Bridges” , 1982
“I Second That Emotion (remix)”/”Halloween” , 1982
“Life In Tokyo” (remix) , 1982
“Nightporter”/”Ain’t That Peculiar” , 1982
“Nightporter EP” (Japan), 1982
“All Tomorrow’s Parties”/”In Vogue” , 1983
Canton”/”Visions Of China” (live versions), 1983


Adolescent Sex (Ariola/Hansa), 1978
Obscure Alternatives (Ariola/Hansa), 1978
Quiet Life (UK Ariola/Hansa), 1979
Gentlemen Take Polaroids (UK Virgin), 1980
Tin Drum (UK Virgin), 1981
Oil on Canvas (UK Virgin), 1983
Rain Tree Crow (Virgin), 1991

Tribute Album

Life In Tokyo – A Tribute to Japan (BMG Japan) 1996


Assemblage (UK Hansa), 1981
Exorcising Ghosts (UK Virgin), 1984
The Very Best of Japan (EMI) 2006

David Sylvian


Brilliant Trees (UK Virgin) 1984
Alchemy – An Index of Possibilities [tape] (UK Virgin) 1985
Words With the Shaman EP (UK Virgin) 1985
Gone to Earth (Virgin) 1986
Secrets of the Beehive (Virgin) 1987
Weatherbox (Virgin) 1989
Brilliant Trees/Words With the Shaman (Blue Plate) 1991
Dead Bees on a Cake (Virgin) 1999
Approaching Silence (Narada) 1999
Popsong (Virgin), 1999
Everything and Nothing (Virgin) 2000
Camphor (EMI), 2002
Blemish (Samadhi Sound), 2003
The Good Son vs. The Only Daughter – Blemish remixes (Samadhi Sound UK), 2005
When Loud Weather Buffeted Naoshima (2007)


David Sylvian & Holger Czukay

Plight & Premonition (Venture/Virgin) 1988
Flux + Mutability (Venture/Virgin) 1989

David Sylvian & Russell Mills

Ember Glance: The Permanence of Memory (Caroline), 1991

David Sylvian & Robert Fripp

The First Day (Virgin) 1993
Damage (Virgin) 1994

David Sylvian & Ryuichi Sakamoto

World Citizen EP (Wea International), 2004

David Sylvian & Nine Horses

Snow Borne Sorrow (Samadhi Sound), 2005
Wonderful World EP (Samadhi Sound), 2006
Money For All EP (Samadhi Sound UK), 2007

Japan – Gentlemen Take Polaroids

Playing Time: 53 minutes 44 seconds

Gentlemen Take Polaroids

1. My New Career (3:52)
2. Ain’t That Peculiar (4:40)
3. Taking Islands in Africa (5:12)
4. Gentlemen Take Polaroids (7:08)
5. Methods of Dance (6:53)
6. Swing (6:23)
7. Nightporter (6:57)
8. The Width of a Room (3:12)
9. Burning Bridges (5:23)
10. The Experience of Swimming (4:04)

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David Sylvian – Secrets of the Beehive

Playing Time: 40 minutes 33 seconds

Secrets of the Beehive

1. September (1:18)
2. The Boy With the Gun (5:19)
3. Maria (2:50)
4. Orpheus (4:51)
5. The Devil’s Own (3:12)
6. When Poets Dreamed of Angels (4:47)
7. Mother and Child (3:15)
8. Let the Happiness In (5:37)
9. Waterfront (3:23)
10. Forbidden Colours (6:01)

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Rain Tree Crow – Rain Tree Crow

Playing Time: 45 minutes 53 seconds

Rain Tree Crow

1. Cries and Whispers (2:31)
2. Big Wheels in Shanty Town (7:08)
3. New Moon at Deer Wallow (5:12)
4. Pocket Full of Change (6:08)
5. Every Colour You Are (4:46)
6. Rain Tree Crow (2:04)
7. Blackwater (4:19)
8. Red Earth (As Summertime Ends) (3:38)
9. A Reassuringly Dull Sunday (1:22)
10. Blackcrow Hits Shoe Shine City (5:14)
11. Scratchings on the Bible Belt (2:46)
12. Boat’s for Burning (0:45)

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David Sylvian & Robert Fripp – The First Day

Playing Time: 1 hour 3 minutes 26 seconds

The First Day

1. God’s Monkey (5:00)
2. Jean the Birdman (4:10)
3. Firepower (10:27)
4. Brightness Falls (6:06)
5. 20th Century Dreaming (A Shaman’s Song) (11:53)
6. Darshan (The Road to Graceland) (17:19)
7. Bringing Down the Light (8:31)

The First Day Part 1 The First Day Part 2

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