Released today in 1983: After A Fashion

Musicfest FEST1

Musicfest FEST1

Mick Karn’s only appearance on the cover of Smash Hits came in November 1982, along with the rest of his band Japan: shortly before the group split up. On the two previous occasions Japan had been selected for the cover, singer David Sylvian had appeared alone, and despite the group appearing together on this occasion, the interview inside was only with Sylvian. He offered his thoughts on the reason why Japan was coming to an end at such an untimely juncture – untimely because, after eight years together, 1982 had finally brought them their first two Top 10 hits.

He put the split down to disagreements, mostly between himself and Karn: “The most conflict comes between me and Mick. We differ in more ways than say Steve [Jansen, Sylvian’s brother] and me, or Rich [Barbieri] and me.” The main differences, he said, concerned “what motivates us. I feel motivated by a need, a passion to create something … I feel Mick is now motivated by the enjoyment he gets from fame rather than from creating what he’s doing.” This, he argued, was a matter of ego. “To work within a group you need to sacrifice ego a bit. Mick, at the moment, has an ego that won’t let anyone supervise his work and that’s a shame. I think it’s a feeling you get in the initial stages of working on your own. After Polaroids (Gentlemen Take Polaroids, Japan’s 1980 album] Mick felt insecure when I said I was leaving the band. He realized he was very dependent on me so he went about getting as much publicity as he could – which was natural enough as he was working on his sculpture at the time. In turn that gave him confidence and during the recording of Tin Drum [Japan’s final studio album] he started planning something on his own.”

Karn had experienced his first real flush of being the centre of attention when he surprised everyone by holding his first sculpture exhibition in May 1981, broadening his profile in the world of the arts generally. His reputation as a multi-instrumentalist and especially gifted bass player meant he was already held in high regard in musical circles, and from this point on he was no longer just a member of a British new wave band but a ‘name’ artist in his own right, so it was probably little wonder that he started thinking about projects outside the group. He was the first to get a solo single in the racks in the shops (see the entry later this month for Sylvian’s first post-Japan effort); as noted above, Karn’s debut album Titles had been in the planning stages while Tin Drum was being recorded, and as a result his attention often seemed elsewhere: “He was like a session musician on Tin Drum,” said Sylvian.

Session musician would be one of Karn’s professions for the rest of the 1980s, for the most part as a bass player for which he was much in demand. He appeared on works by Gary Numan and Kate Bush, as well as collaborating with Midge Ure for the single After A Fashion. He continued with his solo career as well, with a second album Dreams of Reason Produce Monsters in 1987 reuniting him with Sylvian, who contributed keyboards to one song and vocals to two others including the single Buoy. A brief but significant project was Dali’s Car, formed with Pete Murphy (ex- of Bauhaus), which produced the album The Waking Hour in 1984, a minimalist affair for which Karn composed the music. Although Dali’s Car was short-lived, the group was unexpectedly resurrected in 2010 for a mini-album called InGladnessAlone, Karn’s last project before he died from cancer on 4 January 2011.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Jul. 1
BANANARAMA Cruel Summer (London NANA5)
The CURE The Walk (Fiction FICS18)
EURYTHMICS Who’s That Girl? (RCA DA3)
Midge URE and Mick KARN After A Fashion (Chrysalis FEST1)
ADAM ANT Vive Le Rock (CBS A6367)
Billy IDOL White Wedding [Re-issue] (Chrysalis IDOL5)
Owen PAUL Pleased To Meet You (Epic A6395)
PET SHOP BOYS Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money) (Parlophone R6097)


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