Japan – in concert at Hammersmith Odeon – February 7, 1981 – BBC Radio 1 – In Concert Series –
Japan in concert to end the week – recorded live at The Hammersmith Odeon by BBC Radio 1 for the In Concert series – February 7, 1981.
Japan were a new wave band formed in 1974 in Catford, South London by David Sylvian (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Steve Jansen (drums), Richard Barbieri (keyboards) and Mick Karn (bass guitar). Initially a glam rock-inspired band, Japan developed their sound and androgynous look to incorporate electronic music and foreign influences, eventually becoming an influence on the UK’s early-1980s New Romantic scene, though the band themselves were not a part of it.
Japan achieved success in the late 1970s and early 1980s, releasing nine UK Top 40 hits, including the 1982 Top 5 hit single “Ghosts”, and scoring a UK Top 5 with the live album Oil on Canvas (1983). The band split in December 1982, just as they were beginning to experience commercial success in the UK and abroad. Its members went on to pursue other musical projects.
In 1979, the band briefly worked with the successful Euro disco producer Giorgio Moroder, who co-wrote and produced a one-off single, “Life in Tokyo”. The track was a significant change in musical style from their earlier guitar-laden recordings, moving them away from their glam rock roots and into electronic new wave.
The electronic style continued on their third album, Quiet Life (1979), which was produced by the band with John Punter and Simon Napier-Bell. In a retrospective review of the band’s work, The Quietus described Quiet Life as defining “a very European form of detached, sexually-ambiguous and thoughtful art-pop, one not too dissimilar to what the ever-prescient David Bowie had delivered two years earlier with Low. It showcased Barbieri’s synthesizers, Sylvian’s now baritone style of singing, Karn’s distinctive fretless bass sound and Jansen’s odd-timbred and intricate percussion work, with Dean’s guitar playing becoming somewhat sparser and atmospheric. Quiet Life was their last studio album for Hansa-Ariola, although the label would later issue a compilation album (Assemblage) featuring highlights from the band’s tenure on the label, followed by a series of remixed and re-released singles.
After a couple of lower charting singles, their first UK Top 40 hit was a re-release of the “Quiet Life” single, which peaked at No. 19 in October 1981. Three of the singles from the Tin Drum album also peaked in the UK Top 40, with its unconventional single “Ghosts” reaching No. 5, becoming Japan’s biggest domestic hit. The Tin Drum album itself peaked just outside the UK Top 10, and was the band’s first record to be certified by the BPI, being awarded a Silver disc within a month of release, and reaching Gold status within four months. The album, produced by Steve Nye, is often regarded as one of the most innovative of the 1980s, with its fusion of occidental and oriental sounds. In 2011, thirty years after its release, Tin Drum was awarded BBC Radio 6 Music’s ‘Goldie Award’ posthumously for the Best Album of 1981.
For a reminder of their watershed 1981 period, here is that concert where they supported the release of Gentlemen Take Polaroids.