Andonis Michaelides, better known under the moniker Mick Karn, was a British musician, music-writer and artist. He became famous as the bass-player for the band Japan, late 1970’s, early 1980’s. His inventive original style of playing made his contributions readily recognizable. In 1982 he released his first solo-album Titles.
The road to Titles
Karn was born on the Greek part of Cyprus. When Karn was 3 years old, he moved to London. In 2004 Karn moved back to Cyprus, only to return to London again in 2010.
The band Japan, besides Karn consisting of David Sylvian, Richard Barbieri, Steve Jansen and Rob Dean, was officially formed in 1974. Signed to the German disco label Hansa the band made three studio albums (Adolescent Sex, Obscure Alternatives and Quiet Life) and made music following the glam tradition of David Bowie, T.Rex, Roxy Music en The New York Dolls. After switching to Virgin Records they made two more albums: Gentlemen Take Polaroids and their career highlight Tin Drum.
Just as the band were on the verge of breaking through, after the release of Tin Drum and the single Ghosts, internal tension and personal conflicts imploded the band. Slumbering differences among the band members exploded when Karn’s girlfriend, photographer Yuka Fujii, moved in with Sylvian and each member started focusing on their own projects. After the live-album Oil On Canvas (number 25 in my album top 50 of all time) the chapter Japan was closed indefinitely.
Japan was a very inventive band, which relied heavily on Sylvian’s compositions. However, Karn was a signature element in the group’s sound. His bass-playing on his fretless bass was so different and original, that it gave a sense of direction to a great number of songs, like Sons Of Pioneers and the unprecedented Visions Of China.
The solo-debut-album Titles was released in November of 1982, 35 years ago. Shortly before, it was announced that Japan would disband. The album was recorded in July and August of 1982. The (by then) ex-Japan members Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri cooperated on the album.
In June, 1982, the song Sensitive was released a single. It was newly recorded for inclusion on the album. The song is an adaptation of La Distancia, written by Roberto Carlos, hence the co-credit for Carlos on the song.
The album contains compositions by Karn, giving his bass ample room to breathe. The result is enchanting, melancholy and at times moving. I love the album. The additional instruments are original and unique. The album is a universe in its own. The repetitive nature give the songs a hallucinating quality. All of side A is beautiful, different and only heard on this album. It’s unfortunate that not everything works equally well. The songs that contain singing (side B of the original album) are somewhat less interesting, because of the vocals: Karn really isn’t a skilled singer, although Piper Blue is a real treat.
All songs written by Mick Karn, unless stated otherwise.
|Kant A||Tribal Dawn|
|Lost Affections in a Room|
|Passion in Moisture|
|Weather the Windmill|
|Kant B||Saviour, Are You With Me? *|
|*||Traditional, arrangement by Mick Karn|
|**||Roberto Carlos & Mick Karn|
The song The Sound of Waves was the B-side to the Sensitive single, and is part of the CD release.
Mick Karn – fretless bass, clarinet, percussion, bassoon, keyboards, ocarina, recorder, saxophone and vocals
Richard Barbieri – keyboards, programming and keyboard consultant
Hugh Burns – guitar
Colin Fairley – percussion
Steve Jansen – conga, cymbal
David Rhodes – guitar
Angie Usher – vocals
Ricky Wilde – synthesizer, keyboards
After the disbanding of Japan Karn worked with Ultravox’s Midge Ure. In 1984 the group Dalis Car was founded, together with former-Bauhaus singer Peter Murphy. The album The Waking Hour was the result. A beautiful album, on which a later article will delve into. In 1991 Japan reunited under the moniker Rain Tree Crow, which led to the interesting Rain Tree Crow album. Unfortunately, the reunion didn’t end well. During the 1990’s he worked in and with the band NiNa, a multinational new-wave band. He continued working as a solo artist.
Karn was a much requested session musician and can be heard on albums/music by, among others, Bill Nelson’s Chimera, Gary Numan, Terry Bozzio, Kate Bush and Joan Armatrading. In 2006 MK Music was founded, whose logo was part of every Mick Karn release ever since.
In 2004 Karn left for Cyprus, in part dictated by the cheaper way of living there. For the larger part of his career, Karn was financially unstable. In 2009 Karn released his autobiography, titled Japan & Self Existence, which describes his music career, his interest in sculpting and painting, his youth, relationships and family.
On August 30th, 2010, Peter Murphy announced that he and Mick Karn had reconvened for a second Dalis Car album. However, the project was halted, because of Karn’s illness. Five of the songs they ended up recording, were released on April 5th, 2011, as an EP titled InGladAloneness.
In June 2010 Karn announced he suffered from cancer in an advanced stage. It had already spread to several organs and Karn received chemotherapy. His financial status was sadly insufficient, so money was raised to be able to afford the treatment. Colleagues organized concerts to raise money. With a part of that Karn and his family were able to return to London where Karn was treated. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread too much. Treatment turned out to be futile. Karn passed away at his home on January 4th, 2011, just 52 years old.
David Sylvian was one of the first to react to the sad tidings: “May his suffering be at an end, may he find eternal peace”.
Sculpting and painting
Mick Karn also was an accomplished sculptor, who primarily worked with clay. He held several exhibitions which were lauded by the press. He painted as well, using oil-paint. Many of his paintings were used as covers to his (solo)albums.
What do you think of Japan, Mick Karn or this album? Let me know!
Mick Karn – Titles vinyl image: lovewithoutanger.blogspot.com
Mick Karn & David Sylvian 1978 image: nightporter.co.uk
Mick Karn – Titles image: junodownload.com
Mick Karn – Live image: maxazine.nl
MK Music Logo image: Mick Karn
Mick Karn 1958-2011 & Mick Karn – Exhibition images: japansylvian.com