Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Bassobit: Mick Karn

More heartbreaking news to start the year, as cancer gets the better of Mick Karn.

Adonis Michaelides, Nicosia-born Cypriot, came to London at the age of three. School saw him progress from mouth organ to violin to bassoon and the London School Symphony Orchestra. He would play just one concert with his first band; the theft of his bassoon straight after, and his school's refusal to buy a replacement, lead to another change of instrument. His purchase of a second-hand bass was the moment where everything clicked for Mick.

Schoolfriends David Sylvian and Steve Jansen were also learning instruments at the time; sharing a dream of fleeing London, the three coalesced into Japan in 1974. A further friend, Richard Barbieri, was recruited; advertisements brought in a second guitarist and management and by 1977 Japan were playing live.

Breaking at a time when punk rock mandated individuality of the sort where everyone thinks and looks the same, Japan's effete style went down like a bassoon in a library. It was, amusingly, the country of Japan which would save the band - their popularity there was enough to sustain the act until the first stirrings of New Romanticism shifted Japan closer to the mainstream.

Filling a role as the Polytechnic Duran Duran, Japan hit commercial success just as they imploded.

In 1982, Karn released his first solo record, Titles and found himself in constant demand as a collaborator - he played on Kate Bush's The Sensual World, and worked with everyone from Ure to Numan. A quick sideline in sculpture followed.

If Japan had been ahead of their time, Karn's sortofsupergroup Dali's Car - which saw him team up with Pete Murphy - was doubly so, conflating Japan's minimalism with a smear of what would later be tagged World Music.

While Dali's Car drew on Karn's Greek Cypriot roots, his second solo album, Dreams of Reason Produce Monsters picked up the sounds of his London childhood in choirs and orchestras and mouth organs.

Karn then seemed to be concentrating solely on jazz - he signed with Germany's CMP - but there was to be a too-thought-through Japan reunion under the Rain Tree Crow name in 1991. Improvised and ambient, once again Karn found himself on a record which took a while to find an audience prepared to understand it.

However, Karn would continue to work with Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri, as JBK. A clutch of CDs emerged from this grouping, before Karn would again release albums under his own name. In all, his solo body of work would run to seven studio albums, covering everything from instrumental pop to jazz.

In 2004, Karn moved back to Cyprus with his wife. Last year, the news of his illness was made public, along with appeals for help with his medical bills.

Mick Karn died in London on January 4th. He was 52.

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