It's been a few days now since the news first broke that Mick Karn
, the bass player with Japan
, and successful solo artist in his own right, has terminal cancer. I'm sure many people, like me, still have a sense of numbness. Jeez, he's only 8 years older than me. We expect our heroes to be around for ever, continuing to serve us with the music, oh the music - meandering and complex; mystical and magical - that made them such vital parts of our lives in the first place.
The first time I heard Mick was ironically on one of his less spectacular performances - Life in Tokyo
. The band were still finding their niche musically, and David Sylvian
and Giorgio Moroder
edged the rest of the band out to produce this track which was aimed at the lucrative disco market. It flopped, which had the band fighting for its life and eventually led to the marvellous Gentlemen Take Polaroids
album, still 30 years on, my all-time favourite album. Mick's bass sounded warm and inventive and completely unlike any other player. He could also sound funky - just listen to The Art Of Parties
and the B-side Life Without Buildings
. This was a band at the top of their game and getting the recognition they finally deserved. Internal tensions meant that, just as they were getting going, they split in 1982 after the seminal Tin Drum
and live Oil on Canvas
. Fortunately, it looked like Mick would be ok. He had already released his first solo single, Sensitive
and hit album Titles
on Virgin Records. The next album was less successful and Virgin dropped him. He was still having success with collaborations and session work, having worked with such varied artists as Joan Armatrading
, Midge Ure
, Gary Numan
, Bill Nelson
and Kate Bush
Japan temporarily reformed as Rain Tree Crow
in 1991, but the same tensions that led to the band splitting in the first place re-emerged and Sylvian took control of the project, ensuring it would only ever be a one-off.
Mick found an independent label to release his solo material in 1993, set up Medium Records with former band-mates, Steve Jansen
and Richard Barbieri
and released some material as a three-piece. Although these ventures allowed Mick the artistic freedom he desired, they were never as lucrative as Japan ended up being and Mick documents in his autobiography "Japan and Self-Existence" the fact that life hasn't been easy financially.
Mick's fretless bass style, in many ways, was THE sound of the early to mid 80s. At one point, just about everybody had a fretless bass on their records. Off the top of my head, there were Paul Young
, Gary Numan
, China Crisis
, and Black
all who owed a debt to him for introducing that distinctive sound. None of them were anywhere near as good, however!
Mick's website, http://www.mickkarn.net/
, contains a short message confirming the worst and issuing an appeal for financial support for his treatment, but also for his wife and son. I hope that anyone who has been touched in any way by Mick's music, solo and with Japan, in collaboration and by influence will support this worthy cause.