“It’s September again, sings David Sylvian in the opening number of his third solo album from 1987. The entire repertoire on this beautiful album with brilliant cover by design agency 23 Envelope is steeped in autumn. You are immersed in an atmosphere of melancholic bliss. Autumn: the sun is still shining, but the cold is already setting in now and then. Birds dive up and down in flocks. Cloud fields along the church tower. The strong wind makes the branches of the tree pound on your window. Secretly you hope it will rain, so you can sit inside with the curtains closed and the heater on. With a book on the couch, music on. It’s been nice, but the summer has had it.
This atmosphere and these phrases all appear on “Secrets of the Beehive”. For thirty years I have been playing the LP as a ritual in September; I simply can’t get enough of it.
The record sleeve hangs prominently in my room. The cover was designed by graphic designer Vaughan Oliver and photographer/filmmaker Nigel Grierson who worked together from 1980-1988. During that period they created special record covers for the British independent music label 4AD, which had bands such as Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and This Mortal Coil. Their design agency was called 23 Envelope. They were mainly inspired by the artworks of Joseph Beuys. Beuys is regarded as one of the most influential German artists of the second half of the twentieth century. Among other things, he uses a combination of dead material such as felt and bones. When you look at his works of art, you become aware of the transience of life.
The composition of this cover reminds me of those works of art that you sometimes come across on the beach, made of washed up material from the sea. A twig, a feather from a seagull, a plastic head from a Chinese container. Suddenly you stop and think about how fragile life is. You are disconnected the daily issues for a while. This is what David Sylvian does with his music. Taking you into another state of mind for a brief moment. Sylvain doesn’t make elevator music. Definitely not.
After his career with the New-wave band Japan, he took a completely different path as a solo artist. He made modest, jazzy music with trumpeter Mark Isham and keyboardist Ryuichi Sakamoto, among others. He also entered into all kinds of experimental collaborative projects with, among others, guitarist Robert Fripp and bassist Holger Czukay.
Essentially, David Sylvian was an introverted man. His androgynous look with long blond hair and lipstick from the Japan era was just a form of image building, a way to stand out. He shook it off as soon as Japan stopped. He became himself again. The disadvantage was that you sometimes had to look for him on stage during his solo performances. Usually he was hidden behind his piano or had just a dark blue spotlight on him.
It’s been quiet around David Sylvian for a long time. I think I still have a ticket somewhere from a show from about ten years ago that was canceled at the time. Canceled due to serious back problems from David Sylvian. It doesn’t matter, his first solo albums are sufficient for me: “Brilliant Trees”, “Gone to Earth” and this one, “Secrets of the Beehive”. And especially the last one, the “Beehive” with its rustic arrangements and beautiful vocals. Balm for the soul, especially in autumn. Sylvian has never reached this level again as far as I’m concerned. His last project dates from 2009. It’s called “Manafon”. I only play it when it’s 10 degrees below zero outside.”
By Gerrit-Jan Vrielink
Translation Alex Driessen