Mick Karn 1958 – 2011

Mick Karn was “the best bass player in the world”. Well, so I said when I was a teenager and had a best guitarist, drummer etc. Now I know these things can’t be measured quite so simply, but to the grown up me, Mick was still the best bass player in the world.

The sound he made with the fretless bass was so unique, you could always tell when Mick was playing on a track. From Japan to Gary Numan to Kate Bush and his solo work, his technique made it sound although the song was melting through your speakers and it was very rare to hear Mick play anything obvious, The keys he chose were so unusual, so odd that instead of focusing on the singer, I would always listen to the bass lines, and there aren’t many artists who would have that effect. I mean, who listens to the bass player more closely than anyone else in the band? (Apart from bass players.)

I never saw Mick live, but I was turned on to Japan via through my best mate Spencer at school, who moulded my musical tastes for years to come. Japan were often dismissed as Duran Duran wannabes, mainly because of their looks, but they were so much more than that. They were often criticised for copying Roxy Music, mainly due to David Sylvian’s remarkable Ferry-like voice, but, to me, again, they were so much more. Japan never achieved the commercial success they deserved, splitting up after one hit single, just as Duran and Spandau were about to make it big.

It was announced in the middle of 2010 that Mick was suffering from advanced stages of cancer. I guess I assumed they would be able to make him better, and my hopes were lifted when reading that Pete Murphy and Karn were planning a new Dali’s Car album any time soon.

Unfortunately this wasn’t to be, and Mick died yesterday surrounded by his family. Not since Kurt Cobain in 1994 have I felt so affected by someone I never knew dying, and to finish this off, here is a Spotify song list featuring what I think is some of his best work.

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