Friday, 19 April 2013

Desert Island Discs 18 Secrets of the Beehive by David Sylvian

18 Secrets of the Beehive by David Sylvian 1987

I'm guessing this may be a tad higher on a few lists but 18 is non too shabby.
I sometimes get the feeling that David Sylvian feels cursed by the fact that he has an ear for a melody and fights against it by getting more and more experimental. Whilst I love all that stuff , what I come back to again and again are the lps with the tunes on. When he gets the balance of the experimental and the popular right there is no one to touch him

His debut solo lp nearly had it as it was one of those lps that I played to death when it first came out. The belated follow up to my chosen lp, Dead Bees on a Cake was a contender for a while, however I was kidding myself as it was always going to come back to Secrets.

Part acoustic , part orchestrated ( Ryuichi Sakamoto and Brian Gascoigne share the honours and both do a fantastic job) , the lp is a set of 9 emotive ballads.

It all kicks off by the simple and short piano based September with its strange image of David Sylvian "sipping coke" (this live version merges into another track that appeared on the 2003 remaster)

As with my Everything but the Girl Choice Danny Thompson's bass provides the heart of the rhythm section on a number o tracks which also features Sylvian's brother and ex Japan member on drums.

Highlight for me is Orpheus which for such a low key song has a killer hook in the vocal.

As ever the meaning of the lyrics forever feels just out of reach , just when you feel you have a handle on the song's meaning it slips agonisingly out of reach. I like to think this is some personal reflection on his own musical past ... but hey who knows

 Standing firm on this stoney ground
The wind blows hard
Pulls these clothes around
I harbour all the same worries as most
The temptations to leave or to give up the ghost
I wrestle with an outlook on life
That shifts between darkness and shadowy light
I struggle with words for fear that they'll hear
But Orpheus sleeps on his back still dead to the world

Sunlight falls, my wings open wide
There's a beauty here I cannot deny
And bottles that tumble and crash on the stairs
Are just so many people I knew never cared
Down below on the wreck on the ship
Are a stronghold of pleasures I couldn't regret
But the baggage is swallowed up by the tide
As Orpheus keeps to his promise and stays by my side

Tell me, I've still a lot to learn
Understand, these fires never stop
Believe me, when this joke is tired of laughing
I will hear the promise of my Orpheus sing

Sleepers sleep as we row the boat
Just you the weather and I gave up hope
But all of the hurdles that fell in our laps
Were fuel for the fire and straw for our backs
Still the voices have stories to tell
Of the power struggles in heaven and hell
But we feel secure against such mighty dreams
As Orpheus sings of the promise tomorrow may bring

Tell me, I've still a lot to learn
Understand, these fires never stop
Please believe me, when this joke is tired of laughing
I will hear the promise of my Orpheus sing

Strangely first single in what is pretty much a single less lp was Let the Happiness in. Out of context it seems a little lost whereas in the heart of the lp is is the mixture of hope and despair that all the best sad songs have

I've posted this clip before but it is worth sticking with it for seeing a relatively joyous David Sylvian at the end!

When I finally replaced the lp with the cd tacked on the end was a version of the Sylvian and Sakamoto Forbidden Colours. If this was top 125 singles then this would be high up , but the original , not this version. Good as it is, it sets the lp out of balance and feels like a last minute addition.

So much better for the lp to end with the words

"is our love strong enough?" as that question and doubt is at the heart of the whole of the record.

Waterfront  David Sylvian

You can buy Secrets of the Beehive here


  1. Picking a favorite Sylvian album will always be difficult for me, but you might have gotten it right here. There is s certain perfection to Secrets Of The Beehive. This is Sylvian's poetic and melodic peak. It grabs you in and surrounds you. From the opening, spaceous notes of September to the fully blown orchestration of the reworking of Forbidden Colours Sylvian take you on a journey. I hate to use the word accessible to describe Secrets, because as a long term fan of his work I have always found Sylvian accessible. But Secrets is the best album to introduce people to the beauty of his music.
    If I had to narrow down to one song which I can always go back to on Secrets it would be When The Poets Dreamed Of Angels, followed closely by Waterfront. Poets is filled with mystery and a bit of forboding. Waterfront is filled with memories of what could have been - not regret, just recognition.

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  3. Yikes! 2 entries in one day! Got me scrambling...

    It was your posting of this live version of Happiness that piqued my long-delayed interest in Sylvian. An album I'd seen a thousand times in record bins, unaware of the beauty I was missing. It's still challenging high-art listening for a simple mind (moi); and I've gotta be in the mood... lights out, prepared to absorb the "experience." Each listen has brought further appreciation. I guess I don't know any better, but for me the version of Forbidden Colors is a gorgeous bonus!

    #18 - GO-BETWEENS -"16 LOVERS LANE" (1988)

    - "Too low" I hear, but I've never been able to embrace the GoB's as much as others, simply because in my view, GM was absolutely brilliant, Robert the weakest link... a douche-bag who couldn't sing. However stars aligned here. Drafting Mark Wallis to produce, John Willsteed's guitar/bass and of course the divine Amanda Brown (an LP earlier)... all masterstrokes of genius. Somehow Robert managed to come up with a good batch of tunes that I actually like (almost love). It's a glittering masterpiece... despite the douche-bag. Let the stone-throwing begin!!!

  4. Secrets is divine; it was just perfect until 'Forbidden Colours' was removed as the last track after the early pressings, unsure why... now it's just 'nearly perfect'. I adore this album.
    Ditto 16 Lovers Lane TT. Unchallenging but gorgeous. As captain of 'douche bags who cannot sing' I think that you're being a little harsh on Bob. 'Up himself', 'arch and affected' maybe. I met him once at The Jazz Cafe in Cambden. He was with Grant. I know who I'd rather share a pint with...

  5. Well that has messed thing up by inability to use spellcheck ha now spread to scheduling posts properly!

    I agree Echo this is the lp I would recommend to non sylvian fans

    I seem to be in the minority re Forbidden Colours - maybe because I loved the original version so much. I didn't realise Trev that it was always meant to be included , I'd always assumed it was added as a way to sell a re release , so again maybe my issue is more to do with sequencing or just being so used to the version that didn't have it on.
    Tim - another too low from me! Think you are very hard on RF he is the Lennon to grant's Macartney. Agree this is his strongest set of songs but he is responsible for some of Gobetweens killer tunes especially on liberty belle . Without the salt the sugar can be a tad too sickly. Also agree this is athe best produced GB lp - the guitars sound razor sharp

  6. I always found Sylvians solo output a lot harder to like than his work with Japan.Scared to take the plunge to buy his albums because of too many meanderings and experiments.I do have both this and 'Brilliant Trees'( I adore 'Red Guitar').I recently bought his best of and realise I've missed some beautiful music .Maybe time to take the plunge. Anybody else love his single with Mick Karn.'Buoy'.Now there's a track!
    #18 Splendid - Splendid. In the early days of my internet browsing I came accrss a site called 'Rainsound',A site lovingly put together to champion the music ( mainly) coming out of Scotland.There I read a review and heard a clip of 'Splendid'.I fell for those jangling guitars instantly.The marriage of Crowded House harmonies with Bluebells guitars is irrisistable to my ears.
    Again no joy in finding a clip on the net, but I did find some live footage of lead singer Alan Windram during the album lauch for his solo album'10 O'clock in the morning' which is also a fine album

    1. Buoy and When Love Walks in, which David recored with Mick at about the same time of the recording of Secrets Of The Beehive as well as Karn recording Dreams Of Reason Produce Monsters, show a convergence of their musical journeys, which should really never have been that far apart. The fact that Buoy was the 12" b-side of Let The Happiness In was absolutely thrilling to me when I first bought that single.

    2. Phil, there's a superb compilation (amongst many compilations) A Victim of Stars which should give you an idea of the man's development. He's not as scary as you think. It contains some of his most beautiful music, indeed some of THE most beautiful contemporary music ever recorded...

  7. Hi phil
    kindred spirits i have both the splendid lp and the bouy single

  8. And i used to love rainsound . Sad day when it ended

  9. You should give max a nudge!


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