Memory Playlist


Everyone’s doing it, so why can’t I…?

Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights
I didn’t know it then, but this song was to establish a pattern throughout my life for quirky songwriters that walked their own path through composition, presentation and expectation. Kate Bush did things s bit differently and I didn’t realise then how important that would become in terms of most of the music I now listen to. My family hated the whining and screeching, but in my 50s I still find it as sexy as I did when I was 14…

Tubeway Army – Are ‘Friends’ Electric?
The only time my Dad took any notice at all of Top Of The Pops was this episode in July 1979, a week or so before my 15th birthday. This alien was on stage, ‘not singing’ to a piece of tuneless montony that was to change absolutley everything from then on.

The Shadows – Frightened City
My Dad (again) loved The Shadows and their music often soundtracked our holiday journeys to Norfolk. I didn’t know then how significant they were, and that tracks like this with evocative sc-fi titles were so influential to many of the artists I have since come to love. Kraftwerk learned style from Hank and his gang… even their name is cool!

Abba – The Winner Takes It All
My cousin used to love Abba, and was teased relentlessly for it when everyone around us was getting into far more ‘trendy’ music. They wrote some incredible songs, clever and powerful. This one still makes me cry.

Blancmange – The Day Before You Came
Spot the link… I saw Blancmange live in 83 I think, on the Happy Families tour, and that remains one of my favourite albums. To see Neil performing again in 2015 was a delight and I am now a big fan of everything he’s recorded. Semi-Detached, for example, is a work of genius.
His cover of this Abba song is truly haunting, and I’d stake my claim for it being about the brilliant-est vocal delivery ever.

Marc Almond – If You Go Away
1982, perhaps? Something like that, on his debut album with The Mambas. I fell in love with him on hearing this song, which was sometime around the news that Soft Cell were breaking up. Somehow then I knew everything would be Ok and a love of torch songs, sadness and desperate beauty was born.
And it opened the door for into the world of Jacques Brel, Scott Walker and all that wonderful melancholy… I owe this song just about everything

Nick Cave – The Weeping Song
I was at a gig upstairs above Oxford’s Jericho Tavern waiting to see An Emotional Fish. This came on the jukebox and was among a handful of moments that made everything stand still and everyone around me disappear. He achieved the same effect a few years later with God Is In The House

Human League – Empire State Human
I may have left quite a large piece of me in 1979… Some of it stains the carpet in a mates’ bedroom where I wasn’t quite confident enough in myself to like the ‘new’ underground music he was peddling. Cabaret Voltaire, Tubeway Army, The League. I still have a cassette compilation somewhere that he recorded for me with this on at the beginning and the end. In some ways, this song is exactly that.

Ultravox – I Want To Be A Machine
I didn’t hear this song until well into the 80s when John Foxx was doing his thing and setting new standards. But once Numan crystallised what I was hearing and confirmed that the music had legs, I decided Foxx was the thing for disconnected kids like me who wanted a long grey overcoat but didn’t have the nerve to wear it.
I bought the first three Ultravox albums simultaneously and at the end of Side One of their first comes this anthem to isolation. It broke all the rules of composition, hit me right between the eyes and I have spent the last 30 years wishing that someday the man who wrote it might brush the dust off and have another go at something similar.
One of my daughter’s really likes it – I forget which one – and thus it is the only Foxx song I am allowed to play audibly at home.

The Smiths – What Difference Does It Make?
1984, and alongside everyone else making their own way through the nonsense of commerical pop music and changing the rules of the game was this weird guy called Morrissey. He carried books by Oscar Wilde in his coat pocket, had gladioli in the back of his jeans and ‘danced’ by whirling his arms around. I did all that too, though as a student in Oxford it was more pretentious than radical. All men have secrets…


Cathedral Oceans II

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The longest album in the trilogy, and the only one still yet to be awarded an independent release. It also remains the only Cathedral Oceans that has no visual accompaniment – the two commercially available DVDs (both titled ‘Cathedral Oceans’) feature music from Cathedral Oceans (2003 release) and Cathedral Oceans III (first released in 2006).

John Foxx (2003):
This is intended as a slow moving, contemplative piece. The intention is to examine the possibilities of large scale projected work incorporating slowly changing visual surfaces and music. Both Sonic and visual components have evolved from the same conceptual frame. This is concerned with promoting a reflective state of mind in the viewer. It is also concerned literally with echoes, reflection and reverberation, both in memory and in the physical making of the images and music. The music is intended to work within large architectural spaces, using the longest possible delays and echoes to determine its rhythmic and harmonic structure. The images are made from layered and merged photographic material derived from many eras which shifts and dissolves constantly, producing a gently hallucinogenic surface. The piece is intended to operate at an opposite pole to most media, which seem to be accelerating in pace. Its appearance can be described as a digital, secular moving stained glass window…

At the time of its release, in June 2003 as part of a 2-CD set with a re-issue of its predecessor (re-titled Cathedral Oceans I), it would be fair to say that Cathedral Oceans II was ‘significantly overlooked’. Commercially, the package (on Edsel) was completely overtaken by the high-profile awarded to John Foxx third (and most anticipated) collaboration with Louis Gordon, the highly-charged electroclash of Crash and Burn. Further shadows were cast by the eventual appearance of Foxx long-awaited collaboration with Harold Budd six weeks later and all the radio and media interest in the Crash and Burn tour that began in September.

But the long shadows of a summer afternoon, cast by walls, pillars and overgrown statues make a perfect environment for Cathedral Oceans and sitting in the empty places behind the news headlines is the best place to appreciate its textures and subtlety.
And for those, like me, eagerly looking forward to the second chapter in the story of the ‘moving-stained glass window’, the release was warmly welcomed and intensely enjoyed.

How could it possibly be as good as the first?
Where will Foxx’s pastoral Catholicism take us from here?

More abstract perhaps. Significantly darker and, in places, noticeably less harmonious.
More challenging, more intense. Less accessible? The same, but different…


Cathedral Oceans II
Ten years on, and in the wake of the new vinyl release of The Complete Cathedral Oceans, it felt time to review the second album more closely, analysing its value as a stand alone piece. It remains the least-known of the the three albums and probably the one that no-one plays anymore.

But I am fortunate. I have a cavernous space in which to play the album through a quality sound system designed to fill a Victorian church. I get a chance to sit among the undulating waves of melancholy and absorb the echoes and reverberation. I manage to do this two or three times a year.

I have opportunity to let the music affect me, and that is a uniquely special thing. As a whole, it is of course utterly absorbing, but each track as well has its own nuances and identity that few of us really have had cause or inclination to investigate. Following a similar post last week on the first album, I present below some notes that characterise and identify the individual ten pieces that make up the second chapter of John Foxx career-spanning trilogy…

Revolving Birdsong
An introductory passage that is just that – looped recordings of a dawn chorus, spinning gently around the field recording of a Blackbird. As I understand it, this too is Foxx own composition, not a ‘soundtrack’ extract. Authenticity. A pastoral symphony that is at once quintessentially ‘English’.
Echoing the closure of Invisible Architecture, the subconscious framework our senses build upon which we layer our emotions and experience.

Shimmer Symmetry
The repeated voice of the the thrush segues seamlessly into what is essentially a drone piece, a wash of extended synthesised notes. A rising and falling tide of sounds. No phrasing, no melody. No apparent structure at all. Two vocal channels, laid one over the other and again. Recollecting the visuals, the ever-changing multilayered artwork we cannot see. Two choruses singing to each other from opposite sides of some cavernous amphitheatre. Call and response. A Medieval sing-off.

Far And Wide 2
Is there a Far And Wide (1) hiding on a tape somewhere? The titling teases us, posing another question among those presented by this deepest and darkest of pieces. Sadness prevails, on an immeasurable scale. Filmic and forbidding. We are standing among clouds, or is it dust, or misty vegetation –  bearing witness to the rising of enormous towers.
We gaze upwards. In Awe Of Industry.
Unsettling. Disturbing and provocative. Vocals drift in and out between the channels mysteriously. Slow and residual. Ghostly, spectral harmonics. We feel displaced, alone. Dislocated. There is someone lost here, grieving and incomplete.


A strong, defiant piece. Subversively creative.

Ad Infinitum
Appropriated Latin. Forever undiminished, and coloured in the rich traditionally ancient hues of the Catholic mass in its various forms. There is a sense that somehow this is music of a higher order. Transcendant, and becoming harder to reach. More difficult to fathom and grasp. Less accessible, Mr Foxx?
We feel apart from the events unfolding around us now. Observers. The music behind the chant sounds like a Grand Organ, and we don’t quite know what to do or who to follow.

This is not what we have known.

Our confused state evokes huge bass notes that crash in of a sudden, seemingly uninvited. Interrupting and abrasive. Distracting, as if passing outside. The organ in the background sounds a long way off all off now, as if it has physically receded behind the vocals, allowing a space for these monsters to invade, and at once the sound becomes cacophonous and confusing. Volume, in the very physical sense.

Witness the most difficult and complex piece of the entire suite. Claustrophic and oppressive. We turn our heads around, trying to make sense of the confusion. And there it is. Within the noise and the apparent dischord there is a kind of rhythm.

The layers eventually synchronise and find a spectral harmony.
Or does it just make less sense than ever…?

Quiet Splendour
The music that sweeps up behind the simpler vocal track now has an arboreal quality, and we are in a cathedral of trees. Majestic and splendid yes, but not as oaks. There are darker things here, ancient hardwoods, with vast trucks that reach unfathomably high and breath legends. Heavy and soporific.

Or are we underground? Nothing is clear in this dark mist. Swirling.

Do you here that whirring, buzzing noise? Wake up to the sound of engines.
Listening to the music that the trees make.

Luminous And Gone
Everything now takes even slower passage. Deeper and longer, as if the voices around us are coming from the stone itself. We are lost, and beginning to seek some relief from this claustrophobic situation. Wave upon wave of melancholy and longing, each echo slower and more extended than the one before.

We seek relief. No light falls through the windows, now overgrown and fallen. The air is thick and has a presence of its own.

The slower we travel, the sooner we’ll arrived. But our destination
remains unknown.

Stillness And Wonder
As the next piece unfolds in further layers of sonorous pre-modernism, we become aware of the vaguest silence. Just for a moment. Distant massive, rumbling bass notes approach, each on a significant delay over 30 seconds. Between them, we can dare to breathe again, and there is space for ambient sounds to drift in from the listening environment around us.
There are cracks in the wall of this cavern after all, gaps between the stones. We can hear footsteps down the adjacent corridor to our right. A door slamming and a child’s laughter. Real birdsong. A robin, not a recording.

And there are no singers. But neither are there shorter pieces. No interludes.

The notes keep coming. And going. Let them come, be absorbed. Enveloped by texture and an invisible, un-begotten rhythm. A self existent eternal tide. Endless endless.

It stops. Is this the first track to ‘end’?

Return To A Place Of Remembered Beauty
Pay attention to the titles. The small, discoloured, hand-written labels that are barely legible in the half-light. Through this door is somewhere you have been before. Echoes of Pleasure. A shimmer in the dark when she called your name. Alone in the timeless dance…

We are, at least for seven minutes, recalling to mind those lighter pieces from the first album, where the strings are higher and clear, if they are still stretched over immeasurably vast distances. The singing has returned too, the half-language, the unfamiliar not-quite Latin. Security and hope.

Between the leafs of the canopy, the vaulted ceiling of the chancel is emergent and we scan between them aware of detail in the shadows. The Human Host around us is in full voice.

Unseen, but at least somewhere we feel he is here.

Visible & Invisible
Are we remembering, or not. Is this a memory, or a fantasy.
Never Been Here Before. Perhaps we saw it in a film…?
If it was a film, it would have to be one of those super 8mm tiny colour movies in that dusty American studio. That guy with all those reels. People waving. People we have never met.

The water is green, murky. It is hard to see her, swimming among the rusted automobiles…

For the first time since we stepped through that fallen iron gate, we are longing for this to be over and wish we had never come in. The way back is unclear, and do we have to swim? or fly? It would take years to walk, to retrace our steps, but we may suddenly step through a doorway and be there.

Here though, now there is more tension than tranquility.

Golden Green
A valediction. Affirmational and glorious.
It is significant that we do not quite know how we got here.

The voice has form, shape.
Words, of a kind, sung at the quickest pace we have been aware of for an hour.
Repeated phrases. Recognisable structure.

Missa Cantata

Pater, et Filius, et Spiritu Sanctus.

Every time we meet
There’s a Leaving…



Cathedral Oceans

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It will take many years until we become familiar with this work and get an understanding of its significance. Like a city, we will visit many times, often returning to familiar passages and districts from the same point of entry. Most often it seems this will be in autumn, and we establish a truth around this, finding seasonal connections and atmospheres around change, transition and recollections. But looking back through notebooks and diaries, we see also that there have been many visits in spring time, when colours are new and bright, or at the height of a verdant, warm summer when the air sits heavy. Occasionally and sometimes we will explore somewhere new. Take a different turning or cross a different street.

Sometimes we will be alone, to walk among memories and rekindle emotions. Other times we will seek old friends and stand among them in places that remain unchanged. Perhaps we will seem them in the market or a coffee shop, remarking that somehow its different now. But we will always return.

This incredible suite of music has a beguiling sense of place. It has a physical presence, though indistinct and barely tangible. We think we know it, but parts of it remain hidden and others scare us and we don’t want to go there. We will sit among its sweeping phrases, movements and symphony, remembering. We will not recall most of it at all and notice different things every time, and yet we will assure ourselves that it is familiar and we know where we are. Memories will be evoked, enjoyed and discarded. We know the landscape, the bigger picture – it’s the detail that evades and never quite comes into focus. But as we sit and listen and engage, they becoming crystal clear for moments, as if they have always been there and we have somehow overlooked them. Little details among the composition will suddenly stand out like architectural features or photographs, subtle and beautiful, adding to the whole. Yet with an enchanting, individual beauty of their of their own. We will trace them gently with our fingers and wonder about them, then look up and out again at the surroundings, as if we want to share.

“Look, hear. See this – have you noticed it before? How charming it is.”

Cathedral Oceans is most often described as music for a vast, submerged cathedral and we have come to associate it with crumbing walls, grandeur and greenery. Overgrown and overlooked. Pastoral, somehow rural and perhaps even ‘English’. There are trees, leafy lanes. Rain and romance. Yet it is equally urban, its mood and evocation suggesting a labyrinthine city, sweeping highways and skyline high rise. A place to get lost. Is it enclosed, or open? Are we looking out over a vista, or up from the bottom of the sea. Is that smoke, or clouds? People, birds and fish become one. An imagined reality fused with fiction and truth. Trees and tower blocks. The forest is a factory.
Autumn beholds spring and summer. We will grow older and then young again, spending time with earlier versions of lovers and ourselves.

The true secret of its identity and situation – an thus of our own – lies hidden among all these things, and it will never be quite the same whenever we come. And we will never quite know how to get here – we will just arrive. Like a memory. As we age, they become a more integral part of our present, invoked unforeseen. It will always be a place of tranquillity among chaos, an arrangement of moments threaded together in intricate generous patterns of longing. Instances of quiet splendour and intense complexity among a broader, expansive release.

To appreciate the fabric and the craftsmanship of its weave, we must take time to sit, and just to be. To let the music and space embrace us, and drift away on its tides. We must wear the suit for many years, becoming whoever we are when we put it on. Wondering and wandering. Engaging with the slowness of time.

Longing, breathing and quiet…


Cathedral Oceans
The first movement opens with a scene-setting instrumental, a gentle introduction of rising, light synthesised string washes reminiscent of pastoral, classical musical.
We have come to some kind of vast church or cathedral. It rises before us, resplendent and huge. There are steps, and columns, and we gaze upwards at the ancient architecture rising from the vegetation at its base.
There is a pair of iron gates across some kind of overgrown path. One is closed, entangled and rusted; the other hangs loose, fallen and open…

City As Memory
Exploring all the above themes: people, places, experience and identity. This piece evokes an internal space, as if we have walked into a huge, dark hall. Why is it dark? A treated, layered and spectral voice reverberates off the walls, filling the space with echo. Imposing.

Contains scenes of mild threat and uncertainty.

Through Summer Rooms
Altogether lighter, gently. We are seated now, having brushed some dead leaves off a dusty bench overlooking a pond. It used to be a bath, and there are marble steps going down into the silent water. The vocal is more affirmational and re-assuring than the last piece, it has more air and seems to be rising from the water below us. There is a graceful elegance about the single voice. Devotional and calming.
There is also a faint whirring, and an image flickers onto the wall opposite,  as if it were projected. It is unclear, half-formed. A woman?

Geometry And Coincidence
A detail.
Simply structured notes that call our attention to something. That glimpse, that half-imagined film. Was it there before? Focus. Past times returning. A bell tolls repeatedly in a distant cloister. What IS that? There is a suggestion of something specific, precise. A corridor lined with identical doors. We listen more closely too, as if something is about to appear but the Latin is still just a little too blurred and unclear. It is as if the voice is now communicating with us directly, rather than part of the ambience. The harder we try to remember, the more distant and evasive the memory becomes.
Here, and Gone.

If Only…
Our mood darkens for a moment, and we are now alone with a familiar longing. The voice has gone, and this passage is an instrumental reprise of the opening sequence. An interlude, as if we have looked up from the bench to a high, broken window through which filtered sunlight falls on the flagstones. By lifting our gaze and feeling a gentle breeze in the air, we become aware of the fondness and affection of someone we know. Her fingers are cool, and we take her fragile hand.

Refreshing and splendid.

Shifting Perspective
The longest piece on the album. Built around a repeating melody that is at once comforting. We are walking and talking with her, dancing in an empty ballroom under a mirrorball. A Man and A Woman. There is rhythm, and in its arms we can just ‘be’. Introspective and beautiful. Lost for a moment.  Adrift in 1983.
The camera switches to a panorama of the sweeping city outside. We do not even know it is there and think only that the lights we sometimes see at night are stars. Dance with me…

Every time we meet there is an ending.
The music wanders off, the voice lingers. Isolated for a second.

She is gone.

Floating Islands
Sombre. Mournful. Which way did she go? and where did we come into this place?
Tearful and anguished by a sudden, wrenching sadness. The voice is ours.

Infinite In All Directions
In our meanderings and despair, we have come to a balcony and stand now overlooking an immense, unfathomable vastness. Watching the world turning round below us.
Endless horizons. Endless possibilities.
Each of them as unlikely as the next.

And just as wonderful.

Avenham Colonnade
Focusing again. A close-up. The first reference in the landscape to a point of entry – a tangible place that we recognise. The voice is lighter, affirming and re-assured. We are perhaps less of a stranger here than we thought, and by returning to each familiar place we build a clearer picture of somewhere we have always been.
There is a sense that we will be Leaving soon.
We feel empty because she is gone, but full and alive because she has been.
The voice is singing to us now, waving.

Coda and summation.

Sunset Rising
Appendix 1.
Forgotten chapters revisited. Things we always meant to do, down that passage overlooked. This is the shadow we thought we saw briefly on that wall, and all that Might Have Been. Strong, choral harmonics rising to fill the space.

One of those things that lies behind one of those doors that we never open.

Invisible Architecture
Looking out from the heath across the City of Endless Lights. Everything is falling back gently into some kind of order. There is a voice, but it is wrapped in swathes and resonance. Woven into the fabric of the suit among the glimmer and washes. Gently focused and reflective. Organise, re-arrange and consider.

Sequencing events and memories.
Mapping the city.

There is birdsong. It is dawn.
We’ve been standing in The Garden.

FOXXtober 2016 – Empty Avenues

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Empty Avenues

I try to find another way
The streets all seem the same
And all that I can do is
Walk these avenues

Down empty avenues

This time I will try another way
So everything may change
And all the ways I knew
Won’t lead me back again

Down empty avenues

There’ve been so many ways to go
And we walk them all alone
And everyone must choose
From all the avenues

Down empty avenues

Some day we will walk among the crowds
Through the laughter and the sounds
And I will be with you
Down all these avenues

Till then I must walk alone
Through summer, rain and snow
Until I find my way
Into the streets again

Down empty avenues

Down empty avenues

Adventures In Doors

Press the flashing button
Sliding open hissing door
Sitting in the same place
As every time before…

Emerged from underground at midday as the Waterloo & City line train slammed into the portal that is Bank.
Gateway twixt realities. From then to now.

Walk the tunnels. Follow her, she will do. Anticipate the signs. DLR emergent. A quickening of pulse and pace. Expectant. Excited, gripping hands. He noticed they were no longer cold…

Blinking. Endless chattering. A strange exchange.
Filmscape, landscape. Cityscape. Urban interface. Shadwell, Limehouse, Heron Quay. Evidence of Time Travel. The future’s here and suddenly he is Six again. Wide-eyed in wonder. Like the small boy standing just over there, steadied by his dad, his face pressed against the glass ‘driving’ the train. His mother films it all, through Apple’s eye.
Their guide is Guy Debord: light and sound ideas; metal, glass and water. And in between, glimpses, living on the streets – the ghosts of Dogs. See him there, an earlier man, watching as she runs, panting, on a charity run 25 years or more before? Still haunted. Harken the power of architecture, speaking to us as ourselves.
This derivé will create a permanent spectacle as the day unfolds…

“An exercise in combinatory aesthetics”

Island Gardens.
Island – just for a moment.
Gardens – living our lives on the tides of this city.
Moving me to you
Moving you to me

Twin domes across the river. Nearly there. This morning is a lifetime away.

Another door slides, silent glides.
Oak-panelled lift descending. Leave all your concerns at the door. TARDIS simulator. Another tunnel. White light underground. The lamps are numbered N to S. Walking slowly down and gently up. And up.

By now anticipation is replaced with gay abandon and all that is wrong becomes the rightest thing.
They step out, into huge and blue. Tall ships aground in Tarmacadam. Admission charges now apply.
(It would seem that tea still commands elevated prices!)

But how right it feels that there should be no longer
Clouds to spoil the view

She wants to eat. She wants to please. But everything is already more good that she can know.

Without due caution, they could end up East…

There are choices to be made, and times to spend.
The Red Door is held for them by a couple leaving, laughing
And another couple laughing enters in.
Table by the window. Menu – something wrong?
The door again. Thank you, sorry.
Somewhere else?

Roads to cross and gates to find. People to negotiate, and older trees.
London maple. Just like home.
Except it’s not, even at all.

Once I was walking alone with a friend



The Book Of Leaves

My thanks to John Foxx for the wonderful title


I hold my hand out and the grass
Rushes through my fingers –
I look at window silhouettes
And everything is different;

I turn another page
In The Book of Leaves
It crumbles to dust in my hand
Photographs of distant moments
In The Book Of Leaves
The story of another kind of life
That no-one reads

I walk in silence
Stand in darkness
Talking to the trees

My diary of you and me is called
The Book Of Leaves

I am not the man she loves
No-one really knows me
I’m the album on the shelf
That you have never played –

Somehow changed
And nothing is the same

She writes another entry
In The Book Of Leaves
Engraves another memory
That no-one sees

Tries to write a different ending
in the Book Of Leaves
An invisible, dead language
Only I can read

Endlessly fascinating…

Earlier this year, I exchanged emails with the abstract painter Andrew Marvick, Professor of Art History at Southern Utah University, on the artwork of John Foxx.

We got talking about Endlessly, and opened up one of the most fascinating and insightful conversations I have ever had on the absorbing subject of John Foxx as a visual artist. It rather became a pretty thorough deconstruction of the record sleeve, which may de-mystify it to some extent. But on the other hand, the essay opens up a million thought experiments and points of entry to a significantly under-appreciated body of work…

I’ve tried to reproduce and order the discussion here.

Marvick’s own paintings explore the effects of age and beauty – an over-riding theme in John Foxx catalogue – and I asked first him how series like A Funny Thing (2011) connected with the songs of those names from John Foxx albums:

There is always at least some sort of visual link between any of my Foxx-entitled paintings and the song or phrase I’ve attached to it. It might be a colour, or an effect of shadow and light; it might equally be a reference to meter or tempo (inasmuch as the principles of design can be seen as corresponding to the principles of musical production); or it might be a quality of composition, or of balance. Occasionally I’ll even make a vague reference to subject matter (the hint of a figure here or an overgrown city there).

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 20.37.18A Funny Thing © Andrew Marvick

I am particularly happy when I can revel in a single John Foxx recording and find its imagery, poetry and music joined so marvelously that none seems possible without the others. [This] series of paintings, for example, was undertaken with the express purpose of showing the depth and richness of a single song. Each painting illustrates one of the song’s 18 couplets.

Marvick’s latest series is called The Peripheral Character and forms an integral part of an exhibition recently held in to present a visual expression of the philosophical ideas of identity and absence in modern abstraction:

The notion of the “peripheral character” – a minor figure in a play or a movie – as the subject of a painting was suggested to me by an odd discovery I made about the work of the British artist Dennis Leigh, who has led two separate careers under two separate names. As electronic musician John Foxx, and as a college professor and graphic designer specializing in book-jacket design and short-form art films.

Central to Dennis Leigh’s art in both music and design is the theme of the anonymous figure, of which the digitally altered composition The Quiet Man (below, black and whiteis an example.

Marvick and I spoke further on how another ‘anonymous identity’ of Mr Leigh further compounds the conundrum, referencing the series of short films he ‘collected’ in 2006 under the pseudonym of Arnold Weiscz-Bryant. The soundtracks to these Tiny Colour Movies were released as an album. In A Peripheral Character by film scholar Evan Parker, Leigh introduces his audience to an intriguing Hollywood character who has appeared in hundreds of major movies and television series as a background extra, or a passer-by, often wearing a grey suit, yet whose identity is completely unknown to the public.

This characteristic further assimilates Leigh’s own alter-ego as The Quiet Man, whose face has yet to be recognisably identified in any of the short films or stolen photographs in which he has so far appeared:

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Leigh has been compiling these clips over the decades, and Marvick suggests – purely for mystery’s sake – that in their careful composition and incidental presentation (and specifically in the Super 8mm compositional film by Evan Parker), he has placed responsibility for another part of his artistic output at still further remove from himself.

I extended this idea by drawing comparisons with another iconic image created by Dennis Leigh for John Foxx in 1980 – the cover of his fourth single Miles Away:

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The Quiet Man is hiding in plain sight here. Revisiting an idea he first used in promotional material for the Quiet Men single in 1978. On a superficial level, it even “looks” like an artwork. A picture in a gallery, simply labelled. Present, but absent and his identity remains a mystery.
Key to this is Leigh’s awareness of the effect and significance of what Marvick refers to as ‘furtherance of the self ‘, the removal of  the artist from the art by several degrees of subtle separation.  This is an idea that manifests extensively in the work of the abstract modernism of the Surrealists. Leigh thus cleverly crosses over into the world of popular music, a medium in which (especially at the time of the 1980s fashionable New Romantic period) it was becoming increasingly popular for musicians to put their own face all over their records, and to become poster icons in teenage bedrooms.

Marvick describes his paintings as non-representational. They have no clear connection with the secret, aloof world inhabited by the Quiet Man / Peripheral Character / Evan Parker / John Foxx / Dennis Leigh. Yet in his current series  The Peripheral Character he takes his  cue from The Quiet Man composition (above).


You can see the series here

From this starting point, I asked Andrew Marvick to help piece together the philosophy, details and art historical context of my own personal favourite among John Foxx record sleeves – 1983’s Endlessly:


I have been fortunate enough in recent years to have been able to see and actually touch the original collage that was photographed for the front cover image. It’s quite large – 18″ square – and every bit as impressive and fascinating as the pictures I was first enthralled by 30 years ago. The red background is painted board and the other pieces are layered and glued on to that.

Each element contributes something subtle but significant to the whole, and the resulting collage brings together all the elements of John’s musical and artistic output. It is, as Marvick described, a Gesamtkunstwerk – a total or ideal work of art. A work of art that makes use of all or many art forms. The term is also applied to some forms of architecture, film and mass media – making it irrevocably Foxxian when set in the context of his work since Endlessly was conceived.

The centrepiece of the image (a page torn from an exhibition catalogue) is a portrait of the angel from Leonardo da Vinci’s later version of The Virgin Of The Rocks, painted in oil for a San Francescan oratory and completed in 1508, which is now exhibited in the National Gallery in London. Leonardo painted an earlier version in 1486, which now hangs in the Louvre, but it is thought this did not meet with his client’s expectations and the artist himself was not entirely satisfied with the ambiguous results of the composition.

What better image then for Foxx to use for his own re-working of a song that he originally released as a single 12 months earlier and has previously described as rushed and not entirely what he had in mind?
To make this point – admittedly to only a handful of the most keen-sighted observers – Foxx re-uses another piece of sleeve-art for 1983’s Endlessly. He previously used the angel portrait from Leonardo’s earlier painting on the cover of Slow Motion, released with Ultravox in 1978.

I found this intriguing, and contacted another academic, Dr Michael Whitworth in Oxford, when he published a book with the Slow Motion image on its front cover. What was the fascination? How, and why was the image relevant?


At some point in reworking my thesis into a book, Einstein’s Wake, I imagined the sleeve of ‘Slow Motion’ as the ideal image. A crucial argument both in thesis and book concerns the finite velocity of light, and the way it becomes an image for the belatedness of knowledge in modernity.  Many expositors adopted Camille Flammarion’s ideal that, seen from a distant point in space, the Battle of Waterloo appeared to be happening in the present moment.  The way the image of the woman’s face is spread across space speaks to that idea.  The sequences of numbers in the margins also intrigued me, and touched on the idea that our knowledge is relative to our frame of reference; I particularly liked the way that the sequence at the left has a gap in it, as if the frame isn’t quite as reliable as it should be.  I was contracted to publish with Oxford University Press, and at that date its jackets were typographically conservative (Roman fonts) and tended to include a small framed image centrally in the page; I liked the way that ‘Slow Motion’ would fit that tradition but also break it; modernist fracturing of a settled tradition.

You can read more about Michael Whitworth’s book Einsteins Wake  here

This all suggests that by 1983, John Foxx was perhaps musically where he felt he was going in 1978, having undergone a transformative process with two albums in the intervening five years, each with its own defining aesthetic. He is starting afresh, an established popular musician now, with a budget and the freedom to indulge in his love of art history. And Renaissance art in particular – a period that very few musicians have used to any significant degree.

Andrew Marvick identifies another Renaissance element of the collage and puts this into an historical context, further illustrating Foxx themes of hidden identities:

The drapery study which appears in Endlessly’s back-cover collage is not simply an example of ‘endless’ folds. Like the amgel’s portrait is it “elusively allusive”, as it is very similar to an oil study here that has often been attributed to Leonardo but has more in common, as it happens, with the robes of the Virgin in Michelangelo’s early Pietà. 


There are easy comparisons to be made with Marcel Duchamp’s L.H.O.O.Q., which is perhaps the first example of a direct appropriation with “annotations” added by the later artist; and with some of the more rectilinear “Merz” collages of Kurt Schwitters, which he began during the period of his close involvement with the dada movement in the later 1910s – which serves as an example of the use of unlikely bits of photographic imagery as components of a larger composition.


Schwitters (1930): Mann Soll Nicht Asen mit Phrasen (“One should not eat with phrases”)

Note the CMYK colour bars at the left side of this particular reproduction (not part of Schwitters’ original work) which John Foxx has also deliberately included as picture elements in his own work over the years. That too is referential, at least to the sort of deliberate, celebratory exploitation of the mechanical printing process which became the foundation of Roy Lichtenstein’s “Ben Day” pointillist ‘dot-based’ style during the 1960s.

The placement of the artist at several removes from a clear identity is – as presented above – central to Foxx’s own career-long artistic themes, but just as importantly through the collage technique itself, which places Foxx within the context of early 20th-century modernist collage art, as well as the dawn of what we now call conceptual art.
These connections naturally link Foxx back to Picasso and Braque c1912, simply because collage is a relatively new art form, the first serious exploration of which by any professional artist were the two inventors of cubism.

Marvick suggests there are additional, more recent connections to be suggested, too:

The “woman on a stairway” rebus that Foxx seems to be making in the image seems to me to reference Vladimir Tatlin’s famous 1919 model for the “Monument to the Third International,” as much because of the formal connection it has with Foxx’s spiral staircases as because of its iconic status in the history of radical Russian modernist formalism – here’s Schwitters’ own designed page from an issue of a dada periodical which includes an illustration of the Monument:


The reason Russian constructivism (and through it, both Dutch de Stijl and Dada layout design) become relevant to this analysis is because Foxx elsewhere has repeatedly “quoted” Vladimir Tatlin’s associate El Lissitsky in other pieces of work.

Here, for example, is a “Proun” collage by El Lissitzky from 1925.
Notice the diagrammatic red and blue lines, which Foxx re-uses in his Slow Motion collage (above):


Marvick’s reference to Tatlin and the Russian constructivists in this context led me to re-visit a very early piece from John Foxx archive, this advert for the first tour and all the responses to the track I WANT TO BE A MACHINE in which he is quite clearly referencing to photomontage work of Raoul Hausman.

In particular, Tatlin At Home, made in 1920:


Further investigation of each element in the Endlessly collage revealed countless moreallusions, references and appropriations.

In the back-cover assemblage there’s a very clear Magritte reference in the use of a cut-out half-circle of blue sky and cloud connected by wire to another bit of cloud lower down. Magritte’s Infinite Recognition (1963) is a particularly suitable example of the source image of placid, banal clouds in a blue sky, so closely connected with Magritte. This one also presaging Foxx’s use of small, illusionistic figures sharing unlikely flat spaces with abstract compositional elements.

These occur throughout Foxx’s ‘collage period’ on record covers up to those released in 1985 from In Mysterious Ways


The carefully cut-out illusionistic imagery of single human figures within the otherwise abstract, flat space of the collage has other precedents besides Magritte’s.
Abstracted figures appear in a similarly enigmatic, diagram-like context in Marcel Duchamp’s collage-on-glass, The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (1915-1923), as well as in several Joseph Cornell assemblages. Foxx refers to Cornell in his conversation with Iain Sinclair – and in The Wire Top-10 annotations he also refers to Edward Hopper, the American painter whose hushed, alienated representations of anonymous urban figures are almost a pre-figuration of The Quiet Man

largeglass-big  night-shadows-hopper-whitney-museum-michele-roohani

And instantly we are connecting with artists whose works have inspired and otherwise appeared in later works by John Foxx. In 2011, he released an collaborative album of treated piano pieces with Harold Budd and Ruben Garcia entitled Nighthawks (the title of another Edward Hopper painting). The cover of this further alludes to the anonymous urban figure of the Quiet Man in one of John Foxx own photographs, itself an interpretation of Hopper’s 1942 original:

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Many contemporary collage artists – among them the American Jonathan Talbot have also referenced the diagrammatic “motion line” that stems from Duchamp’s 1912 cubist painting Nude Descending a Staircase .

Here’s Orrery Patrin by Talbot:


and Foxx’s use of thread or wire in the back-cover collage recalls not only Lissitzky’s real or simulated use of string, wire or sticks but also connects with László Moholy-Nagy’s constructions of the 1920s.
Like this 1923 collage, made with sticks:


This latter piece is especially of interest because it again enables us to draw in other examples of similar from John Foxx own portfolio. Notice how it informs both sides of the sleeve produced for Dancing Like A Gun in 1981:


Using his own intuitive understanding of both art history and John Foxx Quiet Man imagery, the specific elements of this were re-visited recently by Jonathan Barnbrook for the cover of the Burning Car album:


These threads, tangents and connections are vital elements in understanding John Foxx significance as a modernist, abstract artist – but they can distract us from here into other essays and narrow alleyways of fascinating research.

I’d like to conclude with two other intricacies of the Endlessly collage that Andrew Marvick and I discussed in particular detail, which concluded our analysis of the front cover – the disfigured identity card and the ‘ghostly girl’ assemblage:


These references to early 20th-century constructivism and to early-stage Surrealism (arguably its opposite, in some ways) are by way of linking Foxx’s personal themes (failure to communicate, to make direct connections between people; and the broad but more evanescent theme [or image] of the extremely modern city dissolving into an abandoned ruin over time) to those art movements’ own modes of visual expression — each in its way was a route of escape from the mundane and familiar into the unknown/unknowable.

The Carte d’identite is of course not just any card. Foxx has specifically chosen to include the one used by the philosopher-economist Albert Hirschman (under an alias), who actually helped to get André Breton and other members of the Surrealist/Dada bunch out of Europe before the start of WWII…

The scratched-out face of Foxx’s mysterious figure fits exactly into the cloak-and-dagger symbolism of anonymity and placelessness that permeates Foxx’s own work.

I suggested to Marvick that the image of the little girl is one I have seen before in John Foxx work, but even now I cannot place it. Neither of us was able to pin down exactly what it means, or the source, but Andrew came up with two very interesting associations.

The first is the iconic painting The Piano Lesson by Henri Matisse from 1916

the-piano-lesson  Bladerunner

The second is the famous “live photograph” scene from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (released, interestingly enough, in between the two versions of Endlessy) in which the investigator Deckard inspects a few enigmatic Hopper-like photographs in search of identity.

In writing this piece up based on notes from my conversations with Andrew Marvick (and Michael Whitworth), I became very aware that it wanders all over the place and identifies various tangents that can be more or less explored at a later date. It has proved a very difficult article to conclude, mainly because the subject matter is truly Infinite In All Directions and offers an endlessly fascinating source of artistic and inspiration.

I would love to see other academics study John Foxx in some depth, write about his work and thus help with the greater understanding and significance it deserves.

For now, I will leave the last few words to Andrew Marvick, whose time, knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject are an absolute joy to share. I am deeply grateful for his generosity in sharing his time and insight with me, and allowing me to publish our conversations here.

I hope this introduction demonstrates the richness of Foxx’s visual art – and that it’s enough of a defense of Foxx’s appropriation techniques as any skeptic might demand.

From this link-to-link comparison you can quickly see how deep and rich is Foxx’s referentiality. It’s not at all an exaggeration, in my view, to say that there are few, if any artists in the history of popular music whose acuity and erudition (let alone intellectual sophistication and expressive mastery) in the visual arts are as undeniably manifest as John Foxx.