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The Quiet Man: John Foxx exhibits in Hudson


While in Hudson last Saturday, I visited the BCB Gallery, which is exhibiting John Foxx’s “The Quiet Man” photographs and films through December 19. Foxx, for those who don’t know, is the former singer with Ultravox (in its pre-Midge Ure days), and considered by many as one of electronic music’s pioneering artists. He is also, however, somewhat stage-shy and reclusive; when he came to BCB to read from “The Quiet Man” stories for the exhibition’s launch, in November (I had my own book launch in Woodstock that day and was unable to attend), it was his first public performance of any kind in the United States in a full thirty years.

IMG_3763 Some of Foxx’s work on display at BCB Art.

Foxx, then, appears to have evolved from the dynamic front man I remember from the Marquee back in 1978, into “The Quiet Man,” the character who dominates his multi-media work. He explains this transformation in a recent posting on his web site, entitled The Suit.

When I found the grey suit in an Oxfam shop in late 1977 I realised I’d found something else – a new identity, which I badly needed.

By then I was depleted by being onstage – being in a band had been a mistake – I just wasn’t cut out for that kind of life. I began to understand I’d done all this mostly because it was necessary to support what really did interest me – writing and recording, using the recording studio. I also realised I was attempting to use the studio like a painter or sculptor uses their studio, because that’s where I came from.

I’d also come to resent the amount of time performing demanded – at least 23 hours for every hour onstage. Touring also depleted nervous energy and left me in serious need of repair. By the beginning of 1978 the need to change had become urgent.

…Not so urgent that Ultravox didn’t release some of its finest work that year, but anyway, in 1979, he quit. Foxx issued two influential solo albums over the following two years, Metamatic and The Garden, after which he seemed to gradually disappear. He finally re-emerged as an artist only in the mid-1990s, using his alter ego of The Quiet Man to flesh out a character who explores desolated (post-apocalyptic?) cities, talking, writing, filming and making music about his experiences as he goes. In an interview with thequietus.com (which, despite its name, is not devoted to Foxx’s work), he explains the formulation of this concept:

“…where I grew up in the north-west, factories were closing down, and we used to play in the factory buildings, enormous buildings, and they became overgrown, and I used to walk into the offices and see all the paperwork. I remember seeing paperwork with brambles growing out of it, because they’d decayed so much that it was able to support another form of life. I remember thinking how, all the accounts were written by hand, and I remember thinking how interesting it was that someone would spend their life on this stuff, and now it is just fodder for a blackberry bush growing out of it.”

One of Foxx’s photographs currently on show at BCB Art, as depicted on his own web site.

The exhibition at BCB concentrates primarily on Foxx’s photographs: grainy, often gothic images not only of cities and ruins, but also of archetypal rural setting as above, typically with more than one image overlaid (in Photoshop), and usually the Quiet Man himself, in his gray/grey suit, depicted from behind, walking through the scene as a motif. Other than these fine prints, there’s also a television screen at BCB which depicts some of the Quiet Man stories read over Foxx’s accompanying movies and music, as follows.

At BCB last Saturday, owner Bruce Bergmann recognized my English accent and asked if I’d been an Ultravox/Foxx fan. He then confessed that he had been representing Foxx for many years before showing the singer a treasured Ultravox concert ticket from the Boston Paradise Club in the late 70s. Apart from loading me up with some mulled wine (and brownies, freshly made by his daughter, for a ravenous Campbell), Bergmann gifted me a copy of Foxx’s recent The Quiet Man CD, on which BBC announcer Justin Barton reads Foxx’s stories (always in the third person) over some hauntingly elegiac piano parts. It’s a beautiful album, flitting delicately between the categories of spoken word and ambient. I was equally thrilled to hear that Foxx recently released an album, Mirrorball, with Robin Guthrie , and that he’s reappeared on the concert stage, too. Talent as strong as this is far too good to waste.

His resurgence may be driven by age. Foxx is now 62 – older, for example, than Suicide’s Alan Vega. After a couple of decades in the commercial wilderness, it’s possible that he sees the need not just to produce his multi-media art, but to distribute it widely, too. I have no doubt that the digital revolution has also had much to do with this. (Be it Photoshop, digital movie-making or the power of You Tube and blogs as a means to announce his work, we live in an extraordinarily different world from that of the early 1980s.) But regardless of the reasons, I’m just happy to see his name back out there and, especially, to feel his presence here in the Hudson Valley.

I went to dig out my copy of the eponymous Ultravox! debut album while writing this piece. I couldn’t find it. The only Ultravox record in the U section, at least where it should have been – in-between Ultra Vivid Scene and the Undertones – was 1978’s 12” single “The Quiet Men.” How apt.

You can see/hear more of John Foxx’s work for yourself through the following web sites:
http://thequietman.co.uk/
http://www.metamatic.com/
http://www.tinycolourmovies.com/
http://cathedraloceans.com
http://myspace.com/foxxmetamatic
http://www.youtube.com/user/JohnFoxxMetamatic

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Discussion

6 Comment(s)

  1. Riot Nrrrd™

    9 December, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    Fantastic Tony!!! So glad you went out there to see it – such a nice writeup here as well.

    To this day I’m still kicking myself for not having seen Ultravox! at The Whisky-A-Go-Go in 1979. My best friend went and I have no idea why I didn’t (other than extreme poverty – I was beyond skint in those days).

    I just played the Deluxe Edition of “Metamatic” the other day, in fact. I really wish he and Louis Gordon would undertake at least a little tour (like, say, Boston-NYC-Detroit-Chicago-SF-LA at a minimum) so I could see him play before I – and he – die.

  2. Riot Nrrrd™

    12 December, 2009 at 3:46 am

    P.S. I simply have to post this – it’s a new track done this year by John, an incredible combination of “Compass Heart”-era Scala rhythms with fantastic sawtooth wave synth lines and a great video to top it off! If this isn’t my top track of 2009 it’s close:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_nx__3d0-A

  3. 13 January, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Tony- send me (via e-mail) a snail-mail address- have audio from the reading/q&A – ( up until the blue room part) 1/2 hr- Bruce @ BCB

  4. 13 February, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Hi

    Thanks for posting this anecdote. Just read it on my journey through all things Foxx which I have been researching and archiving for the last five years.

    I’d just like to thank you guys for all that you do championing John’s work over there in the USA – he is shamefully overlooked.

    With your permission, I will cite this blog entry in my timeline. I didn’t realise before that BCB was at the Boston show in 1979. Nice link… this tour in particular is my specialism. Documented 19 shows so far.

    Glad you like The Quiet Man material too – its the key to our understanding of just about all his other work. best wishes Martin

  5. 16 February, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Martin

    Thanks for the commments. You’re more than welcome to cite or link.

    Tony

  6. 6 October, 2010 at 2:22 pm

    I saw this last year and the thought of Foxx on US soil for the first time in 30 years – but not performing music made me pass. Damnit. My wife tells me that if he’s playing anywhere in the world near the time of my 50th birthday [in three years on the same day as Foxx’s], we’re going there.

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