Where to begin when writing about John Foxx? Frontman of the original Ultravox!, pioneering solo artist, serial collaborator, photographer, graphic designer and writer, plus, by default no doubt, go to commentator on all things electro and analogue.
His work has been a constant factor throughout the many phases of my life and his contrasting output perhaps mirrors my own evolution. The first three Ultravox! albums provided the soundtrack to my early teenage years and also introduce me to Kraftwerk and Suicide among others. The stone cold layers of synths from his first solo album in 1980, Metamatic, represented a genuine landmark cultural moment as the fury of punk ebbed away in favour of a more stylised and intelligent aesthetic.
The Garden and the next couple of albums featured more acoustic tones and hinted at future ambient works culminating in the Cathedral Ocean trilogy and a myriad of joint ventures with such luminaries as Harold Budd, Robin Guthrie and Steve Jansen to name but three. Quietly, in the background, John designed eye-catching book covers for Salman Rushdie, Roger Penrose and Jonathon Bate many characterised by his stunning photomontage imagery that forged an additional facet to his portfolio. Familiar themes of almost Romanesque statues, overgrown gardens and neglected buildings became something of a signature and featured strongly in sleeve designs and booklets.
As did the notion of The Quiet Man brought to life in a series of writings published throughout the decades in either fanzines or on the back of infrequent sets of postcards. Concepts of human isolation, shifting cities and a sense that we have all been here before openly drew inspiration from J.G. Ballard, but Foxx’s delicate prose and subtlety of touch remain unmistakably his own. The lure of working in a proper band ultimately proved irresistible and a strong body of studio work, plus captivating live performances soon emerged courtesy of John Foxx & the Maths.
With his contribution to the electronic genre increasingly recognised by the new synth wave movement, Foxx’s stock has never been higher and his vast back catalogue serves as testament to a pioneering career that shows no sign of abating. I often see John in and around Bath and somehow the city is the perfect accompaniment to his music and art; The Garden could have been written about Sydney Gardens, whilst I can imagine The Quiet Man wandering through the cities back streets; Cathedral Oceans is a joy through headphones when cycling through the Claverton Valley and the later sound of the Maths would not be out of place in cool club or cocktail bar.
He, perhaps more than any other artist, inspired my own aesthetic and his work is heavily represented throughout my flat. I want to talk to him, ask him many questions and find out more about his own motivations; next time I see him in Waitrose, I am just going to invite him out to dinner.