THE JBC GO JAPAN
Max Eider - Guitarist and singer, London
Owen Jones - Percussionist, accordionist and singer, Hamburg
Pat Fish - Guitarist and singer, Northampton NN1
Anne Millson - Guitarist's sister, London
Steve Valentine - Bassist and Attorney At Law, Los Angeles
Lynda Skulpone - Bassist's girlfriend and singer, Los Angeles
Tom Valentine - Bassist's brother and
14th June 2000 - London
In the 21st Century everybody will be getting up early. Or so it seems to your correspondent at least. With tours of the USA and Austria already accomplished, your Butcher has probably seen as much morning light in the first part of this year as in the previous two put together. And it's happening again - our flight to Tokyo leaves at some ungodly hour on Thursday morning, and so we have put together a plan.
It's probably not actually that good a plan.
It goes like this:
Tonight Pat, Max and Owen will meet up for a farewell drinking party with Kathie, Crouchy and Dooj, starting nice and early so that we can all be safely in bed with time to sleep before our departure. Can you spot the flaw, readers?
What begins as a lovely summer's evening by the Thames ends with members of the JBC yelling "Leave it!" at the top of their lungs through a small and bacteriologically questionable vent in the wall of the gentlemen's lavatory. By the time we return to the Eider Lounge your correspondent is unable to read.
At 7:00 a.m. a dapper Egyptian gentleman takes us in his Mercedes to Heathrow, where we meet up with Max's sister Anne, who is joining us for this trip. It is, he tells us, the first time that she will have flown economy in a long, long time. We catch a plane to Amsterdam's Schipol airport, where we pass a very pleasant hour or so in a bar, whose keeper sports a Dutch national football team shirt with the legend "1 - BARMAN", before climbing aboard for the longest non-stop flight of our lives. Somehow we all end up at Tokyo airport.
We have to tell the Japanese authorities that we are here as tourists, and so we do. This works well for me, with my clueless nerd spectacles (no lenses, yours for seven quid from River Island - for maximum effect wear them on a chain around your neck). The customs man still wants a look at my guitar, but when he sees it, he just beams and wishes me an agreeable holiday. Perhaps it is the word "SUMO", stencilled on the body in big lime green letters, that makes him so well-disposed.
Max and Anne pass through together. The customs man wants to know if they are bringing any marijuana with them, but his accent is so thick that they find themselves unable to understand what he is on about. When the penny finally drops, Anne cries out "Oh, but that's illegal in our country!" and through they go.
Owen, however, is not so lucky. The rest of us are already milling about on the terminal forecourt, chain smoking and getting to know Dislocation Dance, who have flown in from Manchester to play the tour with us, but the mercurial left-winger is nowhere to be seen. Eventually it turns out that the customs have dragged him off into The Funny Room for a quick trawl through his pockets. This turned up a bunch of leafy material, which caused them tremendous excitement. Of course, they weren't to know that Mr. Jones is a gardener.
As we board the bus for the ninety minute ride into Tokyo everything looks a bit American at first. There's even a Disney theme park beside the highway. Soon, however, we get into urban Tokyo, and it's as dense as you probably imagined. In addition, the roads are piled up one above the other, diving in and out of tunnels and swaying round banked curves in a manner that would already be faintly alarming if the place wasn't also famous for earthquakes. We pass by the Imperial Palace, its gardens a welcome splash of rich dark green in the big, baked city, and soon we are standing on the hot streets of Shinjuku, twelve of us with our bags and instruments, milling about helplessly, waist-deep in the morning crowds.
As I gaze upon this sorry spectacle, it comes to my attention that one of Dislocation Dance is wearing a seriously distressed straw hat of the kind that one might hope to see on the head of a rum-maddened Caribbean shark fisherman, or possibly Paddington Bear on a hot day at the beach. This is because, as we shall soon have cause to see, he is a pukka geezer.
Tetsuya, the Vinyl Japan boss, and his right-hand man Nori lead us down the busy, mystifying streets. We are thinking about beer. Cold beer. In large glasses. We arrive at The Nishi Shinjuku Hotel, set in a quiet backwater beside a small park. It is a rather smart, western-style hotel, air-conditioned and inviting, but our rooms will not be ready for us to check in for another two and a half hours. We dump our luggage and set out in search of that beer.
Our hosts lead the sweaty and bewildered posse into a small café. There is no beer in evidence. Ominous low tones disturb the air. Any passing elephant would have been disquieted. But never fear - Nori takes the JBC a couple of doors down the street, to a full-on Japanese diner, which, he is at pains to point out, is more expensive. We do not care. There is beer. There are also chopsticks, which will prove to be the bane of the poor bloody singer's life for the next few days.
There is also the language problem, which is not really something that we are used to. Normally we can muddle through well enough to look after ourselves, but here we are all completely helpless. Unable to read a word, and unable to say anything other than a mumbled "thank you", we feel very self-conscious and inept, like huge ugly babies. Nor does Nori appear to have that much English. He seems to be only a tiny bit less self-conscious and fumbling than we are.
Somehow we manage a beer or two and a bite to eat, then Nori takes us for a look at the Vinyl Japan shop around the corner. Rotten Soul is playing as we walk in. It is soon fairly clear to me where all the JBC albums have gone... they're all here; an astonishing collection of stuff, going right back to a single recorded by a dodgy new wave band that certain members of the group may or may not have been in before the JBC was born. 500 copies were made back in 1981, with the band glueing the sleeves together themselves, and there are half a dozen of the blighters right here in the shop! Well, it's a tribute to the quality of the glue we used anyway.
We're getting kind of tired by now, so we're grateful when check-in time finally rolls around. On the steps of the hotel Tetsuya explains that he will take care of Dislocation Dance, while Nori, presumably having pulled the short straw, will be looking after the JBC.
After a couple of hours relaxation in the small but perfectly formed hotel room Nori comes to collect us "for sightseeing". Although it seems harsh at the time, this is a brilliant ruse to get the JBC out of the hotel and onto the streets. Otherwise we might never have dared venture out ever again.
Nobody knows what to go and see, but Owen has the bright idea of asking to see a temple. Nori whisks us down into the subway, which - brilliantly- is air-conditioned, and takes us on a long and bewildering trip. By the time we emerge I am anticipating that we will be somewhere on the edge of town, with gardens and water and so on. Wrong again! We step out into a busy urban street with a traditional Japanese temple gate crammed in between the shops and apartments. Through the temple gate we can see only a busy row of shops disappearing into the distance.
As we enter, it becomes clear that these are souvenir shops, offering us our first taste of full-on Japanese novelty tat. There are many of those good-luck cats on display, some of which wave their left paw in greeting, thanks to a solar power unit (a few welcome words of English on the display: "YOU DON'T NEED A BATTERY!"). There are a few Godzillas, lots of sweets and shoes, which are never going to fit anyone in the JBC. Since at this stage we have absolutely no idea what a yen is worth, we pass buy without getting involved. Besides, we're knackered and we're freaking out.
At the end of the avenue of shops the Asakusa Temple appears. Nori shows us a giant shoe which his grandfather helped to make, and we say a small prayer (costs you about 50p. - pop it in the box there... that's it, lovely!). Feral cats are hanging around one corner of the temple. Old men come and stand there silently looking at them. In my enfeebled condition I am sure that there is some form of wordless communication going on, but - hey - I haven't got a clue what's going on with anything around here at all.
Nori shows us a shrine, where you put the part of your body that ails you into some holy smoke. "I suppose you'll be here for some time then," beams Jones.
But I am not there for a long time, because the telephone rings and it is Steve, fresh off the aeroplane and wondering, as ever, what's up. I am unable to answer him. Then the phone goes dead. We run for another beer. They make us take our shoes off.
On the subway ride back to the hotel we see a poster for "Sexy Football". Then everybody falls asleep on the train. At the hotel there is Steve, and with him are his girlfriend Lynda and his brother Tom, the one who speaks Amharic. We last saw Tom when he allowed us to swarm all over his house in Chicago for several days back in April. Since then he has had his hair cropped, which, as Max points out, does make it a lot easier to tell the Valentine Brothers apart.
The arrival of the Americans has an important effect upon our understanding of the Japanese currency. Yen break down into Dollars much more easily than they do into Sterling. Since the JBC are fairly familiar with Dollars, this enables us to work out roughly what things might cost around here, which is a welcome step forward.
Soon we are going out to dinner. We are ALL going out to dinner. The nearest thing I have ever seen to Shinjuku on a Friday night is the scene around the ground where an FA Cup semi-final has just finished. There are people everywhere. Great tides of them surge across the road. And in the middle of this, tired and confused, stand the JBC, Dislocation Dance, a bunch of Vinyl Japan employees and, thank the lord, our new saviour, Yuki. Yuki works for Vinyl Japan too, but more importantly she has spent many years in Seattle. We finally have somebody who can explain things to us. Right now, however, she is pretty much just standing around and giggling as our ever-growing posse mills about outside the local MacDonalds, where - no, really - they have an installation of four life-size Beatles in mental 21st Century cyber-helmets doing the Abbey Road Thing in the window.
No, really, we are EPICALLY bewildered. I have heard that Ridley Scott modelled the city in Blade Runner on Shinjuku, and that seems perfectly credible right now. The whole place is lit up, and there is (incomprehensible) writing all over absolutely everything. Vast crowds of people, all smartly turned out and many of them visibly drunk, seethe through the narrow streets in search of... we have no idea.
Nori has spent the last half hour or so disappearing around corners. Eventually his ducking and diving seems to have produced some manner of result and we climb a few flights of stairs to a restaurant. Brilliantly, there are PICTURES of the food on the menu.
Of course, one fritter looks pretty much like another one, but it's a start. Actually, BEER is pretty much the thing that sets the old feast of reason and flow of soul upon its easy course. To our astonishment we end up well fed and watered and even conversing semi-coherently with our hosts. A tiny Audrey Hepburn look-alike joins me at the table. Yuki tells me that she is a music journalist. Audrey tells me that her favourite JBC song is called "Len".
As we leave the restaurant, the thoughts of the JBC turn to further drinking. Nori has shown us the Family Mart, a handy little 24 hour grocery just by our hotel. We fall upon it like hungry, silent wolves and let our cash money do the talking. Within minutes we are firmly installed, with beer, on a bench in the little park outside the hotel.
There are people living here in the park, tucked up in sleeping bags on benches with their clothes neatly folded beside them. Occasionally one of them will make a sort of Japanese yell-mumble, presumably along the lines of "Piss off, foreign shitheads, I'm trying to get some kip and I LIVE HERE!!!" Of course, it doesn't work.
There are also a fair number of feral cats living here. They seem considerably less concerned about our presence.
Well, of course, we've been up for about 30 hours now so we don't linger that long in the park. When Owen and I get back to our hotel room we discover that the TV is showing a history of the Beach Boys. Brilliantly, when one episode ends the next one begins straight afterwards. I follow our increasingly hirsute heroes about as far as Holland and that's me in the coma.
It is spectacularly hot when I awake and, of course, I'm feeling like the ashtray in a Turkish café, so there is nothing to do but hightail it to the Family Mart ("Bow n' Buy") for yoghurt and sodas. Owen and I are just about dressed and coherent when Nori arrives to take us for a soundcheck. It is 2:00 pm.
Nori has with him a young man who looks like a cross between Peter Murphy and the hero in the old Hong Kong TV series "Monkey". His name seems to be Chuckie. Grinning engagingly, he picks up practically all our equipment and heads for the street. Yes, that's right - we're walking to work! It's only some ten minutes to the club on foot, but these are our first ten minutes inside the warren that is Shinjuku proper and there is something to gawp at with every step. We pass a restaurant with gigantic 3-D puffer fish attached to the façade. They look mad and beautiful, as puffer fish do, but the knowledge that the puffer fish is the preferred delicacy of the Yakuza don casts another shade on things. Everywhere are "hostess bars" and vaguely sinister joints with glossy pictures of young women, all a bit too reminiscent of last night's menu.
Eventually we descend into a basement and there it is: Shinjuku Loft. It's a smallish club with a vaguely Italian feel to it. Well, there are black and white tiles anyway. Yuki tools us up with mineral water and introduces us to the sound man, who, promisingly, appears to have no English. Nonetheless, with Yuki translating, he does a sterling job and soon we are rehearsing rather than soundchecking. Considering that we haven't played together since New York some four weeks ago, this is a happy break. We make sure that we know our way around "Len"
Duly checked, Owen and I head back to the hotel. Like cats we go slowly through Shinjuku, turning and looking back to orient ourselves every ten yards or so. As a result, on our return to the club we reach the venue without difficulty. Confidently your correspondent descends the stairs into the basement. Without even looking up he advances into the club, only to find himself face to face with two life-size cardboard
cut-outs of naughty Japanese ladies dressed as sailors.
"Errm - one more floor down?" grins Owen.
God knows why they call it the Loft.
As we arrive at the massive submarine-type doors of the real Loft we notice flyers for tonight's show. The ticket price is something like 55 U.S. Dollars. Celine Dion prices. Mental. Glad that we have passes to flash, Owen and I grin and bow our way into the club.
Inside, the first faces we see are those of the Sugita sisters, or the Love Kittens as they style themselves. We last saw them in the summer of 99 when they came to see Max and me playing with Wolfgang Tschegg on his UK visit. In the time it takes to say hello to them, some two dozen Deep Fans surround us and we are obliged to write on a lot of JBC record covers. Mindful of something that I read in a guide book, I don't offer my hand, just beam and bow. Each time I do this, there is a short, uncertain hiatus before the Deep Fan offers his or her hand to shake. They must have read it in a guide book too. It's oddly touching. So to speak.
I have seen a report on the JBC website, which says that "Owen and Pat came out to meet the crowd". It sounds lovely and everything, but actually we were just trying to get to work. Anyway, to see so many friendly faces was reassuring. After all, we had no way of knowing if anybody would turn up.
Well, there follows the usual period of backstage milling about until at the bizarre hour of 7:00 pm sharp, the first entertainment of the night takes the stage. By special request, ladies and gentlemen, it's the Max Eider Show! Grainy of throat with aeroplane air, slightly nervous and alarmingly sober, Max walks out alone to see what this is all about. The rest of us hot-foot it through the back of the club to hold his coat and cheer him on.
We arrive out front to join about a hundred people, who watch in eerie silence as The Talented One settles into his groove with the highly appropriate "Sense Of Motion". His voice is actually sounding really rich and if you're reading this, you probably have some idea of what's going on with the guitar.
Each song is greeted with polite applause, but it's not nearly as reserved as some people might lead you to expect. Owen joins with his accordion for "Penthouse Serenade", an elegant cocktail stroll that sounds like it should be by Cole Porter. Max did tell me who wrote it, but I've forgotten. He was a one-hit wonder, apparently. The intrepid duo press on through "Perfect Companion" and into "My Other Life", which we have been told is a bit of a floor-filler in these circles. And indeed there is palpable swaying, frugging and cheering. The response at the end of the set is about equal to the sum of the applause for each individual song. This is only partly due to the fact that the club has been filling up nicely throughout.
By the time Dislocation Dance take the stage, the club is cosy and full with about two hundred people, mostly Japanese, with a couple of stray Americans and an increasingly excitable Canadian element. Now, the last I heard of Dislocation Dance was shortly before the release of "Bath Of Bacon". Like Falklands War, shitey job, sharing a flat with Alice 1982, which is a long time ago and very far away. Because I had no life I was at home to hear them on a Peel session on the radio. Oddly enough I sent a cassette of it to Max, which he still has. They were playing a kind of Stan Getz/Astrud Gilberto game, with a skanky little African guitar midfield and a back four in very much the Mancunian disco mould. I never heard of them again until John at Vinyl Japan told me that they would be on the tour with us.
Ian, their guitarist and apparent leader, tells me that they played their most recent gig in 1984. Well. One thing that is apparent from the word "go" is that the drummer is godlike. The one with the dodgy straw hat, Richard, sits down at the drums, fiddles about a bit and essays an exploratory one-handed snare roll which makes it perfectly clear, yea even unto the deaf, that he is the real short shit for drumming and don't none of you ever even THINK about forgetting it, coz you know what you can expect, SUCKERS. All this with one wrist action from a man with the benevolent rosy face of a happy, middle-aged English farmer. Oh boy!
Bassist Phil is no slouch either. The whole band plays with a power and expertise that I had never expected from their recording. Their first number rushes off like A Certain Ratio, and it is in no wise damaged by the wild and wonderful electronic trumpet of one Andy Diagram. Kath, the heavily pregnant singer who is not allowed sushi, arrives for the second number and now they are actually playing songs that I heard on that session back in 1982. Well, we'll probably be playing "Zombie Love" in a while, after all.
And with that sobering thought I leave The Dislocs (as they are known in their circles) to their melody groove thang and shuffle for the safety of the dressing room for a bit of a blind panic. It isn't long before the blind panic spreads and we are all milling about in darkened corridors behind the stage getting in the way of the perfectly efficient house crew.
Soon Max and I are standing up on the stage, playing "Partytime". The audience, who have been getting more and more... uh... engaged as the evening wears on, listen in stony silence before erupting gratifyingly at the end, giving me a moment to fix the settings on my amplifier which some wag has set to "cheese grater" in my absence. I switch to bass while Owen does his accordionist-with-a-tambourine-and-a-chunk-of-wood routine for "Baby It's You". Then Owen gets behind his drums and Steve joins us to get the party started with a souped-up version of "Len".
The audience is definitely on our side and more than a few of its constituent punters have been drinking. It's a very pleasant feeling and we relax into it. As we speed through a set that might possibly be characterised more by enthusiasm than precision, things warm up into a proper Saturday night vibration. "Sweetwater" is the one tune that doesn't seem to connect very well, and its like will not be heard upon these shores again. For the rest, there is shouting and there is thrashing about. During "Wheeler" Eider, his guitar emitting a heinous sonic torrent, shuffles up to me, thrusts his face into mine and asks "Want Some?" It all goes off.
In fact there is so much shouting a thrashing about that I miss possibly the best moment of the night and have to be told later. I had been introducing Steve to the punters.
Engaging in a kind of moronic gesture language I had intoned, clearly and carefully: "Valentine is the Saint of Love".
"Yeah, whatever... " came a small voice from the crowd.
So we have a bonzer Saturday night knees-up in Old Shinjuku, playing three encores: "Drink", "Skinheads" and "Bigfoot". Sweaty (it was REALLY HOT up there) but happy we return to the dressing room. We slug down a couple of beers and sign a couple more records. We open the presents that The Kittens have brought us, bless 'em. We take some pictures, we bow a lot. But we do not linger. We have been alerted in advance to Tetsuya's fondness for fleeing the club as soon as we have been paid, and, sure enough, soon we are out on the street in torrential rain, wondering where Owen has got to.
"Please move to another place," declaims Tetsuya - "This building owned by Mafia".
We move a full ten yards across the street to the tiny porch of a restaurant, where we sit on the stairs with our beers from the dressing room and gaze out at the Saturday night crowds surging through the pouring rain. The rain, the excitement, the fatigue... the many and splendid beers of Japan?... have combined to bring out a melancholy mood in Anne, but our game is lifted as we are ushered in to dine. Owen is back (he had defected to the Dislocs), beers have been ordered and it is time for the JBC to get mashed with their employers.
I am carrying with me a small bundle of possessions from the gig (always remember to take clean socks for the restaurant after the show!) among which Tom sees my holiday reading, Che Guevara's "Motorcycle Diaries".
"Oh yeah, man - superb book. I read it in Spanish."
This is Tom. But you mustn't think he's an annoying clever sod - he's just like that. The next thing he says to me:
"You know, you guys should go play in Argentina. You're SO Buenos Aires!
Anne, having weathered her melancholy period, perks right up and demands some beef.
The rest of us are delivered of a bewildering variety of small and hard-to-identify items, which invariably turn out to be some kind of veggie treat. I guess it is because there are so many of us, but the meal is a vast, sprawling affair where different items appear at different times and nobody has any idea what anything is or who is supposed to be eating it. Childish inelastic Western constructs like time and property mean nothing during this dinner. We are aided in our attempts to adjust by the fact that, at some point, to the generous flood of beer is added a significant flow of the very finest sake, made in Nori's home town. It is like no sake I have ever had before; you drink it cold in huge tumblers, and it is quite delicious.
As things start to get a little blurry two things happen. One, the waiter delivers us of a bunch of large-ish donuts, which turn out - Oh Joy! - to be deep-fried Camembert.
Two, Anne remembers that she hasn't had her beef yet. A short beef riot ensues while the rest of the JBC just get drunker and drunker. At some point about three-quarters of way through dinner I get to hear Steve's entire life story. Steve has guts.
And, indeed, in the end Anne has beef.
After our spectacular blow-out there is only one place to be in Tokyo on a Saturday night: Family Mart! Both bands and a number of Vinyl Japan people descend on the store and loot the beer supply. I stop to pick up a couple of tins of Japanese kitty-chow for the lads over in the park. As we head back to the park a couple of Nori's mates become quite agitated. "Pat, Pat... " they begin, looking concerned. I have to explain that the tins are for the little guys in the park. They clearly feared for my security. Perhaps they thought that I found the picture of the sweet l'il kitty on the tin appetising.
Soon we are gathered in the park, where, with sufficient lubrication, Nori's English becomes fluent. We sit up with the cats and chew the fat till dawn.
I rise to another Family Mart breakfast before having to do Something Really Scary. Last night I asked The Kittens to have lunch with me and they told me to phone them up. So here I am, trying to use the phone in a Japanese hotel room. Miraculously, nothing goes wrong, and after I say my farewells to Tom, who must return to Chicago, Mio and Tamaki are soon leading me up the street in the bright midday sun.
We pass a very pleasant lunch on the 11th floor of some massive mall-type building, where the kindly waiters even sort me out with a fork. Beer guzzling and chain smoking are actively encouraged in Japanese bars and restaurants. As Mio said, "Japan is smoker's paradise."
Gazing out at the endless tracts of urban sprawl around us, I wonder whether there is a lot of crime in this massive city.
"Shinjuku, where you played last night?" says Mio, "This is most dangerous area in all Japan."
On our return to the hotel we get to see maddest thing in all Japan. In the park are three young men. All of them have acoustic guitars. One of them is exceptionally tall, with a bald head and a harmonica. They are spaced about ten yards apart from each other, all playing at once. Different tunes. With singing. One sits on "our" bench, singing a wordy Dylanesque number in a Western folky style. The second, younger and overtly "punk" in clothing and physical stance, stands nearby, knees together, singing a speedy Tom Petty type number with words in his native tongue.
The third, the one with the head, stands beneath a tree. From time to time he strikes a chord on the guitar, cue for some impassioned keening from both harmonica and voice. As he does this he sways, eyes closed, face contorted with emotion. Even without the interference from the other two buskers, the noise that this man makes would make it onto any self-respecting compilation of the most mental howling ever to be heard.
A small crowd has gathered on the hotel step. Two members of the JBC and the guitarist from Dislocation Dance all say exactly the same thing:
"That is the weirdest thing I have ever seen in my whole life!"
As we set off for our soundcheck, Bob Dylan gets up from the bench and runs over to hand us a flyer. He's doing a gig tonight at a bar. To be fair to Bob and Punky, their homes are probably so cramped and infested with neighbours that the only place they can come and get a good practice is out in the park. But you think they might get around now again to "Oi, do you know that Tangled Up In Blue?" or something, rather than bashing on regardless at different tunes simultaneously. As Owen put it, "There must be song they all know." Hell, they could even take turns and offer each other tips and shit. Or maybe that had happened last week and this was the result. Who knows? One thing is for certain - that baldy bloke's a proper nutter. The JBC salute you, sir.
(At some point over this weekend, Owen reports seeing something equally strange taking place in our adopted living room. In the midday day sun two policemen in full and immaculate uniforms walk into the park. Owen is watching them from the hotel step and, responding to global experience, ruefully concludes that the officers have just dropped by to poke the homeless guys around a bit. Instead, they remove their ties, then their shirts. They end up stripping completely and taking a quick splash in the open air shower that stands there before they dry off, get dressed in normal clothes, gather up their shit and wander off into the city.)
On our way to the club Owen points out another strange thing. Nearly every woman in town is slim and elegant. Yet the schoolchildren, even those a mere two or three years younger, stomp about like well-filled little bean bags in sailor suits. They are almost invariably short and dumpy with mad little fat legs. Japanese kids don't have ankles. Owen starts to speculate about the process, of how these plump and pampered little things are pressured by conformity to turn into these swan-like young divas.
"Or perhaps," I wonder out loud, "Their parents just stop feeding 'em when they leave school."
Soundcheck passes easily, and the general backstage atmosphere is well relaxed. Everybody has got to know each other a bit, and we have taken the step of bolstering the backstage free beer with some supplies of our own. Steve notices that the club staff have placed two separate rubbish sacks in the dressing room. They are clearly labelled as to their proposed contents... in Japanese! Somehow Steve manages to establish the meaning of all this and we add English translations to the labels.
Once again the show kicks off with Max at the unnerving hour of 7:00 p.m. exactly.
For the benefit of those who have come for the second night running Max varies his set a little, and also helpfully points out the bits where the saxophone should go: "Alto Saxophone... he never was any good, that saxophone player." Last night a rumour was going round about a man who had flown from Beijing to see these dates. Now I find myself standing next to him watching Max. He is an agreeable American called Ray. We're conversing after Max's set when, unsurprisingly, the subject comes around to Dislocation Dance. Yes, Ray enjoyed their set last night... "until I realised that they kept on playing the same song over and over. Then I wanted to kill them."
I slip quietly away to ensure that we have a varied and colourful set list.
As it goes, the Dislocs are in fine form this evening, much more powerful and rocking than the night before. And our silent super sound man is clearly really getting the hang of his work. So it's all set for a good night, then.
For the persistent attenders we throw in a bit of JBC Soul Revue at the front end of our set, with "Goldfish" and Owen's lovely "Don't Let Me Keep You", where I get to play the bass. We play "I Hate Love", which has only ever been out once before, at a small but perfectly-formed evening (also a Sunday) at Danny's Bar in Chicago. We play lots more off "Rotten Soul", including "Niagara", Come On, Marie", "Sleepwalking" (eek!), "Baby It's You" and "Diamorphine". We play plenty music, including "Len", of course. The set is longer, more complicated and much better-played than the night before. We have a whale of a time. During "Wheeler", Eider, wringing some appalling metal Stuka Attack noise from his Gretsch, shuffles over to me, pushes his face into mine and asks:
"GOT SOME?" I reply.
It all goes off.
We finish with "She's A Yoyo", your correspondent relishing the once-in-a-lifetime to chant "Clash, Clash, Clash City Rockers!" at a room full of Japanese people.
There aren't quite so many people in tonight as last night, and the absence of the shouty Canucks is noticed, if only because it gives Anne more opportunity to heckle her hapless brother and his band. Nonetheless there is proper frugging and shouting and encores are duly achieved: "Soul Happy Hour" (WITH the Speedy Gonzalez episode), "Skinheads", "Love Kittens" (possibly a request?) and a horrid, horrid, horrid "Zombie Love". At the end we gather at the front of the stage, thanking everybody like mad before taking an allegedly synchronised bow. Honestly, it wasn't to take the piss and it didn't feel stupid.
Even if it probably was. Hey, fuck it - these people have paid Chris De Burgh money for this. Who cares about a little bit of dignity?
Backstage the feeling is that Tokyo has been done up good and proper. Everyone has that "up for some" feeling. But, of course, we'll be needing to sort out our equipment tonight. (Can I even begin to convey the joy of being able to finish a show and leave everything on the stage because you'll be back again tomorrow?) Thinking of Tetsuya's fondness for sharp exits, I try to take this responsibility seriously and pack my shit up, but I quickly become embroiled with a small group of punters out by the club exit. A young woman hands me a small toy dog: "His name," she tells me, "Is Butch." Helpfully she adds: "I love you." I meet a guy who plays a cover of "Len" in his band. (I'm listening to it as I write, and it is a grand thing to hear a non-English-speaking singer doing his impression of a non-able-to-sing Butcher.) Max and I chat with a few people before Tetsuya materialises at my side and declares: "Please move to another place to avoid confusion!"
Max and I slip back to the dressing room and write messages on the wall for Asian Dub Foundation, who will be here in a couple of weeks. Legendary tour manager and all-round road monster Steve Molloy once spent an emotional few minutes on the bar of the Coach House Hotel in Northampton NN1 explaining to ADF how the JBC had given him his start in the pro-am visigoth business. Deeder, their 18 year-old rapper, looked at me through narrowed lids and asked: "Jazz Butcher? Was this all... a long time ago?"
"Oh yes, mate," I reply, "A very long time ago indeed."
So it's going to be confusing for them to find that we were only just here.
There is a brief lull in the activity during which Owen, Steve and Anne do the noble thing, and we spend a happy ten minutes in the little back bar of the club, decompressing and sucking on tequila sunrises. This unending luxuriating in pointless idleness is soon spotted by the eagle-eyed Tetsuya, however, and soon we and he and all his staff are a long, snaking convoy of guitars and trumpets heading back to the hotel. The plan is to dump our equipment and head on out for another round of Dinner Wars.
This plan may seem unnecessarily taxing for such a stage in the evening, but bear in mind that we are pretty much out of the club by ten-thirty of an evening. Two things I've learned about Japanese gigs: they're early and they ain't cheap. So far, I'm forced to say, they appear to be really enjoyable too.
We wring the maximum wash-n-brush-up time out of our brief guitar-ditching trip to our rooms, and when we reassemble for dinner we are a relaxed and chipper posse. Who could have foreseen the events of the coming few hours?
Tetsuya and Nori lead us to a nearby restaurant. We tried to get in here back on our first night in town, but it was obviously full. This time, however, we gain access. In fact, we gain a private room, all done out in a traditional wooden style. The table appears to be down on the floor, but the seats are cleverly sunken so that you can sit normally. The entire massive is here, joined tonight by Ray The American and Nori's wife. Once again the food arrives at odd intervals, and if anything it's even more bizarre than what we've had before, featuring, among other delights, curried mashed pumpkin and Japanese pizza. It is, however, delicious. Everyone has a great time telling their neighbour to try some eccentric new delicacy and the beer is coming in a positive torrent.
As the dining wears on and the beers go down, things among the natives take something of a turn for the boisterous. It begins, oddly, with a huge burst of raucous laughter and shouting from a similar private dining room next door, the preserve, we thought, of well-dressed, successful, responsible salarymen. It continues, perhaps more predictably, with Chuckie picking up a pitcher of beer and, to the rhythmic accompaniment of his mad compatriots bashing on the table, giving it his very best shot at draining the entire thing in one go.
This soon catches on. Tiny Japanese ladies, Audrey among them, heave full pitchers to their lips and do their worst to riotous encouragement and applause. Owen takes on the challenge for the JBC, for he has always been the team champion in this department. His brave efforts are roundly applauded. Your correspondent, who tends to favour the Spanish approach of quietly supping continuously throughout the waking hours, is drawn into the fray. I only make it some 40% of the way down the pitcher, but I too am cheered like a gladiator.
Of course, there are side effects. People wander off to the lavatories never to be seen again. Shoes go astray. Lifelong bonds of immutable friendship are forged, even with people from Manchester. Richard, the man with the hat and the killer drum technique, is millimetres away from joining the JBC. Chuckie and his brother Jackie (a.k.a. Butch!) are shape-shifting into ancient mythical trouble-making creatures from a kung fu movie. Beer is everywhere. The noise is deafening.
Somehow the bill for this gigantic blow-out gets paid and we make good our escape from the restaurant at about 3:00 am. I am sure by now that you know what is coming next. This time our close personal friends at Family Mart face an enormous crowd of punters from three continents who seem bent on removing their entire supply of alcoholic liquor.
By the time we reach the park around the corner Chuckie is riding rather unstably on his brother's shoulders. They are both stripped to the waist and yelling incoherently.
All the Vinyl people come and hang with us for a big party in the park. Mysteriously there seem to be fewer people sleeping here than there were a couple of nights ago. The cats, however, remain gloriously unconcerned at our carrying-on. Round about 4:00 am two of the toms have something of a dispute. They square up, nose to nose, for a bout of the most extraordinary verbal abuse. So intent are they on their power struggle that they remain utterly oblivious as four or five of us crowd around, fascinated, a mere two feet away from them. If gambling was on the list of JBC vices there would be a healthy book going on the outcome. Eventually one of the toms slinks grudgingly and ever so slowly away and we return to our apparently endless discussions about music, football and travel. Somebody has a Polaroid camera, which keeps us contentedly occupied while we fail to notice the coming of the dawn. Richard explains how he and Phil The Bass pass their days touring the globe playing and gets himself voted Man Of The Match. Steve and I take care of a lot of chocolate. As the sun grows bright we declare Tokyo done and head for a few hours of sleep before our journey to Osaka.
Since we arrived in Japan we have travelled entirely by bus, train or on foot. No private vehicles have been involved at any point. There have been raised eyebrows (oh, yes) but no real inconvenience or discomfort. It has to be said that Tokyo runs an exemplary public transport system. The city also had the bright idea of only giving a driving license to drivers who could prove that they owned a rock solid off-road parking space. Pure genius, that, in my book. In our own particular case, hotel, club and all essential services have all been so close that for us Tokyo might as well be a village.
Now today, Monday, we have to go to another city altogether. How shall this be achieved, we wonder.
Your correspondent is first in line to admit - albeit hoarsely - that he is feeling profoundly dehydrated and fragile as the massive sets about manoeuvring its many possessions down to the lobby, where we are to await our leader and guides. From a vending machine I obtain a bewildering assortment of energy drinks, one of which rejoices in the name of "Speed". I yack down two or three of these quenchers while following Che Guevara's progress through Peru in a squint-eyed, episodic sort of way.
Next to me on the hotel bench sits Chuckie, grinning ruefully.
Tetsuya arrives with Nori. We are going to take the Shinkansen to Osaka - the Bullet Train! We gaze around vainly for a van. Then in the blazing midday sun of the Orient a massive crocodile sets off onto the sidewalks of Tokyo. With all our bags, instruments and effects, sixteen of us are going to walk to Shinjuku Station and then catch the subway to the Central Station, where any survivors will join the world-famous space age express. The temperature and the humidity are both in the nineties.
There are people who stand on the streets of Tokyo handing out strange little packages for a living. I have been wondering what this is all about. Owen sets me straight: these guys are handing out adverts, but the adverts come with little packages of toilet paper!
Japanese dumpers don't, apparently, lay on a supply of this, so those who would pass on a message to the citizens of Tokyo about the excellence of their yoghurt or whatever can be safe in the knowledge that the punters will snap it up, as long as there is a spot of tissue paper involved. Mental, but you can see the logic. As we pass the mall where I dined with The Kittens yesterday it becomes clear that there are some other enterprising ad-men out there. On the floor I find a neat little plastic fan. It is, I immediately find, extremely effective. In fact, it's not that little, and it has obviously been ergonomically designed for maximum turbulence. I become quite a popular fellow as I move around our sweaty, heavily-laden group disturbing the air. Presumably the managers of the ladies' health and fitness spa, whose name and current bargain rates I am waving all over the subway station, will be pleased too. That's my impression of Tokyo all over - it's mental, but it works.
A gentleman in Shinjuku Loft said to me one night: "I have waited seventeen years to see you play." Well, that goes both ways. Max, Owen and I have waited just as long to get a chance to come and play in Asia. And when do we finally get that chance? Right in the middle of the Euro 2000 football championships! Accordingly, a small diaspora of Brits spreads through the Central Station, convinced that if they are to find English newspapers anywhere it will be here. Everybody wants to know what happened when England faced Germany last night. We are all sadly disappointed, though our spirits rise as we gaze upon the bullet trains, marvellous things of beauty crouching at their platforms. They are not all alike, either. Even as we marvel at one train, another, even more futuristic and drop-dead cool, pulls in. The guys who work on them are equally cool and immaculate. It is impossible for me to understand how they can remain so spotlessly elegant in heat which has reduced us to a rabble of slightly threatening tinkers and refugees.
At ten past one we board our train and take our seats. There is a digital display in the carriage which informs us that we are in the right place in English. Very reassuring. Even better, there is air conditioning, catering and a smoking car. I find myself sitting next to Anne, and we talk about nice places to live. I am not really conversant in the ways of property chat, so it is rather good to find ourselves talking about some friends of hers who have recently moved to somewhere near Northampton. London folks never seem to know anything about Northampton, so it's always good fun being able to tell them anything you want about the place. Generally I plump for the gospel truth, as this tends to freak them out the most.
Shortly after the train sets off, one of Dislocation Dance succeeds in calling home on their high-class mobile phone. We gasp in disbelief to discover that England have beaten Germany one-nil. Your correspondent is astonished to the point of anxiety attack to learn that the winning goal was scored by the hopeless scrofulous donkey that men call Shearer.
For an hour or two Anne and I divide our time between reading, from which I discover about Che Guevara's career as a goalkeeper, and idle chit-chat, whereby we both agree that much of Japan looks nothing like what we expected. It is also clear, on the other hand, that neither of us had any idea quite what to expect. During this exchange I am staring out of the train window at a landscape that might be found on the edge of pretty much any small town in Northern Italy. I hadn't expected Japan to be in any way "Mediterranean", but odd little sights and smells, not to mention the local fondness for huge, endless all-inclusive dinners, keep bringing the feeling back.
Occasionally the hills on our left part and we get a glimpse of pretty little towns on the Pacific Coast. This excites your correspondent enormously, as this is, of course, the stretch of ocean from which Godzilla emerges for his stomping expeditions. Sadly there is no sign of the big green fellow today. Perhaps it's just as well. They are very pretty towns.
After we've been riding the train for a while, some of the more resilient turn their thoughts towards food. There are young women (who have somehow become known to the massive as "The Perky Ladies") cruising the aisles with refreshment trolleys, but we are baffled as to what they might be dispensing, for everything that they sell comes wrapped up like a particularly lovely birthday present! We have no way of knowing whether these packages contain chocolates (which would be fair guess from their appearance), sushi or perhaps a small set of screwdrivers. Perhaps if you've been a particularly naughty passenger over the past year they contain nothing but socks and undercrackers. We have no way of knowing.
Steve, Lynda and I head off for something that is advertised as "Service Corner". It resembles the "buffet" counters on British trains alarmingly, except for the fact that instead of a dirty Scouser selling a few stolen cans of pissy beer at £9:95 a pop, there are smartly turned-out young perky ladies in charge. We gaze at the contents of a glass cabinet. More neatly wrapped little parcels of god-knows-what. The perky ladies show us a sort of catalogue, which helpfully explains the contents of the parcels, but only in Japanese. I end up tooling up with a little box of savoury crunchy things, a can of Sapporo and a bag of something that Steve assures me is "fish jerky". It's a product of Australia, apparently. It's pretty weird to eat, but along with the beer and the crunchies it gets the job done. After my improvised feast I drop off and awake to find that we are pulling into Osaka.
We de-train and head for the station forecourt, where - wonder of wonders! - Tetsuya is barking at Nori while he loads our instruments into the back of two minibuses. We squeeze into the back and head into town. It is immediately clear that this part of Osaka at least is much more open and green than anything we have seen in Tokyo. It's all relative, of course. I wouldn't want you thinking that Osaka looked like Cambridge or anything like that, but it's still a substantial change. We drive along a massive wide boulevard of unimaginable prosperity. The huge, spotless skyscrapers are home to Dunhill, Prada, Louis Vuitton... all those lads. It reminds me of Barcelona. The bus pulls up on a corner.
"Bloody hell," I say to Anne, "Do you think we're staying around here?"
She only has to look at me for me to realise that, no, there is bound to be a massive hike deep into the Streets Of Fear that inevitably lie just beyond our view.
We de-bus, seize our belongings and embark on a massive hike into the Streets Of Fear that have been lying just beyond our view.
After what turns out to be a mercifully brief hike, we arrive at the Arrow Hotel, our new headquarters. There is a lengthy and confusing check-in, during which it becomes apparent to the dehydrated and slightly tetchy massive that there is a spare single room available. Lots are drawn. Your correspondent ends up with the keys. There is air conditioning, there is a telly... there is a minibar! Time to chill.
Thirty minutes later I am lying on my bed with a beer watching TV. I reach for the phone and call Max and Owen's room.
"Quick -turn on Channel 5! Sabrina The Teenage Witch is on!"
"Uh... cheers, mate... "
"No, just turn it on, man!"
You see, Sabrina The Teenage Witch, whom I have never watched before either in the USA or Europe, has a talking cat. This may or may not be a massive laugh when he speaks in English, but when he has been dubbed into Japanese... oh boy! It's pure magic.
Thirty minutes later the phone rings.
"Moshe moshe?" I answer.
Half an hour of Japanese TV has evidently done wonders for my accent.
"Oh... sorry... wrong number... " says Owen.
I laugh like a drain. Owen calls me a bastard and agrees that Sabrina's Japanese-talking cat is probably the best thing on global television today.
As the evening comes down we gather in The Stardust Lounge, the hotel bar. It is a small but splendid sixties-style hotel bar with picture windows and a happy hour in full swing. The Dislocs are all up for going out and exploring. The general JBC feeling is more sedentary, however, and negotiations are instituted with the young and helpful barmen as to the possibility of dining right here in the hotel, like we never, ever do. After some initial confusion and anxiety this all turns out for the best and we are delivered of piping hot spaghetti and other goodies. With forks.
Having dined, we set out explore the neighbourhood. In the afternoon we were struck by the number of young people on the streets around the hotel. Not just young, but visibly well-to-do, fashionable and a bit rebellious. Again, I'm thinking of Barcelona. Max says that the whole area is a bit like Carnaby Street in 1968. There are, indeed, even a couple of "head shops" right opposite the hotel, where genuine Rastafarian-type African gentlemen are offering "professional" rolling papers and bongs for sale. Having not even heard the word "marijuana" since our chat with the airport authorities, we are astonished.
The way that there are small, crowded and trendy streets lurking just off the big international capitalist boulevard has me thinking of Barcelona again. The thought of marijuana has me thinking wistfully of the Streets Of Fear back around the Barrio Gothico and Las Ramblas.
We stroll a few blocks and soon find ourselves walking past more of those Shinkuju style hostess establishments. It seems to me, though, that these are a touch more showy and blatant than the ones in the capital. One of them is so massive and full-on that I come to think of it as "Club Dirty". Actual bars, however, seem hard to find. Eventually Owen makes a joyful cry, for he has seen a small house with a sign that says "Guinness".
Max, Owen, Steve, Lynda, Anne and I pour into the bar. It is absolutely tiny, with perhaps a total of twelve stools at a little bar that runs the length of the cosy wooden room. The barman is a benevolent looking fellow in a starched white apron. His girlfriend is sitting on her own at one end of the bar. Two very drunk looking, conservatively-dressed gents in their thirties are the only other drinkers.
Massive digression alert: stick with me, there is a point.
Back in 1991 the JBC, with Curtis on board in a Justice & Security sort of a role, were in Burgos in the north of Spain. General Franco was very fond of Burgos. He took his holidays there every year. The night before our gig we were drinking in the club that we would be playing the following day. Our promoter was behind the bar and we were milling about, having a wonderful time with the electronic fortune-telling machine ("All your friends are sadists who want to do you in") and smoking those big fat cigarettes that you can smoke in Spanish bars without getting arrested.
To my left at the bar sat a gentleman some 55 years old. Without warning he poked me in the ribs and announced in a drunken, lisping Espanish accent: "You are an estupid man!"
I raised my eyebrows a bit.
"You," he continued, warming to his theme, "are an estupid... bloody man!"
This guy was so old and so drunk that, had I so much as blown on him, he would have fallen off his stool. He really didn't strike me as much of a problem. On the other hand, it was becoming apparent that he was not alone. On my right a middle-aged Espanish lady was pushing her cigarette into Curtis' face and saying "You... give me fire... ", which, this being Espain, could have meant a lot of different things. She appeared to be the old boy's wife. More worryingly still, behind the old nutter stood a rock-solid, wall-eyed, leather-jacketed, gum-chewing muthafucka who was almost certainly their son.
"You," continued my antagonist, dredging his mental dictionary, "are an estupid bloody Ingliss BUGGER MAN!"
Well, the evening wore on and we didn't get stabbed. The following night our promoter took me to one side and said: "Pat, you did very good last night with that drunken man."
Oh, all right. Thanks.
"He had a gun."
Um, yup, right.
"He had a gun because he was a police sergeant."
This, you see, is what happens when the fascist buggers can't arrest you for smoking a fat one. They try to get you to start a fight with them so that they can shoot you.
Right now, back in Osaka, the drunk chap in the tweed jacket next to me at the bar has started nudging me and saying lairy things in Japanese. I have, I think to myself, been here before.
Though I keep my eyes fixed either on the TV in the corner or on the spectacular collection of whiskies from around the globe behind the bar, my new mate keeps mumbling drunkenly at me. With the help of the barman he succeeds in asking us where we are from. This, of course, is not the best opening question with the JBC, for there are many and varied answers. As we supply them, matey gets more and more confused, so that we are able to pass a good twenty minutes explaining who we were and what we do. Lynda causes particular problems, for matey has already convinced himself that she is Japanese. She explains that she is a Thai. From America.
This is all causing me a touch of anxiety. As far as I am concerned, the guy is either a gangster or a cop, and I'm not crazy about supplying either with details of our mission.
At one point matey dips his right hand into the inside left-hand pocket of his sports coat.
I wasn't aware of showing any particular reaction to this, but matey and his even more drunken pal fall about laughing, miming pulling revolvers out of their coat pockets. It is impossible to tell whether or not the barman is beaming benevolently because he is looking forward to some of those good old-fashioned foreigner-on-a-stick laffs.
All this time I am getting it on with Mister Jack Daniels (7 years old), and perhaps communication is getting easier because I am getting closer to matey's current mental state. Whatever, it finally turns out that he is the leader of a Benny Goodman style dance band!
Bars close pretty early in Japan, so it's not long before we are out in the Osaka night gazing from a little bridge along an urban canal, with all the fancy neon lights reflected in the shiny black water. It's beautiful, and it even looks a little bit like you might hope Japan would look. Time for the minibar.
The telephone wakes me mid-morning. Somebody is talking to me in Japanese.
"I'm sorry - I can only speak English" I croak.
"I SPEAKING ENGLISS!" says the voice at the other end.
After some lengthy and faintly exasperating disputation we arrive at the fact that my caller would like to know when would be a good time to clean my room.
"One? One o'clock?"
"Okay, thank you."
I get out of bed. I am half way to the bathroom when the phone rings again.
"Loomcrean. What clock?"
"One. One o'clock. Okay?"
"Yes. Thank you."
Shaking my head, I go to the bathroom and clean my teeth. I am gazing speculatively at the dumper when the telephone rings. Somebody at the other end is really quite irritated.
"Loomcrean! WHAT CLOCK???!!!"
"One!!! I told you, ONE O'CLOCK!"
"Fine. No problem. Two o'clock is fantastic!"
"Okay. Thank you."
I fling on some clothes, grab my passport and my wedge and run out of the room.
One ambition that I have had for this trip is to investigate the world of those mad Japlish tee-shirts. You know the sort of thing - neat little designer numbers with slogans in English that read "Tiny Spoons Club - Three Fat Mates" or "Number One Bad
Puppy - Only Best Portion". Our part of town seems an ideal hunting ground, so in the morning light I set out to do something that I find almost impossibly difficult even in my home town. I am going shopping.
One thing that I cannot find in any of the area's mad little boutiques is a picture postcard of Japan. I find all kinds of neat things: Iggy Pop, Emma Peel, mad rasta spliffhead cartoons and a lovely poster for "The Sound Of Music". I buy a fantastic card of Che Guevara - "Hasta la victoria. Sempre!" - which turns out to have been made in Leicester thirty miles up the road from home. But cards of Osaka or anything else Japanese are not to be had around these parts.
Undeterred, I manage to pick up various items of mad Japanese consumer cak, including a tee-shirt emblazoned with the face of a huge Siberian tiger and the legend:
"Marqully rocks music fact!"
The shirts round here are not cheap. Two of them cost me the equivalent of 80 bucks, which is a shame, for it prevents me from acquiring a third, which says:
"Interview With Postman!"
Some time in August, after our return to the UK, I read in the newspaper about a young British woman who has just been so successful with her studded tee-shirt designs that she has been able to up and leave her trendy art college for a glittering career as a designer. Sorry love, but it's only June here and a good half of all the tee-shirts on sale have studs in them. You can fool some of the people - especially if they happen to be the piss-ignorant British middle classes - but you can't fool the JBC. You a plagiarist, honey. Back to college with you!
My shopping completed without any police involvement, I run into the rest of the JBC on the street. I ask about dining establishments, and they point me towards the "El Paso Diner" nearby. "I don't know if you'll like the music... " says Owen ominously.
As it goes, the El Paso Diner turns out to be playing some fairly unsuitable urban R&B sounds, bland but not disagreeable. I eat my sandwich and drink my beer contentedly, blissfully unaware that I have just missed The Eagles.
On emerging into the bright sunshine I spot Nori on the other side of the road. He takes me to the Velvet Moon record store, where they have been selling tickets for the show tonight. It is a splendid shop, carrying all sorts of obscure and enjoyable stuff, with a special emphasis on French girly singers like Francoise Hardy. As I poke about in the record racks, I tap my foot along with a vaguely familiar tune that is playing in the shop. After about three minutes I realise that it is Dislocation Dance! I am greeted with great ceremony by the proprietor, which is flattering, but then find out that the store has sold a grand total of three tickets for tonight, which is something else entirely.
Still, it's time for a soundcheck, so we assemble at the hotel and set off on another hike to our venue for this evening, the oddly-named Muse Hall. To reach it we have to cross the big designer boulevard along which we arrived. There, on top of a corner building, stands a life-size, beautifully painted Tyrannosaurus Rex. He's big, all right, but you realise that he would be in with no chance at all of stomping even the smallest building on the boulevard. It really makes me appreciate the true enormity of our close personal friend Godzilla.
The Muse Hall is a rather different sort of venue to the Loft. It looks considerably larger, although later events will prove that its capacity is about the same as the Tokyo club. It has been acoustically engineered so that the sound is really "dry", like in a recording studio. As we stand on the stage we can see a little control room up high at the back of the club, where a bunch of Japanese ladies sit at the controls of what appears to be a video studio, giggling at us. It all looks very high-tech and slightly intimidating.
Not so high-tech, however, as to be able to supply Max with a properly working amplifier. During a run-through of "Roadrunner" it becomes clear that he is carrying a fair measure of unsolicited fuzz. This, it transpires, is because one of the speakers in his Fender Twin is cracked. We become a little anxious, wondering if we can possibly convey the problem to our hosts. After a nervous couple of minutes it is established that the dodgy amp will be replaced and we relax.
After checking, Max, Owen and I head off to have one at last night's bar. We are greeted warmly by the benevolent barman and enjoy a cold pint on a hot afternoon. I then depart, charged with the task of getting in the supplementary backstage beer supply. In this I fail spectacularly, although I make it back to the venue without any other problems. When Eider and Jones arrive, however, they are visibly discombobulated. The bill for five beers (they had another round after I left) came to some outrageous sum, which they are having trouble believing. Somehow it seems to be as great, if not even greater, than the bill for last night's session, where six of us guzzled beer and assorted whiskies for some time.
There are a few different schools of thought about this: I am inclined to suggest that, big-band leaders notwithstanding, the place is essentially a gangsters' hang-out and that the prices there reflect this. There is a parallel school of thought which suspects that last night we were mistakenly undercharged, and that The Benevolent One has simply made up last night's deficit on this evening's beer. In addition, there is the possibility that beer here is just Bloody Expensive. Certainly, there is a sign in the bar of the venue that suggests that one beer will cost you the equivalent of $7:00, and this, as I point out repeatedly, is just a scaggy indie-kids' club, not a gentleman's drinking establishment. I am, however, further confused when I turn up at the club bar clutching my seven bucks, only to be charged a mere three bucks per beer! We cannot figure out whether or not this is some kind of band discount. If it is, nobody has made us aware of the fact that such a thing exists. It's all thoroughly confusing, so we simply fall on the few free beers backstage and turn our thoughts to other things, which in my case involves standing on the small balcony outside the dressing room and shouting down to the street below: "Lovely pop concert! See the funny mad foreigners! They are naked and they do dance!" To my utter amazement, two young men stop their strolling and turn into the front door of the club!
Tetsuya opens a brief debate about the timing of sets. We have to be a bit precise here, because we need to be finished by 10:30 pm, on account of the fact that all public transport in Osaka comes to a stop shortly thereafter. For the first time we understand why the shows are all so early.
Max goes on at his appointed time to face some sixty or seventy punters. It's already a relief to me to see that there are more than three of them! The Kittens are in attendance, having trained it down from Tokyo along with at least one other young lady who can't get enough of that stuff. Happily, the dodgy amplifier has been replaced with a working one, and Max sounds really good through the PA. As on the other nights, the room starts to fill up as the Talented One does his crooning. Tonight he adds a new, unreleased tune to his set, the elegantly bitter and twisted "All You're Good For". Lynda also joins in to provide back-up vocals on a number of his tunes and copes well. The set goes really well, and once again the acoustic version of "My Other Life" finishes things on a high note.
The Dislocs are in fine form backstage and go out to deliver a strong set. Your correspondent, however, misses a great deal of it, having figured out a backstage route to the bar, where he is exploiting to the full the surprisingly low price of beers. In fact, your correspondent is getting a tiny bit tipsy.
During a period of mutual congratulation after the Dislocs' set, Phil The Bass says a lovely thing to me. I am banging on in my tedious fashion about the fact that the JBC listen to very little contemporary music any more, saying that we are more into sixties soul music.
"Yeah," says Phil, beaming, "I've noticed that!"
Soon it is time to take the stage, and - oh Joy! - there are curtains across the front of the stage, enabling us to faff about to our heart's content before starting. Max and I open with "Partytime" again to a room that now holds some hundred and fifty people. Lynda joins us for "Baby It's You" and then the whole band gets started on "Len". By the end of the aforementioned it becomes clear that certain essential metalwork on Owen's drum kit has reached, nay exceeded, its maximum stress level, and the tom-toms are lurching wildly about. There is a brief break for restoration work before we pick up with "Who Loves You Now?", during which I get to snap my fingers, play fake jazz guitar and generally act like a berk. The set builds nicely through "Human Jungle", followed by a sweetly swinging "Diamorphine" that suddenly turns Very Ugly Indeed. There is noise everywhere and I get that unmistakable feeling that some new level has been reached. A bit more building work on the kit and it's into "Girlfriend" and "Niagara", both good versions.
"Soul Happy Hour" brings the tempo down a touch before "Come On, Marie" and Max's "Rosemarie". Then comes Mental Hour with "Mister Odd", "She's On Drugs", "Caroline Wheeler" and a pumping "Roadrunner". The punters go nuts - there is proper dancing going on all over the hall - we bow, we leg it.
Despite a nervy soundcheck, a dodgy guitar amplifier and a collapsing drum kit, we have succeeded in bringing off a fine-sounding show with lots of great versions and a real rapport with the assembled punters. It isn't long before I'm up there again on my own to sing "Forever". The band comes back on and we play a frantic "Skinheads". Then, mindful of the public transit schedule, we're gone.
The JBC listeners of Osaka, however, have other plans. They roar and stomp and bellow like Spaniards. A slightly jumpy Tetsuya consults his wristwatch, then dispatches his charges back for one more encore, which turns out to be another beastly "Zombie Love", during which - aber selbtsverstaendlich, Mademoiselle - the guitar amplifiers are subjected to all manner of abuse and the drum kit finally meets its inevitable fate. Before the feedback has properly died down we have already had it away down the little backstage corridor and made it to the bar.
There are tellies in the bar showing the action in the main hall. As we queue for three dollar beers we can see the audience still in place, still baying and stamping for more. Of course, we see them from the rear, for the camera is pointed at the stage. As I watch this gratifying scene on the telly, one of the punters turns around and looks over his shoulder towards the camera. I quickly duck away lest he see me poncing it up here in the bar, then immediately realise what a terminal idiot I truly am. It's all the more humiliating for the fact that every single time some coked-up, self-satisfied TV presenter finishes their programme by saying "See you next week", I invariably shout: "You can't fecking see me now, fool!"
We are already tooled-up with beers and cigarettes and relaxing around a corner table by the time that the first punters realise that there is to be no more. A few of them make it into the bar and we do the usual chat and sign thing. We meet a gentleman from Minneapolis who is resident here now and a number of very keen types from Osaka. Steve has my beer away. Tetsuya comes in and shepherds us all off to pack our gear and head back to the hotel.
As we head out of the club our usual contingent is joined by The Kittens and their friend from Tokyo, as well as a lady who has been talking to the Dislocs, who is offering us the chance to go and see the England -v- Romania game back at the flat that she shares with her English boyfriend. This causes great excitement, but also much wavering and furrowing of brow, for tomorrow we are due to leave for the airport at 7:00 a.m. and the game does not start until 3:30 a.m. Besides, we still have Dinner Wars to wage.
In another echo of Spanish touring practices we set off en-masse and on foot into the night in search of dinner. Our first attempt sees us riding an elevator in groups of five or six to assemble in the lobby of a large and spacious restaurant on the fourth floor. Eventually we are all gathered there...at which point somebody says something and we all take turns to pile back down to the street again. A block or two further on, however, we find a place that can take us and we all steam into the brightly lit dining room.
"Is this," Anne wants to know, "The Japanese version of MacDonald's?"
Over the next couple of hours it becomes abundantly clear that this is not the case. As usual we get through many delicious beers and lots of oddly tasty dishes. Tonight Max and Owen are wavering - surely they should be trying the sushi in Japan at least once? Initially they are commendably circumspect about all this, and it's true that there is no shortage of fine veggie fare to be had here, but after an hour or two Eider is helping himself to big chunks of fish off other people's plates. Steve, meanwhile, has begun shouting "Give me the EEL!" I can't say I blame him, for the eel is excellent.
A lengthy and relaxed dinner concludes with many toasts, the final and most heartfelt being to our Tokyo Supremo, Tetsuya. He bows and smiles and, I am sure of it, blushes!
By the time we return to the hotel nobody really has the heart to go piling across town to see the football. The JBC, along with Nori, another Vinyl chap and The Kittens, decide to repair to my room with a view to administering some serious punishment to the minibar. We are happily counting our wages for the tour, cash money spread all over the bed, when The Kittens arrive. Bravely they enter into this gangsters' den and join us in a beer.
With Nori and his pal zipping out periodically to replenish supplies of beer and sake (God only knows where they were getting it from at this hour!), we end up drinking the night away. About 4:30 we tool Steve up with enough money to buy a ticket over to England for the next round of dates and bid him fond farewells, for tomorrow he will go back to Tokyo prior to flying home to LA.
At 6:00 a.m. I do my packing and lie down to snatch a quick kip before we have to leave.
It is 7:15 a.m. on a drizzly, airless morning in Osaka. Incredibly the JBC and Dislocation Dance are all assembled outside the massive posh hotel on the Boulevard to meet the airport bus. I won't say that certain members of the massive aren't having hot flushes and curious peripheral vision difficulties, but we have risen to the challenge and now we can get on the bus that will take us on the first stage of the long trip home. As the bus pulls away we wave to Nori and Tetsuya, who run alongside the bus waving back. God bless 'em, they have shown us a phenomenally good time.
Max points out that Vinyl Japan are bringing groups into Japan on a more or less constant basis. "I don't know how they stand the pace," he says.
We guess that the kids just wanna rock.
As we drive out to the extraordinary Kansai Airport, which is built on a specially-constructed island off the shore, we get a glimpse of what sustains central Osaka's enormous prosperity, passing through miles and miles of seriously dense industry. It's as grim as you like.
Suddenly we pass onto a huge, fog-bound bridge, the road simply ends, and we are decanted at the departure terminal. The Kittens have accompanied us out to Kansai, a fact for which we are extremely grateful as we rush to check in and catch our flight. Having checked our bags with unusual ease we suddenly hit a terrible brick wall. To use this extraordinary and beautiful airport, every passenger is obliged to pay airport tax of about $30:00 in yen, in cash to a sweet little vending machine just before passport control. Having been paid in Sterling, and having squandered the last of our yen on hard liquor and loose living, we can only assemble enough yen to get three of us cleared for take-off.
Enter The Kittens to rescue my sorry ass by changing some English money into yen so that I can go home. We embrace them gratefully and belt off towards the departure lounge.
There follow a fraught ten minutes as we hasten to catch our soon-departing flight. As I stagger onto the plane the stewardess looks at my boarding pass and, instead of directing me to my usual place right at the back by the toilets, just behind the 200 pound skinhead with a fondness for reclining seats, tells me that I can sit right... there!
I go where she puts me, in this bizarre 21st Century seat with headrests, footrests and all kinds of gimmicks, with nothing in front of me except the corridor by which passengers enter the plane. Legroom! I cannot believe my good fortune.
Owen and Max follow me on board. Looking at Max, I decide that the only decent thing to do is to offer him this extraordinarily lucky seat that they have given me. By the time that he has figured out what is going on (presumably the thought "What is Pat doing there?" is up at the forefront of his mind), Owen is back to say: "I don't think you'll be that pissed off with your accommodation either, as it goes." Sure enough, they have places side by side in a little lounge just up ahead, with equally mad seats and an equal acreage of legroom.
We appear to have been upgraded. We are utterly confused. This has never happened to any of us in the entire history of air travel. The Japanese gentleman in the seat next to me is baffled too. Like us, he has only ordered a regular ticket and yet here he is in Business Class.
Talking later on to some fat bastard from Leicester who works for Volvo we come to understand that, although we're not getting Business Class service (champagne, linen table napkins, blow-jobs... ) we have been given the seats simply to fill up the aircraft. Splendid. Not a problem. Gin and tonic, please.
The JBC recommend that you fly with KLM. Royal Dutch Airlines. Thank you.
My friendly Japanese neighbour shows me how to extract the neat little colour telly from the arm of my seat and we settle down together to watch "The Fast Show". A few minutes later he is convinced that I am something of a dangerous loonie as I roar with laughter at a show which he watches in blank, stony silence. He switches to another channel and never speaks to me again.
We set off early in the morning of June 21st, Midsummer's day, and, as we are heading west, the morning sun moves with us. (Well, of course, that isn't exactly how it works, but you see what I'm driving at here). A little way west of Japan the clouds clear away, and as we pass over Korea we can see Seoul out of the window, laid out like something from a game of Sim City. Things are so bright and clear that I can see the underwater sandbanks around the attractive little islands lying between Korea and China. It is incredibly clear, and remains so over China and across the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, where the only feature is the thin black line of the Trans-Siberian Railway cutting through the monotonous burnt orange landscape. Owen reckons he spots some form of feature on the landscape, but it soon becomes apparent that this is just the shadow of some small clouds.
As we pass on we get to gaze upon Siberia, something that only fifteen years ago would have brought a posse of MIGs out to send us crashing from the skies.
I have to say that Siberia looks absolutely lovely on June 21st, something like a giant Switzerland. I guess we've caught it at its best. As we fly over Novosibirsk, which again is laid out like a map beneath us, I imagine all the bored and under-employed inhabitants sitting out on the sidewalks in the sun with their bottles of vodka. In fact, you can almost see them.
The skies remain clear all across Asia, the Baltic Republics and Denmark. There is mounting excitement as Owen realises that any moment now we should be able to see Hamburg. But we can't. As usual, it's bloody raining.
We don't spend the entire trip looking out of the window, for the entertainment laid on for us is unusually rich. During the flight I get to watch large chunks of Mike Leigh's "Topsy Turvy" and Wim Wenders' wonderful "Buena Vista Social Club". The part where the old Cuban boys make it to the streets of New York City reminds me of us lot, confused and astonished on the streets of Tokyo.
I also get to see an extraordinary little picture called "Stuart Little", the first film that I have ever seen to feature the truly asinine Hugh Grant. I enjoy it a great deal, God help me. It gives the impression of being a weird homage to the work of the immortal Frank Capra or something like that. It's really not a bit modern, except for the fact that there is some serious computer animation of animal characters, chief among them a big fluffy cat called "Snowbell" (heh!), whose appearance and turn of phrase cause me, inexplicably but ineluctably, to think of Steve Valentine. It is a very peculiar little piece of work, quite enjoyable and a worthwhile diversion for anyone who, like your correspondent, enjoys a good talking cat picture.
At Amsterdam we must part company with Owen, who has to take a train up to Hamburg. He is not looking forward to this, for he fears that the train will be filled with sullen and potentially lethal disappointed German football fans. We bid fond farewells, too, to the Dislocs, though not before Max has filed Richard's phone number. Then Max, Anne and I race for the cattle truck to London. Once on board the cramped, evil-smelling tube full of disappointed England fans, jammed into a seat one third the size of my previous one and two thirds the size of me, I drop off and sleep like a baby all the way to Heathrow.
After a sweetly uneventful arrival at Heathrow, Anne, who has dealt gamely with the appalling JBC touring lifestyle throughout, reverts to her natural habitat and is last seen waving from a London taxi. Max and I decide to follow her lead, and enjoy an unbelievably easy journey back to the Eider Lounge, arriving at about half past four on a lovely summer's afternoon. As I park the guitars in the corner of the living room, Max says:
"There's some of that there marijuana in the tin, if you want to roll a joint."
Half an hour later we are standing at the bar in Max's local, Stella in hand, watching an extraordinarily fast and passionate game in which Spain, after a long and desperate struggle, finally manage to kick the Alleged Republic Of Yugoslavia out of Euro 2000 (a place where, in this writer's opinion, it should never have been in the first place - did you know that their top goalscorer was called Milosevic?). Kathie McGinty comes in to join us after finishing at work. I turn to Max and say:
"I thought it was all supposed to go to shit when we got back to England... "
© Pat Fish, NN1, September 2000
charlesbloomb52[at]-remove-yahoo.co.uk - Charles Bloomfield, UK
6Mar2012 6:55 AM (11 years 22 days ago)
Your experience sounds incredible. Glad it worked out for you mate. Friends of mine traveled many hours and spent thousands to see Jah Wobble and Keith Levene perform in Tokyo. Seems that promoter Tetsuya didn't have proper work visa for Levene so Levene was denied entrance, concerts canceled. My friends went there for nothing! Tetsuya seems unethical and unprofessional. cheers, Charles
tbwatch[at]-remove-aol.com - silverlake, ca, usa
24Apr2005 10:13 AM (17 years 340 days ago)
edifying, and most chuckleworthy...
the professor say, "A+"!!!!
excitable Canadian element
27Jan2001 6:38 PM (22 years 62 days ago)
I was (I assume)[at]-remove-a member of the 'excitable Canadian element' at the first Shinjuku show, and will certainly attest to the fine performance put on by the estimable Mr. Fish and Co. We were certainly in our cups (gomen nasai-sorry!)but enjoyed every minute of the show. Hopefully another visit is in the works? Cheers, Rob Wilson
What a lovely thing
blueaero[at]-remove-yahoo.com - Danny's Land
28Sep2000 12:08 PM (22 years 184 days ago)
...to read. Pat, please write more. (I know I've asked this before, but I'm asking again.)
Waist Deep in the Morning Crowd
Berman - Atlanta
27Sep2000 10:30 PM (22 years 184 days ago)
Truly giants among yen, the JBC. This kept me
up way past my bedtime, but it was worth
every lost snore imagining the Tall Ones in
Sushiville. In the words of the great fornicator
Andea True, "More, More, More!"