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Convene Heathrow Terminal 3 at 5.30pm to check in for JAL flight 422, departing 8.00pm and arriving tomorrow 4.10pm in Osaka.
Traveling party consists of the band plus tour manager Mark (Chopper) Harris, front of house sound engineer Big Pete Russell and cameraman and part time member of the magic circle Mark (W.W.W.) Wilkinson.
I love going to Japan but the prospect of 12 hours in economy with its lack of leg room isn’t filling me with joy. I manage to drift in and out of sleep for maybe two hours. I was hoping there’d be a couple of decent films to watch that I hadn’t yet seen but there’s only ‘Hitch’. I watch it anyway and it’s very predictable. I also watch ‘Million Dollar Baby’ which I have seen already but it helps to kill another three hours for which I am grateful.
Arrive Osaka at 4.10pm exactly on time. We’re met at the airport by our old friend Tom Tao (interpreter and co-ordinator) and Amy Ida (promoter’s representative). We’ve not met Amy before but she is very friendly and speaks great English. Just as well as our Japanese is rubbish despite having been there many times (16 in my case).
We’re transported by minibus to our home in Osaka, the Nankai Swiss Hotel. We have stayed there before but it’s been revamped and redesigned. It used to have enormous bathrooms furnished decadently in sumptuous black marble. Unfortunately they’ve made the rooms smaller and the bathrooms are now spectacularly ordinary. The one thing remaining the same is the hi-tech toilet. I kid you not, these contraptions are truly amazing. Apart from performing the usual functions, they have heated seats (the temperature of which you can change according to your mood), they have an internal ‘shower’ and they serve as bidets. They still fascinate me as much as they did when we first came here fifteen years ago.
At 7pm we congregate for the mandatory production meeting with all the Japanese crew who will be working with us. We run through our individual needs and wants while Tom translates furiously. He is an accomplished guitar player himself so he has a good grasp on everything.
We then head out for dinner. This is always a highlight of our tours here. We’ve learned to trust our hosts’ judgement on where and what to eat and they never let us down. Tonight’ sparticular highlight was the minced pork and garlic dumplings which were so popular we kept ordering more until we had to scream ‘Please, no more!’ Everything is washed down with copious amounts of beer and then a little hot sake.
We finish the evening in our favourite Osaka watering hole ‘Club Rock Rock’ hosted by the lovely Yoko, another old friend. Rock Rock is a little bar that plays great music. The staff are very friendly and always seem to be enjoying themselves. The walls are adorned with polaroids of all the bands who’ve popped in for a drink over the years. Myself, Danny and WWW are the last to leave at 4.30am. Must be the jet lag!!!
Wake up around 12.30pm which is amazing for me. I usually get awful jet lag when I arrive here. My hangover is mercifully mild and we meet in the hotel lobby at 2.15pm to travel to tonight’s gig, the ‘Big Cat’. Soundcheck is a little fraught as Harry’s drum kit has a piece missing which won’t be turning up until we get to the next show in Nagoya. We’re on stage at 7pm with no support band which is how it’s always been here. Throughout Japan gigs always take place earlier than they do in England. This is to accommodate people catching the train home because trains don’t run very late here apparently. It always feels a bit strange sitting in the dressing room at 9pm having already finished a 110 minute show.
The show itself goes very well considering. My roadie is a bit confused about when to remove my acoustic guitar and it disappears into the wings at the wrong point in ‘Love Walked In’. He apologises profusely afterwards but there’s really no need. All in all he did a great job for me and Harry. The only other minor complaint was that the air conditioning in the dressing room wasn’t working. This wouldn’t normally be a problem but when the temperature is in the high eighties with 90% humidity, it’s a little sweaty to say the least. The only good thing about this is it’s great for Danny’s voice, so he doesn’t mind one bit.
We do a post show meet and greet as always but it’s organized differently here. We sit down at a table and the punters come through one door, file past us in an orderly fashion then file out another door and that’s it. It’s very precise and very Japanese in its style. Nearly all the fans in the meet and greet are female and some are very nervous. They love to present us with photographs of themselves with us which has always struck me as a little strange. We are often given gifts as well which is very sweet.
Dinner tonight is ‘Shabu Shabu’. This is a traditional Japanese style of cooking where you cook thin slices of beef and vegetables at the table in pots of boiling water and stock before dipping them into various sauces, one of which consists of nothing more than a raw egg! It is truly lovely and we all stuff ourselves. We wander along to ‘Rock Rock’ again for a drink or two and I get to bed at 3.30am.
Leave the hotel at 1pm and catch the Bullet train to Nagoya. The journey takes around an hour and a half. The Bullet train is a great way to travel. It goes up to nearly 200mph and is more like being in a plane than on a train. It’s clean, very comfortable and always on time. I watch the Japanese countryside flash by while listening to my iPod and fairly soon doze off, waking just as we arrive.
The obligatory minibus takes us to the ‘Trusty Hotel’ and we check in. Our rooms are compact and bijou to say the least. I ponder the question of how and where to open my suitcase and conclude that if I rest it across the armchair and stand on the bed, I should be able to do it without actually leaving the room. ‘Bloody rock musicians,’ I hear you say; ‘always complaining about something.’ Well, when you’ve stayed in as many hotels as I have, believe me it is irritating when every time you walk into the bathroom you nearly decapitate yourself. Still, at least the bed is comfortable and we are situated in the middle of town.
Do nothing all afternoon and in the evening Tom takes us to a restaurant specializing in chicken wings which apparently is a local speciality. Very nice they are too. The local promoter has invited us to a beer garden which we walk to. Tom's sense of direction is rubbish however and we end up taking a circuitous route. Nobody minds as it’s good to walk off the dinner and take a look around downtown Nagoya at night. Get back to the hotel at 2.30pm for a relatively early night.
Sleep late again waking at midday. Pop out to find something to eat for breakfast. Expecting the same hot, humid weather I’m wearing
t-shirt, shorts and sandals. It turns out to be drizzling and overcast; bugger! Meet Harry on the street and we go for a walk to find a bank with an ATM machine. Pick up some interesting looking things to eat in the local 7/11 shop and head back to room.
Leave hotel for gig at 2.15pm. We’re playing in a place called ‘E.L.L.’ which we discover stands for ‘Electric Ladyland’ as in the Jimi Hendrix album. Sound check is more relaxed. The venue facilities are up to the usual excellent Japanese standards. There are enough lights on stage to light Wembley Arena and during sound check the lighting man is referred to jokingly by Danny as ‘the chef’ due to the fact that we know he’ll be cooking us later.
After sound check we wander a few hundred yards along the road to a local temple to take a few photographs. As we leave the venue, twenty or so fans that have gathered outside follow us taking photos and thrusting various things into our hands to be signed. We climb the steps to the Temple and look inside. I automatically assume that it’s been there hundreds of years when in reality it’s a replica built in the 1970’s on the sight of where a temple used to be. A lot of Japan was bombed very heavily in the 2nd world war and precious few of its ancient buildings remain. Gig goes very well and after another stunning meal we end up in an Aussie bar for a few beers.
Leave hotel at 10.45am and take Bullet train to Yokohama (suburb of Tokyo). From there we’re taken by minibus to Kawasaki (another Tokyo suburb) where we’re playing the next two nights in ‘Club Citta’. We’ve played the club many times over the past ten years or so but they’ve rebuilt it since the last time we were here which was Bowes & Morley in 2002. The new building is marvellous. It has a fully functional 24 track studio attached and a video editing suite. The gig itself looks very similar but has improved acoustically and the dressing rooms are greater in number and less cramped.
Sound check runs very smoothly and as there are a couple of hours to kill before showtime (6.00pm tonight), Harry and I both decide to have a quick nap on the huge sofas in the recording studio control room.
The gig is fantastic. The audience is phenomenally loud in all the right places and silent in all the quiet bits. During the first verse of ‘Don’t Wait For Me’ you could’ve literally heard a pin drop. It’s a respect thing but it is strangely off-putting when you’re used to people screaming and shouting stuff throughout the set everywhere else in the world. Both our Japanese labels (Toshiba/EMI and JVC/Victor) are in attendance this evening so we’re naturally very pleased the show went so well.
We’re driven from the venue to our usual hotel in Tokyo, the Roppongi Prince. Roppongi is Tokyo’s cosmopolitan party district. It’s the equivalent of Soho in London; all bars, clubs and restaurants.
Spirits are high over dinner which is Korean barbecue, another cook it yourself at the table type thing consisting of various thinly sliced cuts of beef cooked with vegetables on a grill pan. Danny and I investigate the precise origin of the meat which is mouth-wateringly tender and extremely tasty. It turns out to be cow’s diaphragm which we decide to keep from the rest of the boys until after dinner as some of them (WWW and Harry) might not have been tucking in so heartily had they realized what they were eating.
After dinner all of us (apart from Danny who very conscientiously makes his way back to the hotel to look after his voice as we’re recording tomorrow’s show) walk around the corner to our favourite bar in Tokyo, the ‘Sports Bar’. A couple of us were hoping they’d be showing the one-day cricket final between England and Australia but unfortunately they weren’t. The bar is full of ex-pat Europeans, Aussies and Americans and you truly feel like you’re in an international city. The manager of the Bar recognizes me from a previous trip and we chat for a while. He’s called Pete and he’s from Sheffield and he insists on serving us huge gin and tonics; good man! End up leaving the bar very late; not sure how late but it was daylight!!!!!
Meet WWW for a cup of tea before we leave for the venue. Both of us are a little grey around the gills so I search my trusty travel bag for aspirin and we’re in luck. It’s Sunday so driving to Kawasaki doesn’t take as long as it would on a week day and we’re there in 40 minutes or so. During sound check we decide to change the set around a little bit (the set is the same as it was on the UK tour) so we substitute ‘River Of Pain’ for ‘Stand Up’ and ‘Until My Dying Day’ for ‘Love Walked In’. We also include ‘She’s So Fine’ as the first encore as we haven’t done it for ages and we busk our way through ‘All The Young Dudes’ and ‘Pinball Wizard’. In the end we opt for the latter as it’s a bit more ‘up’.
The show goes very well once again and our old friend the journalist Masa Itoh very kindly presents us with a bottle of Champagne with which we toast the end of the tour.
The after show meet and greet goes on for nearly two hours after which we’re whisked back to our hotel and then out for our last dinner. We’re taken to an amazing Japanese restaurant which looks like a set from ‘Kill Bill’. We subsequently find out that Tarantino was taken to this restaurant and based the restaurant scene in Kill Bill on this building. Apparently it’s also where the Japanese Prime Minister had dinner with George W. Bush the last time he visited Japan.
By the end of dinner it’s 2.30am and everyone is truly shattered. We say our goodbyes to all and sundry and head back to the hotel tired but happy.
Check out of hotel at 9.00am and arrive at Narita airport 10.15am to check in for flight JAL401 leaving at 12.00pm.
The usually efficient JAL staff are obviously having a bad day. Check-in goes on for an hour because they can’t seem to get their heads around the fact that we’re travelling as a group. It transpires that Monday is training day when all new employees get a chance to practice their newly acquired skills on the general public. Eventually we get past the check-in desk, say goodbye to Tom and Amy and head through into duty free. The plane is delayed 40 minutes which seems longer due to a young child who insists on screaming loudly all the time. When we do board the plane Benny, Pete, WWW and I make our way to the back of the extremely full flight only to find that we are in the row directly behind the screaming child who is already well into his full repertoire of screaming and jumping up and down. His parents seem incapable of restraining him so he just continues. Pete is incandescent, WWW is threatening strangulation and Benny and I are pretending it’s not really happening. I scan the seats in front of me for any empty space not quite so in the line of fire. There isn’t one.
We take off and experience some of the worst turbulence I’ve ever felt. I’m not normally a nervous flyer but this was fairly serious. WWW was screaming every time we hit a bump, Pete loved it and I was clinging to my chair hoping it would stop but at the same time laughing at WWW. Chris was sitting in the row behind us and when I looked around at him he was looking straight ahead, saying nothing and turning a very strange colour. Amidst all this panic, unbelievably the screaming child was silent.
The rest of the flight passed without incident bar the odd scream from baby Satan and occasional turbulence, albeit not as severe as it had been during take off and we arrived back in London around 4.35pm.