Archive for June, 2007


Monday, June 25th, 2007

I was 10 minutes late and Hayakawa Takeharu was nowhere to be found.

“He’s gone to park his car”, said the studio assistant.

So I had a smoke on the quiet street outside and waited. Before long, a man hobbled into view. He was on crutches – his left leg wrapped in leather and stainless steel braces – and his baldhead gleamed in the sun. Just like some sci-fi rogue.

“Terminator”, I smiled.

“Broken Terminator”, he beamed back without missing a beat.

We embraced. It’s been 6 months since I last met my bassist. He’d recently broken his ankle in a bike race and had been hospitalized for weeks. This was the third bone breaking injury he’d sustained in 5 years. The other times involved buggering his collarbone and elbow. Not that injury had ever stopped him from playing. The Terminator is made of pretty stern stuff. And so despite being on crutches, he’d be playing in my Shibuya show, where we’d be joined by one of the best guitarists in Japan – Kido Natsuki.

Shiori my Japan manager had arranged for us to rehearse at a facility called ‘Gok Sound’ in Kichijoji. It’s an old studio lined with vintage equipment normally frequented by jazz cats. We had a big room that sounded decent. It felt and smelt like a good workplace. Nice and down-to-earth. No frills. Just filled with people who knew what they were doing and gear that worked. So we quickly got on with it. Kido would join us the next day. There was plenty to do.

I love playing in Japan. Japanese people approach artistry in a unique way. It is not just that they listen well, but also that they respond to every nuance and subtlety you send out in ways that inspires you to do better. I guess they approach music the same way they make things – with detail, care and a whole lot of intelligence. That attitude infuses everything – from musicians who ask for lyrics before they play a song, to stage managers who make it their business to know the precise height of my stool, to journalists who research their subject in minute detail before an interview. It is a culture that does not so much demand perfection as much as one that is conditioned to work toward it in a methodical way.

Anyway, so we rehearsed. It was quick. 12 songs on the first day. By the time Kido joined us on the second day, it had become clear that we had the basis of a very good live band indeed. It’d have the maturity to chill when needed but was able to call upon a huge reserve of power when the occasion warranted it. Add a drummer like Lewis Pragasam, a pianist like Justin Lim and multi-instrumentalists like Ren Takada or Angelita Li and we’d have a pretty formidable line up by any standard. All we needed now was to season the band by playing together as much as possible. The show in Shibuya was to be the first of these ‘practice shows’ [albeit with a stripped down line-up]. I couldn’t wait to see it unfold. Shiori was excited by the possibility too. She kept shaking her head as we bombed down the set list during rehearsal. By the time we got to that crazy instrumental section in ‘Sunday Best Shoes’, she couldn’t be kept down anymore…

“Go! Go! Go Ferrari!” she laughed.

She was right. The band felt organic and real. It purred with energy. Whatever problem that remained time and repetition would soon resolve. So we laughed with her. It felt good.

The show itself was packed. Over 80 people squeezed into a venue that normally accommodated 65. In fact, Shiori had to stop taking in bookings days before the show. And as expected, the audience was amazing once again. We shared jokes about playing Tokyo Dome [15,000 capacity], I threatened to take my clothes off, and the whole room sang along to ‘Blue’. It was super fun. What I did not know at the time was that a very influential DJ [Motoko Sekiya] at NHK FM [Japan’s BBC] was in the crowd. She enjoyed herself enough to invite me for an interview and to play a song live on her show the very next day. Needless to say, I went. The interview was good. I played ‘Who For You?’. The show will be aired nationwide in Japan in August.

Still, time flies when you have fun. I am now back home in Kuala Lumpur. The memory of Tokyo still swirls in my head like a serene ghost. Like many before me, I suspect I am in love with Japan. It is not perfect, of course. No place is. But it is special. I am lucky to have the opportunity to play there. And I’d love to go back again soon. If only to commune in a land where people still believed that music can be so much more than disposable sound bytes. And to be embraced by friendship that goes beyond industry bullshit and cynicism. To catch glimpses of that child-like realm where magic still lives…

I guess it is as Kido said after the show:

“I hope you come back soon.”

“So do I, my friend,” I replied.








I’d like to apologize to folks who did not manage to get tickets. We promise to play a bigger venue next time. Thanks to Shiori and Oguri for doing a wonderful job once again. Love to Yoko and Yutaka for their faith and friendship. Kampai to all the volunteers for their generosity. And special thanks to Yumi Matsushita for providing Japanese interpretation of my in-show banter and Fujimoto-san for the photographs.

TOKYO PHOTOGRAPHS – [Click To Enlarge]

NARITA. [L to R: Me, Yutaka & Yoko] Narita airport is actually not even in Tokyo. It’s a two hour drive away. A little like having KLIA in Malacca, I guess. Normally, I lug all my stuff by train into central Tokyo. But Shiori and her husband Oguri came with Yutaka and Yoko in their car this time. Yutaka is a seriously funny man. He recently had a bit to drink and got lost for 4 hours while trying to find his way home from his regular bar. He is only allowed to drink tea for now.

REHEARSAL. [L to R: Hayakawa, Me & Kido] Gok Sound is a cool studio. Like everywhere else in Tokyo, space is at a premium, and so equipment are stacked up on every available inch of space. We got ourselves their biggest rehearsal room. Hayakawa and Kido are regulars. They’ve recorded a few albums here. You can just see Hayakawa’s steel reinforced bracings on his left leg in this photo. God knows how he was still able to drive a manual car everywhere.

SOUNDCHECK. The Shibuya Classic is one of hundreds of livehouses in Tokyo that makes the city a holy grail for touring musicians. At the last count, there are over 600 such live clubs in the city. These venues range from 200 persons capacity to 20. Classic sits somewhere in between at about 65. It has great vibes and acoustics. The engineer here is super detailed and fast. Soundcheck was painless and so we did some last minute practicing before the doors opened.

MERCHANDISE DESK. What would an indie gig be without street teams and volunteers? Shiori arranged for two volunteers [wearing tags] to man the merchadise counter. Other than my CDs and videos, they sold Malaysian New Wave films, including Ho Yuhang’s ‘Rain Dogs’ and Tan Chui Mui’s shorts. Entry per head was about US$30 [not including drinks]. Merchandises sell for between US$20 to US$25 a piece. Perhaps we’ll sell T-shirts and key chains next time.

CROWD. Japanese audiences are great. They can be as still as a wake at one moment and rock like a riot the next. Lots of people who worked at the Tokyo International Film Festival came that night. A few friends I haven’t seen for years popped up too. In the foreground is the wonderful Yumi Matsushita [with mic]. She interpreted my onstage banter so everyone could understand the rubbish I sprouted after a couple of sake and a bit of applause.

BAND. [L to R: Hayakawa, Me & Kido] Both Hayakawa and Kido are legends in the Tokyo live scene. Having worked on anything from avant garde music to progressive rock and new jazz [Bondage Fruit, Fujii Sartoko and John Zorn among them], both possess great versatility and musical range. I’ve been meaning to get a touring band like this together for ages. Hopefully it’ll mature into something unique. We took this picture at the entrance of the Shibuya Classic.

NHK INTERVIEW. [L to R: Motoko Sekiya, Me, Kazuhiro Baba & Unknown]. Sekiya-san hosts a radio show on Asian contemporary music at NHK FM. Baba-san is the program director of NHK’s ‘live recording’ series. He recorded Ren and Wataru Takada just before the latter died. As it turned out, it’s the same recording that Ren sent to me a year ago and is in fact one of my favourite CDs. He asked if I’d be interested to perform live for the series. Of course I would.

IN AOYAMA. After the interview at NHK, Shiori and I went down to Aoyama to see Hayakawa play with the famed Taiko drummer Leonard Eto. It was a good show. Hayakawa and I have grown to be good friends over the years. He is an amazing musician and an even better human being. If I were to list the number of times he’s saved my bacon, we’ll be here till next year. I once asked why he’d agree to work on my projects for peanuts. He simply replied: ‘Why not?’.

FOOD. I love Japanese food. Currently I am in love with the Ton-Katsu from the legendary Maisen restaurant in Aoyama. I promise you ain’t never tasted meat like that. Even the Maisen packaged Ton-Katsu sandwich you get at supermarkets is yummy. I bought loads of food at the Lonlon food market down the road from the hotel. They are now sitting in my fridge. No, I am not sharing. Here’s a picture of a bowl of noodles instead. Be happy with that.