Archive For May, 2008

Japan Tour Managers Blog – Part 5



We were sorry to leave Okayama and the guys from Comatose helped with getting our gear to the station. What a marvellous bunch they are. Little did we know we would be seeing them later…

After a very short train ride to Shin-Kobe station we were met by the promoter and taken to his amazing club, Zink, which was about a 30 minute van ride away. This place has to be seen to be believed – it’s near the docks and is a converted warehouse with a skate ramp, basketball hoops, pool tables, and various nooks and crannies for the band and punters to relax in. It’s certainly one of the most spectacular places we’ve ever played. This being Show 4 ( in a row ), everyone was feeling the strain ( hardly any bands do 4 shows in a row if it can be avoided ) but once again the soundcheck was seamless and helped by the usual highly efficient engineers.

We then piled back into the van along with the promoter’s lovely assistant Totti ( so named because she wears a Totti football shirt when she plays ) who was there to help translate, and headed back into Kobe to HMV for the instore. This one was potentially a bit dodgy as the store’s PA was somewhat basic – but like the 7th Cavalry a couple of the guys from Comatose turned up and generally mucked in and got the PA sorted out, and also brought a snare drum for Dana to play. An appreciative crowd turned up and sang along, followed by the usual signing session. People had brought some amazing ancient Farrah artefacts, which is quite common in Japan – for example, unopened copies of the vinyl of “Terry” – for the band to sign. We then met up with Nobu who was enjoying cruising round in the promoter’s very cool van and got dropped at the hotel.

Kobe being the famed “Beef Capital Of The World”, clearly my focus was on consuming as much cow-based food as possible, until I saw that a steak cost £60! I went for a £2.50 plateful of curry with Andrew instead ( Later that evening, for some reason, Nobu insisted on pointing out 4 or 5 excellent Kobe beef restaurants, all of which were shut ). We were back at Zink by 8-ish to see the end of the set by Riddim Saunter, who were very good, and then Farrah blitzed through another high-energy show assisted by 2 wonderful girls at the front who danced constantly to such an extent that Jez tried to get them up on stage for the encores. Shyness set in at that point, however, and the ladies declined. Considering that we have never played in Kobe before, we were pleased that people showed up, not least because the club is way out of town.

After the show, an impromptu table tennis competition was held, involving me getting rinsed by Dana, along with the bass player from Comatose, but then Michelle and Jez revealing themselves to be secret ping pong Illuminati. A long, long trudge through the streets of Kobe ( you never know how far the walk will be, Dana has sensibly taken to bailing out of it’s more than 3 minutes from the hotel ) ended at another great restaurant where – as usual – all the bands celebrated the show together. After this, I gave up and cabbed it back to the hotel as tour fatigue had truly set in and I was hallucinating ( possibly about giant sizzling cows ).

The next morning we headed off – minus Jez, who was staying for a holiday for a week or so – back to Tokyo and, from the train, got a fantastic view of Mt. Fuji. It really is an awesome sight, especially when the snow-covered upper half is a fairly similar colour to a slightly overcast sky – at first you seem to be looking at a brown flat-topped mountain and then suddenly you see the snowy peak going far higher than you imagine it to be. You then think – “that’s a volcano”.

Dana and I headed off to the airport next morning laden down with luggage including the bass case, which I loathe and detest more than any inanimate object in the Universe, due mainly to its weight, general unwieldliness ( is that a word? ) and its ability to slide off any known luggage trolley, crashing to the ground with tremendous force and terrifying small Japanese children, and the fact that it does not belong to me but to certain other people who were blithely heading off on holiday to Australia without being encumbered by anything so pesky as their own instrument. I entrusted it to Virgin Atlantic, praying silently that they would lose it or at the very least set it on fire. I sat glumly on the plane after hearing that London was 8 degrees and rainy, and for the whole 11 hours had a “sniffing bloke” next to me. I should explain. Japanese people don’t really blow their noses in public. Apparently it is less undignified to sniff every 23 seconds for 11 hours. Which is about 2000 sniffs. Not that I became obsessed with it or anything.

On returning to London, it was 8 degrees, rainy, my cab was an hour late, cost too much, and everyone I met was a complete and utter bastard. The End.

Japan Tour Managers Blog – Part 4

Soundcheck in Kobe


Racked Out!

After piling on to the Shinkansen at Osaka we were at Okayama incredibly quickly – but by this time we had got the train exit strategy down pat. I am sure one of these days we will turn round and realise we have left some vital equipment on a bullet train that is heading out of the station but touch wood it hasn’t yet. In fact, like an idiot, I left my Blackberry on the train which terminated in Tokyo at the end of the tour. The train cleaners – legions of small women clad in pink who I have been rather rudely referring to as “Oompa Loompas” – luckily found it and it was returned to me minutes later with Nori’s help. No further Wonka-related jibes from me I think.

Anyway, the guys from support band Comatose met us off the train and helped with the gear, and we walked to the nearby Tower Records for an instore, which was great. Not many people seemed to have seen the video for “Can’t Kick The Habit” which is a bit frustrating as it was a major effort pulling it all together. After the instore, we split into 2 groups – Meat, and Veggie – and went off in search of lunch. As I am a fully developed carnivore, I took command of the Meat team as Yo and the Comatose boys seemed to have lost all track of time and we were in danger of missing soundcheck. We ended up ina 20th Floor Chinese buffet with great views across Okayama to the Asahi river and mountains beyond. It’s a big industrial city with around 2.5 million people there, and home to some great fans of the band.

Soundcheck passed off smoothly – Desperado is a great club with a big stage and good PA – and we then killed a couple of hours hunting down some espresso before getting back to the club to watch Comatose’s set. This band supported us in 2007 at Image in Okayama and were good but a little rough around the edges. They have a new bass player and they have really come a long way – they were absolutely great. I predict big things for them. Good songs, great vocals from Yo – in fact all the guys played brilliantly. Many beers were had afterwards.

For me, this was the “gig of the tour”. Farrah played brilliantly and the crowd were fantastic, bopping around and singing along. It was non-stop energy including a version of “Tongue Tied” so fast that it was almost speed metal – overall, it’s one of the best Farrah shows I’ve ever seen. There are reports that I was seen pogoing briefly, which may explain the small tsunami near Okinawa later that evening. Afterwards we headed off – together with all the bands who had played and the wonderful girls who had been selling merchandise on the night – to a restaurant very near the hotel where I had some amazing Buta No Kakuni – simmered pork, and fried chicken, before calling it a night. Thanks Okayama and particularly to the Comatose boys for a brilliant night – we will be back.

Japan Tour Managers Blog – Part 3

Friday April 25th signalled the start of our foray out of Tokyo. I for one was glad to leave the mayhem behind and, after schlepping across town via taxis and on a local train to the main Tokyo station, we settled down in the comfortable seats of the Shinkansen for the 3 hour trip to Osaka. I never tire of going on the Shinkansen, once the mad scramble of getting all the gear and bags on board in about 2 minutes flat is over. There is loads of room, and trolleys coming by selling great food and drink. It’s an obsession in Japan to try as many new things as possible – I have long since got over the amusement of drinks called “Pocari Sweat” and have graduated to more exotic ones, my current favourite beinga mixture of Yuzu berries and lemon.

Once at Osaka, we piled into one of the few minibus-taxis still operating ( most Japanese cabbies are very accommodating in dealing with a band and their gear by the way ) and legged it to the club – Sunsui, where we played on the 2007 “Cut Out & Keep” tour. I went on an espresso run for various people ( a vital part of the manager’s day ) whilst the band set up, and the soundcheck was smoothness itself. Luckily the hotel was a few minutes walk up the street, and I noted they had something called the “Viking Breakfast” which I earmarked for investigation the following morning. A few hours kip was needed as the night before in Tokyo had been a 3 am job in the end, but I awoke refreshed and ready to walk down to the show with Jez. The club was already quite full and the support band 8 Otto – complete with singing drummer – were warming up the punters with some rock and roll which was clearly madness itself, involving a final jazz-rock jam with a lot of bellowing to finish the set.

I had a premonition that someone would break a string and faffed about a bit at the side of the stage working out what to do if one actually broke. Luckily the show passed off without incident and the crowd were great as usual – fantastic sound and lights once again. A couple of songs were dropped – the slower ones mainly – and we all felt the set was a lot tighter. Afterwards, the band hung out in the bar and once again met up with Michiko, and also our friend Yuka who is famed for having come to the very strange gig the band played at Stripes Bar in Brentford ( know as the “reality check gig” as it was the first one back from the first Japanese tour ) a few years ago. She now works at Tower Records in Osaka and as well as being very nice is also very useful. Michiko also gave me a present of some breath mints. I don’t know what that means. We wandered the streets and found a great restaurant that served pots of stew and Udon noodles, and some very welcome lager. The great thing about restaurants like this is that it is all very casual. You tell them how much you want to spend and they tell you when to stop ordering!

The next morning I emerged from the hotel’s breakfast room having had a cold boiled egg, some toast and margarine. In a classic “Japanese moment”, I had failed to spot that the much-advertised “Viking Breakfast” was served on a completely different floor. Ho hum. Cabs arrived, and it was off to the station for the short trip to one of our favourite towns, Okayama. I spent most of the cab journey in one of my favourite pastimes, which is “goading the midget vegetarian bass player”. How I enjoy a lively debate at the start of the day with someone unable to resist rising to the bait – and of course, any form of rising is to be encouraged in Michelle’s case.

Japanese tour

On Stage In Okayama

The Mighty Comatose head for Oblivion

Dana Onstage In Kobe

Onstage In Kobe


HMV in Kobe

Beautiful Girls on The merch stall in Okayama

Terry in Farrah hat at Hub aftershow

Tower records in Okayama

Day one Tokyo

Tokyo is one of the cities we know best in Japan as we often fly in to Narita and have days off here. Japan’s capital is a technicolour assault on the senses- vendors with megaphones outside camera shops, the pungent smell of fried octopus balls, tranquil temples and tasty tempura, Harajuku’s sea of people and the quiet back streets of Daikanyama.

After a day to acclimatize, the first port of call was HMV in Shibuya for an instore acoustic show. We played; Fear Of Flying, Can’t Kick The Habit, Peter Waits, No Reason Why, I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend and Do You Ever Think Of Me. A lot of punters turned up and then stayed after to have stuff signed. We were under strict instructions not to take too long which was a shame as there were a few familiar faces there.

The Feeling had been on the same flight as us and had kindly invited us to their show that night but by the time the instore had finished, so had their show. Instead we went out to a great restaurant and then on to a bar with fantastic views for a nightcap or three.

Day 2 Tokyo

Oh dear, my voice is a bit croaky and I’m regretting the final few Asahi’s last night

The venue is called Shelter and it’s a cool venue with a great crew and sound system. We’re the only band so we have the luxury of a long soundcheck. It’s a long set- 23 songs, so I’m nervous to how my voice will hold out, luckily the gig is packed, great fun and the audience are fantastic. We’ve all decided to wear suits and skinny ties like the ‘Can’t Kick The Habit’ video. It’s a cool and (unfortunately) hot look!

It was great to see Michiko at the show who gave us all lovely presents.

The aftershow at Hub (a rather strange British style pub with DJs) was a blast. We saw lots of old friends and sang Happy Birthday to Nori (who works tirelessly for our label). Another late night. A few strepsils in the morning I guess….

More to follow……

Japan Tour Managers Blog – Part 2

Wednesday 23rd dawned bright and sunny, and I headed off to meet two of the band’s publishers who had come over from the UK, Andy Graham & Lisa Cullington. Meeting them in the confusing warrens of Tokyo Station took a flurry of phonecalls but eventually we hooked up and took the local Yamanote line round to Shibuya, where they were staying in a very cool boutique hotel called the Granbell ( notable for it’s 24-hour bar/restaurant which for some reason is called “Plate Of Pie.Pop”. We headed out for lunch – this time at a 30th floor restaurant – where this time the possible view of Fuji was thwarted by smog and haze. We bumped into Jez who was foraging for guitar strings in the local music shops, and generally helped them get their bearings in Shibuya.

I then headed off to the band’s hotel where we had an interview for Beat Scratch magazine with some very switched-on people who asked a lot of great questions. Observing that it was now the height of rush hour in Tokyo, I deduced that it was probably the worst idea in the world to try to get the equipment to the HMV instore by train, and so put most of the band in a cab whilst Jez and I went by train. Compared with the last HMV instore we did, this one was potentially shambolic as for some reason nobody from HMV seemed able to operate the store’s PA. Luckily we were helped out by Nobu’s friend Ozaki-san who also lent us a great second acoustic guitar and general ly saved the day. A certain amount of managerial arsiness was required to keep things on an even keel, due to mild irritations like nobody at the store thinking to turn off the irritating J-Pop from the store’s speakers before the performance started. A good crowd turned up – the band played 6 songs, with Dana improvising a snare drum from a cardboard box – and then dutifully queued up after the performance to get their CDs signed. Afterwards, everybody trooped up the Dogenzawa Hill to a restaurant I know well – Gonpachi – for a huge dinner with about 16 people in total. Sadly, the sheer number of people and the barrage of food and beer orders from every angle of the table sent the waitresses into a tailspin. I watched dolefully as favourite dishes I had ordered disappeared up the other end of the huge table, but eventually succeeded in wrestling some food onto my plate. Not that I’m a dreadful control freak or anything.

Afterwards, Andrew Michelle and I took the semi-comatose Dana back to the hotel whilst Jez and the rest of the party decamped – or in some cases, camped – to the upstairs bar for a few more “liveners”. I am told that certain people may possibly have fallen off their bar stools later that evening, but as they say “what happens in Tokyo, stays in Tokyo”.

Thursday 24th. I awoke with some relief that the “tour proper” was about to start ( I was a tad “over” Tokyo by that point, having been there for a week ), and enjoyed the Toyoko Inn’s breakfast of rice cakes, miso soup, pickles and green tea. It’s actually a great way to start the day. I then hooked up with Andy, Lisa and June for a great lunch in a famous “tonkatsu” restaurant ( fried pork in breadcrumbs ) and showed them around for a few hours. Unusually, the Tokyo show was the first show of the tour ( it’s normally the last ) and we had plenty of guests to sort out. The club was somewhere we had never played before – Shelter, in the Shimokitazawa district, which is one of the new “cool” areas in Tokyo. We were mildly concerned that the venue seemed to be quite a way out of town, but soon relaxed as the soundcheck went fantastically well, assisted by the excellent sound engineer Tont ( I hope that’s how you spell it ). In Japan, support bands are not the norm so Farrah took to the stage around 7.20 ( just after Andrew had finished editing and burning the new intro CD in the dressing room ) and generally rocked the joint to a great response from a packed crowd. One highlight was Michelle and Jez’s version of “Things We Shouldn’t Say” from “Cut Out & Keep”, but in general everything worked well, although the band felt maybe the set was few songs too long.

After the show – as is normal – the band went into the crowd to meet friends, sign CDs and shirts, and generally say thanks to the audience. After that, most went off the the “British Pavilion” night at the Hub bar in Shibuya where famous Japanese DJ “Terry” ( yes, he plays it ) was spinning some quality UK guitar pop. I bailed and went for several large cigars to calm my jangling nerves.

You have to see a Japanese audience in action to truly understand their uniqueness – they go crazy during the songs, sing along to the words, but then listen quietly to the stage patter between songs, and after the show just bombard the band with general affection, little presents, and beer. It’s very gratifying and many of the fans in Japan have become friends of the band in the process. I think one reason is because the band genuinely enjoy hanging out after the show with these lovely people. When people from the UK see the reaction, they are amazed, as it is so far removed from a typical London audience who I often think could do with a little “cattle prod action” to liven them up. I think a lot of this is due to the different attitude to life of the Japanese people. They seem quite content, and determined to enjoy life and work hard without any of the cynicism and barely-repressed aggression we see in the West. I am told that in Japan people genuinely believe that society is more important than the individual. I’m not sure if that’s true, but they certainly seem very focused on oiling the wheels of everyday life to make it as pleasant as possible. You rarely hear car horns or people shouting at each other, or see any anti-social behaviour. Basically – people are nice to each other. So you find yourself – despite being a somewhat curmudgeonly old Westerner – following suit.

Japan Tour Managers Blog – Part 1

Alien Craft

Having just returned to a rainswept, freezing London I should give everyone some insights into the Spring 2008 Japanese Tour. The idea for the tour was hatched when I was in Tokyo in November last year with our label, Egging Records, who thought it would be a good idea to keep the Japanese market fed with new songs by releasing a single. We readily agreed, particularly as it was a chance to get some recordings with Dana under our belt. Over the next few months, the dates took shape as the band spent time in the studio recording 3 tracks – “Can’t Kick The Habit”, “Get Your Kicks” and “Peter Waits”. We delivered the tracks to the label who decided – as we thought too – that “Habit” was the most natural single. We thus cracked on with making a video for it in early March.

In the meantime, the rehearsals were booked, budgets sorted out, flights confirmed, rail passes organised, and hotels firmed up by the label. As usual, the plan was to travel around on the Shinkansen Bullet Trains carrying just guitars, a keyboard, a stage backdrop, and bags. The great thing about clubs in Japan is they will supply just about any type of amps and drum kits a band specify, plus great crew and excellent sound / lighting engineers ( many of whom are women, unlike in the UK ). We usually find that the engineer and lighting person has taken the trouble to find out all about the band, listened to all the songs already, and worked out what lighting would look good, with incredible attention to detail.

The week before the tour was taken up with final rehearsals and the usual last-minute curveball – this time the unfortunate cancellation of the Purple Turtle, thankfully replaced by Club Fandango on a pulled favour a few days later.

Doing a tour at club level, without bringing any crew from the UK, is no picnic on the budgetary front, and my first job is always to try to work out how to pay for it all. Don’t get me wrong, I know that we have one of the best jobs in the world going to play in exotic locations, but readers should dismiss all thoughts of luxury tour buses – or indeed any tour buses – and other “on the road” stereotypes you may have seen on TV. Farrah do not have a record label paying for it all, and in that sense are truly more “independent” than nearly all the supposed “indie” bands out there. The reality is that every £50 here or there is important and there is a lot of juggling to make it all happen. If flight costs suddenly spiral, for example because we tour in a holiday season, it can throw the budget out by a massive percentage. I’m lucky to work with a band who are all level-headed, practical people who muck in and deal with any weirdness or near-disasters with good humour.

I arrived in Tokyo a few days ahead of the band, for a few meetings and to check everything was set up for the tour. Our label head, Nobu, was actually in London at the time but luckily he is assisted by the very organised Nori Sawayama in his office in Tokyo, who had made sure final prepartions and the itinerary were spot on. Tokyo was in the middle of a huge rainstorm when I arrived, which had succeeded in stripping the trees of all the sakura cherry blossom, to the disgruntlement of most Tokyoites. I had booked lunch in a 40th Floor restaurant in the hope of seeing Mt. Fuji. The weather meant that the 40th Floor was actually swathed in cloud but, in typical Japanese fashion, the restaurant kitchen arranged the sashimi in the shape of Fuji in an attempt to make up for the disappointment.

Jez has been working with Japanese star Kaela Kimura ( writing songs for her and producing some tracks on her last album ) and her latest album “+1” includes her cover version of Farrah’s “No Reason Why”. The album had charted at No. 3 when I arrived, so celebratory drinks with the band’s amazing publisher, June Shinozaki of Sony Music, were on the agenda. As everything was in good shape for the tour, I took in the sights of Tokyo including the futuristic Manga-inspired riverboat “Himiko” ( see picture ) and generally ate, drank and smoked more Cohibas more than I should have, waiting for the band to arrive. On the Monday night I went to see James Blunt at the NHK Hall, who was great – much rockier than I had imagined, and who startled the crowd by leaping off stage and running round the hall to much hysteria – he has sold about 400,000 records in Japan and is a huge star there.

Tuesday 22nd dawned and I headed out to the airport on the bus to meet the band, help with the gear, and get the rail passes for the tour. Flights from the UK leave in the early afternoon and arrive about 9 the next morning – so if, like me, you can’t sleep on planes it’s an absolute killer. Luckily there is an Illy espresso bar just as you get out of the Arrivals Hall which is a blessing. Dana and Jez arrived first, closely followed by Andrew & Michelle who were on a different flight. We headed down to the airport station and got the rail passes stamped. These passes are vital to anyone touring around Japan on a budget – for £137 per person you get unlimited travel on the Shinkansen throughout Japan and various rail lines in Tokyo.

We headed into Tokyo on the airport express, and ended up at Shinjuku station a couple of hours too early to check in to the hotel. Shinjuku is the sleazy “Soho” of Tokyo with wall-to-wall neon, tiny drinking dens, club touts accosting you at every corner and a general sense of mayhem 24 hours a day. By this time the jetlag had kicked in and the next few hours were spent wandering around eating and drinking espresso in the Harajuku district ( famed for the “Harajuku Girls” to be seen in many Gwen Stefani videos ). Japanese hotels have very rigid check in times – and 4pm means 4pm, not 3.58. We usually stay at a chain called the Toyoko Inn, which are very modern, clean and basic hotels with free Internet, breakfast, a laundry ( vital to avoid carrying huge amounts of clothes around ) and so on. In a further blow to the myth that Japan is hugely expensive, the rooms are about £40 a night. By this point everyone was ready to crash out, although a few hardy souls emerged in the early evening for a couple of beers nearby. I opted for an early night, as the next day was the start of the tour proper with an “instore” ( an acoustic performance and signing session ) at HMV in the Shibuya district of Tokyo.