Band Blog

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.