The Kanzai tour in July of 2009 turned out to be the best tour I ever had as yet in Japan. The music was right, the company was right, the timing was right and for once everything fell into place. We enjoyed so much and were so happy throughout our stay. Everything was so good and rosy until the second last day. In life, there is often a sting in the tail. When you feel so happy you always feel something will go wrong to sour everything up. And it did.

We arrived at Kansai Airport in Osaka at around 4 p.m. There was a lot of luggage. And I mean a lot. Even before the first note was played, I know this trip would be right. It is down to the company you keep. This year I had my whole band on tour in Japan. On bass is Alfred Au and on drums is Lawrence Tsui. They are not just another rhythm section I picked up along the way. This rhythm section is something special. The music the three of us now make is something that I have not been able to make even during the heydays of my Blues club 48th Street. The interesting thing is neither Alfred nor Lawrence comes from a Blues background.
I met Lawrence when his band Third Wind played in my Blues club. That would be in around early 2002. Third Wind was a Fusion Jazz outfit. I particluarly remember the drummer and keyboard player. Lawrence is now an all-round drummer. As a drummer he has been hired to play big shows for local pop singers in very big venues. A well-known and well-respected drummer all round. Besides doing session or stage work, Lawrence currently plays in Jazz big band, a Rock band, and a few other bands. Lawrence has very good basic skills and he nows turns them into something spectacular. To make my trio come alive, I need more than a hard-hitting Rock drummer, I need someone who has the technical ability, the feel and touch to add colours to the rhythm section. Lawrence is the man.
Alfred is the bassist of a local Heavy Metal oufit called Never N. I met them in 2003 when they came to do a thirty minute show at my Blues club. I liked their music very much and got on immediately with Never N. Soon we became friends. Alfred is the quintessiential Heavy Metal bass player, full of power and punch and energy. I had asked Alfred to join me on Sunday Jam Sessions at my Blues Club but nothing very serious. Two years ago, I called up Alfred. Alfred took up the Blues in no time and gives the band punch and energy to keep up the power and grit of a three piece band. With a three-piece, every single player must be up to it if the music is to sound right.

Outloop Way Blues Bar

Friday 17th July

The first show was on Friday 17th July at The Outloop Way Bar in Kyoto. Kyoto is about 40 minutes away from Osaka by train. It was a rainy day on when we set out from our hotel in Osaka. There was a festival going on at Kyoto on the day and there was a massive traffic jam. We had to get their by train in order to make the show in time. We had to walk to the train station with all our gear, negotiate all the stairs and lifts and esclators to get on the underground. We than ahd to change to a train. It was no easy ride. Fortunately we had my cousin Nicholas Fung to help us out. I have not seen Nicholas for over 10 years and he a big man now. By the time we got to Kyoto it was already evening time.

The owner of the bar is Sanda san. Sanda san is an excellent Blues guitar player. His band The Outloop Way Blues Band has releaed two Cds the lastest being One More Shot. They are very much the Blues power trio. Sanda san is a big fan of Stevie Ray Vaughan.

In 2004, Sanda san and his band played in my Blues club just before we closed down. Now I have the chance to return the compliment to play in his bar. Not unlike many bars with live music in Japan, The Outloop Way Blues Bar is not very big. But the minute you walk in, you know this is a music place which is something you cannot say just about every single bar in Hong Kong. In every bar in Japan with live music I have been to, you can feel the music in the air the minute you walk in. Each bar has a different character and comes out loud and clear.

Sound Check Time

Jamming with Sanda san

The first show is always difficult. But Outloop Way Bar felt just like home. It reminded me so much of my Blues Club 48th Street. We had a really good warm up show and Sanda san join us on the guitar during session time. Your health plays such an important part when you are on the road. In Hong Kong, we step out of our flat, get in a taxi, get out and get on stage to play music. But being on the road often means travelling long distances getting to a show carrying substantial gear. When I had my Blues club, all I did everyday was playing music, drink and smoke. In those days, by the time I get to a venue from the hotel, I was already tired as hell. When the sound check was done, all I wanted to do was to get back to the hotel, have a shower and get to bed. Having given up smoking and of plenty of exercise everyday really helped so much. Now all this is just a walk in the park.

Uwaya-Gekijiyo

Saturday 18th July

Uway-Gekikiyo is in Kobe. It is about 45 minutes' drive from Osaka. We set off for Kobe in Masato san's van and arrived late afternoon with plenty time to spare. Uway-Gekikiyo one of the untis in long block of warehouse situated near the waterfront in Kobe. The warehouse has been converted to various usages.

Most of the live venues in Japan are relatively small but Uway-Gekikiyo is quite a quite place and a big venue by Japanese standard. The stage is spacious with te control penals and mixing desk on the upper floor looking right onto the stage.

 

There is a China Town near the venue. Just like the China Town in Yokohama, the place is squeaky clean. Very nice tourist area. Need to say we did not go into any of the restaurants. For a start, the prices of Chinese food are exorbitant and its authenticity not unopend to question.

What we went for was shuishi restaurant. The shushi was so good we just could not stop eating. Amongst us, Lawrence has the biggest appetite. But he is a big guy. This place is really something else. The prices are more than friend and the food highly delicious. Certainly come back again next year.

There were four acts on the night including Mastuda's band. Mastuda is a fantatisc Rhythm & Blues singer. I met him last year and share the stage with him on several occasions. He falsetto is full of emotion and incandescant. Another band is a group of gospel singers. Every act is top-notch.

This year Mastuda's band is stripped down. Gone were the keyboard and horn players. The rhtythm section now consisted only bass and drums and two guitars. The lead guitarist was from Tokyo and turned out to be a red-hot guitar player.

s.

 

It was a very pleasant evening, the venue was good, the sound was good, the food was great. That was our second show and I knew the best was yet to come.

The Best Ramin Shop In Osaka

Japanese ramin is one of my all-time favourites. The noodles differ from one shop to another, differ from one locality to another. Generally speaking, you have three or four standard soup base. And they also differs widely from place to place. One would have thought the best ramin would be found in a small corner ship specializing in home made noodles and soup. That is not the case here. The best noodle shop in Osaka is acuatlly a chain noodle shop. Hard to believe. Yes, I know. But amongst all the noodle shops I had been to Osaka, this is the best. And I have everyone with me to testify to that. We ended up having at least on serving a day and sometimes two. The noodles and the soup are really great but so are the prices. If you order a large serving, it will cost you around HK$100. Noodles are very filling when you ate it but they disappear very fast in your belly. Two hours later, you feel you have not eaten a thing all day.

The Beggars Banquet has just celebrated its 10 anniversary not long ago. My first visit to the Beggers Banquet was in July 2004. The first impression I got when I set foot in Begger's Banquet was it was a music place : Blues music was coming through the house loudspeakers. The Master there really loves the Blues and I had dropped by nearly every time I went on tour in Osaka.. This time when I stepped inside Beggars Banquet, I was greeted with Allman Brother's Stormy Monday. In Hong Kong, apart from my Blues club, I am quite sure that song has never been played in public. The other exception was when I was DJ of the one and only Blues radio programme in Hong Kong in 1996. I played that song on the radio.

The music scene in Hong Kong, if there was one, is moribund. The standard of the average audience, with the handing over in 1997 and the departure of expats, has dropped lower than the low C. For the most part, the average standard of the music-listening audience in Hong Kong still lingers at the bubble gum, sing-a-long, karoke level. They wouldn't know what is an insturmental solo, they wouldn't know the point of it all. Most of the time, playing any kind of serios music in Hong Kong is not unlike playing music to a horse. You rarely get a response from the audience. I call Hong Kong "The Land Of The Living Dead". And this being polite.

The Beggars Banquet do not normally have a full band in the house. Normaly live music there takes more in the form of an acoustic set : two guitars, harps and vocals. But this time, the Master made an exception and we had a full band at Beggars Banquet. The place is not only a bar but is also a curio shop, you see all kinds of memorbillia and collectables. The place is on the first floor of a two story building. to get there you climb a rather steep staircase.

The Beggars Banquet is one place I really like and it is so good I could take my band to go there to do a show. The Master is always so nice to me. The hosptitality is out of this world. The first time I met the Master of Beggars Banquet in 2003, he said "Tommy san, one day you must do a show here." And not only did I do a show there, I took my best line-up with me.

The opening act that night was a guitar singer song writer Hiroki san. He writes his own music and you can tell his roots are Rag Time and the Blues. Like all musicians who perform in public, he performed with consmmate skills. After Hiroki san's opening, we played for one hour and fifteen minutes and had the session time and after that we had session time.

Masato san introducing the band

During session time, my good friend Kenji san joined me on the guitar and Masato san sang the Blues. Blues guitar player Kouichi also joined us for a jam session. It was a full house, the atmosphere was great and everything was just fantastic. Had such a good time before, during and after the show. It was fantastic to jam with such good players like Masato san, Kenji san and Kouichi san.

 

Club Jungle is in the basement of a commerical building in the centre of Osaka. This place has become one of the hottest live music spots in Osaka. The first time I played Club Jungle was in July 2005. At the time entire venue was open plan, there was not stage and everyone sat on tatami. But last year when I played again at Club Jungle, the whole place was transformed into a more formal setting with a proper stage, flow back monitors and the lot. The sound on and off stage, as you would expect in Japan, is very very good. The mxing desk at opposite end of the room. The stage staff is all female and young.

The show at Club Jungle was Monday 20th July which was a national holiday in Japan. There were four bands on the night and we were one of them. The headliner is Nyudow san, one of the leading figures in the Blues scene in Japan. Last year I played in the same event in Club Jungle and opened the show for Nyudow san in Mojo West in Kyoto.

The show started off with the Tone Factory a six piece band, tight and powerful and in the veins of Lynard Skynard. The slide guitar player plays a Gibson 335 and plays some really fluid slide guitar. The interaction of the two gutiars in the band was almost telepathic. Really enjoyed set to start off the night.

Amongst the performers was a duet. They certainly was one of the highlights of the night and nearly stole the show. I enjoyed so much I forgot to write down their names. One of the players altenate between bass and a guitar. This duet combined technical prowess with emotion and the lead guitarist played some of the best Blues solo passages I ever heard. If you have the know-how and passion, two players can sound as powerful as a full band.

We had a great time playing at Club Jungle. It is so good to be out of the Land Of The Living Dead and play in front of an audience who understand and apprecite the Blues. On top of all that, every act is top notch and we enjoyed their music so much.

 

Nyudow Blues

 

The Shopping And Food Paradize
Many say Hong Kong is a shopping paradise. Yes it may be, if you are just looking for ordinary consumer goods, cosmetics, cameras and the like. But if you are looking for something that has a little more depth or culture, if you are looking for something other than the lastest in line from the cut-throat production lines, you are not going to find it in Hong Kong. Things are not even cheap anymore in Hong Kong. You get the best selection of muscial intstruments in Japan. You get the best selection of Cds and score books in Japan. Admittedly the prices are a little higher, but it is worth the extra dollars. Lawrence bought two snare drums and a sub-kick in Osaka. He was just pleased as punch.

As you can see from the pictures, we had such a great time in Japan. It is not just one of those sight-seeing trips, where you just go shopping all day, eat. get up and do the same. After a couple of days, a trip like that gets rather hollow. Everything was fine this time, the music was good, the atmosphere was good, there was a strong camaraderie in the band. My cousin Nick was with us and it was great to spend some time with him.

Everything went so well until after all the shows we went to Tower Records in Umeda. At Tower Records, I went to see if Shinji Shiotsugu, better know as Shin san "the Master of the Blues" had any new CD releases. Shin san was the acknowledged number one Blues guitar player in Japan. Shin san started his career in The West Road Blues Band in the 70's. The West Road Blues Band was the seminal Blues band in Japan. After the West Road Blues Band broke up, Shin san went solo touring all over Japan.

At the Rain Dogs in July 2004

I was first introduced to Shin san in Osaka 2004. I was on tour in Osaka and Mr. Masato san took us to Rain Dogs to see Shin san played. I was introduced to Shin san and he was so kind, he immediately invited me on stage. I had a cracking time jamming with one of the best Blues guitar players and with his fanstastic backing band following our every move. Last year Shin san again invited me to join him on stage and we even opened his show with Nyudo san at Mojo West in Kyoto.

At Mojo West in 2008

After I found Shin san's Cds in Tower Records, I immediately knew something was amiss when I saw a card in front of his CDs. I don't read Japanese but I from the one or two Chinese characters there I knew something was not good. I just did not want to think. When we went back to the hotel, we checked the internet and found out that Shin san died last October. Shin san felt unwell before a show, an ambulance was called and he died later in hospital due to heart failure.

I just found this very difficult to digest and was shattered. Last year we were still on stage together and now we will never meet again. I felt really bad. The futility of life. Such a fantastic player and all there is left now are a few ounces of ashes. I just could not believe it. Such a great player and will never hear his guitar and his singing ever again. I still cannot believe it even now when I think about it sometimes. To remember Shin san, I decided to buy a white Telecasters, one of his favourite guitars. I wanted a Telecaster copy by a made by a small Japanese company in co-operation with the Van Zandt company.

Van Zandt is a US company that makes replacement pick-ups for Fenders. These pick-ups are really expensive, a single coil can cost up to HK$2,000 in Japan. In the early 90's they teamed up with a Japanese company and started releasing Fender copy guitars. These guitars are supposed to be as good, if not better, than the Fender Customer Shop models. The Van Zandt guitars are not cheap, a Strat copy set you back in the region of HK$21,000. But they really sound so good, maybe even better than the real thing. I never managed to find the white Tele I was looking for and came home empty-hand. But as fate would have, I found the one I wanted exactly on eBay within two days I got home. The guitar was in Yokohama and I bought it. It turned out to be one of the best-sounding guitar I have ever played. My musician friends tried it out and they all want one now. You reall want to check out these guitars. I know the chances of me playing the Tele in shows is slim, my favourite guitar is the Steinberger. But I wanted that guitar so I can remind myself of Shin san. To remind myself of how cruel life can be, of how lucky I am to be still sitting here today. Music means even more to me now than ever. You never know when your number is up, so make some of every minute you are breathing.

All things must pass, all good things must come to an end

There is a time for all of us to go. Just enjoy life. Who's next, who knows. For one, one thing makes life worth living : music

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