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.
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.
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
Friday 17th July
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.
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.
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.
Jamming with Sanda san
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Best Ramin Shop In Osaka
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
And Food Paradize
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.
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.
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
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.
the Rain Dogs in July 2004
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
West in 2008
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
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.
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
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