Kansai Tour 2008
are few places as exciting as the stage
and there are few places more exciting to play music than Japan.
You cannot be timorous when you are on stage in Japan, you have
to give it all. The audience are very discerning, they know what
you are up to and they are used to hearing good music, you cannot
hope to get away with a few gimmicks. And if you are sharing the
stage with other bands, you can bank money on it that they are
good and very professional. If you were to play in famous venues
like the ones I am privileged to play on this tour, you can expect
the other bands whose stage you share with to be top class and.
Unless you know what you are doing and confident in what you are
doing, it can be a lot of pressure and your nerves can get at
you. Playing on the professional stage in Japan is often like
playing in a pressure cooker. Don't work in the kitchen if you
can't stand the heat. But it is in the kitchen you really find
out about yourself, it is here you see what you are really made
The Kansai area
in Japan is redolent of music and has long
been a hotbed for producing famous Blues and R & B musicians.
This is also a place where music is taken seriously and music
artistry is accorded with the proper respect it deserves. In this
respect, Japan and Hong Kong cannot be more different. It has
been two years since I last played music in Japan. For a variety
of reasons, I just could not get my band together and my last
tour was in 2006. But this time, the conditions were propitious,
that is because my bassist Alfred Au is coming with me.
Alfred and Lawrence
and I have been playing together as a trio
for over a year and a half. Our trio started off as a tottering
structure, shaky and unsure of ourselves and our music. But over
time, we have developed a strong rapport and this current line-up
is the best one I have ever had. During this year and a half,
Alfred has improved beyond recognition and he is now a pillar
of a bass player, giving the rhythm department both punch and
groove. Alfred is someone I can totally rely on. If only my drummer
Lawrence could come on tour with us, it would have been perfect.
But Lawrence could not come. That is life, nothing is perfect.
For this tour, Masato Nishimura san, the organizer and boss of
the record company distributing my CDs in Japan, has arranged
a young drummer to join us for the shows and his name is Yuichi
Fujiwara. For this tour, we were to play at the Chicken George
in Kobe, at Club Jungle and the CD & Record Festival in Osaka
and finally at Mojo West in Kyoto. All the shows are to happen
in just three days. This tour is somewhat shorter than my usual
tour, but it turned out to be no less eventful.
in Osaka on 1st July. After a long and tiring
trip from the airport, we arrived at our hotel, the Lion's Hotel
in Shinshabashi, at around 6:00 p.m. . As soon as we dumped our
luggage in our hotel rooms, we wasted no time in going out to
feel the night life of Shinshabashi. There are hundreds of shops
and restaurants in this area. There is a three-storey CD shop
which opens 24 hours (hard to believe, isn't it).We walked around
and had dinner in a Izakaya. The food was great and we had rather
a lot to drink. After dinner I ended drinking more in Alfred's
room with his friend Maggie.
Trying to work out out something very difficult
in the menu.
In the hotel lobby waiting ready for
Rehearsal studio in the heart of Shinshabashi
The next day
we had a rehearsal in the afternoon with
the young drummer Yuichi Fujiwara and this was to be the only
rehearsal we were to have before the shows. We basically had two
hours to sort out everything. It is not easy to have just one
rehearsal and walk on stage to play. But I know Alfred will be
able to keep the rhythm section together no matter what happens.
And I count on him to do just that. The young drummer was understandably
tense during the rehearsal. But he has good skills and he had
studied our songs before we arrived and he knows the structures
of the songs well. We did not have much of a groove during rehearsal,
the music sounded stuffy and contrived, there was no life or spark
to it. I knew immediately I was in trouble, the shows were going
to be very difficult to pull off. Knowing the sort of venue we
were to play and the standard of the other bands sharing the stage,
I was quite worried; the last thing I wanted was to do a bad show
in Japan. I asked Masato san to explain to Yuichi that he should
relax and play, get into the music and play with heart and soul.
That is the only way to give life to the music and make the music
come out alive. The first show would be at the Chicken George
on Thursday 10th July, which was the next day.
On the way Chicken George I was quite worried
and could only come up with a wry smile when Alfred had me picture
Alfred and Yu-chen
With Masato san
George Thursday 3-7-2008
Chicken George is in Kobe and is one of the most famous
live houses in Japan. It has been around for a long time. The
building which housed the old Chicken George was knocked down
and a new building was built. This new building took over a year
to build and during that time Chicken George simply closed down.
Chicken George only opened its doors a few months ago. All major
acts in Japan have at one time or another played the Chicken George.
The place is that famous. The show on the night was part of the
Black Music Train organized by Masato san which was to take place
over the next few days in a variety of venues. We took a train
from Osaka to Kobe and it took around 30 minutes. The Chicken
George is very close to one of the train exits so it was not a
problem getting there carrying our gear.
On the night,
there were a total of 5 acts. The headliners
of the night were The Pleasures and Kazushi 'Funky' Matsuda Special
Band. I was the opening act on the night.
As we were the first band to
play we were the last to have our sound
check. Before us was the Matsuda Special Band. This band is
essentially Soul, Funk and R & B. The band leader/singer
Matsuda has a wide vocal range from bottom low to high pitch
peak, he can sing in falsetto and switch back to normal singing
in a split second. It really was something to behold. According
to the rundown, we were to have our sound check between 4:30
p.m. and 5:10 p.m. The stage was made available to us shortly
before 4:30 p.m. and we were able to sound check at exactly
4:30 p.m. This is Japan not Hong Kong where everything runs
like clockwork and smooth as silk. Our sound check would be
one last rehearsal before the real thing. And we needed it.
Once we got our gear set up we went straight into our first
number and it became apparent right from the first note that
the music was working. Yuichi had discarded all the worries
and burden and had gone to the heart of the music. Our music
suddenly came alive. As soon as we started the first song I
knew we were going to have a great show. We were already jamming
during the sound check.
Once we started playing at the
sound check, I knew we got it, I knew everything would fall
After the sound check,
we could not wait for stage proper to begin. I knew we sounded
good and I knew we got it in us to do a good show. I was not
disappointed, none of us were disappointed. We had a very good
reception from the audience. I really enjoyed playing on stage
at the Chicken George. We really sounded as one unit, we never
missed a beat and we had a great jam on stage. All caution were
thrown to the wind and we really jammed on stage. This is how
music is meant to be played. From the rather disappointing rehearsal
to our first show, I knew we had something special in this tour.
At Chicken George, we really excelled ourselves. I could not
have asked for a better start for the tour.
|After our set, we hanged around to see the other
acts. I would not miss them for the world. The Pleasures were a
funk and soul band with a hard-hitting edge and they are a top class
Kazushi 'Funky' Matsuda
came the headliner, the Kazushi 'Funky'
Matsuda Special Band. They really are something special. Their
music was very tight and very funky. Matsuda is charismatic and
has a vocal range that is very hard to find on planet earth. The
band was tight and groovy. The drummer is absolutely stunning.
He is of those rare drummers who can make the drum kit sing. He
provided the feel and foundation for the band to shine. This is
a top class act.
All in all,
it was an excellent evening and I could not have asked for a better
start for the tour. Apart from bring my own drummer, Yuichi is
the next best thing. He is only 22 years old. This was Alfred's
first music trip in Japan, and he was high as a kite, enjoying
the atmosphere, making new friends and enjoying the music. Our
set turned out so much better than we expected I just could not
wait for the next show. It was a dream start for our tour.
in Japan is simply irresistible. This time
I tried a large ramin. It is something I have always wanted to
try. It really is huge. And being the pig I now am, I finished
it all and was asking for more. It is hard to believe I could
finish the whole thing. It has been over a year and a half since
I gave up smoking but I am still having problems controlling my
appetite. I am still eating more than I need or is good for me.
When I go back to Hong Kong it is time to go on diet again. In
the meantime, the food is so good in Osaka I just did not know
what to do but eat. It will all come back to haunt me and I know
it. I got rid of nicotine, but the ghost is still here. I wished
so much someone told me all those years ago about what nicotine
would do to me. You just reap what you sow and get what you deserve.
I smoked for over 20 years and I am paying the price. It is hell
to go on diet again. Going on diet requires a lot of will power.
At my age, summoning will power and to sustain it is not easy,
it drains your physical strength and makes you tired. But the
battle with nicotine goes on. I know I will come out on top. I
will win. But what a price to pay. No more rice, no more noodles,
just vegetables and a minimum amount of meat. It is almost more
than flesh and blood could bear. Just in case you want to see
how I gave up smoking, check it out here.
If you are not a smoker, it would be really stupid for you to
at Club Jungle Saturday 5-7-2008
Jungle is in the heart of Shinshabashi,
about 10 minutes walk from our hotel. The show in Club Jungle
on Saturday 5th July was one of the events of Black Music Train
Volume 1. I had played Club Jungle two years ago. The headliner
on the night was Nyudo, one of the best known Blues singer in
Japan. The name Nyudo is synonymous with Blues in Japan. Besides
Nyudo, there was the Gospel band Browned-eye Soul and the Out
Loop-way Blues Band. The Out Loop-way Blues Band had played at
48th Street on 5th April, 2005 but I missed their show : I was
engaged to do some shows in Sapporo that week. Finally I had the
chance to see them play. I had a copy of their debut CD and fully
know what to expect : trio power. On the same bill was Nacomi
san, a female Blues singer and guitar player who will be appearing
in the Taiwan Blues Festival this year. There is also Kimura,
a singer and song writer and a powerful performer.
Soul is a Gospel band consisting of three
lovely girls, four guys, one saxophone player and a percussionist.
Sound and vision. Phew!!
The Out Loop-Way Blues Band
Out Loop-Way Blues band are from Kyoto.
Band leader is singer guitarist Satoshi Sanda, on drums is Yuji
Nagome and on bass Tokuji Kojima. This year, the Out Way-Loop
Blues band are celebrating their 10th anniversary as a band. The
band members have known each other for a long time since school
days. The show at Club Jungle also coincides with the release
of the third CD "One More Shot". I finally had the chance
to see them play. They are firmly based in the Stevie Ray tradition
but they have their own style and they are really an exciting
band to watch. They combine entertainment with real artistry and
they really rock. They will be playing in the annul Australia
Blues Festival this year.
'One More Shot'
is the third
and latest release from Out Loop-Way Blues Band. Special guest
include the Blues master and Blues harp wizard Mr. "Weeping
Harp" Senoh. Check out their website here.
Packed with power and punch, this Cd is not to missed.
With the members of Out Loop-Way
Blues band and friend Kouichi
Show Time At
At Club Jungle,
we played the best show of the entire
tour. That was a night when everything fell into place, the
feel, the touch, the groove, everything was right on. We had
a riotous reception at the end of our set. All three of us were
really happy, we thoroughly enjoyed the music and the occasion.
Nyudo Sings the Blues
Satoru Watanable (keyboards),
Kouji Nankaku (bass), Shinichi Kamiyoshi (drums) and Tashiki Mori (guitar)
san was the headliner of the night and they
came on stage to a huge reception. The band was groovy and they
did a load of Blues standards like "Going To Chicago",
"I Can't Hold Out" and many others. The guitar player
did a magnificient slide solo in one song reminiscent of the late
Duane Allman. The drummer was again Shinichi Kamioshi.
Nacomi sings the Blues
Japanese lady Blues singer Nacomi comes on stage
and joined Nyudo's band for three songs. Nacome has recently
released a new recording and will be taking part in the Taiwan
Blues Festival this year. Her latest CD is "Grabbed My
Heart". For Nacomi's website, click here.
The Final Jam
After Nyudo san
finished his set, he invited many musicians to come on stage to
do one final song and he was so kind to invite me on stage. I
had such a great time on stage playing with such great players,
it was just party time.
They were so kind to me and I could not thank
them enough particularly Masato san and Nyudo san. I enjoyed
so much on stage joining Nyudo san's band.
day before the Club Jungle Show, I bought
a digital recorder, the Roland EDIROL R-09HR and we recorded the
entire show at Club Jungle.The EDROL R-09HR is the latest portable
digital recorder by Roland. The machine weighs like a feather,
it is just incredible. There is an individual control for the
recording level of each of the two channels. The recording level
can be managed manually or automatically by switching on the Limiter/ARC
button on the back of the machine. There is even a remote control
for operating the machine at a distance. The machine has two built-in
microphones but there is a socket for external mic and line. The
most attractive aspect of this machine over other similar machines
is that it takes ordinary AA batteries. Some portable digital
recorders, for example the one by Tescam, only take rechargeable
batteries. That is a non-starter. What if the batter does not
work? You can say goodbye to the machine. What if you forgot to
charge the battery the night before? You can forget the show.
The quality of the recording is good and this machine is well
worth the price on its price tag. It is easy to use and works
flawlessly. Recording your shows is definitely a good way to improve
you playing and singing. For the best quality recording on WAVE
at 24bit/96kHz, you can record 110 minutes on a 4GB memory card.
That is good stuff.
The Roland EDIROL
Record & CD Festival 6-7-2008
July, the Record and CD Festival will take
place in a host of locations all over Japan. The purpose of the
festival is to promote Lps and CDs. On Sunday 6th July, the location
of the festival is Osaka and the building in which the festival
was to take place was only 5 minutes walk from our hotel. The
main sponsors of the event were BSMF Records (the distributor
of my Cds in Japan) and Sam's Records. Sam's Records is the famous
music vendor for Blues and R & B in Japan with branches all
over Japan. The headquarters of Sam's Records is in Saki in Osaka.
Anyone in Japan with just a passing interest in Blues and R &
B would have heard of Sam's Records. At Sam's Records, I used
to spend huge amounts of money to buy hard to find Blues Cds.
The owner of Sam's Records is Sato san. In October 2003 I played
a show at Sam's Record's live house "Red House". It
was so good to meet him again this time after so many years.
The Red House
the Record & CD Festival, there were
thousands and thousands of Lps for sale. It is utterly unbelievable;
it was like a trip down memory lane. I saw so many Lps which I
treasured when I was young, I held in my hands Lps the existence
of which I had long forgotten. I have never seen anything like
it. The is a big Lp selection for Rock, Blues, R&B , Soul,
Funk and Pop music. I was like a child in a candy store, I did
not even know where to begin looking. There were even 45's!!!
Some of you will be too young to know what that is. Ask your father.
With Sato san, the owner
of Sam's Records
I really did
not know where to start looking. The entire
basement floor was devoted to Lps and Cds. And there were so
many people still interested in Lps in Japan. I still have around
two to three thousand Lps in storage at home. One day I will
give them a good dusting and start playing some of them.
DJ playing Lps on turntables
Masato san had kindly arranged
for me to play a short set at the Festival to promote my Cds.
Instead of a full drum kit, we only had percussion. But it was
good fun, a completely different kind of feel. One of the songs
I did was "Walking By Myself", a song which I love
but had not played for rather a long time. After our set, we
packed out gear and headed for our final show of the tour :
Mojo West Sunday
Mojo West is in Kyoto and is a famous live
venue in the Kansai. The show at Mojo West on 6th July was a veritable
Blues Summit, the show brings together two of the best Blues artists
in Japan : Nyudo san on vocal and blues harp and Shinji Shiotsugu
san on guitar. Shinji Shiotsugu san is widely regarded as one
the best Blues guitarists in Japan. And rightly so. In fact many
people regard him as the best Blues guitarist in Japan. I certainly
will not argue against that. I have seen him play before. This
was Alfred's first time to see Shinji san play and he was absoultely
stunned. Shinji was one of the members of the legendary West Road
Blues Band, one of the seminal Blues band in Japan. So we have
two real masters of the Blues here. During their sound check we
thoroughly impressed with the chemistry between the two masters.
We were privileged to be their opening act. The show started at
8:30 sharp and we played for 40 minutes.
We arrived at the Mojo West
at around 5:00 p.m. While I was settling down near a table,
someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned round and it was
Shinji san. He said "Tommy, do you remember me?".
Of course I do, the Blues guitar master. I told Alfred to come
right over and had our picture taken and I did not have time
to expalin to Alfred who Shinji san was. But he found out later
when Shinji san did his sound check. Alfred told me he had never
heard anything sounding so good execpt on a CD and the guy was
right in front of him!!
'Can't Stop Playing The Blues'
|Shinji Shiotsugu is one
of the very best from Japan. He combines Jazz with his Blues.
But he does so in such a way that his playing does not lose the
grit, the punch and kick which is a hallmark of Blues music. I
have seen many guitar players trying to combine Jazz and Blues
and ended up sounding sterile, limp and uninteresting. Shinji
san is a true master of the Blues guitar. Take it from me, I wouldn't
say something like this if I did not mean it. His latest release
is 'Can't Stop Playing The Blues'. This is Shinji san's website,
make sure you have a look at hit here.
Shinji san was so kind he gave me a copy of his latest Cd.
Nyudo and Shinji Shiotsugu
Here you have one of the best Blues singer
teaming up with one of the best Blues guitar player. This is the veritable
san had told me that they wanted to invite
me on stage to join them on stage after they have finished their
regular set. But we had to catch a train back to Osaka and we
had to leave the venue by 10:30 p.m. the latest or we would miss
the train back to Osaka. I wish so much to join them on stage
but Nyudo san and Shinji san's set started at 9:00 p.m and was
scheduled to finish at 10:30 p.m. There simply was not enough
time for me to join them on stage and then catch the last train.
But Nyudo san timed their set to perfection : the finished at
10:20 p.m. and invited me on stage for the encore. It was truly
great to be on stage with such great musicians. We did "Got
My Mojo Working", one of my favourite tracks of all time.
It was another party time and another party piece.
Mojo Working with the Blues
finished at exactly 10:30 p.m. I quickly
packed up my gear, went to the dressing room to shake hands and
say good by to everyone before rushing off to the train station.
Good job that the station is not too far from Mojo West.
We made the last train from Kyoto to Osaka to connect
with the underground train to Shinshabashi. It was a pretty
close cut thing but we did it.
It is really tiring on
tour. You carry with you a substantial amount of gear, get on
and off trains, walk substantial distances to the venue, sound
check, eat something then do the show. After the show, after all
the adrenaline is spent, you pack up again and make the long journey
home back to the hotel. You feel so tired by the time you get
to your hotel.
Alfred is really
the happiest man on this planet. Besides
playing music, eating good food, making new friends, he also bought
a secondhand bass guitar. It is a top-of-the line Spector bass
guitar. I first spotted it in Miki Garki and told him to have
a look at it. The next day the bought it and was using the new
bass in all the shows from then on. This was the first time Alfred
played music in Japan and he come off with flying colours, really
I spotted a new
brand of Japanese made guitar called "Sugi",
absolutely beautiful and just by looking at it I knew they sound
and play great, which is why I did not even touch any of them,
I knew better. We are talking about HK$30,000 plus for one of
these guitars. Check out Sugi guitars here.
After the last
show, we had one more day before coming
home. I spent the day walking around Osaka with Alfred who was
buying all these expensive T-shirts all over the place. One look
at the price tag and I nearly fainted. I thought T-shirts were
meant to be cheap and affordable clothing. I couldn't be more
wrong. All T-shirts are equal but some are more equal than others.
our last dinner in Osaka
The next day we were to catch the
plane and come back to Hong Kong. But there was a twist in the
The Wrong One
All our luggage stowed in the train carriage. We thought
we had it made. But this was our last laugh before we realized
The skies opened
up on the day we left Osaka for Hong Kong.
We had to get to the underground station by 2:30 p.m. the latest.
That morning, rain started pouring down. At one time the rain
came in torrents, then it rained more or less incessantly. We
had no way but to brave the rain to get to the underground station.
As usual there were so much gear and luggage to carry and this
time there was rain. We all got wet. After a great deal of ado,
we finally managed to get on the underground train and arrive
at the train station to take the train to the airport. It was
the Hankyu line we were to catch. We asked for directions at
the train station and were directed to Platform 5. We finally
got on the train and thought we made it and started congratulating
ourselves. Final stop of the train was Kansai Airport and we
could not go wrong. So we thought.
all very tired and were nodding on an off on the train.
At some stage, some kindhearted Japanese passengers started
gesturing to us. At first we did not understand what they were
trying to tell us. But soon we realized that something was wrong
and when we checked the station map in the train we found that
we had gone pass the airport; the train we took would not take
us to the airport, we had to get off and get on another train
at the last station. We were tired and wet, that was the last
thing we needed. Those kind passengers were so kind that they
got off at the next station with us and showed us what train
to take. But it meant shifting all our luggage and gear off
the train, onto another train, off that train at the right station
and on to another train to the airport. We were exhausted. You
can't be too careful when you are travelling.
is full of ups and downs. No one is spared, no one
can be exempt. When I feel down, I always put on my favourite
music, close my eyes and go back to happier times. What I
found was all the good times I had all had something to do
with music. I feel so good playing music, it is a feeling
I cannot find anywhere in life. I never felt so good winning
a big court case, I never felt so good receiving a big cheque
from my solicitors settling my fees. I recently told one of
my students that when I was practicing law I felt much happier
receiving a mail-ordered CD than receiving a big cheque from
any of my court cases. My student shook his head in disbelief.
I don't blame him, I suppose it is hard to understand and
I cannot explain it. But to me, music is not a matter of life
and death, it is more important than that. Music is the spice
is Japan is always special. The standard
is so high both in terms of the performers and audience. There
is a camaraderie amongst musicians. If there are a few bands
performing on the night, a band who had just finished performing
would stay behind and give support to the other performers
(this is something you will never see in Hong Kong). And if
they appreciate what you do, they will ask you to join them
on stage. There is no rivalry, only friendship and musicianship.
You always make friends playing music in Japan. And because
the standard is so high, the audience so demanding, you give
your very best in every show and every show is special.
with playing music is Japan is you always
want to go back again and again. Stepping on a plane to Japan
to begin your tour is the happiest thing ever. Packing your
gear leaving Japan for Hong Kong is the saddest thing ever.
To me, Osaka is
the most beautiful city in the world, not because it
is spotless, not because its architecture is particularly
winsome, not because it dffers from any other big city,
but because of the friendship and hospitality I find
in it, the camaraderie I find in it, the great music
I find in it, and all the good memories that linger
on long after the last note was played on stage.
to Masato Nishmura san for organizing the shows for me and
looking after us in Japan. Many thanks to Nyudo san and Shinji
san and everyone we met in Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe. And thanks
to Alfred Au for coming to Japan with me to play music. The
only think that was on my mind when I was on the plane back
to Hong Kong was to work out when my next trip to Osaka would
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