Category Archives: Articles

REVIEWS // Noughties, But Nice (2010)

This review was initially slated to appear online at the beginning of the year. Other commitments got in the way and it got pushed back. I later started writing it for my general blog ‘Postings From An Edge’, but ended up being such a lengthy piece that I felt it would go better here. As it covers ten years from a global and personal point of view, it didn’t seem to matter about missing the zeitgeist moment of early January.


'Noughties, but Nice': What can you find hidden in the streets of Shibuya?

NAMING OUR TIMES

At the end of the 1990s, I was one of the many that struggled with the thorny issue of what to call the then-pending decade. The previous ten-year blocks I’d lived through had been easy to label – the Seventies, the Eighties, the Nineties – but this one didn’t fit into such comfortable naming as the others did. Now on the other side of it, it seems that there is still no definitive and satisfactory answer to that question – what to call the decade that lasted from 2000 to 2009. The Noughties sounds a bit odd, and only really works in a British English context. The Two Thousands would cover the whole millennium rather than just the decade. The Twenty Hundreds doesn’t feel anywhere near as right as the Nineteen or Eighteen Hundreds seems to feel, and still caters more for a century than a decade. None of the other suggestions proposed, such as the Ohs or the Oh-Ohs feel right either.

It seems like the lexical debate is one likely to remain unsettled. If so, then so be it – some things don’t fit easy compartmentalisation and it could be argued that such pursuits are really only media obsessions anyway, having no actual bearing on peoples lives. Of course, until we reach the Twenty Twenties when decade-naming can easily revert to type and the same labels used in the Twentieth Century can be recycled, it seems like the same issue is faced all over again with the decade we’ve just entered. Might have to stick with the numbers and call it the 2010s (Twenty Tens), just to make things easier.

Still, naming a decade can be very helpful from a historical context, as delivering the past in comprehensible chunks is a necessary feature of understanding or interpreting it. The first decade of a millennium is often a fascinating time to look back on too, given that societies look so much more different over a span of a hundred years than over ten of them, and turning points hold greater intrigue.

The Nineteen Hundreds (or however else we name that particular decade) was as tumultuous a time as the 2000s appears to have been. A period of global upheaval, it included the rise of Imperial Japan, the first Russian Revolution, and a high water mark in the imperial expansion of the European powers. In science and technology, the first manned flights happened, Einstein proposed his theory of special relativity, and Marie Curie discovered radioactivity. Culturally, the decade spawned the birth of modern art, cinema and the early stirrings of radio. A century prior to that, the Eighteen Hundreds (1800 – 1809) saw the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (UK), plus the Napoleonic Wars and the rise of Romanticism, while the Industrial Revolution raged on with the introduction of the first steam-powered ships and trains.

It seems that the first decade of a century can be a time for revolutionary change. We citizens of the world in the early 21st Century have been having ours too, with the Digital Revolution still in full swing and possibly even in its infancy. Having been living through such heady days myself and been an eager participant, this article will serve to review the previous decade on both a global and a personal level, with a clear digital string running throughout it.

BOOKENDS

Titles from the Art section

Titles in the Art section

I started the Noughties (a term I’ll use for want of a better one and to have something to hold the concept of the decade onto) in one way very similar but mostly very different to how I ended it. In 2000, I had just been laid off from a retail job I was keen on getting out of anyway. I’d spent the preceding four years as a bookseller and although being surrounded by books on a daily basis was enjoyable in many ways, it didn’t hold a particularly lucrative future. In the final years of my twenties, I was a single man living a pretty analogue life in Brighton. I was due to spend a week living in Paris, with a rock band back home that was starting to go somewhere and a career path heading into the voluntary sector. Even less lucrative than retail.

The decade ended for me back in Brighton again, only this time a married man coming up to 40, and having digitised most aspects of my life. I’m currently working as a teacher for a global education company, and studying a postgraduate Cambridge University Diploma in English Language Teaching (DELTA). I don’t really have a band on the go for once in my life, although I do have several other projects happening simultaneously, as usual. Perhaps the one thing that might be most surprising for the young man that began the decade with a trip to France intended as a breather before the rigours of rejoining the dole queue is that I spent half of the past ten years living in Tokyo, Japan.

THE WORLD’S A STAGE

9/11 attacks on New York

The decade began with the hopefulness of the Millennium celebrations, a global moment of optimism that I spent with friends on Brighton beach – as good a place as any to spend it. However, a decade doesn’t really seem to get fully underway without a defining event and it wasn’t until over a year and a half in that the Twenty First Century really seemed to kick in. Sat in my Brighton flat on a sunny afternoon in September of 2001, after a morning’s teaching and awaiting a speech by Tony Blair on TV about public service reform, I wondered what was keeping him from his platform. Flipping the channels, I found some news coming in from New York about an aeroplane hitting the World Trade Center. The defining moment had arrived, a shocking one at that and one that effectively opened the page on the Bush era more than his disputed election. Needless to say, the first lesson I taught on the morning of September 12th – full of young people from around the world away from home and including a young Japanese woman whose brother was actually in New York at the time – was one of the most challenging classes I’ve ever had to teach.

For those of us that lived through it, the Bush era is one that either should never have happened or was an appropriate expression of American might, depending on which side of the fence you fall (and there’s little sitting on the fence about it). I would wager that, overall and worldwide, a majority of people would fall into the former camp, but history is history and what’s done can’t be undone. One of the undeniable consequences of the era was a window of global dominance by the US, a unipolar moment unique in world history for better or worse. That seems to have gone now, with the rise of China and other nations over the same decade and the economic crash that bookended the era started with 9/11.

It could also be argued that the excesses of the Bush era led to the election of the first African-American president – something I’d never have expected from America in calmer times. And while Barack Obama may have one of the toughest jobs in the world – cleaning up after Bush – and is struggling to get much of what he wants to get done done, his election was an exhilarating moment in a narrative that the world seemed to get wrapped up in back in 2008.

Video for ‘Change’ by Control K, about the 2008 US Presidential Elections

Back in March 2003, I was sitting on the East African coast in a bar fashioned from an old boat, when I got the news that I’d been hoping I’d never hear – the invasion of Iraq was going ahead. That whole sorry episode and my government’s part in it contributed to my decision to leave the West behind and throw myself into a totally new place for a fresh start, thus beginning my almost five year stint living in Tokyo (a remarkable experience in so many ways that transformed my life completely, and which I’ve documented extensively elsewhere).

Apart from the massive loss of life that that particular conflict and all the others that have arisen over the same period, one of the really saddening features of the decade for me has been the remilitarisation of Western culture – something largely missing from the Nineties. On the upside, the decade just passed witnessed the global mainstreaming of environmentalism and green thinking. This was admittedly building up a pretty strong head of steam throughout the decade prior to it and was taken highly seriously with events like the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, but it became a much more noticeable feature of general discourse over the past ten years.

One of the interesting things about being away from Britain and coming back intermittently was seeing these changes becoming more embedded with every visit. Yes, there has also been an equivalent rise of denial of the science or state-level refusal to take serious actions against those continuing to pollute the atmosphere. Yes, the Copenhagen Summit of 2009 failed to come up with a satisfactory and binding global agreement to limit carbon emissions (and perhaps was never going to). Yes, there is still a long way to go. But overall I would still claim consciousness of the problem to be moving in the right direction, which is half of the battle.

GETTING AROUND

The Andes from the air

Shot of The Andes, taken during flight from Santiago to Buenos Aires

This leads almost paradoxically on to another feature of the 2000s for me – travel. Paradoxical because I am fully aware that many consider flying a reckless act for a committed green thinker to perform and flying is something I did an awful lot of over the last ten years.

Back in the early Nineties, I’d decided that Britain was too small a place to limit my personal horizons to and set out to become more European in my outlook – Mainland Europe having the range of destinations closest to my backyard. I got myself around the continent as much as I could (though more by train and other means than by air). This carried on in the early years of the new decade, which kicked off with the trip to Paris, and also took in the Netherlands, Greece and other sundry Euro-spots. Once I’d achieved that wider mindset (having also lived in Florida a while during 1994, thus taking on the US too, in a small way), the need for further horizons and other ways of thinking to explore came around. I made my first visit to Africa, with a week in Tanzania in 2003 (while Iraq was being invaded) and a revisit two years later.

The big one was Asia, the larger part of the vast land mass I lived off one edge of. From a new base in Japan, I further explored what Asia had to offer. A trip to Korea included a visit to the DMZ, the notorious border between North and South. My 33rd birthday was spent in Beijing, as China was on its meteoric ascent and sweeping away the old to make way for the glittering new of a modern Olympian nation. At the invitation of a friend from Tokyo, I went to visit him at home in Kathmandu, thus witnessing a Nepal under the martial crackdown of a king on his way out.

Coming in near decade close, I managed to add a fifth continent to tuck under my belt by spending some time in Argentina. Standing in front of the mighty Iguazu Falls on the country’s border with Brazil, I realised that it was time to come back to the UK for a period of rebuilding. Brief memories of other moments included Bangkok, Dubai, Toronto, Uruguay

CUTTING A PATH

Official Peace Not War Japan promo video

That which most needed rebuilding was my career. In 2000, I was ending a short period in bookselling and my tenure in retail. Here now in 2010, I am a teacher – something I spent a long time avoiding for one reason or another but which seemed to have kept on calling me. I’ve spent the majority of the 2000s doing just that, and am able to look back now with some satisfaction. However, I have also had several other roles in that time, some of which were attempts at carving out a professional path for myself and others of which were simply a means of putting the proverbial bread on the table.

For a while, I managed an Internet cafe in Brighton, in the days before the ubiquity of portable devices and wi-fi. It was a role that must have helped to mesh my destiny with the Web a little more deeply. I also had a period of temping and taking whatever came along. There were a number of cleaning roles here. I ran a minibus shuttle service for a while. I worked as a conference steward, serving up coffees and lunches to visiting executives from an international credit card company. Curiously, I even worked for a few days processing customs documents for a shipping company that sent stuff by boat a few times a year from the UK to the Falkland Islands. Little did I know that one day a few years on from that peculiar post, I’d end up in the back of an Argentinean taxi driver’s cab, trying to make up some Spanish on the spot to answer his probing questions over my opinion on correct ownership of ‘Las Malvinas’ (as the same islands are known by those living closer to them) whilst rattling through the back streets of Buenos Aires.

As I was also trying to hold down various jobs along the way, another common strand running through most of the era was the range of freelance or volunteer roles I carved out for myself. It started on my return from Paris when I offered my services to a local community organisation (Sounds Phenomenal) to help them out with a Music Conference they’d been running, I ended up taking on the running of the organisation and my first foray into ‘working for myself’.

Taking the non-profit sector experience I’d built up in the UK for them and wedding it to the reignited activism that the Iraq War had awakened in me, I founded an overseas branch of a British anti-war group whilst living in Tokyo – Peace Not War Japan (PNWJ). Having such a major venture on my hands with no local language skills to speak of and no contacts on the ground was undeniably a significant challenge. Ultimately, it brought out a side of the country that I would never have seen otherwise and gave me an opportunity to leave my own mark before I left – the first (as far as I could tell) compilation album of modern Japanese protest music, which was issued nationally and sold…moderately. I’m proud to say that PNWJ continues to this day, despite my having handed over the tiller to other hands.

Being a ‘foreigner’ in Tokyo opened doors to many other opportunities that would never have come my way otherwise. I had a run at journalism, with several pieces published in Japanese and international publications. I advised the company that handled the Japanese release of the BBC series ‘The Office‘. I also ended up as a consultant to the Embassy of Tanzania, where I helped them to put a Japanese-language tourism website together. Despite the fits, starts, and random professional turns taken over the past decade, it all made for quite a group of experiences and landed me with a most unusual skillset. The path ahead seems to lead in the direction of education – which is no bad thing.

DIGITAL NATIVES AND EXPATS

'Social-ist', a montage of personal websites, by D1 Designs

Today’s young people are often defined as ‘digital natives’, meaning that they are utterly at ease with using computers or the Internet, sometimes to the bemusement of their elders. Older people who made the choice to turn their backs on their analogue pasts and join in with this digital world are invariably referred to as ‘digital immigrants’. The implication of this is that they are less fluent in the ways of the modern world, yet have fled to it in search of something better.

Being a cautious steward of such terms as ‘foreigner’ or ‘immigrant’ in my classrooms, I consider such a label appropriate for some but something of a misnomer for myself. The immigrant is one that is viewed by those in the destination of choice as the outsider that has come in. Conversely, the emigrant is viewed by those in the place of departure as the one that has left their roots behind for pastures new. The expatriate (or expat for short) is the migrant who is not perceived in any particular way by the departed or receiving community, but who makes a personal choice to move bases from one place to another. I’ve tended to place myself in this category.

Sensing the prevailing winds back in the late Nineties, I knew that change was afoot, and made a conscious decision to relocate and become a digital expat. Despite sending my first email in 1995 and gaining my first email address a few years later, it wasn’t until the Millennium had passed that I really joined in with the new world. I got my first computer in the early Noughties, and quickly got to grips with the vagaries of Windows 2000. Moving from a creative world of paints and pencils, tape recordings, and notebooks, I upgraded to image and sound editors, sequencers, and word processing. I stopped writing letters by hand and began sending emails instead. Still uncertain what the Internet was actually for and blissfully unaware of the difference between the ‘Net and the Web, I started dialing up and going online, tentatively peeping at what was out there.

Once I moved to Japan in 2003 and digital communications were the best means of staying in touch with those closest to me, I got my first broadband connection and my life went online. A new world opened up just as it was starting to get richer and broader anyway. Whereas it had previously taken me an hour to upload a song to sites like mp3.com for the aim of establishing some sort of online presence for my creative works, now it took minutes. Prior to Tokyo, my biggest footprint on the Web was the collection of pages cobbled together in FrontPage to archive the Sounds Phenomenal work. Now, I started to spread my wings and socialise.

A first MySpace page went up for some music. Photos of my travels followed, initially at an image hosting site run by Sony and later transferred to the daddy of image hosting – Flickr. I began my first blog in 2006, to join in with what was going on and as an evolution of the diary that I’d been writing since I was 14 years old (only this time taking the jump of actually showing people some of my writings). Multiple volumes on, that diary seems to have now stalled, or at least hit some form of hiatus, as life online doesn’t provide enough time in the day to keep up such commitments. With YouTube having finally brought video online as no other had been quite able to do before, I began my own channel in 2007, now becoming a broadcaster in addition to being a publisher and record label.

As with millions of other people around the world, I now spend probably several hours a day online, with an infinite amount of information at my fingertips yet equally unable to keep up with this data deluge. This is definitely a very different person from the Brighton guy that saw in the Millennium on New Year’s Eve 1999. A good friend that I first met about six months after that date influenced much of the way I perceived and embraced the Web. A pioneer in his chosen field of streaming media who seems to have played a notable part in the building of that industry, I learned about people like Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee from him, or ideas such as TCP/IP or IP Multicasting.

He’s the person I turn to in order to gain a peek at the future of the Internet, rather than simply learn about its past or present. He’s previously described the Internet to me as ‘open prairie’, a nice concept for realising that we are still in the very early days of what this global network has to offer humanity. One thing is for sure, and that’s that the pending decade will see the Web and the Internet playing an increasingly greater role in our lives than it does even now – for better or worse.

A MUSICAL DECADE

Video for Shelf Life‘s ‘Endgame’

I took my initial English Teacher training back in 1996, aware that at some point I might feel the need or urge to leave the country for more than just a holiday, and that if I was to do this it was better to work elsewhere than waste a few years bumming around in the backyard of someone else’s poverty. Teaching English allows just that opportunity as the language is a tool that is in demand the world over, and there is always a shortage when it comes to supply meeting demand.

Bizarre as it might now seem to my far more widely travelled mind, I once held off for several years from the idea of leaving Britain on musical grounds. That is, I was determined that my future lay as a working musician (along with romantic notions of ‘changing the world through song’ or something like that) and I thought that Britain was the only place to be when it came down to getting somewhere in music. I’ve been pretty obsessive about music from my mid-teens onwards and bought the NME religiously between 1986 and 2002, even to the extent of carting all the back issues I owned around all the different houses I lived in during the Nineties.

Living in 90s Brighton vastly broadened my musical horizons in terms of what I listened to, but I still held on to the notion of fronting a rock ‘n’ roll outfit and taking the world by storm. After numerous attempts at creating that world-shattering unit, I put my final UK group together in 1999, expanding from a four piece to a five piece in 2000. Starting life as Jaded, the band built a small local following from a bunch of live shows and recorded a handful of songs before deciding on a name change. We switched to The Zamora, named after Brighton’s then-star striker Bobby Zamora.

Jacket for The Zamora's 'Pigeon Souvenirs' anthology

After one press release announcing the name change to promote a gig went out, I got a phone call from The Sun, who wanted to do a story and photoshoot with the footballer himself. This kicked off a bizarre snowball of media activity that saw the group gaining extensive TV, radio and newspaper coverage, even including a slot on BBC1’s ‘Football Focus’ show on a Saturday afternoon – prime viewing for millions of British football fans. Such attention pulled the individual members in different directions and to my surprise led to my dismissal from the outfit I’d started.

This became both an end and a beginning. It was the end of my dreams of becoming a rock star, which I viewed negatively at the time. However, as it ended up leading me to Japan, it was ultimately a very good thing. I wouldn’t wish to have traded what I have seen and done for traipsing around more student union bars and getting into debt with a record label just as the industry got hit by Napster and the digital tsunami that was to transform it.

Jacket for Control K's 'The Front Line (Redux)'

Having reached the end of a line, it also meant that in order to continue to be involved in making music, I would need to finally start working on my own rather than having to rely on other people to get a sound up and running. I did this with the creation of a new electronic alter-ego, which would act as a conduit for the far wider range of musical output that was flowing into me than the simple rock ‘n’ roll format. The first Control K album went on sale in the middle of the last decade, and I’ve managed to find time to put a few more tracks together and out over the ‘Net since then too.

Jacket for Shelf Life's 'Best Before End'

Rock ‘n’ roll’s a hard thing to get completely out of one’s system though, and in Japan I succumbed to getting into yet another band. This one, with Japanese musicians and called Shelf Life, actually went further again than I’d been before. We played together for almost four years, mainly at a small bar in my suburban neighbourhood in Western Tokyo. I found a great song-writing partner in the guitarist (who also owned the bar) and we crafted a collection of our own material that was released as an album shortly before I left town. We made a semi-professional pop video to accompany one of the tracks, so got a further flavour of the fun and games of taking a band to another level. After my return to the UK, the boys even came over for a short tour and we played dates in Brighton and London.

By the end of the decade just passed, however, I was an entirely different musical beast from the one that had started it. From a fanboy wedded to a musical bible who tended to buy a handful of new CDs every month just to get my hands on new tunes or to plug in the gaps in my meticulously assembled collection to a plugged in consumer of streaming waves of zeroes and ones with no particular tribal affiliations – from NME to mp3.

Having opened up in the Nineties to dub, jazz, hip-hop, funk, soul and electronic music, I took that sense of exploration further in the Noughties and kept my ears working on the sounds I found around me. I grew an interest in African music, explored Japanese music extensively, and also turned my tastes towards Latin or Arabic rhythms. Having once anchored myself so solidly to Anglospheric music, I opened up to listening to words in other languages. Radio Nova from Paris took over from BBC’s Radio One. Manu Chao, who sings in French, Spanish and English, became a new favourite. I particularly enjoyed when differing musical cultures fused or collided, as they did with the Okinawan folk and beats style of Ryukyu Underground or the tango for a different dancefloor of Gotan Project.

Despite all that and as I’ve previously said, it’s hard to get traditional rock ‘n’ roll completely out of your system once it’s got in there. My final live performance of the decade was at a Christmas show at work amidst the widely ranging performances of the assorted international students also taking to the stage. Cobbling a brief line-up of interested teachers together and with a rehearsal or two beforehand, we ran through a rugged version of ‘Life On Mars’ for the assembled crowd. Funnily enough, I think it might have been my biggest live audience yet. And The Beatles remain evergreen to my ears.

AS ONE CHAPTER ENDS…LOOKING AHEAD

Following the newlyweds through the streets of Brighton

Following the newlyweds through the streets of Brighton

So, the ill-named Noughties have been more militarised yet consciously greener, have seen a more easterly tilting of the poles of world power, and have been revolutionary in the digitisation of global citizenry. I got myself into further corners of the planet than I’d previously thought possible, settled on a career path and got myself married, plus created a not insubstantial body of work to show for my time on the Earth, along with becoming a fully paid up digital expat.

I set myself and met several goals. They included professional ones (putting together a six-day programme of events including a conference, founding a non-profit organisation overseas), artistic (15 minutes of fame with a band, the production and issuing of six CD albums, creating and releasing my first book) and personal (relocating to Japan and settling there, becoming well travelled, developing a global mindset, and getting married).

How can I follow my thirties, as I move into my forties? What does the new equally unnameable decade hold in store? One thing’s for certain, I lived most of the previous decades as a defiantly single young man, following my nose wherever it took me. I am now thinking for two, which is really a quantum shift in one’s approach to life. Hopefully, at some point the two of us will even grow to three or more. My 40s will therefore be more family focused. This means that having settled on that career path, it’s time to build on it and make it grow, time to try and make a difference within my own profession rather than constantly being on the outside and knocking at the window of somewhere or other trying to get in. If at all possible, I’d also like to squeeze in some kind of Masters degree before I get to the end of my next decade.

There are several parts of the world that are still crying out to be visited, including Australasia, great American cities like New York and San Francisco, plus much of the rest of Africa and the Middle East. Being married to a Japanese woman, I can expect that I’ll also be finding myself back in Japan on more than one or two occasions. And never being one to shy away from ridiculous ambitions, I would dearly love to find some way to make it to Antarctica before I turn 50. At this point, who knows where I’ll end up. Probably likely to visit fewer places than in my 30s though, given the family man agenda.

Creatively, I’ll be getting a bit too old to keep on rocking (at least with some sense of dignity) but the urge to make music remains strong. I hope to see the growth of Control K, at least one or two more albums and perhaps a move into licensing or soundtracks of some sort. One thing that I am finding though, is that writing is taking more and more of an important place in my life. There are several novels in my head waiting to come out, some mere sketches, some almost fully formed.

Predicting the future is, of course, a fools game. There’s no failsafe way of saying or seeing what will happen on the road ahead. I do however think that it’s helpful for travellers through life to have destinations in mind, even if the means they have of getting there are completely different to what was expected or they end up in a place utterly unlike where they expected to find themselves. So, whatever the highs, lows, challenges, pleasures, surprises and treats of the…2010s, I say bring them on.

For further coverage of the last ten years, visit The Guardian page for extensive reviews and round-ups of the decade in arts, global politics, technology, sports, and much more.

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Filed under 2010, Articles, Brighton, Control K, Features, Japan, Peace, Reviews, Shelf Life, The Zamora, Travel

ARTICLES // My Life And Bushido Ghosts (2006)

Probably the most common question I get asked in Tokyo is ‘Why did you come to Japan?’, even after having been here for almost four years. I sense that were I here for 40 years, I’d still get asked on a fairly regular basis.

It’s a fair question to ask, I suppose. During the Edo era (1603-1868), when Japan was ruled by the shogunate and populated by samurai, the country was effectively closed off from any foreign contact. From 1635, the Japanese were prohibited from ever leaving the country and if they did, prohibited from returning. It’s not a place steeped in traditions of mixing with peoples from other races.

Nevertheless, here I am. I think that something like 1% of the people living in Japan today were foreign born, so it’s still a little bit more of a unique experience living here as a ‘foreigner’ that it would be in Europe or the US for example.

In 2005, I was asked to write an article for the Hiroshima-based (and presumably now defunct) bilingual magazine ‘PEACE‘. I titled it with just that same question I am always asked, and it covered not only some of my motivations for coming here but also a little family background (much of my extended family has tended to expatriate themselves or have travelled widely) and the similarities and differences between my life here in Japan and the one I led back in Britain.

The following year, I came across another writing opportunity based on the theme of ‘Home and Exile’, through my subscription to the Brighton Fringe Mailing List. This time, it was for a new publication being set up in the UK, called ‘Don’t Look Back’. I sent off the same piece that was published in the Hiroshima mag, and they were interested enough to ask me to rewrite it and submit a new piece. This I duly did, coming up with the piece found below – ‘My Life and Bushido Ghosts’.

After submission, I never heard from them again, so I actually have no idea whether it was published or not or even whether the magazine ever went to print. I hope that they did, although it would be nice to know whether my article ever went anywhere!

The title was a Japan-slanted pun on the Brian Eno/David Byrne 1981 album ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts‘. Bushido means ‘the way of the warrior’ and commonly refers to the samurai code of conduct. The reference to ghosts comes from my feelings of finding my own ‘ghosts’, people from my past that kept springing up at the most unexpected moments as I neared the end of my time living in the UK.

In a way, writing the piece itself was an exorcism of sorts. Here in Japan, I don’t have so many of my own ghosts and the old ones have lost their spook factor too.

Perhaps next time I’m asked why I came here, I can now just give the questioner this URL and suggest that they find out for themselves!


My Life and Bushido Ghosts

Exiles, immigrants, expats, foreigners, outsiders, refugees – whatever you want to call us, we’re all displaced peoples. The square pegs, the forced out, the seekers and the wandering drifters, each uprooted and elsewhere. It happens to the biggest of us – Napoleon removed and sent to die in Saint Helena, The Stones as tax exiles in fading French chateaus. It happens to the smallest of us too – ghost ships washed up in Barbados, filled with desiccated corpses of young African men, Iraqis fleeing their home tinderbox in any direction they can.

Here in Tokyo, I label myself an ‘expat’. To me, it says that I exercised choice over my displacement. However, to the rest of this still closed global hotspot, I’m just another foreigner and that is what I’ll stay. Always on the outside, looking in. Party perhaps, to the appetiser, but never the full meal.

This is as it has always been. Born in England to an English family, then raised and schooled in Wales, I began with one foot in each camp yet not quite fully fitting into either, ‘different’ from the start. Identity is always so interchangeable and muddled through in the UK that it’s a tough job to convincingly claim to be a nationalist.

About three years ago, I tied up all my loose ends, condensed my life into two suitcases and a laptop and jumped onto a plane at Heathrow – bound for the other side of the world with a blank slate in my head and an empty diary in my bag. Leaving a childhood home or home country, when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.

I’ve often been asked why I came to Japan, but rarely ever why I left the UK. Most people leave home at some point and all have their reasons, whether they walked out with head held high or were kicked out with tail between legs. I did so for two main reasons. Firstly, because the world is changing rapidly and becoming ever more interdependent, I wanted to experience and understand that transition. To taste and perhaps even help shape some of that emerging global identity. To become a citizen of the future, not a relic of the past. Secondly, my ghosts crowded me out.

Even my original and later readopted hometown of Brighton had begun to teem with them after a while. They laid in wait for me on street corners, in pubs and supermarkets, in the books that I read and the songs I listened to, in the successes of others rightfully mine, and the new bonds made that I was excluded from. Most of all, they laid deep down inside of me, weighing me down and forcing me to chase my tail instead of following my nose or my dreams. I ran away to the new world and I ran away from the old one.

Of course, Japan has its ghosts too. A Tokyoite once told a tale of awakening feeling pressured, only to see the disembodied head of a samurai resting on her chest, and his body slumped in the corner of the room. Then there’s Hiroshima’s living ghosts, the hibakusha (A-bomb survivors) and the terrible tales they still tell about one fateful summer day in their childhood and its aftermath. But perhaps as Japan’s ghosts belong to others, I don’t see them in the same way as my own.

Exile, expatriation and exploration seem to run in the family. Both parents are well travelled and weave snapshots of recent human history into the family narrative. My mother, who actually recommended Tokyo to me, spent a little time in Soviet-era Moscow and Leningrad. It can be difficult to visit somewhere that my father’s not been before me. He was in Berlin a week before the fall of the Wall. My sisters, fellow siblings-in-exile, respectively live in Toulouse and Dar Es Salaam.

It goes back further and stretches out wider too. On Dad’s side, an uncle in North Carolina, a cousin born in Zambia. On Mum’s side, an uncle who sent himself to Cameroon, and another uncle in Germany, who’d rejected London at the end of the 1960’s and headed off with a camera round his neck. Hitching on some autobahn or other, he was picked up by a busload of hippies on their way to a Pink Floyd show and later married one of them.

Yet further still, the bloodlines intermingle with the bloodshed and fault lines of the last century or so. Another uncle, this time belonging to my grandmother, seemed to have lived the whole Empire boy dream. He found himself in Shanghai in the 1920’s, where he hooked up with a Russian girl he met. She turned out to be a minor royal that had fled the Revolution in 1917, and was now down at heel, selling matches on the street. Together, they fled China to escape from the invading Japanese and on to Batavia (now Jakarta). The Imperial Army had their sights on Indonesia too so they fled again, ending their days in Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was).

Completing the circle, it was a visit to my sister in Tanzania, during the week that the Americans and the British began their assault on Baghdad, that I decided I was finally ready to up sticks, put Blighty behind me and head far East. At the turn of the millennium, the rock ‘n’ roll gang I fronted began getting our first taste of fame by bursting into the national media by accident. Amidst our meteoric rise, however, I was ousted in a coup and thus began my English decline. In time, my senses became dulled by my daily grind and I needed to reawaken them with new experiences. Tokyo lured me with dreams of a high-tech, glittering city of the future.

My life here is both similar and different to the old one in England. I eat more fish than I did before and am also more used to earthquakes, but as I did in the UK, I teach English for cash and occasionally still sing in a local bar band. The all-efficient technology is so pervasive, however, that it’s barely noticed after a while.

My social circle is drawn from a much wider pool than my British one was. A Californian pal tells me tales of living on otherwise uninhabited Hawaiian islands. A Nepalese friend invited me to join him and his family in celebrating the Hindu Festival of Light, at home in Kathmandu. I became the global citizen I was aiming to be.

One part of the story remains untold. As with any haunting, you can only run from your ghosts for so long. In time, if the exile is ever to come home, he must also become exorcist.

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ARTICLES // Revolution # 9 (2006)

What does mankind gain from conditions such as war and occupation? It is rare indeed to find occurrences in human history where something positive can be found in the aftermath.

WWI begat WWII, which in turn begat the Israel/Palestine issue. The French occupations of Algeria and Indochina (Vietnam) led to violent and bloody resistance movements, blowing up into an even bigger conflict involving neighbouring states (Cambodia, Laos) and an international superpower (US) in the case of Vietnam. The Korean War led to the partition of the peninsula and one of the most heavily landmined places on Earth. British occupation of India may have produced a largely nonviolent resistance movement, but independence led to further wars and the division of the subcontinent. Issues still remain here, including the Kashmir question and the ongoing rise and fall of the standoffs between nuclear armed India and Pakistan.

The Asia-Pacific theatre of the Second World War was rife with its own horrors, such as the acts committed by the Japanese Imperial Army across East Asia and the American attacks on Japan, culminating in the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese, exhausted by the war, surrendered to the US and submitted themselves to an American post-war occupation.

Yet under American rule, one small seed of hope was planted that laid out a blueprint for all nations to avoid the scourges of war.

That seed was Article 9 of the then newly written Japanese Constitution. Coming from a nation (UK) that seems to need little prompting to engage in warfare (even within my lifetime during the post-imperial era – witness the Falklands and Gulf War I), I was astonished to discover such a feature in national life as I found in Japan. The country forbids itself from ever going to war again or maintaining a regular army.

What an incredible element to weave into the fabric of a nation! Of course, the sad reality is that Article 9 has been under threat almost since its introduction, with the greatest challenges to it coming now under the current administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Learning about Article 9 and the threats to it compelled me to write the piece found below, in the hope that I could raise further awareness of a tool that could benefit all nations and of the challenges that it faces.

The article was first published online here and an edited version later appeared in the Canadian quarterly ‘Peace Magazine’.

The Japanese NGO Peace Boat is co-ordinating a global campaign to raise further awareness of Article 9 and the threats posed to it. The campaign site can be found here.

Peace Not War Japan, the organisation I founded in 2004, provides further information about issues relating to peace and Japan, and also has a collection of great peace-related songs by Japanese artists.

Keep the peace, people!

Photo of A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima by Dom Pates


Revolution # 9

‘Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.’

(Article 9, Japanese Constitution)

In the journey through life, individuals maintain allegiances to friends, family, lovers, employers and educators for help along the way. A wider bond is often also upheld – that of a sense of belonging to one’s nation. Of just over 6.5 billion humans on Earth, most would consider themselves as being part of at least one of the roughly 190 nations whose territories (‘countries’) cover the planet’s land surfaces. Members of these ‘nations’ are usually distinguished by at least a common identity, and often a common origin such as ancestry.

A nation can simply be a state of mind. A state, however, is much more tangible. Comprised of buildings, hierarchies and officials it is designed to represent both the nation and the country. Given the immense power held over the lives of individuals by ‘the state’, it is crucial to have a system of checks and balances to ensure that the power wielded is not abused. More fundamentally, it is vital for the interests of the people that are represented by that nation, and peoples of other nations too, to have the principles and rules by which they are governed clearly defined and agreed upon.

A constitution is just that, a system that covers the principles and rules by which an organisation is governed. Certain powers are granted to that organisation on the grounds that it abides by what is set out in that constitution. Most commonly, a constitution is a set of rules that define the nature and extent of government.

The Constitution of Japan was established after World War II and was intended to replace the country’s previous imperial system with a form of liberal democracy. Written under close supervision of General MacArthur and the occupation forces, the Meiji Constitution, the demands of Japanese lawyers and the opinions of pacifist political leaders were taken into account and the document came into effect in May 1947.

The implementation of the Japanese Constitution came during an international trend towards the outlawry of war. For example, Article 12 of the Costa Rican Constitution, put into effect in 1949, stipulates that ‘armed forces as a permanent institution is prohibited’. Since then, Costa Rica has never maintained armed forces.

Article 9 is the unique provision within the document whereby Japan both renounces war and is prohibited from maintaining a military force. It was a strong and clear promise by Japan to the world, and particularly people of the Asia-Pacific region that the imperialistic aggressions acted out during WWII would never be repeated. It also served as a brake on Japan’s arms build-up during the post-war era, which has provided a sense of security for the entire region.

It is the main reason why Japan has been able to live through such a long period of peace and stability, with the country having militarily not taken part in a war in over half a century.

It has made a strong contribution towards attempts at the resolution of international problems of disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons. A UN General Assembly Special Session on Disarmament in 1978 declared the desire for complete disarmament of nations. The Hague Peace Conference of 1999 stated in its final document that every national parliament should adopt a resolution that renounces war like Article 9.

It is no less than a blueprint for how to save future generations from the scourge of war.

The previous century was the bloodiest and most violent in all of human history. It contained two world wars, three decades of arms-fuelled tensions between the world’s superpowers, and hundreds of genocidal purges, civil wars, armed invasions, military coups, revolutionary struggles, border disputes and localised conflicts, and led to the deaths of over 100 million people. As the new century gets underway, prospects for major downturns in this trend are not looking too good.

Article 9 is under serious pressure and has been since its inception. Even whilst Japan was still under US occupation, moves were made towards creating some sort of military organisation. Thus the creation and development of what became the Japan Self Defense Forces (SDF), which has seen constant court battles between government and critics over its legitimacy. Extensions of Article 9’s ethos, such as Japan’s non-nuclear principles and ban on arms exports, face strong and active opposition from those keen to remilitarise the country.

The US has continued into the 21st Century to encourage Japan to abandon what it adopted after WWII. The Japanese military were dispatched to assist the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and utilised for refuelling U.S. and British warships. In July 2003, Japan’s parliament passed a law authorizing the use of Japan’s SDF in Iraq, as long as they were confined to conducting humanitarian missions.

While some consider the removal of Article 9 as a natural stage in the evolution of post-war Japan, this would undoubtedly have a serious effect on the foreign policies of Asia’s most powerful states. If Japan were to again become a military force to contend with, it would undoubtedly reinvigorate China’s push for a powerful military. Russia could see an increasingly powerful Japan as a possible threat to its territory and interests in East Asia, and North Korea could feel itself backed even further into a corner. Memories of Japanese wartime aggression are still fresh even in South Korea, and the normalisation of good relations still has a long way to go.

As the prospects rise of a future with more wars over ever dwindling energy supplies, a world of environmental refugees fleeing within their own national borders, nuclear proliferation across the planet and the unravelling of the meticulously constructed systems of international law and order, it is vital that the signposts and beacons to a better and more peaceful future that we currently have within our possession are upheld, maintained and built upon. In the interests of a peaceful future for Japan and the rest of the world, for today and long into our distant tomorrow, Article 9 must be maintained and its principles spread.

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ARTICLES // Season Tickets (2006)

I got my first cover story in 2006.

After attending the inaugural Reggae Snow Splash in Nagano (the location for the 1998 Winter Olympics), I wrote a review of the music and sent it around a few people.

The editor of the bilingual Outdoor Japan, who was also at the event, liked the piece and asked me into the OJ office to discuss writing the main feature for their Summer Music Festivals issue. Although I went to almost every UK summer festival I could in the first half of the 90’s, I’d never actually attended a Japanese one.

Still, not being one to turn down a good chance, I agreed. After much intensive research (not exactly easy as much of the information available online was in Japanese), I came up with the article found below. To be honest, I was quite astonished at the number of outdoor music events actually held in Japan – seems it’s a summer festival goer’s haven.

We decided to take the 60’s theme and I ran with as much psychedelic imagery as I could. The Beatles and Magical Mystery Tour, Alice In Wonderland, Ken Kesey & The Merry Pranksters, The Who‘s Magic Bus (also based on Kesey’s one), The Grateful Dead…what a long strange trip it was!

The piece was published as ‘Let The Good Times Roll‘ (originally ‘Season Tickets‘) and came with a whole array of wonderful and trippy graphics and illustrations by OJ’s chief designer. Title aside, it’s presented here as it appeared in the magazine, edited slightly differently from my original submission.

The trouble was, I unearthed so many great sounding events and in the end I wasn’t actually able to make it to any of them! Never mind, perhaps one day…

Cover design by Craig Yamashita.


Season Tickets

Roll up, roll on up—step right this way. Welcome aboard the OJ Magic Bus for the 1st Annual Summer Musical Mystery Tour with stops at the funkiest and grooviest places to kick back and dig the hot summer sights and sounds in Japan.

Events up and down; here, there and everywhere beckon you to step off the big wheel, get out of the board room and into your board shorts to breathe in the refreshing air, soak up rejuvenating rays and fill your head with music to invigorate your soul.

Ken Kesey’s coming along with his band of Merry Pranksters. John’s here, Paul, George and Ringo, the Walrus and the Carpenter, too. Drinks served by Tweedledum, snacks by Tweedledee. We’ll see if the Mad Hatter can pull out a rabbit or two. Everybody in? The journey is about to begin…

Down South

The sun first rises in Japan down in Okinawa upon idyllic beaches and tropical rainforests filled with island rhythms. It the perfect place to start the tour, so grab your flip-flops and get ready to work on that tan.

The first, and southernmost, event is the Miyako Island Rock Festival featuring the Orange Range and Bennie K, among others. The Tug of Rock ’n’ Roll, on the main island, brings together known and unknown acts to Okinawa and has previously featured Bump of Chicken, Shakalabbits and the High Lows. Just watch out for those yellow submarines!

Get on board the ferry; after the boat party we’ll arrive in Kyushu. The steaming volcanic landscapes and ancient forests are a wonderland to behold any Alice. Don’t miss the Aso Nature Festa or the Beach Café Sunset, which has been bringing ska, reggae and beach culture to Fukuoka since 1993.

Higher Ground ’06 is a large outdoor event in Fukuoka, sponsored by AU and including Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, Puffy and Flow in the line-up. Jamaica Mura V.10 in Oita adds some more Caribbean flavor to the southern isle.

Next, the bus hits the main island of Honshu and rolls into peaceful Hiroshima. One of the biggest outdoor events, Festa de Rama, is held at Setoda Island Beach and features Little Tempo, Miceteeth and Sake Rock.

We then go lunar at the Miyajima Full Moon Party, held on the sacred island just off the coast.

Out West

Once again we’re island-hopping to Japan’s fourth largest one, Shikoku, to visit the fiends at the Monster Bash 2006, then boogie down at Disco Inferno ’06. The former includes Imawano Kiyoshiro and Beat Crusaders, and the latter is described as “The Hottest Party of the Summer!”

The Magic Bus then returns to the mainland and goes urban in the teeming cities of Osaka, Nagoya and Kobe, and then hits the cultural heartlands of Kyoto and Nara. Flagging already? Try a little of Tweedledum’s special Kool-Aid to pick yourself up.

Osaka, Japan’s second largest city, has plenty to keep us entertained. Summer Sonic is held over two days and with a mighty rocking line-up that includes Metallica, the Flaming Lips, Deftones, Massive Attack and DJ Shadow before it heads to Tokyo.

Another massive event, Udo Music Festival 2006, runs over two days and expects a crowd of nearly 100,000. Rush Ball ’06 then fills out Osaka’s party schedule.

The A-Nation juggernaut, a national touring event with some of today’s biggest J-Pop stars, rolls through Aichi and Hyogo with Ayumi Hamasaki, Ai Otsuka and Ami Suzuki on board.

Hyogo also hosts the 35th Annual Takarazuka Bluegrass Festival, one of more than 30 bluegrass fests in Japan. The event features a multitude of first-rate Japanese bluegrass bands.

Urban Kanto

Somebody wake the dormouse; we’re back on the bus and heading east toward mighty Tokyo where millions of people party to the break of dawn. Like the melody from the Pied Piper, the air will be filled with enchanting tunes to draw the natives out of their caves.

The Excite Music Festival brings some exhilaration to Yoyogi Park with the likes of Toshinobu Kubota and Ayaka Hirahara. If we hang around, we’ll also catch Sonarsound, featuring some of today’s most cutting edge electronic and experimental musicians.

Perhaps you’re looking for high culture to tickle your artistic taste buds. Tokyo Summer Festival runs over five weeks at various concert halls, temples, shrines and parks. On a different tip, wily cats will want to keep an eye out for the Herbie Hancock-curated Tokyo Jazz, a hip date on any calendar.

Down in Kanagawa, the Yokohama Arena hosts the Nano-Mugen Fes 2006 with Japanese artists such as Asian Kung Fu Generation playing with other international acts followed by Wire ‘06, Asia’s biggest techno festival.

Beautiful Shonan, with its great beaches, hosts Shonan Music Fest Vol. 0.9. Then take a stroll down the beach to party for charity at the Kamakura Beach Party.

And if this isn’t enough, we’ve still got Summer Sonic in Chiba too…

Around Tokyo

Surrounding the pulsating capital, the nearby beaches and mountains are a great place to recharge and get back to nature. The Izu Islands, Shizuoka’s beaches, Mt. Fuji and Nagano’s rugged alpine ranges are perfect backdrops for some outdoor party fun.

The Stones and the Grateful Dead did the Altamont Raceway in ’69. Santana and Kiss do Fuji Speedway at Shizuoka’s wing of the Udo Music Festival 2006. We’ll ask any Pranksters on board to keep the Angels in check this time.

Shizuoka, with its green tea fields, hosts a couple of ‘green’ events: Wind Blow ’06 and AP Bank Fes ’06, which last year featured Mr. Children and Every Little Thing. Both aim to raise awareness of environmental issues. Things splash down on the island of Niijima for The Pirates, Anoyo’s collective art conscious festival.

Honshu’s adventure capital of Minakami (Gunma) hosts their popular Full Moon Parties all summer. Camping, bungalows and adventure weekend packages are available and it’s just a short trip from Tokyo.

Asagiri Jam, SMASH’s low profile follow act up to Fuji Rock, has sold out the last two years— before even announcing their line-up! Once again you’ll have to wait until the week before the show to know who’ll show up.

Our final stop in this neck of the woods is the Rock in Japan Festival in Ibaraki. Staged at a seaside park by the publishers of Rockin’ On, it allows huge crowds get to see the good, the bad and the beautiful of the Japanese music scene. Dragon Ash, Shonen Knife, M-Flo and Polysics will all be there.

Up North

Time for the big one: Fuji Rock is Japan’s answer to Glastonbury. It takes place on the green slopes of Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata—a venerable summit meeting of top international and Japanese acts. This year’s line-up includes Red Hot Chili Peppers, Franz Ferdinand, Super Furry Animals and the Strokes, among others.

Ravers will delight in the Solstice Music Festival, and then, what better place to watch the sun sink on the horizon than the Sea Of Japan Sunset Concert on Aoyama Beach.

Before we leave Niigata altogether, the mighty rhythms of the Earth Celebration on Sado Island draw us in. The Kodo drummers are the focal point of this three-day music, dance and arts festival, which encourages musical and cultural collaborations with artists from around the world. This year they welcome Tamango Urban Tap from French Guiana.

Anybody see that? I’m sure it was a white rabbit heading north. We roll along rugged coastlines, through rich, virgin forests on our journey to the natural wilds of Hokkaido.

In Sapporo, we find a couple of events of classical splendour. Leonard Bernstein founded the Pacific Music Festival in 1990. His wish to contribute to world peace through classical music is carried on here every year. At the 19th Sapporo Asahiyama Music Festival, we get a breathtaking view and feel the power of a 700-person chorus as fireworks explode overhead.

Where do we stop? Our long and winding road trip through the magical wonderland of the Japanese summer music festival season ends where it began – by the sea.

The harbour city of Otaru, with its canals, beaches and great seafood, hosts the Rising Sun Rock Festival. This hefty event for all generations has been highlighting the Japanese rock scene since 1999. Camping is available and this year boasts sets from Kazuya Yoshi, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra and Kodama, the Dub Station Band and many more.

As we reel in the remaining stragglers and head back to our rabbit holes, we thank you for riding along. As you alight from the OJ Magic Bus, we hope you’ll leave with some great summer memories to tide you over until next year…because the music never stops!

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ARTICLES // Open Up (2003)

This article was originally published in Brighton’s ‘Insight‘ magazine in 2003. While the content is anything but ‘gonzo‘ in style, the writing of it has its own story, created as it was under pretty frenetic circumstances.

Back in early 2003, my personal life was hanging in the balance and, unbeknownst to me, my time in Brighton was drawing to a close. I needed time and space to get away and think a little. My father presented me with a sudden opportunity to get away to Africa for a week in order to celebrate my sister’s 30th birthday with her – she was living in Tanzania at the time.

Never one to stare a gift horse in the mouth and knowing that it was both what I needed and something I’d long dreamed of too, I jumped at the chance and took him up on the offer. It was also during the period that the clamour for war in the Middle East was reaching fever pitch and I was delighted to have the chance to get away from those voices in the corridors of power and in the media that were steamrollering the Western and Arab worlds towards disaster. The millions who’d marched through London on the previous month hadn’t been able to stop a thing, and there was a depressing stench of inevitability about the whole misadventure.

About a week before my hastily arranged flight was due to depart, ‘Insight’ magazine got in touch with me to write a piece on Brighton artists Open Houses schemes that run during the Brighton Festival. Then as now, I’m not a writer with offers of publication lining up at my door. I agreed to do it despite the lunatic demands that it’d place on my schedule, glad of the opportunity to get my writing out to an audience.

There were a couple of days within which to do the research, mainly during the lunch breaks of the new job I’d just started. Grabbed my notes and interviews, packed my bags and made for Heathrow where I was to begin writing the first draft. Waiting in some airport bar or other for my father to arrive, I managed to at least get it started.

Had been going to write more on the flight, but didn’t manage to. Got off the plane at Dar Es Salaam and was confronted by tropical heat of which I’d never known and my first time setting foot on African soil. This fact was rather more overwhelming than a publishing deadline and I soaked in every new sight, smell and sound.


Back at my sister’s place, I managed to finish off writing the piece and then had to type it up. The power supply to small African villages tends to be intermittent at best, yet grabbing whatever moments of juice I could out of a faltering laptop, I got the piece written up.


The deadline came into play again and as they didn’t have an Internet connection at the house, we had to drive an hour to the nearest town to find the Internet cafe that she often used. Slow as the connection was and as old as the computer there was too, I managed to get the article sent off to the magazine just about in time for their submission deadline.

There was something quite bizarre about writing of people in an English seaside town letting the public into their houses to look at their paintings from the perspective of a creaky Internet cafe in a dusty town that opened out onto the African bush. It may have played its own part in helping me to reassess my priorities and draw the conclusion that the time was ripe to expatriate and see what else was out there other than my own little island.

The original article was edited slightly by ‘Insight’ and appears in that form here. Tempting as it was to go fully gonzo and write instead about the circumstances in which the story was written, I managed to write just about the Brighton artists after all!

Photo of Tanzanian villager’s house by Hans Jamet.

Open Up

It must be something in the air. Not just the fresh sea breezes that can awaken the senses, but a sprinkle of that extra ‘something’ that makes Brighton such a touch paper for innovation, such a creative laboratory. Some early techniques of cinema were developed in Hove. Anita Roddick helped to usher in the concept of the ‘ethical consumer’ with her first Body Shop in Brighton. In the early Seventies, the means that would allow networks to communicate with each other and pave the way for what we now know to be the Internet, were presented at Sussex University.

On a lesser scale, while many people wouldn’t dream of letting the general public across their threshold for a look around their own private space, a growing number of individuals from right across the city, openly encourage it during the burst of spring madness that is the Brighton Festival.

‘I think the visiting public initially feel a sense of wonder that anyone would do such a thing’, says Jehane Boden Spiers, an Open House artist. ‘They enjoy meeting artists who make the work, as opposed to in galleries and shops, which are far less personal. They also enjoy seeing the work in context and I think it helps people to think about how to display artwork in their own homes.’

The Open House concept began in 1982 by Ned Hoskins. Frustrated by the lack of opportunity to exhibit art in Brighton at the time, he opened his house to the public and also exhibited other artists. In 1989, the ‘Five at Fiveways’ group was set up. Such was its success that it exploded across Brighton during the 1990’s. Other artists joined the group, other groups sprang up all over the region (Kemp Town Artists, Seven Dials Artists, the Lewes Group), and the concept became arguably the main attraction to the Festival itself.

The Kemp Town Open House trail stretching from the brightly coloured terraces near Queen’s Park right down to the sea is a particular favourite with tourists as a fair degree of the art features boats, the sea, Victorian frontages and The Downs. Belinda Lloyd, co-ordinator, told The Insight, ‘This year musicians are going to join the trail so as people wander the streets of Kemp Town they will be accompanied by buskers and in the houses may even come upon a harpist, saxophonist or string quartet!’

Colin Ruffell, a former secretary of the Fiveways Artists Group and exhibiting artist himself, estimates that there are now over 200 Open Houses and Studios operating during the festival, with 100-300 visitors per week, making up to 100,000 people enjoying these unique opportunities to experience art. Open Houses can now be found all over Sussex, including Ditchling, Hove and Portslade, and have even spread to places like Oxford, Cambridge, Kent, Cornwall and Buckinghamshire.

Jehane says ‘anything and everything!’ is on display– Ceramics, Jewellery, Painting, Sculpture, Mosaic, Textiles, Wood, Metal, Glass, Photography, Video, Literature. It makes it possible for artists to make their work more affordable to the buying public. Visitors can also commission pieces directly with the artist, which could be an otherwise daunting prospect.

Open Houses have become so successful that they may have even outgrown the Festival itself. Jehane Boden Spiers says that it has become quite a feat to even see 10% of what is on show. ‘I can see more houses opening up at other times of the year, apart from May,’ she says. ‘This is already happening… some houses have organised Christmas shows’.

Information on Open Houses 2003 can be found in the Brighton Festival Fringe brochure, which is available from thousands of outlets across the city. The following weblinks also contain further information:

Fiveways Artists Group

The first Open House art buying website

Colin Ruffell’s own site

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