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INTERVIEWS // That Joke Isn’t Bunny Anymore (1991)

Of all the indie bands from the early 90’s that I interviewed as staff writer and Music Editor for college rag The Printed Image, very few of them actually made it into a written article. One of the rare ones that did was conducted with a fellow called Noel Burke, who was in the musically unenviable position of having stepped into the shoes of Echo & The Bunnymen‘s departed singer Ian McCulloch.

To be fair to him, he did a sterling job of fighting his corner in what has since proved to be a losing battle, that of making his own mark in a very difficult situation. As a fan of the original band, I was actually quite taken with the tunes that the Burke-led Bunnymen came up with too, although they didn’t really do the name justice in this fan’s eyes. Still, respect was given to him for trying.

This interview was one of the times when I was left with a tale to tell from getting it that was almost equivalent to the subject itself. As best I can remember, I took the bus from Cardiff to Bristol where the band were playing that night. It was cheap option and as I was knee-deep in usual student debt, a train wasn’t really going to be on the agenda. Befriending a couple I met on the back of the bus who were also heading to the same show, I may well have gotten my mind a little befuddled with whatever they had with them to pick themselves up or slow themselves down and duly shared with me.

Having been into the Bunnymen for a few years by then but gotten into them after their heyday, it was the closest I’d got to seeing one of their shows. There were at least two of the original members of the band playing and ‘two out of four is better than none’, I thought to myself.

After the show, I went backstage to talk with Noel. By then, the band were not getting anything like the press they’d received in their heyday and given that he was new to being a Bunnyman, seemed glad to have someone want to know what he had to say – even if it was some big-haired ‘A’ Level student that wasn’t likely to give them a great deal of exposure in his rag.

Noel bought me a beer too, which added to the sense of congeniality I was feeling about the evening. He was a very pleasant subject to interview and we spent quite a while talking. Might have even had another beer together too.

Once it was all over and the tape recorder was switched off, I bid my farewells and exited an empty venue. Not really that aware of the time that had passed, I got to the bus station only to find that I had missed the last one back to Cardiff.

No money for a hotel. No desire at all to sleep on the streets of Bristol. Too tired by the exaltations of the evening, I wasn’t of a mind to try and stay awake wandering around the darkened streets until the first bus of the morning. There was nothing for it but to hitch back to Cardiff.

I don’t remember a great deal about the journey back now, but I know that hitching after midnight in a deserted city doesn’t equal prime chances of being picked up. I had to wait a good couple of hours to get a ride, probably from some night-shifting trucker that saw it as a way to break up the tedium of what he was doing. It would have been somewhat close to dawn by the time I got back home, so there certainly wouldn’t have been any college gone to the next day.

I’d barely ever dream of hitching these days. Suppose it’s something that if you ever do it, and I’ve certainly done it enough in my time to not want to have to do it again now, you can tick it off your list of things to experience in a lifetime and leave it at that.

Ian McCulloch eventually rejoined a reformed Echo & The Bunnymen. Noel left the band in 1992 and became a teacher. He later got back together with his first former bandmates St Vitus Dance and released an album called ‘Glypotheque’ in 2008.

That Joke Isn’t Bunny Anymore

In 1987, Johnny Marr left The Smiths and, thankfully for the band’s sake, they split up after considering replacing Marr. Imagine now if Morrissey had left and the band had continued, with a replacement for Morrissey, under the name of The Smiths. To say that they wouldn’t have been the same would have been an understatement. Neither would The Wedding Present without David Gedge. Or Happy Mondays without Shaun Ryder. Or Echo And The Bunnymen without Ian McCulloch.

Ian McCulloch left Echo And The Bunnymen during an American tour in 1988. Bravely, Will Sargeant, Les Pattinson and Pete De Freitas decided to soldier on, still carrying the Bunnymen flag. A replacement for Mac was found in Belfast-born Noel Burke. They received further setback when drummer Pete De Freitas was tragically killed in a motorcycle crash (the new album ‘Reverberation’ is dedicated to Peter) the following year.

Will and Les made it clear that it was their intention to persevere under the moniker of Echo And The Bunnymen. Initially, Mac hit back, suggesting that they rename themselves Echoes Of The Bunnymen. Last year, 1990, the new Echo And The Bunnymen album ‘Reverberation’ was unleashed in the face of adverse criticism. I only remember reading one good review and that was only a good review, whereas in the past an Echo And The Bunnymen album should have received an excellent review. The main problem that most writers seemed unable to come to terms with was the name. They didn’t seem to look further, to the music on the album.

Having said this, ‘Reverberation’ is actually an excellent album. Noel Burke is a rare find indeed and a very talented songwriter. Unfortunately, this is possibly the worst light he could be seen under, for he will constantly be living under the shadow of Ian McCulloch, a daunting prospect. ‘Reverberation’ on the other hand does not stand up very well against the real Bunnymen albums, such as ‘Heaven Up Here’ or ‘Ocean Rain’. One wonders whether he is being himself in his song writing or just a pale imitation of Mac.

I’ve talked to a few people who say it’s not the same and I say it’s not meant to be the same. I’ve got my own preoccupations with singing, and lyrically I’ve got enough to be going on with myself to worry about what was going before.

I see it as an integral part of the band. Obviously, a frontman has certain duties and in the whole scheme of things, the spotlight’s on you. It’s silly denying that, but as far as anyone else in the band is concerned, songwriting or whatever, everybody’s got an input and that has always been the way with the Bunnymen. It was like that when Mac was in the band. Will and Les did a hell of a lot of the songwriting. Mac wrote the lyrics and he did his own vocal parts and that’s exactly what I do with the band.

Previously to the Bunnymen (Mark II), Noel had been in a band called St. Vitus Dance who had split up and Noel had moved to Liverpool, getting a job at Waterstone’s book shop. This is where Will and Les found him after having decided on him as a replacement for their departed singer.

Burke had been a fan of the band up to ‘Ocean Rain’. Had they been amongst his influences as a member of St. Vitus Dance?

I saw them in Belfast. There was a bomb scare and we had to go out into the freezing cold for about an hour before we were let into the gig, so they were dead late, but it was good. I enjoyed it. At the time, I wasn’t even in a band. I liked them, but they wouldn’t have been an influence. Lyrically, it was people like Costello and Cathal Coughlan, out of Microdisney and Fatima Mansions now. Musically, it was mostly 60’s type stuff, like The Zombies and Wire. Basically, it was the same sort of thing as this band in that it was very democratic and everybody had different tastes. I’m only speaking from my point of view. Everybody had a different input.

Although a lot of their live set consists of the new songs that they have written together, a selection of old songs have crept in, such as ‘Silver’, ‘All That Jazz’ and ‘Bedbugs And Ballyhoo’. Having been a fan of the band, surely it would have been strange for Noel to have been playing those songs?

It’s not that weird because I’m so familiar with them. Obviously, I prefer to play the songs that we’ve written, but as far as the old songs are concerned, they’re Will and Les’s songs and they were Pete’s as well. He was in the band when I first joined.

For Will and Les, this is like a new band. There is one respect though in which they are not a new band. They have kept the name, which is going to invite criticisms and comparisons to Mac’s Bunnymen.

I’ve got a theory about that. The people who are going to compare will be about the same age as myself, about 27, and they’ll be looking back to what they were doing when ‘Heaven Up Here’ or ‘Ocean Rain’ were out. People have fonder memories of an album because it’s buried in their past and they’ll associate it with losing their virginity or whatever. I don’t think it’s fair to compare it on those terms because it’s something you know and love and it changes. Certainly people are going to have a lot of preconceptions and be sceptical. I would have had that attitude. If I had been an outsider, I would have said that it’s bound to be crap. I think that people, when they look back in a year or so, they’ll think it’s a really great album. I think it is a pity it has come out in such circumstances. People look at it in its historical perspective now and see it in this so-called ‘bad light’.

Once the fans have been won over, the next hurdle is the press, who can destroy a band’s career and haven’t been too warm to the new Bunnymen yet. Does Noel get upset by the press reactions?

Who gives a shite? There’s room in the world for everyone. The music press only tend to be interested if they think there’s going to be a slanging match and we’re not going to do it. We’re not going to come out and slag Mac off. My philosophy in life is ‘those who can do, those who can’t work for the NME’. I know loads of people who work for the NME who were in bands who never did anything. So they got into the NME with a chip on their shoulder.

So, provided Echo And The Bunnymen don’t take too much notice of those cutting journalists, what plans are there for the future?

I just want to do as many weird and wonderful things as possible. I want to put out loads of singles. I want to do stuff outside of the band. Everybody wants to do stuff outside of the band. We’ve all got such diverse interests. I don’t mean anything like a solo career, but working with other people. Maybe singing or getting into production. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing.

There is a question that is always asked of Paul McCartney or George Harrison. It is, in fact, asked of any band members or bands who have gone their separate ways. Are there any plans for a reformation?

I don’t think that (Will and Les) have any regrets. It’s just that things went the way they did and I think they’re happy now. The whole thing had soured and they weren’t getting on. It was like a marriage and everyone had got used to each other but they weren’t getting on and it was a question of who would send the boat out first and Mac did; he left. I don’t think they’ll ever want it the way it was. I know for a fact that they don’t see it now as second best.

Since I interviewed Noel, the band have been dropped from their record label. Time will tell if they win the press back over. Bring on the dancing reviews.

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Filed under 1991, Features, Interviews

INTERVIEWS // All The Songs Sound The Same (1991)

The first time I remember dabbling a little more seriously with writing was accepting an assignment for the high school newspaper, aged 11. Excited as I was to have the opportunity, as an avowed pacifist even then I was dismayed that my first ‘proper writing job’ was to be a review of a boxing match! The piece in question may not exist now, but I do remember that I watched the match and went ahead with writing about it.

It took something like another ten years before I would really have something to get my teeth into. Taking an ‘A’ Level in Media Studies at a Cardiff college, I gravitated towards the setting up of a new magazine, that came to be named The Printed Image. I was given the position of Music Editor, which felt quite prestigious at the time. It certainly gave me a dose of life as a ‘blagging’ music journalist, as I spent the good part of a year calling up record companies under this guise and convincing them to allow me to interview the artists that spent so long on my turntable at the time.

While I met many of the indie heroes of the day and got a feel for the mysteries of backstage life, I rarely turned any of the resulting interviews into articles. I guess that this was partly down to the drag of spending many hours trawling through a cassette to transcribe what I’d come up with to turn it into something readable. However, the first one of these interviews formed the article that appears below.

Following on from the demise of The Smiths and in the days when anything that John Peel gave his thumbs up to got a listen by my pals and I, The Wedding Present became the ‘band du jour’ for a good few years. Founder and frontman David Gedge was my first interview subject and despite my initial fanboy nerves, he was the most genial of hosts.

The interview took place at the Newport Centre and must have lasted for up to an hour. At the time, the band had a habit of selling bootleg tapes of their shows at gigs and I was keen to put this possibility to the test. After the interview, I asked Gedge if he didn’t mind me making a recording, given that the horse’s mouth was on a plate (so to speak) and I had the gear to do it with. To my pleasure, he said yes and even agreed to give me written permission.

After the interview, my gang and I headed for the front row where we would bear the crush of the crowd to get closer to the band. I had the tape recorder stuffed down the front of my trousers (not the easiest of circumstances), a wire trailing along my sleeve and the mic in my outstretched hand. It wasn’t long before a security guard came up to me and told me that I couldn’t make the recording.

Promptly, I whipped Gedge’s permission slip (‘To whom it may concern, please let the bearer of this letter…‘) and showed it to the guard. There wasn’t much he could do in the face of it and he might even have bristled a little at my audacity when I asked if he would put my machine on the stage so that I could get a better recording, but still went ahead and did it.

The days of black jeans, Newcastle Brown and getting crushed down the front row seem long behind me now, but they were certainly fun times. My meeting with David Gedge turned out to be quite a useful masterclass in how to go ahead and put your own music out yourself, without going through the machinations of the music industry. It helped that he was a very nice bloke too.

All The Songs Sound The Same

David Gedge being honest.

On Thursday 15th November, The Wedding Present played to an elated crowd at Newport Centre, mixing a set of choice oldies with new songs from their coming third LP. I spoke to the band’s mainman, David Gedge, finding him to be very pleasant and talkative.

He told me about many aspects of the band’s five year career, their transition from a small time independent band to one of Britain’s top ‘alternative’ groups and many other aspects of the music industry that the band operate in. I asked David about the band’s beginnings and how they managed to finance the first single ‘Go Out And Get ‘Em Boy’.

We were all on the dole apart from Peter (the band’s guitarist) who was a teacher and we just basically saved £5 out of each of our dole cheques and started a bank account. It’s surprising how much it adds up really. Something like £10 a week, £500 a year. It cost about £100 to record and £400 to manufacture.

We did a couple of demo tapes and sent them off, but no-one is really interested in demos. We did this other tape which we decided was good enough to record and we took that around to see if anybody wanted to put it out and again everybody said no so we decided to put it out ourselves. And we called it Reception Records because we were called The Wedding Present and it seemed like an obvious word.

A lot of The Wedding Present’s influences have been among the most revered underground guitar bands of the past twenty five years. David told me what he and the band listen to and how their tastes have changed.

There’s four people in the group and I suppose we’ve all got different tastes, especially Peter who’s into folk bands and stuff. I’ve always been a fan of guitar bands really, like The Membranes, The Velvet Underground, Postcard bands. It probably has changed, although I’m not sure what to. I’m quite fickle really, one record that I like today, I’ll probably hate in a week.

I like Ride because I went to see them in Sheffield and they dedicated a song to me, so I was really touched. Afterwards, they told us they formed the group after seeing us play. So Ride are probably my favourite group at the moment.

They have also worked with producer Steve Albini recently. Had David listened to any of Albini’s other bands since recording with him?

I’m not really a fan of the bands he tends to work with, to be honest. I like The Breeders and I like The Pixies but most of the bands he works with just go ‘chrrrrwhrrrrchrrrr’ and I just don’t like it. I think it’s quite boring and I don’t think they’ve got any real songs. I think Big Black (one of the bands Albini has been in) were a bit like that but the guitar sounds were great. I saw them live in Leeds and thought, this is the man for us, really.

He’s very much a person who’ll remain in the background, or with us anyway. He’ll just set the stuff up and he’ll fiddle around with your amps a bit and your drumkit and say ‘How do you like this sound?’, and it’s usually a really good sound. He’ll just record it. When you come away from that and you’re writing at home again, you use that knowledge to write songs and I’ve probably got more money now, so I can experiment with guitars and amps. It’s all getting more technical. We used to just have these guitars, plug them into an amplifier and play, whereas now I’ve got all different weird tunings and effects pedals which just make it more varied.

While a lot of The Wedding Present’s early indie contemporaries such as Primal Scream and The Soup Dragons seem to have jumped on Manchester’s ‘dance’ bandwagon, the band have stayed true to their course and kept up the guitars. Although Gedge isn’t completely dismissive of the whole scene, he remains slightly sceptical.

I think it’s always interesting to experiment with things like that. I can’t really imagine us doing it now because people would just say ‘bandwagonning’, Primal Scream or something. And I’m probably the only one in the group who’s interested in that type of feel anyway. I’ll wait till my solo career, like Holly Johnson, all those Hi-NRG records. I think it’s a quite interesting phase of music, definitely.

The Wedding Present themselves have often received criticisms of the songs all sounding the same, of being the ‘Status Quo of indie’. They’ve actually named a recent 10” EP ‘All The Songs Sound The Same’. How does David react to these criticisms?

We’ve always tried to change the direction. To me, I suppose ‘Bizarro’ sounds different to ‘George Best’, and I know in retrospect it’s probably not as different as I’d imagined it is. Once we’d made ‘George Best’, there was no point in making that LP again, so we immediately set out to make a different type of record. Ultimately though, I suppose it’s not that dissimilar but now I think after five years of experience and also after having worked with Albini, we’re finally managing to escape from that. I think a lot of it is that we’re quite shy and quite conservative really and it’s very difficult to get a new idea which is good on that situation, because we’re always scared thinking that it’s different, but is it any good? I think finally we’re actually getting over that now and starting to mess around, and obviously we’ve got a bit of money now.

What about reviews?

It depends what mood we’re in really. If I’m in a mood where I’m considering that the music papers are out for a week and then a new one comes along that’s completely disposable in the same way that pop music is, then it doesn’t bother me. I can just take it like a ‘pop comment’. It’s really weird because if someone criticises me and they think the work’s good, then I think ‘oh! thank you very much’, but if they think that it’s bad, I think ‘you’re wrong!’ It’s quite a personal thing to me.

Gedge was in a band whilst studying for his Maths degree at Leeds University called The Lost Pandas, an early version of The Wedding Present. I asked him his opinion on the student environment for fledgling bands.

It’s a really good place to start a group, obviously. Principally because you can put an advert up in the union and there’s going to be a lot of like-minded people hanging around, so it’s quite handy. But it’s probably better to be as far away from University as possible because it’s not a particularly trendy place to be, is it?

The Wedding Present have now made two memorable appearances on one of Britain’s longest musical institutions, Top Of The Pops. Firstly with their particularly lacklustre performance of ‘Brassneck’. Secondly, confusing the audience with its false stops and starts, their version of the old Cockney Rebel song ‘Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile)’. Was ‘Brassneck’s lack of enthusiasm intentional?

Oh yes, it wasn’t serious, although a number of people thought I was the proper act. I had my brother ring up, who’s not a fan of the band, say ‘What was wrong, had someone died?’ I’m surprised I got away with it really, because I was getting more and more bored. You have to rehearse about eight or nine times during the day to get the camera angles right and every time I was getting more and more deadpan, and I thought that some director’s going to say ‘Come on, you can’t do this’. But he didn’t. I honestly thought we wouldn’t get asked on again after that.

The single went down ten places after that.

I don’t think any single’s gone down further after a Top Of The Pops appearance!

Somebody who gave The Wedding Present a lot of support earlier on and who still does is Radio 1 DJ John Peel. Did David consider The Wedding Present to be a ‘John Peel band’?

I think we probably are. He’s the only person who plays us on national radio. It’s a very much over-used word. I consider ourselves to be an independent band. I know that means about four different things now. To me, about four years ago, it meant being uncompromising. Now, it means you’ve got to treble your guitar or something. Obviously we are in that category of groups, alternative really.

After having been own their own independent record label for so long, they recently signed a deal with a major label. Had the band lost any of their artistic control since signing to RCA?

God no! I think it’s actually the opposite, because we’ve got more money now. We’ll go into the studio and try something and if it doesn’t work, we can have extra studio time to do it again. I think it’s given us more freedom.

There was of course the case of the band’s compilation video, which the group wanted to call ‘Spunk’ and the record company insisted on putting it out as ‘*punk’.

That was RCA’s video department which was a different kettle of fish. I don’t think they really understand us there, whereas to the people who signed us, we said ‘Look, we’re glad you like the group and that you’ve given us all this money, but we should make it clear that we’re not someone you can push around, so if you can’t handle that fact, then go spend your money on someone else’. And they said, ‘All right, fair enough’. I mean, they always advise us and say that if we put the name of the band on the sleeve, we’re going to sell more records, etc, etc. Ultimately, it’s our choice. I can’t imagine it lasting forever. They’ll probably drop us.

For the second year running, The Wedding Present have played at this summer’s Reading Festival, having moved up the bill this year.

If someone had said ten years ago ‘One day, you will be playing the Reading Festival and The Buzzcocks will be on before you’, I would have laughed. But it was a nice day, that was the main thing. The year before it was raining.

Unfortunately for the band, bass player Keith Gregory had his amplifier blow up!

The worst two minutes of my life! Normally, I can think of something to say, but I was so nervous. So many gigs in Britain, Europe and America and nothing like that has really happened before. Guitar strings, they break all the time, but we’ve never had an amp blow up! The biggest audience you can imagine, 20,000 people. I was terrified!

David Gedge is a man who comes over as very satisfied with where he is, describing the band as ‘like a giant hobby’. Talking about music journalism, he questioned ‘how can you describe something that affects you physically?’ Reinforcing the fact that he’s at where he likes and he likes where he’s at, and would be comfortable nowhere else. The band have a good relationship with their fans (‘I think they’re quite nice people in general’), Gedge still hasn’t paid his poll tax (‘I haven’t, but I’ve not been asked yet’) and they can only go from strength to strength.

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Filed under 1991, Features, Interviews

INTERVIEWS // First Cutlery’s Deepest (2007)

Tokyo Pinsalocks (l-r Reiko, Hisayo, Naoko)
The first interview I ever did for publication was with David Gedge of The Wedding Present, one of my favourite guitar bands when I was a teenager. It was exciting to meet with one of my musical heroes at the time and I was pleased that he was such an approachable subject. Gedge gave me a long interview and I committed the whole thing to cassette tape.

When it came down to getting an article out of it for the magazine I was writing for at the time, I spent literally hours in the college library, rewinding the tape again and again with headphones clamped to my ears as I transcribed the entire interview. This made the man hours quite considerable and the prospect of going through this process every time I interviewed somebody less than tempting to say the least.

Many years later, interviewing actors at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo about a play I had just watched them perform, the task was made much easier with the interview having been recorded on a MiniDisc player – the ease of the digital age making my writing job that much faster.

In 2007, I became a staff writer for the now-defunct Asia Player magazine. In what turned out to be my last piece for their final issue, I interviewed another musician and stumbled across the grail of making an interviewer’s life even easier. Holding down a writing gig in Tokyo with a handful of other committments at the same time left me with very little space in my life to get more than a few hours sleep a night, so I was grateful for any shortcut that came my way.

The answer? Email your questions to your subject and then just edit their responses into a nice clean looking piece – the trick is that the person being interviewed actually does the work for you and gets their words as they want them in the bargain.

The subject for this piece was Reiko Kaiyoh, drummer with Japanese electro-pop queens Tokyo Pinsalocks. Having written about them already in my column for the magazine, Reiko asked me to give them some coverage on an upcoming event that the band was organising – a female focused arts event that they had called Spoon Market. The resulting interview can be found below.

Unfortunately, I never made it to the show due to there simply not being enough time in my life to squeeze in everything that Tokyo threw at me. It sounded like a really fun gig, but in a place with as much going on all the time as Tokyo has, you simply can’t say yes to everything.

Still, I did manage to take my interviewing technique discovery away from the experience, so I got that and Reiko got her coverage – everyone’s happy!

First cutlery’s deepest

In the rush of a busy life in the city, we take the clutter and bustle of our daily lives for granted. There’s always cutlery or chopsticks in the kitchen, and the vending machines will always have tea. Take the humble spoon. Use it to shovel in the cereal, soup or fried rice, wash it up and forget about it till hunger hits again, right?

Think again – there are those for whom it holds a much deeper meaning, and not just as something for Michael Jackson’s metal bending friends to show off with.

The Dan of West Africa have mastered the art of carving large spoons into impressive works of sculpture. The spoon’s owner is given the title of ‘wa ke de’, a high distinction given to the most hospitable woman of the village. The custom of the men of Wales giving love spoons to their sweethearts dates back hundreds of years. Even Freud himself has gotten in on the act, giving the spoon the female role in the knife/fork/spoon dinner table trio.

Tokyo Pinsalocks, Japan’s leading purveyors of all-girl electro-pop have taken the spoon as metaphor for themselves. Singer Naoko once described the band that way, being both cute and tough – feminine curves tempered with a metallic steel. To extend the metaphor further, they’ve organised not only an event but an entirely new scene named after the object – September’s upcoming ‘Spoon Market’ at Ebisu Milk.

The event is set to be an extravaganza of all things female from this fair city, and features bands, DJs, VJs, art exhibitions, shops, stalls and food. The music is ladled on thick, with appearances from the Pinsalocks crew themselves, along with Noodles, Motocompo, Falsies On Heat and Kate Sikora, amongst others. Spoonfuls of style will come from the fashion goods, accessories and jewellery on sale, with further treats served up in the way of paintings, photography and short films. It’s all stirred up with fine food from the likes of Patisserie Potager and Tacostar.

Asia Player managed to grab a few moments between courses with Pinsalocks drummer and co-organiser Reiko Kayoh to find out a little more about what’s cooking down at Milk.

Where did the idea come from?

We wanted to create an atmosphere where we would be excited to perform our music, and an ideal place to go out to have fun. We play music as a way of expressing ourselves, which is very similar to that of other artforms – film making, fashion designing, and food making. When we create our music, we get inspired by all these things, not only from listening to other music.

We couldn’t find a place like that, so we decided to make one.

What makes it different from other events in Tokyo?

There are events which have live performances, and art exhibitions together, but usually the art is secondary to the ‘main’ live show. At Spoon Market, all the art, shops, food, and music are given equal status.

Ebisu Milk is known as a venue/club, but we are proud to offer it as a gallery/cafe-bar/shopping market too that night.

What are you hoping to achieve with it?

To stimulate people’s everyday lives and make them a little happier by attending to this event. Also to establish a scene of female artists by combining these different fields, hopefully all getting inspired by each other.

What are you most looking forward to at ‘Spoon Market’?

For Milk to become one big market. All the artists we chose are awesome, but what’s important is to join them all together and make the whole place into one world, one market. From entering the door to the end of the basement floor, we want the audience to feel ‘what a cute and cool place!’

What are your expectations for it?

As far as we know there are no other events like it, but we are sure there are many people who would want to come to a place like this.

We expect more artists will become interested in Spoon Market culture. We want to join people who usually work in different fields together and create a scene.

We will be sure of our success when we hear people describing someone’s artwork as ‘that’s very Spoon Market-ish!’

Who do you hope to attract to the event?

The target will be people like us! That means women our age (late 20’s to early 30’s) who are interested in music, fashion, art, like going to cafes, want to make their own style and are looking for something that inspires them. However, people from different generations, genders, or cultural backgrounds are just as welcome.

What’s in it for boys attending?

Boys and girls might feel the same way about something but express themselves in a different way. They can definitely enjoy the similarities and differences in the art styles. Maybe they’ll be able to understand their girlfriend’s taste a little better too!!!

Is this going to be a one-off or a regular event?

A regular event hopefully, but we’ll see how it goes after the first one. We want to see if this is the right place to have this event, the right number of artists, etc. We definitely will continue the Spoon Market with the same concept, but don’t know when and where yet. So, watch this space.

What’s your message to the audience?

If you like one artist, you’ll definitely love the rest. For people who want a good night out in Tokyo, for people who’re looking for inspiration, for people who just want to enjoy music or to relax, see you at the Spoon Market!


VENUE: Ebisu Milk
DATE: 21 September (Friday) 20:00 – 04:00
TICKETS: Advance – 3,000 yen (inc. one drink) / Door – 3,500 yen (inc. one drink)
Available from Ticket PIA
WEB: www.pinsalocks.com/spoon
PHONE: 03-3413-9331 (Heaven’s Door)

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Filed under 2007, Features, Interviews

INTERVIEWS // City Transplants & Their Domino Hearts (2006)

Bruce Michell with Dom Pates

In 2006, I got a couple of articles published on a Canadian website (The Foreigner – Japan) covering Japanese issues. They were pleased enough to ask me to contribute more for them and I was commissioned to write a piece on a play being put on at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, which included interviews with the actors. The original article can be found here.

The majority of interviews that I’d done in the past had been in the early 90’s and with British musicians, so it was good to have a chance to get back into it and interview some different subjects, that came from a different background too.

The play was written by a relative of Thomas Edison and performed as a series of monologues. It was my first experience of writing about theatre and also the first time to work with a transcript that came from a digital source rather than an analogue one. Certainly an improvement on slowly rewinding a cassette! It was also interesting to share some experiences I could very much relate to of living as an expat in Tokyo.

The article that appeared on the site can be found below. The photographs of the actors were all taken by Tomomi Akagi.

City Transplants & Their Domino Hearts

A woman is telling the story of how her husband died. She is nurturing a glass of red wine and occasionally leans on a bottle of pills. She seems to be trying to purge herself of the guilt she feels about his death and thinks she might have been in some way responsible for it. 10 years previously, she’d had an affair with a young student at the university where she taught and her husband, an acclaimed writer, had never forgiven her for it. An argument about it arose when they were on a dark and wintry Canadian road and a sequence of events including a deer in headlights, a truck carrying metal poles and the driver losing concentration led to his death. She later tries to commit suicide, but fails and realises that life is a better option.

An older man, dressed in a bathrobe, gaunt and bent yet still putting in a powerful performance, is describing the style of his sermons. He’s a minister awaiting a heart transplant, not yet ready to meet his maker. He too is carrying his own burden of guilt. When a childhood friend killed herself in a bathtub, he felt to blame for it and in religion he found a kind of salvation or remedy for his guilt. Later, we learn that his body rejected the new organ, his struggle ends and the heart continues its journey into another body.

A younger man drops into the seat at his desk, glaring into his laptop and barking instructions in German into the headset he’s wearing. A high-flying advertising account executive director, his immigrant mother was raped and he grew up in fatherless poverty. Clearly, his profession is his revenge on a world that gave him such a cruel start. More than just playing a part in shifting trucks, he sells the dream of ‘Rugged Outdoor Man’, the pinnacle of masculinity who fights the elements and protects his beautiful family. Like a badge of honour worn by so many in his profession of hard work and hard living, he suffers a heart attack at 33.

The Canadian Embassy in Tokyo is a grand looking building; slickly modern, smoothly finished, tastefully lit and welcoming. Staged at the theatre belonging to the Embassy, ‘The Domino Heart’ was performed by three actors delivering monologues. It was written by Matthew Edison, a young Canadian actor and playwright who is also the great, great, great, grandnephew of Thomas Edison. Inventiveness clearly runs in the family, for the piece was most poetic, richly laden in metaphor and rose very well to the challenges posed by being entirely constructed from monologues.

On one level, it was a play about heart transplants, with the first donor’s organ going into another body and then a second when the first patient dies (thus the ‘domino heart’, an organ falling like dominoes into body after body). On other levels, the play was about the eternal themes visited by many of the arts; love, life, trust and communication between people.

‘The Domino Heart’ was directed by Robert Tsonos and Rachel Walzer. Robert, a Canadian actor and director, has lived in Tokyo for about 5 years and also played the part of Leo, the character in advertising. Rachel, originally from Jerusalem, has been in Tokyo on and off for the last 13 years and also teaches drama when not working as an actress or narrator. Mortimer Wright, the minister, is played by Bruce Michell, from Sydney and in Tokyo for 16 years. Lynne Hobday, a British-born actress, vocalist and lyricist who played the part of Cara, the grieving wife, as initially drawn to Japan at around the same time as Bruce.

Rachel Walzer

The cast and crew were able to spare a little time after the show to talk about the production and their lives here in Japan’s vast metropolitan capital city.

We began by talking about the play itself. Robert was attracted to the poetry and the metaphors of it, also complimenting the style of the piece. Intrigued by the challenges posed by making a series of fairly long monologues into engaging theatre, Rachel commented that ‘it was really interesting to find all the little ways, the little secrets, the little paths to make it alive and visual’. For both, it was an intense experience to produce. Robert added that the concentration, commitment and talent needed was high.

There were challenges too for the actors. Bruce had to tone down his Australian qualities to play a character that’d moved to Canada. Lynne mostly acts in Japanese language theatre and this was her first English production in many years. Naturally, it was also important to maintain focus and keep the monologues interesting too.

So, how about their experiences of theatre in Japan, and was it much different to that of in their home countries? What are some of the delights and drags of being an expatriate in one of the world’s biggest cities – being an outsider yet also being on the inside? What difficulties do they face and where are their favourite haunts?

Robert Tsonos

: ‘Well, there’s language restrictions obviously. In order to do major TV dramas or things like that, you have to be fluent in Japanese and I’m not.’

Rachel: ‘We have a large, foreign English-speaking community in Tokyo, but I think just a very small percentage of that community is interested in theatre. We’re always striving to get more audience members, but generally…I think the izakayas are more attractive. If you’re an actor in London or New York perhaps, then you’re OK, but outside of that, it’s difficult…’

Bruce: ‘We probably wouldn’t be doing this kind of play in Australia. We’d be more likely doing the classics or we’d be doing an Australian play.’

Robert: ‘To have the entire cast of 8 or 9 people sometimes, all from different countries, is fascinating to me. How do you communicate with each of them in a different way? Some of them are more…like the Venezuelan actress (I worked with) was very physically based, and the British are very intellectually based, right? So you’ve got to give almost different direction to each of them, which I find fascinating, so I that’s been really exciting.’

Rachel: ‘It’s also fascinating when people bring their own culture and mannerisms and yet when it comes to just human issues, it’s all the same stuff and if it’s expressed with honesty, it doesn’t really matter if you’re the kind of person who uses your hands more or if you’re the kind of person who uses your head more. It makes the play even more interesting. What does connect the Japanese who work within our group as well as everybody else is that everybody seems quite internationalised, meaning that they’ve been exposed to a lot of different cultures and they’ve brought a lot of the different flavours that they’ve been exposed to to their performances.’

Bruce: ‘People, I think, are less insular. You’re getting a more international feel. You’re getting people from different backgrounds…So I think you’re getting more variety of experience, variety of directors and the variety of plays.’

Naturally, living in a place like Tokyo has its advantages as well as its drawbacks.

Lynne Hobday

: ‘It can also be a bit precarious, because I’m pretty much freelance, but I’ve been in work for quite a long while. Tokyo’s always changing, there are always new opportunities, you never know what’s around the corner, so (there’s) that excitement.’

Bruce: ‘I think that in your home country, people are more set in their ways. They have routines and they tend to be more family-orientated to start off with, and it’s not so easy to meet people or to break into new social circles, but in Tokyo I think it is much easier. People come, they stay for 2 or 3 years and maybe then they leave, so they’re more inclined to go out, meet people, open up themselves.’

Rachel: ‘It might be a bit hard for me if I were Japanese…I think I would feel a little bit restricted, because the culture here is a restrictive type of culture. As a foreigner, I feel liberated, I feel that nothing’s expected of me, I can do whatever I want, so I feel freer here than what I would in my own home country.’

Bruce: ‘Foreigners, particularly Westerners, are cut a lot of slack. They’re treated pretty well. Sometimes you’re not treated well by everyone, but generally speaking, I think Westerners are treated quite well…People do say there may be discrimination, say in the rental market or something like that, but it’s nothing that I’ve experienced.’

It’s a very big and busy place. Any other downsides?

Lynne: ‘A little bit too busy. Actually doing things and not chilling out enough, probably. I can never stop here!’

Bruce: ‘Travelling at 8.30 in the morning on the Yamanote line is not great, obviously, and we do things to survive. We wear iPods, we have our mobile phones…and that’s a sad thing…but I think that’s kind of a survival mechanism. We do that because we have to do that, just to cope with the crowding, the pushing, and those kinds of things.’

Rachel: ‘I’d be happier if there was a little bit more nature.’

Bruce: ‘When you’re working hard, and people do work hard here, it’s nice to have access to a little bit of nature, to be able to relax. I think if you’re used to it, you have actually a hunger to see trees and greenery and sky and things like that, but, you live here for a certain period of time and you get used to it. That’s the body and the mind. It adapts to what environment we’re in. But you’re reminded of it sometimes. Sometimes you see Fuji in the distance, and you think, ‘Wow, yeah, that’s great, there is a sky, a horizon out there.’

Tokyo’s green spaces do find favour, as do some of the livelier and more cosmopolitan spots.

Rachel: ‘There are parks that are very beautiful, there’s Nezu Art Museum, that has its own little Japanese area with ponds and trees and stuff like that. If you know the little nooks and crannies of the city, you can find a little peace.’

Bruce Michell

Bruce: ‘I really like Shinjuku Gyoen. It’s a lovely park. I also sometimes go down to the area around Omotesando and the park near that area as well.’

Lynne: ‘Harajuku, Omotesando, probably. Lots of trees and wide roads, it just feels a bit European.’

Rachel: ‘I love the nightlife of Tokyo. I like the excitement and the buzz of places like Omotesando and this area, Aoyama, and I love the various flavours sometimes…when I’m in the mood for Shinjuku or Roppongi.’

No matter how long people have been resident in this city and whatever background they’ve previously come from, there still seem to a lot of commonality to their lives. Whilst Tokyo seems to be systematically busier than most places and may lack an abundance of wide open green spaces, these are similar reservations that many of the Japanese people drawn to the magnetism of the national capital have. What does mark the ‘foreigners’ out from the ‘locals’ is the experience of being an ‘outsider on the inside’. Other global hotspots such as London or New York might take a more integrationist approach, as cities built on the backs of their respective countries waves of immigration. Simply the act of living there makes one a Londoner or a New Yorker.

Here, one can never be a ‘true Tokyoite’, yet that is not without its advantages. While most incomers have to hurdle the language barrier, and Japanese is a notoriously difficult language to learn, there is often a greater freedom in being a foreigner in Japan. Rachel spoke of the liberation she felt here. Bruce mentioned the fact of many foreigners having an easier time than in their home countries and of being ‘cut a lot of slack’. Everybody also felt the buzz of the place.

It would appear that, for our actors and directors at the Canadian Embassy and undoubtedly many others like them, their city transplant operations were successful. Their bodies accepted their new Tokyo hearts.

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Filed under 2006, Features, Interviews

INTERVIEWS // Buds Wiser (1991)

The first time I can recollect writing for a publication was aged 11 in my first year at school. I was given a chance to write for the school newspaper and had a useful lesson in journalism from it. I could write for them, but not on any subject of my choosing.

I was given a Barry McGuigan boxing match to review. As an avowed pacifist even then, I wasn’t best pleased about the assignment, but put something together anyway as I wanted to get my name in print. I don’t even remember if it was printed in the end or not, but I certainly no longer have a copy of the fight review.

Almost ten years later in a different educational institution, I became Music Editor at my college magazine (The Printed Image). It’s useful to be somewhere at the beginning as it’s easier to pick the role you want for yourself. It turned out to be a great role too, as I learned what a cunning blag being a ‘music journalist’ was – just give your name and the publication you write for, tell the record company/band/manager what you’ll do for them and end up getting showered with goodies!

I ended up using the position as an opportunity to meet many of my musical heroes of the time and interview them. The list of early 90’s British indie bands that I got through was pretty extensive – including The Wedding Present, Ride, Teenage Fanclub, Silverfish, The Fall, Carter USM and the ones who appeared in the article below, The Darling Buds. I ended up getting to know them a little too, as I would often bump into them on the South Wales gig scene (which was pretty small then).

Not long after this time, Wales ended up with a place on Britain’s musical map just as I moved to another town and my tastes diverged pretty solidly from those indie roots.

The Printed Image, if I recall correctly, only ever made it to a third issue. The Darling Buds themselves fell apart shortly after their third album, partly down to record label disinterest.

What it is about things coming along in threes?

Buds Wiser

Manchester – so much to answer for, South Wales – well, not much really (with the obvious exception of Tom, Shakey and Shirley). How many well known/successful Welsh bands can you think of? Yes, you don’t need the other five fingers. The Darling Buds should be high on your list.

They are a four piece band hailing from Newport (Caerleon to be exact), with the exception of their drummer, a Liverpudlian. The line up consists of Andrea (vocals), Harley (guitars), Chris (bass) and Jimmy (drums).

The band have been going since 1986. Andrea had moved to London and Harley was still committed to another band then as well. He worked in a recording studio and whenever he had a spare hour, the band would go in and record something. Harley had some money from a pension he’d taken out and invested that in the pressing of The Darling Buds first single ‘If I Said’. It was released on their own Darling label.

Harley: ‘Why do a tape? Everybody does a tape. Why not spend a little more money and do a single which is more accessible and can be easily played?’

By 1987, there was enough interest in the band from the single via the music press and a healthy John Peel interest, that the group started to take it all more seriously and signed to independent label Native Records.

One of their first gigs together was supporting The Butthole Surfers at Newport Centre. The next year, after a couple of singles on Native, they signed to Epic Records, a branch of CBS (now Columbia).

Andrea: ‘When you’re signed, you get an advance and you’ve got to work out how much you’re going to spend on the album, because this is an album a year; how much on each of you living.’

Harley: ‘I could earn more working in a bar!’

Andrea: ‘We live on the bare minimum and the rest goes back into the band. There’s always perks. When we go off on tour now, before we were in cheap little Bed and Breakfasts and now we can stay in some nice places and make it a bit easier for us. We don’t have a luxury lifestyle at all.’

They had a blitz of popularity when they first signed to Epic, with a Top 40 single, a Top Of The Pops appearance and countless front covers. Unfortunately for the band, the label didn’t know what to do with them, and when The Darling Buds wanted to release new material, Epic would insist on pushing the album (‘Pop Said…’ their debut), by releasing more tracks as singles etc, all against the band’s wishes.

Andrea: ‘The thing is, within the company, it is so huge and there are so many bands that are so different to us. You’ve got a whole bunch of people trying to get their heads together around these bands and a lot of them don’t understand The Darling Buds at all and get things completely wrong. All these silly things happen and we feel really annoyed and we feel let down by it all. But there are people within the company then, that are really good for us. Probably about five people who we really do trust and we do really like, but then all the others are just people who are doing a job and that’s what gets annoying because they do things wrong.’

They also went from press darlings (ahem!) to last year’s thing pretty soon too. The press have never been too keen on Wales as a potential musical force.

Harley: ‘Wales is just not on the map in a lot of places.’

Andrea: ‘I think it was in Washington. We walked into this radio station and there was this DJ on the air. His assistant let us into the studio and she said we’ll be off air in a minute and he’ll be straight into chatting away to you. So we walked in and found a chair each. He was on air and he said (adopts American accent), ‘And they’re here. The Darling Buds have just walked in. Hi, it’s The Darling Buds…from Manchester, England”. (several groans)

Harley: ‘And we were going ‘Hang on a minute, no we’re not!”.

Andrea: ‘And he was saying ‘Well, Wales is right next to Manchester’. Yeah, right next to it mate!’

Harley: ‘I mean, we’re all Welsh.’

Andrea: ‘Except Jimmy.’

Harley: ‘And he’s closer to Wales than Manchester! We’re all Welsh and it’s just something that’s totally overlooked. We found out that when we were starting out. We couldn’t get gigs outside of Wales. No one was interested. Half of the time they think you’re a heavy metal band. John Peel has done a lot for Wales. He’s really tried, but there’s no encouragement from anywhere else.

They have a lot of S4C (Welsh TV channel) programmes, don’t they? Welsh pop programmes. I can’t understand them because I don’t speak Welsh (laughs from around the table).

I was never taught Welsh at school. I was watching one the other day and they had several great bands.’

Andrea (tongue in cheek): ‘That Manchester scene’s great though, don’t you think?’

Harley: ‘There are a couple of good bands. Like The Stone Roses first album. That is a really good album. When I put it on, I can hear The Who, I can hear all these other bands. But you know, what’s wrong with that?’

Andrea (sarcastically): ‘I can’t fault it. I love the whole scene.’

Harley: ‘The thing is, I got the Happy Mondays album and I can’t get into it. Ride, that’s a really good album. That’s an album I listen to a lot. I think the guitar is definitely going to come back. Well, it’s never going to go away!’

Andrea: ‘ I think it’s people’s tastes that change, not so much the music. We were part of that guitar thing. Before that, there was the C86 thing. Then the very guitar orientated thing, with the blonde singers. There were also a lot of bands around with boy singers. I mean The Wonderstuff, The House Of Love. They were all sort of poppy, guitar bands. Then it went into The Stone Roses with their retro guitar sound, and the dance stuff. It’s peoples’ tastes really. And then Ride happened and I think people were getting so sick to death of the dance scene and of the summer of love, that they’re going back to guitars.’

Harley: ‘That’s the thing with this country, fashion goes really strongly with music. The fashion at the time was Soul II Soul, who were wearing all that stuff and then The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays with the flares.’

Andrea: ‘I think they’re fantastic, I do. I love them.’

Harley: ‘Don’t be so sarcastic.’

Asking them about their influences, and realising the many, many different bands that they take their sound from, the general consensus is of ‘guitar bands…with good melodies’. I asked them about their own songs.

Harley: ‘I don’t want to be really, really famous. I think the band still want to write a really good song. I don’t think we’ve written our best song yet.’

Andrea: ‘There’s things we’re really proud of. You get excited about everything that you write and maybe a couple of years later, you go back and think it’s crap and you rip it to pieces and start again. Then again, you write a song and you’re dead proud of it and you get really excited about recording it, the same as you did when you did your first record. All that comes back again and that is brilliant.’

Harley: ‘There’s several off ‘Crawdaddy’ that I just don’t like at all. There’s one or two off the first album. ‘You’ve Got To Choose’, I hate.’

Andrea: ‘We were in the studio the other day and he had his portastudio out and was playing lots of early demos. There was ‘Hit The Ground’ on there and it was so gorgeous. It was just us doing it on the portastudio and it sounded so naïve and really simple.

I think also we do get a bit disappointed when we record things in the studio, then listen to them and we’re quite happy. Then six months later, we listen to them and still think that hasn’t captured us live. There is a lot of atmosphere at the gigs and on records we just seem to be losing that.’

We talked to The Darling Buds for over two hours in the pub that we met in and covered many other topics.

Harley: ‘I don’t think that the Manic Street Preachers (the only other Welsh band with any press) would get on with us. A slight clash in…did I say Clash!?’ and the demise of Sounds (defunct music weekly) to which Andrea sarcastically replied ‘I’m going to miss that!’ Harley is getting some money from publishing and is hoping to put it towards setting up a record label that will be geared towards getting bands in this area recognised. The band themselves are currently writing material for their third album which is due out in the Autumn. They are hoping to produce this LP themselves. The meeting ended with a discussion on Harley’s prowess as a guitarist.

Harley: ‘The guitar is an extension of the penis, yeah? But at the moment, the guitar has still got me. I’m not in control yet.’

Andrea: ‘Must be a peculiar shape, Geraint (Harley’s real name)!’

Harley: ‘The guitar is a very personal thing to a lot of guitar players and when you’ve got control of it and you feel like you’re playing with it, this might sound pretty weird, then that’s great. But at the moment, the guitar is still laughing at me, which makes me think I’ve still got a lot to do!’

He described the band as ‘just pissheads’. May these ‘pissheads’ continue to bloom.

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Filed under 1991, Interviews