9 August 2016

Camel in Japan - May 2016

Camel in Japan - May 2016

It was touch-and-go - like this blog. It almost didn't happen, but thankfully it did. A short tour of Japan. Flagged up to us in late 2015, we immediately fell to discussing the practicalities, the most significant being: who would be the keyboard player? Our dear friend Ton Scherpenzeel, with whom we always have a wonderful time working, is a long-time committed non-flyer and, though he vouchsafed that he would seriously consider a long and arduous journey on the Trans-Siberian railway route, we felt had to look for someone else to take on the task. Thus, through a fortuitous suggestion from a friend of Andrew, we arrived at the virtual doorstep of one Mr Peter Jones.

Peter Jones in Tokyo (photo:Lenya Alec Bass)
Although he lost his sight at a very early age, the universe has compensated him by endowing him with a generous array of musical talents (as well as an irrepressible sense of humour), allowing him to impress us all with his soulfully expressive playing on keyboards, saxophone and guitar (played horizontally). Some may already know Pete through his Tiger Moth Tales project or even his time as a finalist on the TV talent show, X-Factor. A man of many parts!

From our first rehearsal it was obvious that this was going to be fun and a refreshing throwback to the good old days of real live four-piece interplay. And with Pete so quick on the uptake we were able to condense our usual pre-tour rehearsal time. An initial 5 days in the interesting city of Nottingham about a month before the off and a three-day wash and brush-up in a convenient studio near Heathrow before heading off into the blue yonder, destination Tokyo, where they had obviously already been warned of our arrival.

It's always a pleasure to visit Japan, to perform, meet friends, admire the ever evolving urban skylines, catch glimpses of contrasting rural scenes from the window of a speeding bullet train and sample once more the endless gastronomic delights. Such as:

 Giant crabs...

...lovely miso soups (as here, represented in the ubiquitous plastic replicas in many restaurant windows).

...and where else can you pop into a supermarket and get yourself a fresh tray of sashimi for a take-away lunch?

And when you're in Osaka, try the local street-food speciality, Takoyaki - Octopus balls!
 described by wikipedia thus:

(たこ焼き or 蛸焼 ?) is a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special moulded pan. It is typically filled with minced or diced octopus (tako), tempura scraps (tenkasu), pickled ginger, and green onion.


Anyway, of course we came to play some shows, not just eat. And the first stop was indeed Osaka, catching a shuttle flight from Tokyo after the jolly customs formalities to arrive in the evening of whatever day it was. I was glad to get to my hotel room from the window of which Osaka glimmered enticingly. Of course, tired as I was, it's always better to adapt to the time change straight away, so off we went in search of eating opportunities (see above). A good noodle bar and a couple of Asahi beers later, a good night's sleep was had and the next day saw a bright sunny morning.
The famous Osaka Running Man

 A fine opportunity to wander the old centre with its pedestrian streets and canals. 
Amongst all the colourful signs, screens and hoardings, the most famous is the Running Man (pictured right). I have a photo of it from a visit in 1990 and he's still running. It is a landmark assignation point and something that simply must be viewed by all Japanese visitors to the city.

Osaka, Venice of the East
On stage at the EX-Theatre (photo: Dave Minasian)
After this pleasant perambulation we all convened at the first venue of our four-date tourette, the Namba Hatch, an agreeable theatre with a large stage. We were having time to run-through a few things and try out the hired bits of equipment and get to know our excellent Japanese crew. I'd decided to go back to bass basics, using only passive Fender basses through an Ampeg SVT top with the 8x10 cabine, much to the consternation of our stalwart front-of-house sound technician, Mike 'Bunny' Warren. He was probably right from a modernist point of view but I had been feeling nostalgic for a more uncomplicated age. I didn't realise that simplicity is fraught with complications.

Andrew not so much, as he went through every Vox AC30 that could be found before he could squeeze some sounds out that he was tentatively happy with. 
In the end all went swimmingly, as can be attested to by the results to be seen and heard on the resulting DVD, named 'Ichigo Ichie'; a Japanese expression that Andrew had found particularly affecting, meaning 'treasure every encounter, as it may not recur' or something similar. 

Goodnight Tokyo (photo Dave Minasian)
The DVD was recorded at the second concert - or maybe the third one, I don't know for sure. Both nights were at the EX-Theatre in Tokyo's Roppongi district.The filming was done by our man in Hollywood, Dave Minasian and his team. He did a great job and you too can savour the results in the comfort of your very own home by purchasing it from the Camel Productions online store.

The final gig was the Progressive Rock Fes 2016, as they called it. Held in a nice open-air amphitheatre situated in an urban park somewhere in Tokyo and it was an agreeably sunny day for it too. Also on the bill was Steve Hackett and his redoubtable band. We had already had a chance a couple of days earlier to catch up with bass-playing colleague Nick Beggs and singer Nad Sylvan when they shamelessly gatecrashed the backstage area at the EX-Theatre and ate all our sandwiches. See photo right for proof: from the left, Dave Minasian, Pete Jones having a sit-down, moi, Denis, Andrew and Mr Nick and Mr Nad. Not a sandwich to be seen. I rest my case.  

Anyway, at the Prog Fes we were the closing item on the menu, taking the stage at sunset after a splendid set from Steve and the Hacketts. I think I can say that, faced with some competition, we really rocked. I hope we'll be doing it again sometime.

Thanks to the implacable, irreplaceable, sweet embraceable crew: Derek Haggar & Simon Grocott on the backline, Mike 'Bunny' Warren out the front on extremely sound sound, Derek Jones up in the air with his fabulous lights and the best tour manager, Emma 'two minutes' Edgar. Also our Japanese crew: expert interpreter Yasu, major monitor man Toru, backline positive presence Char and general most helpful person Tom Tao, which is a wonderful name. Thanks too to Club Citta owner and peerless producer Nobu Maruyama, who made it possible. Hooray!

Right then, I'll just leave some more photos here, you can make of them what you will. 

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