Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fiery Jacks

Happy Birthday to Me

Click painting to enlarge

Islands of Ecstasy occupies a decidedly modest position in cyber-space. Blissfully ignored by the majority of web users, it enjoys what the French-Algerian writer Albert Camus termed “the benign indifference of the universe.”

So on my recent birthday I was touched and surprised to have my ramblings immortalized in a rather splendid illustration by Kyoto artist Oliver Kinghorn. Such recognition!

Not only is Oliver a talented painter, he’s a man after my own heart: a bon vivant, aesthete and party animal whose idea of a good time is to dissect the secrets of the universe while seeing off several bottles of the finest wine he can procure.

Mr. Kinghorn’s ecstatic masterpiece pays tribute to assorted beats, gurus and rockers. Those who are, in Kerouac’s memorable words, “mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn.” Fiery Jacks, one and all.

As Oliver’s drawing demonstrates, they number a good few of my main men, including Van Morrison, Henry Miller, John Lennon, Ray Charles and my chief spiritual influence - that great sex symbol Kermit the Frog.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Sayonara Screamathon!

Live: The Only Ones
King Cobra Club, Osaka, Japan

Now this is strange. Surveying the darkest corners of King Cobra, I perceive I am the only westerner among the fifty-odd Japanese fans who have made it to Osaka on this chilly November evening. But then I spy an enigmatic looking lady whom I later discover is Peter Perrett’s charming wife Xena.

I’m amazed to run into a few Kyoto friends stage front.
Who knew they were into this band? Look out, there might be some secret Only Ones fans in your neighborhood, too.

The DJ is playing a decent selection of new wave tunes, the kind of singles you might have heard at any Only Ones show back in ’78: A Certain Ratio, Durutti Column, The Undertones and - most fittingly - the late, great Johnny Thunders.

No sooner has she started spinning Joy Division’s Isolation than here come The Only Ones and, as in Tokyo, they begin with a full tilt version of The Immortal Story.
It's a brilliant start and I’m astonished when a Japanese guy immediately in front of me starts to pogo! Time Warp City!

The guys continue with Programme and Perrett looks chuffed at the warm reception. By the time they get to Black Operations the crowd is going bananas and starts shrieking and whooping up a storm. Maybe they think it’s The Beatstalkers up there. The show quickly turns into an hilarious screamathon as the band join in with the fans.

I hate to say it, but this does conform to the stereotype of Osaka people as the loosest, loudest, most in your face of all Japanese. Certainly last Saturday’s Tokyo crowd - enthusiastic as they were - didn’t get nearly as rowdy.

The sound isn't great but the music rocks. When they hit Another Girl, Another Planet the place predictably goes nuts and the guy in front starts pogoing again. A good portion of the crowd sing along not only to the band’s most celebrated song but with most of the other numbers too.

I must say that after 8 years in this country I have the utmost respect for Japanese music fans. On the surface reserved and taciturn, they are a committed, knowledgeable bunch who support their favorite artists with a passion. There’s inevitably a relaxed, welcoming vibe at Japanese shows, and this newly chilled-out bunch of Only Ones seem to dig it too.

For the second time in a week I find myself coming over all emotional at an Only Ones show. Two teary Japanese guys fling their arms around me in a gesture which goes beyond words. I think it means, “I'm on another planet with you.”

Then we are treated to a song few fans have heard of, let alone witnessed live. In Hamamatsu they played a chorus of Watch You Drown for the first time in thirty years. Tonight Peter manages to remember two verses and there’s a gorgeously expressive solo from Mr. Perry.

The version of Miles from Nowhere the band conjure tonight is, quite simply,
immense, Perry’s guitar soars. Then the guitar man introduces Why Don’t You Kill Yourself? as “a bit of hari-kiri for ya.”

There are two encores. From Here to Eternity features more gritty guitar from Perry, maybe the best he’s played tonight. Finally The Beast builds and builds until it ends in a maelstrom of feedback, an appropriately dramatic finale to the Only Ones’ whirlwind 2009 tour of Japan.

And that's yer lot.

Four shows in six days and a hell of a week for Only Ones fans in the land of the falling yen. Peter, John, Mike and Alan, "Sayonara,” and “Arigato gozaimashita!” Don't be strangers and come back soon. Y'hear?

Set list: The Immortal Story/Programme/In Betweens/Transfixed/It’s the Truth/Black Operations/Till it Hurts/Flaming Torch/Louder than Words/As My Wife Says/ 'C' Voyeurger/ The Big Sleep/Another Girl, Another Planet/Me and My Shadow/Watch You Drown/Is This How Much/Lovers of Today/Miles from Nowhere/Why Don’t You kill Yourself?/From Here to Eternity/Trouble in the World/The Beast

Photo Set HERE

Video: The Only Ones, "Is This How Much?"

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Another Planet

The Fan

Miki Says...
I feel that The Only Ones can say many things to young Japanese today. For example their song Another Girl, Another Planet.

Sometimes I feel I am a girl on another planet. That's this crazy planet called Japan where life is so strange. I wonder if The Only Ones can feel they are on another planet here in Tokyo tonight. Actually, one of my friends is an alien.

The Only Ones are an older band but I guess they are kinda timeless with cool, edgy but gentle image. I love many UK bands but for me The Only Ones are the best.

Their songs can teach us many things, like there are many kinds of love and love has many sides. We shouldn't judge others too harshly. You know, that's the whole of the law.

They've had many trials and tribulations, so I want to tell Peter, Mike, Alan and John please "kiotsukete" (take care). Oh and come back to Japan soon.

Seventh Heaven

AntiKnock Club, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan

This is the Big One. My friend and I are both celebrating our 50th birthdays and there's no place we would rather be than Tokyo's punky AntiKnock Club.

That's because our all-time faves The Only Ones are on their second visit to Japan since they gave their fans the shock of their lives by reforming two years ago.

The guys get a delirious reception from the crowd and kick off with a rocking version of The Immortal Story. Front man Peter Perrett looks every inch a star in black suit and red shirt. Guitar hero John Perry - judging by the expression on his face - is already in seventh heaven. Mike Kellie can't wait to bang the bejasus out of his kit and Alan Mair rapidly puts his mark on the proceedings with a tasty bass solo.

After that we get exactly what we came for: one timeless classic after another reminding us why we love this band...and why we've been missing them like hell for the last twenty-odd years.

Those familiar faces may be more lined, the waistlines a tad wider, but the music hasn't aged a day. The band storm through Programme, In Betweens, Transfixed, It's the Truth, Flaming Torch, As My Wife Says, Miles from Nowhere and they sound as fresh and vital as the day they were released.

But this was no exercise in mushy nostalgia. If the oldies sound great, the newies sound bleeding AWESOME. Black Operations, Till it Hurts (?), Louder than Words are bona-fide Perrett classics. If the band can do justice to them in the studio (and why wouldn't they, the four of them seem to be on such a high right now) I predict the forthcoming LP is gonna be FUCKIN' MEGA.

The lads proceed to bring the house down with a barnstorming Me and My Shadow which features Perry's milky slide guitar and a sweeet drum solo just to underline the fact that Mike Kellie – he of the permanently upturned white collar - is one of Britain's most rock solid rhythm gods.

Naturally they play Another Girl Another Planet – if they didn't I'm sure a riot would swiftly ensue. Even if you've never heard of The Only Ones you probably know this one, and the fresh-faced Japanese fans who form the majority of the audience – most of them young enough to be my kids - whoop with appreciation.

Perrett has a recurring tuning problem with his rented Les Paul Junior guitar which only adds to the loose, celebratory air and gives the crowd a chance to banter with their heroes. He asks for requests and a collective cry comes up for Why Don't You Kill Yourself? which seems to be everyone's favorite track from Baby's Got a Gun. There's one amusing moment when Mr. Kellie counts in before Mr. Perry is quite ready and is playfully rebuked, causing laughs all round.

By now a touching bond between band and audience has developed, and the room is filled with good vibes. Long-time fans - grown men for chrissakes - are yelling “We love you, guys!” and Peter graciously replies “We love you too! We wouldn't be up here if it weren't for you.“

It doesn't feel the least bit corny or fake. In fact it's as real as it gets, this connection between an all-too human band of outlaws which has returned from the edge of oblivion and an audience which never really went away and ecstatically receives its heroes with open arms.

It's like each of us – musician and fan alike – is having the same realization: "We made it, didn't we? After all these years we're still standing. Christ, who'd-a thought it?"

There are tears of joy in my eyes and I'm telling my friend this is the best gig of my life. And maybe it is and maybe it isn't and who the hell cares? What counts is that this is what life is about: art and love and friendship and survival and singing along with your favorite band. Right?

The Only Ones perform two encores and leave us with the triple whammy of The Beast, The Whole of the Law and Lovers of Today. It's been a superb show and I have a huge smile on my face as I leave AntiKnock and breathe in the balmy Tokyo air. The Only Ones. Blimey. I wish they'd never gone away, but it sure is good to have 'em back.

Set List: The Immortal Story/Programme/Inbetweens/Transfixed/It's The Truth/Black Operations/Till It Hurts/Flaming Torch/Louder Than Words/As My Wife Says /C Voyeurger /The Big Sleep /Another Girl,Another Planet /Me and My Shadow/Smokescreen/Miles From Nowhere/Is This How Much You Care /Why Don't You Kill Yourself?/The Beast/The Whole Of The Law/Lovers Of Today

Photo Set HERE