Return to Japan. 26 July 2018.
And so the big tour begins. On Wednesday, I met up with band members John Etheridge, Roy Babbington and John Marshall at London Heathrow Terminal 2 for our trip to Japan. In fact our fourth trip to that fantastical, intriguing, beautiful and curious country where music is so very much appreciated and up to the minute advanced technology coexists with certain very traditional cultural values. I have brought a book to read by Murakami (Norwegian Wood) which may give additional insight into life in Japan.
We met at one of the many restaurants in the Terminal and whilst paying our bill I received a helpful e mail from the airline 'Your flight has been cancelled'. Oh joy, here we go, thought I. For this trip we were flying via Frankfurt, so there were more opportunities for things to go wrong than usual. We were told to collect our luggage from the arrivals hall baggage claim and ventured to do so. Unfortunately three of our cases never came off the belt and along with several other irate passengers we were told (for two hours) the belt was broken, our luggage was somewhere else half a mile away and it 'should' come on belt four...or seven...or three 'soon'. One of our number (whose bag did appear) had previously decided to upgrade to Premium Economy and he had been allocated a flight on another airline direct to Tokyo, so he went, whilst we waited for our cases. Eventually they did arrive and we were told to go back to Departures and arrange another flight. This took ages but we did it and then got a shuttle to another Terminal from where we were to fly to Paris. We were told that in Paris we needed to get new boarding passes for the second leg of the journey and 'probably' would not have to collect our cases and recheck them in. Then wait the wait for our flight. Well we got to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and walked and walked and walked as the airport is huge. However no one knew about the cases and although I eventually got my boarding pass, two of us were told the flight was overbooked, so it was not definite they would get on the plane! It was now twelve hours since I had left home and we were still not on our way to Japan. At nearly midnight we boarded the plane to Tokyo and I found my seat. Being a tall person, sitting cramped in Economy for twelve hour flights is no fun, so you can imagine my sheer delight at finding out I had been given a bulk head seat. No one in front of me, no having to say 'excuse me' or wake someone up every time I wanted to stand up, and enough leg room to stretch out. That is worth a small fortune and boy did I appreciate it.
So now, after our twenty six hour journey, we are all here in Roppongi, Tokyo. I first came here an amazing twenty one years ago on a JBK tour - with the wonderful Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri, Mick Karn (RIP) and Steven Wilson. It was for a month all round Japan and an amazing tour with other artists such as DJ Krush and Sugizo. It was the first time I toured with Steven Wilson and we have been friends ever since. All the guys were great fun and the music fabulous and I have very fond memories of that crazy time. I have toured in Japan eight times now - the other times being with Gong and Soft Machine. I remember one trip with Gong was to the Mount Fuji rock festival alongside Paul Weller and Oasis. I will always remember seeing Liam Gallagher walk up to Passport control at the airport with the biggest cockiest swagger you can imagine. It could only have been him and it made me laugh.
Last night we went for some sashimi, noodles and tempura at the most buzzing vibey restaurant called Eat Tokyo, humming with young professionals shooting the breeze and relaxing after a day in the office. Curiously there were few mobile phones out, lots of people smoking (where do you see that in restaurants these days?) and it was incredibly loud with the sound of chat and laughter. Then a quick nightcap at a music bar called 'SoftWind' (well we are Soft Machine and I am the wind player, so it seemed logical). The bar was on the fifth floor of a block, tiny and looked like it could hold about 20 people. They often have duos playing either classical music or Japanese traditional music there. The bar owner got very excited when we said we were the band Soft Machine, and after googling us to check our story out, he asked us to sign autographs before giving us all free drinks and cake!
Today we acclimatise and the first gig is tomorrow at Billboard Live, Tokyo. We are playing with a special guest - the incredible talent that is Gary Husband, who is playing piano with us. Really looking forward to it all