By Kelly Pike. Originally published in Record Mirror (UK) 25/11/78. This version appeared in the fanzine "Standard Life", published by Jayne Spears in the early 1980's.
"Say, are these guys stars in England", whispers a local reporter, glancing suspiciously at Japan as they stand in a relaxed huddle, "Or do they always look like that?"
It's the evening of Japan's first show in New York, and they are midway through a lightning visit to America. So far, despite their protestations that the dates were disasters, the reaction, and the reviews to the shows in Los Angeles have been very good. In New York however, the people or at least the press who have been gathered together for a before show party, seem a little less certain as to how they should behave, preferring to eye the band across the spacious confines of Hurrahs, than to risk outright confrontation.
Inside, a few adventurous souls wander to the front of the stage - but the majority linger by the bar, still clearly uncertain as the band fly straight into "Don't Rain On My Parade".
Whether it's the time, the place or the atmosphere, Japan produce a taut, almost hypnotic set, certainly the best I've ever seen them do. As the songs wind into one another, forming an eerie, impenetrable bond, the audience mood shifts. Those at the back are thrown, all illusions of a heavy metal band shattered, and more wander forward as if drawn by the electric aura hovering in the air. Throughout the set Japan keep this hold.
Afterwards in the dressing room the band are not overjoyed by the set. Outside, at the bar, the punters delicately pick around for clues as to the general opinion. General opinion is still undecided.
"Are you a band?" asks the incredulous shop owner as we enter, eyes fixed upon Mick's cerise and tangerine barnet. "Yeah" replies Mick, surprisingly tolerant, as he answers the question for the hundredth time that day. "What music do you play?", "Well, it's difficult to describe", "Is it crazy?", "No", "Is it disco, rock, Jazz?" persists the owner. "Not really". "You are in a band arent you?" he presses suspiciously. "Ask them" cries Mick, as his escape is made, "I'm just the roadie!"
The band are by now used to the constant questions and looks as they walk down the street, brought upon by their hair, clothes and make-up. Today is a day when the band, Mick in particular, could have done without the continual harassment by curious passers by.
They have just emerged from a gruelling afternoon of non-stop interviews in their American press office - preceeded by a mammoth questionnaire from "16" magazine. Sample questions: "Where would you take a girl for an ideal evening out?" "What's your favourite song/book/girl?" etc. "It would be nice if we could get to the point where we didn't have to do non-stop rounds of interviews like that." says Mick, still reeling from the afternoon, having spent most of the time drugged up to the eyeballs with painkillers after falling down some steps the previous evening (stone cold sober too) and fracturing his ribs. Today it was the entire band who faced the barrage of international press, but after their final date in Boston, Mick will be returning to New York with Dave for two more solid days cross examinations. Those two are now established as the spokesmen - Dave obviously as the composer of all the band's material and vocalist and Mick as the main focal point - but the partnership of the two goes deeper than mere hair colour and contortions.
"Although we are all very close within the band, David, Steve and I are the closest", says Mick, "Probably because we have been together for the longest. It was us three who got together and formed the band from nothing four years ago, and though Rob and Rich have been friends since we were at school they only joined the group a couple of years ago."
The unity within Japan shows both onstage, where they are scrupulously tight, and off, where during the three days I was with them there wasn't a cross word.
"I think that's good because we're all such good friends." Dave offers, "If there is an arguement nobody takes it as a personal affront, and it's usually over within a few minutes. Also we as a band take care of purely the musical side of things - telling Simon (Napier-Bell, manager) exactly what we need done, and letting him take care of the business side of things in his own way. That way we all get what we want, without interfering with one another the whole time or bickering. Although an exchange of views is healthy - when it gets to the stage where a band's career revolves around the arguements then I think it's all over."
By the time they took to the stage the next night, Hurrahs was overflowing with people, but the front lone of the crowd was most definitely female. Japan attract them in their hundreds. As row by row appeared the nexckines got lower, the glitter brighter, and the skirts shorter, wriggling enticingly within the band's view. Their efforts are wasted however, for while the band are onstage they are oblivious to them all. Again, they produce a painstakingly good set. However, despite the technical perfection and enthusiastic audiene, the set seems to me to lack the tense, biting edge of the night before. The band, however, are far happier with the second night's performance.
As they sit, drenched and exhausted, a steady stream of well wishers, liggers and of course girls girls girls wander in. America it seems, is taking Japan to it's heart. Guitarist Rob Dean surveys the scene. Rob is nick-named "Mr Normal" - and they take great delight in recalling his average reactions - hiccoughing when he drinks, sneezing when he uses pepper... the list they say, is endless! Despite his normal attitude to life, he does not take advantage of the fact that there is a queue of girls stretching far out of the door. But to no avail. "We're not really into having a dozen girls on each arm everywhere we go, like some status symbol." says Rob, "In fact a dressing room full of simpering females from the moment you come offstage is a nuisance we can do without." Mick catches the conversation and adds: "It's not that we're not interested, and me in particular, but it's just that we'd rather go out after a show to relax and enjoy ourselves - and it's impossible to turn around and say "we're going out now, but meet us later on after we've been out and had a good time!" I suppose we're just not interested enough."
The band leave alone.
Saturday morning hits us right between the eyes, for although it is officially the group's day off, a photo-session has been arranged, taking in every tourist attraction in the city - not least the band themselves.
Japan have laid themselves wide open to attack. At a time when short hair, a lank appearance and an "I'm just the same as your mate" attitude is rife, Japan are slammed for their tacky glam appearance and for daring to be different. "We don't go out ligging, we leave that to Japan!" claims a certain member of Sham 69. If only that were true. As Mick says, "Everyone has a set image of us, going to parties the whole time, trying to get our faces into everything, wheras it's not true. I'd rather go to see a good film anyday."
Japan next grin and bear a ferry to Staten Island, beseiged by the usual autograph hunters. Outside, drummer Steve Jansen finds salvation on deck. At 18 he is the youngest member of the band, and with Richard the quietest. "It gets to be a joke when there are dozens of people flocking around you just because you look a little different from most other people. " he says, staring pensively into the distant horizon. "In England people usually just stare, but here they come up and ask you for your autograph, then ask you who you are in the same breath. They don't care who or what you are", he sighs, "It just all seems totally ridiculous!"
"I've got to go into hospital and have my tonsils out - which means that I won't be able to sing for about two months. During that time though, we should be able to get quite a lot of new material together, before we go to Japan in March." explains Dave - clearly relishing the prospect of a visit to the country for the album shifted 100,000 copies in the first week of release and fan mail is streaming in at the rate of 600 letters a day. "We'll be doing four dates in the country, and then coming straight back to America for a major tour, we'll stop off after that to record the new album, probably in New York - and with a different producer. After that though, who knows!" Who indeed?!
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