LAID IN JAPAN
Would you expect law and order in Japan with The Stranglers?
BARRY CAIN did but that was only one of his mistakes
I tell you what - it's definitely not true what they say about Japanese girls.
Unless, of course, you happen to be cross-eyed.
So tell me more…
They wait, these Nipponese nymphs, on bullet train stations, in airports, in hotel lounges, in the shadows of afternoon corridors, in vain, in rain, armed with heart-shaped chocolates, flowers, love letters, sugar sweet smiles, bird wing eyes, all thing feminine…
For The Stranglers.
It could have been any other band, any other full cream adonis in Brylcreemed trousers, any other bunch of nebulous teenies. But The Stranglers? Just a minute before they were sitting in the train
compartment watching the 150 mph structured landscape in a series of freeze shots revelling in their new scientific discovery that women have smaller (physically) brains than men.
And now they stand on the platform surrounded by well manicured giggles, lace looks and stiletto heeled admiration looking as incongruous as a pride of lions in Battersea Dogs' Home.
“They don't think of us as idols," says Jean Jacques in the cab on the way to the hotel where another gang of honeydew peaches are waiting to pounce. "They are really into what the band say. They understand."
To back up his statement he flashes some letters written in over formal shakey English which obviously took long night hours to compose. They had been thrust into his hand at various points of his journey by girls anxious to identify with his admiration of the writer Yukio Mishima and to provide a few enlightening anecdotes on the subject of his disembowelled, decapitated felo de se .
Not exactly love letters in the sand. Still, Japanese girls are like that. Later that night one approached me with love in her eyes. I waited nervously for the question "Where is your room?" looking forward to a night of oriental express bliss.
Instead she handed me a half empty packet of Marlboro, said "You will not forget me please," and left. How could I?
The town - Osaka. Two hundred miles outside Tokyo. Ratherlike a brass rubbing of Birmingham - all
gold and tall. Second night into The Stranglers' tour of Japan. The previous night (I missed) in Fukuoka (most Japanese-words are vaguely obscene sounding) they went down so well they were banned from ever playing there again due to audience over reaction.
Tonight the barriers again did not event them from tumbling down to the front in athletic desperation to celebrate the appearance of sour faced Jet, doe-eyed Dave, letcher Hugh and jumping Jean flash.
After years of heavy metal conditioning in the shape of clapped out, monolithic dross kings it’s not surprising that they find The Stranglers something to lite hom about.
These normally placid, peek-a-boo people from the valley of the dolls are even starting to spit! What other race would go berserk for an hour, kick stewards in the balls, mob the band and then politely bow to each other afterwards as they file out of the hall?
I expected order. I expected rules. I expected The Stranglers to be regarded as a "Blitish novelty act" whose only redeeming factor in their eyes was Jean's romantic attachment to their country and his cutiepie smile. But they, with indomitable elegance, accepted the moribund meat the band relish in
chewing up before your very eyes.
They understood, without understanding a word.
Back in the Osaka hotel basement bar Jean intimates, in no uncertain terms but with a snappy smile
plastered across his face, that he wants a fight.
Not with just anyone you understand. No, Judas Priest were the subjects of his attention. They
played the same night and sat like Madame Tussaud rejects in the corner being ogled by a dozen
leopard skinned, hoochie coochie groupies.
"Judas Priest R Women" Jean scrawls on the back of a menu and places it on a silver platter held by
an unsuspecting waiter who proceeds to deliver the message.
No takers. Jean departs, still smiling. Judas Priest may not have even heard of The Stranglers.
The evening culminates in manager Ian Grant insulting a concrete arsed groupie, with tour manager Tom playing a tray toon and Ian banging nails in the ceiling.
Notice how none of the band participate in the cliche on the road, clot antics. They are intensely parsimonious when it comes to off-stage energy. Apart from Jean's occasional muscle flexing (he does
tend to tread on your toes a great deal. I put that down to him being French somewhere along the line)
they are more inclined to exercise the larynx rather than the inebriated soul.
I guess that's part of their attraction.
The following day we coach it to Kyoto, the ancient capital with a plethora of Buddhist temples each of
which are made entirely of wood without a single nail. Despite the overbearing symbolism that pervades the ornamental parks in which these edifices are set it's difficult not to snigger when confronted by "Get your souvenir of Buddha here" signs etc.
The band pose for pictures for the Sun's Queen of Pop outside one temple. She's probably still feeling a
little freaked out after seeing Jean's balls swinging like church bells in their dressing room the night before after he alighted from a shower. Still, he didn't seem to mind.
The venue tonight is Kyoto University. There's holes in the ceiling, holes in the walls, holes in the hearts, holes in the holes. This brack hole of Kyoto is tailor made for the band. No police are allowed on the campus. No chairs are allowed in the main hall, No holes barred.
But without the barriers and red jacketed stewards the element of anarchy is dispelled. Unfortunately
it becomes just another gig - unusual in Japan maybe but I've seen more exciting nights at the Palladium.
However the band are . . . glate. Maybee it's the transistorised guitars that allow Hugh and Jean to indulge in endless permutations of the hunchback rat routine. Maybe it's the addition of Dave's newly
acquired Oberheim keyboard memory system which allow for myriad variations on a theme. Or maybe it's simply because they are actually beginning to believe what they have been preaching since their
inception - "We are the greatest band in the world."
Each show is virtually a re-run of the new 'X-Cert' album which, captured on vinyl, is pretty disposable. With the opportunity of seeing them four nights in a row I realise they are one of the few outfits who can create and destroy their homegrown myth on stage. They ARE the characters you see up there. The music is a product of four disparate, complex personalities. All that shit about frightened journalists and fun loving aggression arises out of a desire to intimidate what they view as being weak and overtly abstract.
The Stranglers are real. Complete control in their case is no vague, facetious declaration. They really do
Or maybe I'm just a gullible fool (No you're not - Mum). (Yes he is -Ed.)
"No, I don't mind Jean getting all the attention at the moment. After all, he makes a prettier cover than me."
Hugh, in that tongue in cheek sincere look he cultivates so well, pours out another beer in his hotel
room at the Nagoya Miyako Grand the next day. Initially, he was The Strangler who grabbed the attention but in recent months he's taken a back seat in the shadows.
"Last year I got pissed off with being pushed into situations. We've had a very depressing time on the
business side but things are looking up. Now we are a very successful band and there are a lot of things we have to do.
"Now I feel I have the time to know what I want to do and what I want to see The Stranglers doing.
There was a knock on the door and the tour manager wanders in with a shy girl. "You said you wanted to talk to a fan. Here's one." Hugh leaves. Aya talks.
She's saved up for months just to accompany the band on every gig and taken a week off work to do this.
"Because the Stranglers are unique. They sing about ourselves and I understand and identify with what they think. Other rock bands sing about love between men and women, they sing about the
government. People are afraid to sing about the government but they're not."
Ayako Shimizo is 23 and lives in the dormitory her company provides for its workers. She has a record
player in her room, a boyfriend in LA and a thing about Jean. Or she did have.
"He was my favourite. I liked his playing. I liked his philosophy. I think he is very strong and very manly. More manly than Japanese men. But I was disappointed when I met him because a friend told me had had gone to bed with a Japanese girl while here. I was surprised. I didn't think he would be just another
rock star. "
She leaves. Hugh returns and I mention the conversation. "She's just like anybody else," he retorts.
"She can't cope with reality. She hasn't sussed out yet that there are no more heroes. You'd have
thought the Zen way would have taught them to think otherwise."
Before going to the soundcheck I cornered Jean and told him what Aya had said. He's obviously upset.
"It's frustrating, firstly because what her friend told her just isn't true and secondly because what she
said about the rock star thing is maybe right.
"No. -I don't think we behave like other rock bands. No. Shit man that's a drag. 1 didn't expect to hear
something like that. Ever. But I can't pretend to be what I ain't. People expect us to behave in a certain way all the time and that's impossible. We're only human. Shit."
I mention the conversation with Hugh as he puts his Dr Martens on.
"At the beginning I felt Hugh had a lot more going for him than me. He's got a regular place to live. He can concentrate on higher things. I've never had security, just The Stranglers.”
See what I mean by desperate and complex?
The show is infinitely more exciting than Kyoto. The stewards, up until now fairly tame by Japanese standards, are coming on strong. So strong in fact that at one juncture the band stop playing to point an accusing finger at one particular venomous stewards who is subsequently hounded out of the hall in a blaze of vitriol.
Hell, you can't keep on pumping . out eulogy in the same article.
Mari Takahashi, a short 20, is the president of the Japanese Stranglers' Information Service. She too has been travelling with the band for the duration of the tour.
"At the moment there are 70 members," she says, "but I expect that to really increase after all this. The average age is 18 but we have a few 32-year-old members. We also have a fanzine .
"The Stranglers are so different from other bands. They have opinions and they point out all the wrong things in England. Other bands just sing and wear pretty clothes and I'm tired of all that.
"I know the band look so wild but after meeting them I know they are gentle. But all the girls that come to the hotel don't understand them. They just want to go to bed with them. I don't. I just want to be their friend. If I went to bed with Jean I wouldn't be his friend anymore."
And you thought The Stranglers were a boys' band.
"It's amazing," says Jet Black the following day on the bullet train (and I do mean bullet) to Tokyo.
"The girls are everywhere. We get off the train and they're there. We go to the hotel they're there. We go to our rooms and they're waiting outside. We come back from a gig and they're there. We wake up in the morning and they're sleeping outside the door in the corridor.
"Sure, that happens in England - but it's not girls, it's the police."
Jet admits to being a thinking man and not a talker. "I leave that to Jean and Hugh. If I wasn't an introvert we would probably be fighting all the time. I am in the classic drummer mould. When bands try putting the drummer up as a front man they fail.
"The only thing that gets me annoyed is incompetence when we tour. I've come across people who can't organise a bunk up in a brothel."
About the disparity. "We have all the ingredients for failure. But the pressures, all that we've gone through have given us a mutual respect for each other. We are all very strong individuals. That's why we've got so much more to offer than anyone else.
"We have been managing ourselves for the last six months although things on that front are improving. I tell you something – show me a good manager and I'll show you a martian."
It's raining in Tokyo. The coruscating skysclapers are wet through and accentuate the slant eyed gloom. Yet still the cars are polished. Still there are no stains on the pavements. Still the women out walking their dogs bend down to sweep the steaming damp turds into polythene bags to deposit in nearby litter bins. And victims of Jap flu wander around in surgical masks to prevent spreading their oriental kamikazi germs.
Tokyo is straight out of 'The Shape Of Things To Come'. Wells envisaged the vertical aspects perfectly. He just didn't latch onto the horizontal aspects of the inhabitants. The magnificent metropolis of the east is dripping while The Stranglers prepare for the first of their three city shows.
"You two keep playing," Jean says to Jet and Dave in the dressing room of Korakuen Hall “while Hugh
and I jump into the audience and start wrenching up the chairs. If that doesn't get them up nothing will"
They did. And they did. Result - the most immaculate Stranglers' show this side of the Nashville.
When•you see them perform it live you realise just how under-rated 'Black And White' was. 'No More Heroes' was merely a stepping stone, a transition between the singalongastranglers of Rattus and the inveterate psychopathic splendour that courses through the veins of 'B&W'. That death and night and blood feel is in now way diminished before this toy town crowd.
Kato says she's not a groupie. She's 21 with chest pimples and no bra. She taught me oppai (tits), shakuhachi, senzuri (wank) , omeko ("girl's one"). omekoshiyo (f * * *) and ochinko "boy's one").
"Before they come Japanese girls thought The Stranglers would rape them. See, English bands often
make fun of Japanese girls. But this band seem more friendly than most .
"Also, English men have bigger ochinkos in general than Japanese men. They had to make a slightly smaller size condom specially for the Japanese market. We are hampered by our lack of English. Usually the only thing a Japanese girl can say to a guy in a band is "Can I come to your room?" That doesn't give you much of a start.
"The girls get very sad because they know the guy will leave shortly."
Do Japanese girls wear suspenders? "No. They are too uncomfortable. "
After the show Jean comes running into the dressing room. "Hey, have any of you seen a girl about so high with black hair, slightly buck teeth, slanted eyes and who can't pronounce her R's by any chance?"