Saturday, 8 March 2014

February 1979

Outside Tokyo

So the self-styled Queen of Pop, Nina Myskow, and I board a plane for Tokyo.

She’s in first, I’m in economy. She works for the Sun, I work for myself. She wears red, I wear black. She’s a sweetheart and so am I.
The same can’t be said of the Stranglers …

And 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 things feminine, for… the Stranglers. It could’ve been any other band, any other full-cream hard-ons in Brylcreemed trousers, any other bunch of matinée idols with false bollocks and painted smiles.

But the Stranglers?

As the band alight from the bullet train onto the platform at Osaka station, they’re immediately surrounded by a mob of girls, all manicured giggles and stiletto-heeled admiration, looking as incongruous as dogs on hot tin roofs.

‘They don’t think of us as idols,’ says Jean in the cab on the way to the hotel where another gang of honeydew peaches is waiting to pounce. ‘They’re really into what the band says. They understand.’

To back up his statement he flashes some letters written in over-formal, shaky English. They’d been thrust into his hand at various points of his journey across Japan 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 decapitation after committing suicide or seppuku (sounds like a word game)

Not exactly love letters in the sand. Japanese girls are like that.

Osaka is around two hundred miles from Tokyo. It’s like a brass rubbing of Birmingham but more curvaceous and sparkly. It’s the second concert into The Stranglers’ Japanese tour. The previous night in Fukuoka – many Japanese words sound vaguely obscene − they apparently went down so well they were banned from ever playing there ever again due to audience overreaction.

Tonight the barriers again didn’t prevent the fans tumbling down to the front in desperation to celebrate the appearance of sour-faced Jet, doe-eyed Dave, lecher Hugh and jumping Jacques flash.

After years of heavy-metal conditioning in the shape of clapped-out, podgy, monolithic dross kings from far beyond the seas, it’s not surprising they find the Stranglers something to write home 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 bollocks, 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 novelty act whose only redeeming factor was Jean’s romantic attachment to their country and his cutie-pie smile. But with kind of indomitable elegance, the fans accept the moribund meat the band relish chewing before their very eyes.

They seem to get it.

Back in the Osaka hotel basement bar, Jean intimates, in no uncertain terms but with a snappy smile, that he wants a fight. And he wants a fight with Judas Priest, who’d just played a concert of their own and sit like Madame Tussaud rejects in the corner being ogled by a dozen leopard-skinned groupies.

Jean scrawls, ‘Judas Priest R Fucking Women.’ on the back of a menu and places it on a silver platter held by an unsuspecting waiter who proceeds to deliver the message to the Birmingham metalheads.

No takers.

Jean departs, disappointed but still smiling. Judas Priest may not have even heard of the Stranglers.

The evening culminates in manager Ian Grant insulting a concrete-arsed groupie, tour manager Tom playing tunes loudly on a silver tray and Ian banging nails into the ceiling.

None of the band participate in such on-the-road antics. They’re parsimonious with their 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 an’ all), they’re more inclined to exercise the larynx than the inebriated soul.

I guess that’s part of their attraction.

The following day we coach it to Kyoto, the ancient capital awash with Buddhist temples all made entirely of wood and without the merest hint of a nail. Despite the overbearing symbolism that pervades the ornamental parks in which these wonderful edifices are set, it’s difficult not to snigger when confronted by ‘Get your souvenir Buddhas here’ signs.

The band pose for the Sun’s Queen of Pop outside one temple. Nina’s probably still feeling a little freaked out after seeing Jean’s balls swinging like church bells in the dressing room the night before when he emerged stark naked from the 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 black 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 holds 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.

‘No, I don’t mind Jean getting all the attention at the moment. After all, he makes a prettier cover than me.’ Hugh, wearing the tongue-in-cheek sincere look he cultivates so well, pours 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‘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. I haven’t got time for the pain.’

There’s a knock on the door and the tour manager wanders in with a leather-jacketed boy who looks around eighteen and a slightly older girl. ‘You said you wanted to talk to some fans,’ he says to me. ‘Here’s one.’ Hugh leaves us to it.

Aya is a student and has saved up for months just to accompany the band on every gig and he’s taken a week off work to do this. Why?

‘Because the Stranglers are unique,’ he says. ‘They sing about all our lives 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 twenty-three, works for a bank and lives in the dormitory her company provides for its employees. 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 a friend told me he had gone to bed with a Japanese girl while he was 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 says ‘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.’

Nagoya lies sixty-seven miles outside Kyoto and is the fourth most populous city in the country. It’s a little like Osaka but with a shade more character.

Before going to the sound-check, I corner Jean and tell him what Ayako had said. He’s obviously upset. ‘It’s frustrating. What her friend told her just isn’t true.’

This is becoming a soap opera.

What her friend told her just isn’t true. No. We don’t behave like rock bands with their idiotic on the road antics. I don’t want this band to be like any other. The Stranglers are all I’ve got. No. Shit, man, that’s a drag. I didn’t expect to hear something like that, something so palpably untrue.’

I mention the conversation I had 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.’

The show in Nagoya is a triumph. The stewards, up until now fairly tame by Japanese standards, are coming on strong. So strong, in fact, that the band stop playing to point an accusing finger at one particularly venomous steward who is subsequently hounded out of the hall in a blaze of vitriol.

Backstage I meet up with Marl Takahashi, a bespectacled twenty-year-old, and 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 seventy members,’ she says, ‘but I expect that to really increase after all this. The average age is eighteen but we have a few thirty-two-year-olds. We also have a fanzine.

‘For me 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.’

Why do I get the feeling that I’m turning into a News Of The World reporter?

And you thought The Stranglers were a boys’ band.

I’ve been going out with Dina pretty solidly for nearly two and a half years. I love her madly but I know she’s unsure about me, about the kind of job I do, about the way I live my life. She could hardly be described as a rock chick. She hates receptions, doesn’t matter how glitzy, she doesn’t care much for most of the music and she definitely never bothers with people she hates. It’s part of the attraction.

Despite the obvious temptations, I never fool around at home or away. I sussed out a while back that sex without love was intensely unsatisfactory and not worth the hassle. Hey, but if you’re a rock star it’s part of the nine to five.

I love Dina and want her so much to be my bride. It’s the most important thing in my life: why fuck it up?

So what am I doing walking down this endless corridor to my room at the Nagoya Miyako Grand holding the hand of a girl called Haroko with oriental sex on my mind…?

Next: The Stranglers in Japan Part 2

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013
Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives:




  1. Hi Barry, soooo entertaining and cool! When's this bloody bleedin' book coming out. Tell Me When indeed... We never did that 2nd curry did we? :)

    Gary K

  2. The picture of the signed Black & White...that's about three yards away from me and awaiting a good frame. I'll hang it somewhere prominent once I get the front room redecorated. I just had the thing on ebay at £130, no-one bought it so it stays with me.



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