Monthly Archives

October 2011

Frank’s Gone, You know He Is, He Really Is

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Frank Sidebottom wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But even those who ‘didn’t get him’ have been moved by his passing on Monday 21st June 2010.

Frank was a huge part of my life. Huge. I was introduced to him when I was 14 years old by my friend Malcolm Richmond. He played me one of his Christmas e.p.’s and I was hooked. Here was this weird guy, with a huge head, who sang bad pastiches of songs played on a crappy Casio, whilst arguing with his ventriloquist puppet. When you put it like that, it doesn’t sound like much of an act. But Frank made it work.

He was created to promote the ZX Spectrum game, The Biz, where you are in a struggling band, trying to make it in showbiz. It’s a fun little game, complete with spelling mistakes and bugs. Frank was also the soundtrack to my gaming days. It was either him or The Monkees on in the background as I struggled to get anywhere in Twin Kingdom Valley.

My first ever gig was seeing Frank hosting a show at, what was then, London Central Poly. Also on the bill were underrated indie band The Man From Del Monte, Buzzcock Pete Shelley and Ed Tudor- Pole. Some line up for a 16 year old. But it was Frank who stole the show. He was just the most mental act I had ever seen.

I followed Frank for years and then he just kind of drifted out of my consciousness as things that you like as a kid often do. I didn’t grow out of him, I just moved on. Until 5 years ago when I started playing some of his stuff to my wife. I realised that what he was doing was not childish nonsense, this guy was actually a genius. It was brilliant on so many levels.

I was presenting a radio show on LBC and hunted high and low for Frank to get him as a guest. To cut a long story short, we found him and he came in one day. He sat in my studio for an hour, big head on, just messing around and being hilarious. I was 14 years old again and couldn’t breathe for laughing. At the end of the show, Frank looked at me with those big eyes and said in that nasally voice ‘You’re going to hate me now’ as he slowly lifted his head off. I was horrified. I didn’t want to see what was under there.

But I’m glad I did. Because that was the day I became friends with Chris Sievey. The faceless genius behind my childhood hero. The man who had for years, allowed Frank to take the spotlight, never once ruining the magic by letting his own ego to take over.

Over the next 5 years I did several gigs with Frank, interviewed him a few times and was even owned by him on his TV show (YouTube it, it’s hilarious). I am proud to say Chris was a friend and I’m in tears now as I write this. His death is a great sadness and has hit me harder than I ever thought possible.

 

The Monkees Radio Documentary

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I totally love The Monkees. They are easily my favourite group ever. I am obsessed and spend far too much money on completing my collection of records and memorabilia.

Recently, I was asked to write a short documentary for Qatar airways inflight entertainment about the Pre-Fab Four. I was honoured and knocked most of it off in about 2 hours.

Here it is. I thoroughly recommend listening to the tracks via Spotify. Hopefully, my enthusiasm will rub off on you slightly. If it does, keep popping back, as I shall no doubt be banging on about The Monkees a lot more.

Living in a Box

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I feel it is my duty to inform you about one of the most awesome bands in the world that you probably haven’t ever heard of. Their songs are so catchy and uplifting, it amazes me that more people don’t know about them. They sound exactly how The Beatles would sound if they had been making records in the late 80s/early 90s. And if they were Japanese.

The band are/is (I’m never quite sure how the plural/singular thing works around band names. I know what it’s meant to be, but it never sounds right) called Box and they come all the way from Tokyo.

I should probably explain how I discovered them. I say discovered them, I don’t mean I found them playing in a club in Shibuya and said to my boss at the record company ‘these guys are gonna be HUGE!!!’ I am of course referring to how they came to be in my life.

A few years ago, I was in Japan digging the fact they still had a Tower Records. Does anywhere else have a Tower? It’s a shame they kind of  fizzled out. There’s nothing better than wandering into a record shop at 11.30pm, a little bit worse for wear and thinking ‘yeah, I have always wanted that Turtles box set, and NOW is the right time to buy it.’ Anyway, I was in Tokyo’s Tower at the time that The Beatles’ remasters were out. To celebrate/cash in on this, there was a whole wall of CD’s by groups that had been inspired by The Beatles. There were some obvious ones – Monkees, DC5, Klaatu – but there were also some groovy looking Japanese ones. They were all available to sample via the magic of listening posts. As I reached for the headphones, my long suffering wife got that look in her eye that said ‘I’ve lost him for an hour’ and she disappeared from my mind.

Totally lost in a world of possibility, I slipped on the headphones and tried a few of the CD’s. For the most part, they were OK and I grabbed a handful. Then I tried Box.

Ouch.

The first chords of what I would later learn was a song called Temptation Girl blasted through my ears. I got that electric shock and tingle that I get less and less often these days, but means I have stumbled onto my new favourite band for at least the next 6 months. I remember getting the same buzz when I heard the opening to Alone Again Or from Forever Changes by Love.

Temptation Girl blew me away.

It WAS The Beatles. But it was no Beatles song I’d ever heard. Then the singing came in. Man, how could this be happening? This band were TOO good. The harmonies, the melodies, the guitars, all weaving into each other and blowing my mind.

What makes Japanese pop work for me is the fact that most of it is in Japanese. I don’t really understand the language beyond a few basic  phrases, so the words become irrelevant to me. The voice becomes a new instrument that has little meaning and doesn’t get in the way of  anything. You can’t wince if there’s a bad rhyming couplet. You can’t feel uncomfortable if you like the tune but the sentiment doesn’t sit comfortably with you. Of course, the odd word does pop up in English, but that just adds a certain charm and naivety to the whole thing.

I bought the CD, along with about 20 others, and then went off into the Tokyo night. Probably to eat ice-cream and play Mario Kart in an
arcade.

When I finally got home, I could not stop playing that Box CD. It was awesome, in the true sense of the word. It unashamedly borrowed/stole/lifted so much from so many people. You can hear Beatles, Monkees, Beach Boys, DC5, Small Faces. But it’s not calculating or cold or plastic. You can tell these guys are doing it because they LOVE these bands. Their sound comes from a real affection for this music.

Trying to get info about Box was hard. They had only made 2 albums and they came out about 20 years ago. There was very little on the web and what there was happened to be in Japanese. Nuts. I was desperate to know more and this wasn’t going to be easy. The only leads I had were a couple of videos on YouTube and a small website. In Japanese. I posted on the YouTube channel. And sent an email to the address on the site and left it at that.

A few months later, I got an email. Subject heading – Box.  This was most unexpected. It was from a Japanese girl called Saeko who worked with members of Box and was the only person on the team that spoke English. She told me that Box split up a long time ago, but occasionally get back together to play gigs. They have various solo and spin off projects (including the wonderful Piccadilly Circus. If Box are The Beatles, then PC are Wings. But the good bits of Wings) and were all terribly excited that a DJ in England had found their music and was playing it on UK radio.

Saeko and I emailed each other for a while, talking about Box, Japan and English music. I asked if they would come on the show I was then  presenting on Absolute Radio. They were keen, Saeko said, but their English wasn’t very good and they weren’t confident about doing it live. We came up with the brilliant plan of me sending questions over, Saeko translating into Japanese, the band answering in Nihon-go, Sakeo translating back into English, and then me getting Barry from Watford and myself to voice the answers. Sweet.

It took bloody ages to pull this bi-continental feat of interviewing off and I was beginning to think it wouldn’t happen. But it did. And it was great. It was such a joyous and creative thing to be a part of, really inspiring. Thanks Saeko for making it happen.

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My ambition is to see Box play one of their infrequent gigs. They perform in Tokyo about once every year, usually around Christmas time. I’m  definitely going one year. Just don’t tell my wife!

While Box may not be releasing new material (they have new songs, I’m told, but haven’t got round to recording it) their off shoot projects do. They’re never quite as good as Box, but there are some great songs coming out of these guys. Kiyonori Matsuo has a new album, ‘One More Smile’ and it’s a real treat. Definitely worth checking out.

[youtubegallery] Box live|http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eg5vWtHskXU
Box ‘Train To Heaven’ Japanese TV|http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RMRx5b8D3U
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Kiyoniri Matsuo web page – http://www.geocities.jp/matsuokiyonori/

Masimichi Sugi web page – http://www.masamichi-sugi.net/