It felt like it took forever to arrive, but I write this sat in my hostel on Magazine Street in New Orleans. I think it took 23 hours in total, from arriving at Haneda Airport in Tokyo to arriving at Atlas House hostel. A customs interrogation, missed and changed flights, crap plane food, some upright naps, two documentaries and 23 hours later here we are.
I really didn’t want to leave Japan. I’ve been ready to leave in all of the other places so far (even if this blog said differently, I was ready to leave each time) but in Tokyo I was so settled. I don’t want to put any sort of rigid timescale on when to go back and live there but I’m thinking towards the end of next year, after some London projects, which is what a large chunk of this trip was geared towards.
I wrote a 6 part piece for Banda Tulipa and we did it at rehearsal on Thursday night. It was 6 parts because each part was a letter of their name – T, U, L, I, P and A, and it has all the usual Liam guff of 12/8 breaks and obscure stuff pinched and re-written. It was great fun. I miss teaching a bloco but I have found a good balance now that I only do it every so often as I find my feet again. That might change in London with some of these ideas I need to cram in to the next 18 months, but I can’t wait. What a lovely bunch of guys and they were an absolute pleasure to play with.
I must have walked 12 miles on Friday. I started with a trip to Shinjuku for some Tonkotsu Ramen that I hadn’t had yet (the other two types, Miso and Soychu, I’d had bowl after bowl of) and then to the huge garden there called Shinjuku Gyoen. It had a huge greenhouse.
I love the smell of greenhouses. It sounds weird but there is something about the smell of damp that I really like. Some London basements have it too. I’ve always liked the smell. Is that weird?
The gardens were, of course, really gorgeous and had that inner city vibe that I like so much.
After an hour or so in there I headed to an old cemetery in Nishi-Nippori. Amongst the gorgeous old Japanese stones were loads of cats milling about.
It was very quiet and I wandered around in peaceful silence, bumping in to cats. (We have squirrels in the U.K. and cats in Tokyo. Next time I go I’ll take some treats). There are 3 busy times of year – when the cherry blossoms come out, and the Spring and Autumn equinox when family members come and tidy the graves.
I followed the vague path of a train line, the Yamanote Line I think, for an hour and a bit, seeing more of Tokyo on foot. Nishi-Nippori has some Tokyo leftover from before WWII, so that was interesting to see. Maybe this building:
It was quite an industrial area as I headed up to and through Tabata, and what wasn’t industry was house. For a country with such whacking great buildings and houses upon houses upon flats upon flats, it’s so quiet. I was the only person around for ages. It was mid-afternoon so I presume everyone was at work. I ended up training it back down to Shibuya for a cheap beer and then walked to Roppongi – it was Beatles time.
I went to the Abbey Road Live House in Roppongi twice in the end, on Friday to see The Jentles, who are the new kids on the scene and must be only in their early 20s, and on Saturday to see The Parrots. Both evenings were just brilliant. The Jentles didn’t particularly have their voices down, but musically they were absolutely spot on. There was only one occasion where they strayed from sounding exactly like the record, and that was on While My Guitar Gently Weeps, where they have clearly seen the video with that Prince solo:
The bloke playing George veered off in to Prince territory and the man had chops. The band were so good. They’ve nailed it, and just need the voices next. I really like the tiny whiffs of Japanese accent too, most evident with the letter ‘l’ and a ‘th’ sound.
The Parrots the next day, with your eyes closed, were The Beatles. It was scary, particularly when they did I Will from the White Album – the fella being Paul just had his tone and voice down so perfectly. I even go cold thinking about it now. Paul himself hired them for his wife’s birthday in 2013 and played a tune with them at a party. Imagine that! You’ve been playing someone for decades and then he finally joins you on stage to do the first track from his first album. Both on Friday and Saturday, I got goosebumps for every single song, even having a soppy sock cry when The Jentles did a perfect rendition of Don’t Let Me Down. First chord and boom – I was gone. I adore that song. They also finished with Hey Bulldog. Karaoke memories truly banished! A Japanese girl working there did these amazing psychedelic paintings of The Beatles too and gave me a George badge when I told her he was my favourite. For a Beatles nut it was totally perfect.
I’ve loved The Beatles since I was no age – as a diddler I often made Mum get her old record player out and I sat at the bottom of the stairs listening to Eleanor Rigby and Come Together over and over again on headphones. I was just obsessed with those two songs and I never bothered with the others til much later. I had my proper obsessively-read-and-listen-to-nothing-else-for-6-months faze when I was 17. Long bus journeys to college and one of those shiny new mp3 players, full up with all my Uncle’s Beatles CDs, plus a copy of Revolution in the Head, meant a lifetime obsession grew. I always do that with artists – for years I’d really love one or two songs of theirs and not bother with the rest for ages. I didn’t listen to any substantial Bowie until 2013 yet I’d always adored Heroes. I love Streets of Philadelphia and only bothered with rest of Bruce quite recently. I love Fourth Time Around by Dylan and am yet to have my Dylan faze.
I had such a good day before The Parrots on Saturday with Ana. I played Maracatu for the first time. It’s quite good. I’d love to see it with a hundred drummers – I bet that’s mad. To me it sounded a touch like Japanese Taiko so I called it Maracataiko. I managed to squeeze in an hour with Girassol too for the last time, and we did the tune with a special guest on vocals and guitar. It was well funky.
Sunday was the all day samba party, organised by Mayumi and Romi and featuring all the samba bands in Tokyo, (but no samba reggae) as well as some dance troupes and a Spanish gypsy band. It was fantastic and such a good event. I don’t go particularly giddy for samba – every band tends to play the same tempo and breaks and it’s all top end – but that’s just my taste. Samba Reggae has such a profound effect on me that a lot of other types of drum music to my ears have something missing. But, every band was brilliant and the Japanese really get it, far more than I do. The drinks were free… but I still managed to navigate my way back to Toko-chan’s house, 3 changes on the metro, which earnt respect points from everyone.
I cooked the band dinner on my last night so I could say thank you. As an extension of a return to Beatles obsessions, I cooked a George Harrison lentil soup recipe. I think there was a cookbook in the 1980s with recipes from celebrities and this one was George’s. Highly recommended! But I would say that. On the left is Liam kidney bean and tomato curry.
The band bought me enough chocolate for a lifetime, which will see me through the first few days of New Orleans. Ana bought me two plastic cats that sit on your glass. The Japanese are genius.
This picture rather nicely sums up the frolics.
To Tuesday and after one last bowl of superb Miso Ramen with Toko-chan and Katushisa, I dragged myself round Haneda Airport, kicking and screaming, tearing the check-in desks apart, grabbing on to things, chucking stuff around, generally having a huge tantrum until the authorities were called to detain me in a straitjacket and throw tranquilisers at me. OK not really but I left reluctantly. Toko-chan, Nori-chan and her 4 year old son Jo very kindly came to see me off at the airport. I’m sure New Orleans and Jamaica will be cosmic but man could I have just settled in Tokyo, there and then. I’ve explained it all already and I really mean it. Cats. Baths. Spirituality. Food. Generosity. Chocolate panda bears. Bands everywhere. I cannot wait to go back.
I landed in the States and was interrogated at San Francisco airport by what I think can only be described as ‘a racist ill-informed pig headed customs tosser’, and that is me being kind. He was arrogant, presumptuous and really fucking stupid. He began by telling me not to lean on his desk because “all sorts of sneezes and germs reside there”. I had to declare reasons for my visit and all the money I have – cash, money on my card etc – and have him lecture me about how much I was going to spend. “Liam, you know, if you run out of money, you could stay and slip in to the system and end up being paid to use our services”. Ah, the familiar aseekum sylers ‘coming over here and taking our benefits’ argument. I said to him “trust me, I won’t be staying here mate”. “You never know” he replied. I laughed and called him presumptuous, wanting desperately to say “no mate, YOU never know”. He said “this is what we do”. “What, make assumptions about people?” I asked. It also made sense about his sneezes on the desk comment – he’s just a racist.
He proceeded to tell me how the American economy is ‘doing great just now’ and that my sterling converts well because the dollar is improving and pound weakening. I don’t quite know I get more dollars with a weaker pound? He wanted to know absolutely everything as well and wouldn’t have it when I said I haven’t earnt a penny from all these musical ventures so far. He was obsessed with how much money I had.
He was one of about 4 caucasian Americans I saw working there, in the entire airport. Everybody else was an American of different descent or not from America. All of them, as foreigners who got in, were making it difficult for foreigners to get in.
He told me to take a seat and then 2 minutes later said “were you shouted at by Helen Mirren for playing drums? Tell me the story!” The bloke was sat there Googling me. It’s weird, man. Googling Liam Emerson also returns the gay male Canadian pornstar with the same name as me. I hope he had a right good look at that. His final words to me were “do not take a penny for your gigs”. And off I went to get a new flight having missed my scheduled one.
Everyone I encountered in the airports and flights today looked and acted so depressed. The West is on its arse at the moment. The world’s money and economy has gone, or is going, East. It’s Asia; it’s China, Japan, Dubai, perhaps India in the future. The new president is an expert in 1 thing: bankruptcy. There are enough political protests and marches and all sorts that keep the population distracted by fighting with each other and not focusing on what is really going on. That’s perfect to move it all away from the West. The situation in Syria is abhorrent and that Nobel Peace prize winner didn’t half drop a lot of bombs, don’t you think? 26,000 more than your average Nobel Peace prize winner in 2016 alone. Who knows who is really running things. But it looks to me like the West is brown bread. It’s kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible.
But let’s not finish on that! I’m in New Orleans, and perhaps this place more than any on the whole trip, has real significance with Angus. Much of this trip was moulded through music he introduced me to. He opened the world up to so many of us that knew him with his music taste and an afternoon spent at Lucy’s with him on his laptop connected to the speakers was just the best way to spend a day. I would love to know what he would think of all this. Let’s have an absolute stormer from Eddie Bo under the alias Roger and the Gypsies, and the most beautiful song by Irma Thomas.