Thursday, 12 January 2012

Foals in The Daily Yomiuri on 4th June 2010

Foals progress with a fix of heart and soul
By Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

LONDON--When British indie band Foals touch down at Narita Airport this month for the first of two rapid-fire trips to Japan, bassist Walter Gervers' pangs for a nicotine fix will be accompanied by a lesson he learned during the group's last visit to the country two years ago.

"I got in trouble for throwing a cigarette butt on the street, so I won't make that mistake again—this woman looked like she was going to beat me to death with this broom," Gervers said on the phone from Cambridge last month. Admitting to nursing a hangover, caffeine, not nicotine, appeared to be his stimulant of choice as he prepared for a restorative day off in the British university city.

"I'm just a little bit fragile this morning—I'm trying to pound as much coffee as I can," said.

With the release of Foals' second album, Total Life Forever, last week, the Oxford five-piece are aiming to build on the success of their 2008 album, Antidotes. With its jerky, post-punk rhythms, the group's debut was an impressive supplement to the frenetic anarchy of their live shows. Total Life Forever has taken that energy and harnessed it with sublime melodies and incisive vocals from singer/guitarist Yannis Philippakis, a progression Gervers puts down to the band's fresh creative
approach.

"We're a lot braver with our our emotions now—Yannis especially—to be able to not bark over something and not leave the lyrics till last, which always happened with the first album.

"There's a lot more heart, there's a lot more soul, it's been a lot more possible for Yannis to have space for the lyrics to be part of the songs from their early stages, rather than being tacked on at the end," he said.

The album's pivotal track, "Spanish Sahara," demonstrates how far Foals have evolved and it's no surprise to hear that it has become a live favorite.

"It's a really important song for us in the set, which is great, and it allows everyone to just stop and think and listen for a minute, which has been really good and important for us to keep the set moving ave lots of color. 'Sahara' has been doing that and it gets a really good response, and that's good," he said.

Foals marked the British release of Total Life Forever with a pulsating set in London. Philippakis was in top form, going walkabout through the audience and climbing onto the PA stack. Gervers was upbeat about the upcoming Japan shows.

"There'll definitely be a lot of energy, we should be in good form—we always get quite excited when we get to go further afield. We'll play as much of the new record as we can, but there'll still be some old songs in there," he said.

Foals will play at Astro Hall in Harajuku, Tokyo, on June 15 at 7 p.m and Fuji Rock Festival in Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata Prefecture, on Aug. 1. For more information visit
www.smash-jpn.com/index.php.
(4 June 2010)

Roxy Music interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 16th July 2010

FUJI ROCK / Roxy Music fans old flames
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

Phil Manzanera in his studio in London
LONDON--When Roxy Music plays its first show in Japan in almost a decade later this
month at the Fuji Rock Festival, it will be in front of an adoring audience.

"I think lots of Japanese musicians are big Roxy fans who've been influenced by what we've done over the years," Andy Mackay, the British band's oboist and saxophone player said over the phone from his home in southwest England recently.

"We have influenced a whole load of people," guitarist Phil Manzanera recently said in an interview for The Daily Yomiuri at his studio in West London during a break from rehearsals for the band's comeback tour.

But Roxy Music's set at Fuji Rock is not going to be a procession of hits, Manzanera explained.

"We are rehearsing a whole bunch of stuff that we've never played before. Obviously, there'll be people expecting to hear some of the well-known songs, but we have to also play some substantial musical stuff to try and win new people over," he said.

The 63-year-old Mackay reiterated this with his assertion that Roxy Music are as relevant as they have ever been.

"What we're doing is still a lot weirder than a lot of contemporary bands. There's still a sort of strangeness about the way Bryan [Ferry] sings and about the way Phil and I play, which would sound quite odd if it was a new band now," he said.

Formed in 1970 by Ferry, Brian Eno, Mackay and drummer Paul Thompson, the band was joined by by Manzanera almost a year later. The group's eponymous debut album hit the shelves in June 1972, bringing with it a revolutionary mix of rock 'n' roll and the burgeoning electronic sound, sparked by the wider availability of synthesizers that created something otherworldly. For Manzanera, this concept was not such a far-fetched notion.

"There's a Roxy world. You look at the [album] cover, you hear the music and it's got a 3-D aspect to it. I think we always concentrated on making the musical context that we put our songs in interesting," he said.

Eno left Roxy Music in 1973, shortly after the band's second album, For Your Pleasure, came out. But his departure didn't have a detrimental effect on the group, as the three studio albums that followed all dented the Top 5 in the British charts. A three-year hiatus followed, with 1979 seeing the release of Manifesto, Flesh and Blood and Avalon, a trio of albums that marked a move from art rock to mainstream pop.

"There was a conflict between what Bryan wanted to do--in that he wanted to be a big star and a solo artist and also an artist with a capital 'A'--and combining that with success around the world. When Eno left, the chances of Roxy continuing as a very strange and perhaps not particularly commercially successful band maybe changed. I don't know--that's one of those big ifs," Mackay speculated.

The late '70s-early '80s Roxy Music was certainly a much mellower version than its early-'70s version, with its glittery suits and electronic wizardry. The U.S. market beckoned, as Mackay recalled.

"We focused on trying to break America, that was the idea. We recorded in New York and Nassau, in the Bahamas. We were trying to get a different focus, it never quite worked in that we were still seen as pretty weird in the United States, and only Avalon ever broke through into any sort of serious sales figures," he said.

Yet the lack of Roxy Music releases since Avalon 28 years ago has not been for the want of trying, as both Mackay and Manzanera recalled.

"Well, it's disappointing. We were right on the point of doing a new album about three years ago. We'd got into the studio and got quite far, but it just didn't really come together--[it's] difficult to know why; I think Bryan was finding it difficult to write, to focus on finishing songs and doing lyrics. I think we were all being pulled by other things we wanted to do and it got so far and then didn't really go any further," Mackay said.

Mused Manzanera: "We went into the studio after the last time we played live and we recorded 18 tracks. Some were done here, some were done 'round the corner, and Eno came along. And then, what happened was that we lost the momentum somehow. Maybe we weren't excited enough to finish them off, so maybe now going out and playing again live, we'll revitalize ourselves into working together again. What's most important is that you do a good body of work. It's more important to have something beautiful that you're proud of...We don't have a manager, there's no career path, we're just on our musical journeys. Whatever happens, happens."

The Fuji Rock Festival, featuring Roxy Music, Muse, Massive Attack, MGMT, Belle and Sebastian and more, will take place at Naeba Ski Resort, Yuzawamachi, Niigata Prefecture, on July 30-Aug. 1. For more information, visit www.fujirockfestival.com.
(Jul. 16, 2010)

Mika Interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 28th May 2010

Mika mixes race, gender and the macabre
Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

Mika in Kensington, London, on 28th April 2010
LONDON--As global pop phenomenon Mika enters the ornate lobby of a West London hotel, he is suddenly struck with a sense of deja vu. "I got signed in this hotel. It must have been four years ago," he said earlier this month.

The 26-year-old's basement audition led to the release of his debut album, Life in Cartoon Motion, in 2007 and his collection of catchy pop tunes were an instant hit, especially the single, "Grace Kelly" with lyrics that Mika says are about "a man saying that he was trying to be like a woman."

The Boy Who Knew Too Much, released in September, cemented the global popularity of his infectious melodies. Born in Beirut to a Lebanese mother and American father, Mika sees his upbringing as a major influence.

"Because I was born in Beirut, raised in France [with] an American influence, then raised in England, it transferred itself into my musical tastes. I was exposed to so many different types of music that, to me, music was not about a scene, or about an image or a statement--it was about how it made you feel. So it was totally normal to listen to a 1940s French crooner called Tino Rossi next to Shabba Ranks, next to a little bit of Nirvana. One was theater, one was drama, one was just beauty, one was sadness. That's how I still listen to music to this day and I think that that's where I get my sense of melody from," he said.

Spurred by his sense of melody, Mika drew on his international background when it came to songwriting.

"Everyone needs an impetus for writing a song. If you don't know who you are or where you belong, you create your own world and I think that's why so many songwriters, I think, have displaced dispositions--it's a nice way to put it. It can either f--- you up or you can use it to your advantage," he said.

The world that Mika creates in his music has its roots in fairy tales, especially the darker elements of traditional storytelling.

"I was obsessed with fairy tales, nursery rhymes, but I was also obsessed with Nostradamus when I was a child. I was convinced we were all gonna die.

"Part of growing up is part of understanding the concept of fear and I think that's what we use nursery rhymes for. But fairy tales are a very powerful thing because they enable you to talk about subjects that you'd normally never broach, or never want to get close to, and they deal with a lot of macabre things, in a very nicely presented way. To me, it's all about the gory fairy tales, the gothic fairy tale," he said.

This interest in the darker side manifested itself in The Boy Who Knew Too Much, with a melancholic mood that Mika compares to one of his lyrical contemporaries.

"It's a darker record. I'm sitting there thinking it's a collection of songs like 'Toy Boy' and 'Blue Eyes' that are these weird, twisted little fairy tales that have more in common with a Rufus Wainwright story," he said.

Mika's disjointed childhood also led to a feeling of alienation that he admits was an influence on his work.

"[I was] an outsider. My taste in music, probably, was different, and then as I grew up everything, my attitude towards sexuality--especially being in boys' schools--immediately made me an outsider. I think it drove me towards being good at something.

"I think you have a choice when you're isolated in your adolescence, or even as a child, and you can either waste your time assimilating yourself and wallpapering yourself so that you blend in with the background--which is, I think, dangerous--or you can claim your ground like some kind of mad maniac and just say, 'OK, this is where I've been placed, I'm gonna make this my own,' and build a wall around it by getting into music, by getting into this and by being really good, because then maybe they won't be able to touch me anymore. Maybe I won't have to make excuses or be afraid," he said.

One thing that Mika has never been afraid of is taking chances with his live performances and his shows in Japan will draw their inspiration from Charlie Chaplin's daughter and a minimal form of drama pioneered by a Polish theater director.

"It's completely new to what I had before. It's based on this French circus show I saw when I was a child--Victoria Chaplin's company, Le Cirque Invisible, and it's like [Jerzy Grotowski's] Poor Theatre. It's a very handmade, tactile show, it's like a macabre carnival," he said.

Mika will play at Zepp in Tokyo at 7 p.m. on June 7-8, (03) 3599-0710; Zepp in Nagoya at 7 p.m. on June 10, (052) 541-5758 and Namba Hatch in Osaka at 7 p.m. on June 11, (06) 4397-0572.
(May. 28, 2010)

Waraku Ensemble Interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 26th March 2010

It's time to relax with some shamisen

Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Junnosuke Uehara of the Waraku Ensemble in Tokyo March 2010
It's springtime. As the cherry blossom season kicks off, the nation's parks will echo to the sound of drunken office workers serenading the sakura after too much to drink. But for those seeking a more sedate celebration of the pink stuff, Japanese Cafe Music by the Waraku Ensemble may be just the thing.

The five-piece band has taken almost a dozen pop songs from the past 40 years and arranged them for traditional Japanese instruments such as the shamisen, shakuhachi and koto.

"As this is cafe music, I wanted songs that are easy to listen to and familiar to a lot of people. So, we chose very popular songs associated with spring that everyone should know," Junnosuke Uehara, shamisen player for the Waraku Ensemble recently told The Daily Yomiuri in Tokyo.

The sound of the shamisen can be an acquired taste, yet Uehara's shamisen arrangements come as a very pleasant surprise.

"Some shamisen have a very harsh sound, but I can change the tone with bridges to match the cafe sound I'm trying to achieve. I can get different sounds from different bridges and different strumming techniques," he explained as he showed me his prized instrument made from the skin of a female cat.

Most of the tracks were written less than 40 years ago. Of those, the oldest is Haruomi Hosono's "Owari no Kisetsu" and the languid treatment the song is given can be appreciated even more after listening to the original version with its country-music backing.

One of the treats of the album was checking out the originals on Youtube and finding a young (and very pretty) Seiko Matsuda performing "Akai Sweet Pea" with Tetsuko Kuroyanagi on TV in the early '80s and discovering the charms of girl group the Candies. Two of their numbers, "Hohoemi Gaeshi" (Returning a smile with a smile) and "Haru Ichiban" (First spring breeze) from 1978 and 1976, respectively, are good fun and the lively arrangement of the latter tune also allows listeners in the know the chance to perform the group's distinctive hand jive--if they feel so inclined.

Uehara hopes to broaden the appeal of traditional Japanese music, not only overseas, but also domestically. The album's extensive liner notes give information about the songs, instruments and group members in both English and Japanese.

"I wanted to help traditional Japanese music to become known widely throughout the world, not in a difficult form--but a more accessible way.

"We've included a description of instruments, as a lot of people in Japan have never seen these traditional instruments. I wanted to trigger an interest in traditional Japanese culture by introducing the instruments," Uehara said.

Fusing traditional music with contemporary sounds can be a perilous undertaking, and Uehara admitted his "modernization" of shamisen music had received mixed reactions.

"Some of my contemporaries who play traditional Japanese music have been very positive about this project. Others feel you shouldn't mess with tradition, and are not quite so encouraging about experimenting with traditional instruments," he said.

Concertgoers will get a chance to judge for themselves when the Waraku Ensemble play in Tokyo next month. Uehara hopes a good time will be had by all.

"I want people to come and casually listen to the hit songs played in this manner and have a nice evening with great food and drink and enjoy the sounds," he said.

"Japanese Cafe Music" by the Waraku Ensemble is out now on Respect Records. The group will play at Eats and Meets Cay in Aoyama, Tokyo, on April 10 at 6:30 p.m. (03) 3498-5790
(Mar. 26, 2010) 

Biffy Clyro Interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 19th March 2010

Biffy Clyro keeps it all in the family

Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer


Biffy Clyro at the Hostess office in Tokyo in March 2010
What is it about twins that fascinates people so much? Ben and James Johnston of the Scottish band Biffy Clyro can't see what all the fuss is about, though drummer Ben recognizes that the band are a tightly-knit unit.

"I think a lot of people put an onus on twins having this telepathy thing, this bond. But to be honest, I think any human beings who spend that amount of time together end up creating some kind of bond like that," Ben said when he and his bass-playing brother talked to The Daily Yomiuri in Tokyo earlier this month. James was quick to stress that all three members of Biffy feel like family.

"Because Ben and I are so close, it wouldn't work unless we shared the same thing with [singer/guitarist] Simon [Neil]. I think we're lucky the three of us really feel like a gang together, and I think that connection is there, both musically and personally, and I think that has been one of the determining factors of the band really, and the reason probably we're still doing it," he said.

One reason for the group's solid bond is the length of their friendship, which goes back to the early years of primary school. When Simon decided to form a band in high school with James and Ben, they settled on the name Biffy Clyro, the origins of which have remained clouded in mystery--until now...maybe.

"I think Simon came up with it in German class when we were at school. He was sitting thinking about an imaginary Cliff Richard Biro pen, which was a Cliffy Biro," Ben explained.

"And it became Biffy Clyro. That's the honest answer," added his brother.

The name is often called "Dylan Thomas-esque," according to the pair, who say that one of their previous explanations for the name's derivation actually played on that misconception.

"There actually is a place in Wales--and this is a complete coincidence--called Clyro. We had no idea, of course, and people have sent us e-mails with pictures of this sign [announcing] the town of Clyro.

"We've made up stories that Biffy Clyro was actually a Welsh astronaut that was meant to be the first man on the moon, but failed the physical," James said with a laugh.

One thing James and Ben agree on is their shared love of the guitar bands that came out of the Pacific Northwest of the United States during the grunge era of the late 1980s to mid-'90s.

"Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam--the raw Seattle stuff was the basis of our first songwriting escapades, I guess. And then from there we got into more progressive stuff and more underground stuff. Then [we ended] up listening to anything we can get our hands on really," Ben said, a point upon which James expanded.

"It was bands like Mineral and Sunny Day Real Estate, kind of more complex types of music.

"I think we're continuing to evolve. One of my favorite bands now is Wilco, which is really relaxed and laid back," he said.

These days, the pair have no doubts about their favorite band.

"Like many other people of our age, Nirvana were the reason people picked up guitars, they were such seemingly ordinary guys, but making extraordinary music. You know, that's what made us want to do it, but eventually you can't sound like Nirvana, that's not fair, and I think we are our favorite band now," Ben said.

"I think we're proud of everything we've done. We could go out tomorrow and play [debut album] Blackened Sky from start to finish and be very proud of it, you know. Maybe people see that as us being cocky, but Biffy Clyro are certainly my favorite band," James added.

The band's fifth album, Only Revolutions, was released domestically in December and most of the tracks were included in an intimate show in Tokyo earlier this month. Two years ago, Biffy Clyro played at Summer Sonic and anyone who was at this month's show will be hoping the group return for this year's festival in August. If so, one item of clothing they won't need to worry about packing are stage shirts.

"It's so much fun to play with your shirt off. It's not meant to be any kind of, 'Check us out, we've got our tops off'...It certainly isn't a gimmick in any way; it's literally we play better with our shirts off.

"I was wearing shorts last night--I never do that--and it felt so good. I might even be naked the next time we play," Ben said to the sound of a big laugh from James.

Only Revolutions is out now on 14th Floor/Hostess.
(Mar. 19, 2010)

Alison Mosshart (The Dead Weather) interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 12th March 2010

The Weather's fine for Kills' Mosshart
Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Supergroups--as 1960s as free love and "groovy, baby"--are back. Only this time, with a bit more attitude and not quite as much self-indulgence.

The Dead Weather--formed by Jack White of the White Stripes/Raconteurs and Alison Mosshart of the Kills--will be in Tokyo later this month and, according to Mosshart, relishing the prospect.

"I'm looking forward to the gig, 'cause it's great playing in Japan," she told The Daily Yomiuri over the phone from Michigan last month.

The seeds of the Dead Weather were sown during a tour featuring White and Mosshart.

"The Kills did a tour with the Raconteurs. Jack lost his voice so I was singing some songs for him...he said it'd be a great idea that I come to [Nashville] to record something," she said.

Those sessions led to the Dead Weather's debut album, Horehound, which came out last year and forced its way into the Top 20 on both sides of the Atlantic.

While that album was the result of short, sharp sessions, the follow-up has followed a slightly different route.

"We wrote a lot of stuff on the road when we were touring, through soundchecks and stuff. Any time we had off between tours, we'd just go back into the studio and work, so we'd have two days recording here, three days here," she said.

The group recently finished recording its follow-up to Horehound, though no release date has been set. Nevertheless, Mosshart is looking forward to giving the audience at Zepp Tokyo a sneak preview.

"We can't wait to play it, we'll definitely be playing it," she said.

While Mosshart could not reveal the title of the new record, she was able to throw some light on the origins of Horehound.

"That was a candy that Jack had seen and he loved that word. He was like, 'I think that sounds like a fast car, I really like that,'" she said. Horehound candy is flaored with an extract from a plant of the same name.

Playing in two groups could be a problem for some musicians, but Mosshart appears to enjoy the challenge.

"I think the ways of working are so different. The relationships are so different, it doesn't feel confusing. I've been in the Kills for nine years, I know what it's about, and so it's kinda like coming home, you know. The Dead Weather's all new and we're still figuring out everything. It's very different," she said.

The Dead Weather will play at Zepp Tokyo in Odaiba, Tokyo, on March 31 at 7 p.m. (03) 3599-0710.
(Mar. 12, 2010)

Steven Berkoff Interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 12th March 2010

At home in Japan: British director Steven Berkoff finds the art of acting alive and well halfway around the world

Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Steven Berkoff with the writer in Tokyo in March 2010

"What I like about kabuki is that it makes the art of the actor on the level of an opera singer or a ballet dancer or a classical pianist."

As British theater director Steven Berkoff took a break from rehearsals for his production of a play based on Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis (Japan title: Henshin) in Tokyo last month, he told The Daily Yomiuri why he was eager to get back to the roots of one of his favorite art forms after 18 years away from Japan.

Having spent the previous evening watching kabuki, the 72-year-old veteran expanded on his admiration for traditional Japanese theater, in stark contrast to his opinion of its counterparts elsewhere.

"[Kabuki] dignifies the art of acting, which has been undignified for many years. [Acting has] been so undignified...in the end any idiot can act, and very often they do," he said.

This production of The Metamorphosis--which runs until March 22 in Tokyo before a national tour--stars Mirai Moriyama as protagonist Gregor, the office clerk who wakes up one morning to discover that he has turned into a beetle. It was first adapted for the stage by Berkoff 41 years ago, and the Londoner last visited Japan to direct the same play. This time, he sees no reason for the production to undergo a drastic metamorphosis.

"Once you've evolved something and that's taken you years, you don't want to change it--'Oh, I think I'll do something else now'-- there'd be no point, but I interpret it according to the actors I've got. So I keep the form, but they will change it accordingly. We have a different Gregor--Mirai [Moriyama]--and he's extraordinarily different. I just let him do what he more or less wants, because he's so inventive," Berkoff explained.

Unlike some non-Japanese theater directors, Berkoff is comfortable with the slightly more hierarchical relationship between actors and directors in Japan. "In England, I've worked with a lot of actors who've got attitude--even arrogance--and [say] 'Oh, I don't know why I should do this or that.' I don't find that here. I find it's not servility, it's a kind of respect for the art and if you're the director you're the boss. Maybe it's to do with Japanese culture and the respect for authority, but I like that, that they do listen, that they're keen.

"I'm proud to be doing this, because it's a serious play, in a serious city, with a serious company, so this is me," he said.

The tale is a classic piece of European literature, one that Berkoff feels will strike a chord with Japanese audiences.

"They would think it's Japanese--totally familiar. It's an allegory, a fairy tale, a moral tale, it is directed with gesture and movement--it'll be totally familiar to them, it wouldn't be at all alien; in fact they probably would think I'm Japanese," he said.

While Berkoff may be satisfied with his production in Japan, he expressed despair at the state of theater in Britain.

"The English public have been suckered--they've been taken for suckers by a whole heap of trash--and I think it's shocking. I really think they have been like children, they've been given bad food and I think it's absolutely terrible," he said.

According to Berkoff, the source of this "bad food" is a new breed of theater directors who have never actually trod the boards themselves.

"Any actor is a good director. Actors are wonderful because once they tap into it, they can do it. I've always enjoyed being directed by an actor, they understand your problems," he said.

Having performed on the stage since the early 1960s and appeared in a number of Hollywood movies, such as Beverly Hills Cop, Octopussy and Rambo: First Blood Part II, Berkoff fits his own criteria for directing. It is on the stage where his heart most definitely lies, and he is particularly proud of being perhaps the greatest thorn in the side of British theater.

"The establishment likes to have thorns. It keeps them going, and the thorns are a little bit like when you do acupuncture--it strengthens the immune system. So I suppose I am a thorn, possibly, but it is better to be a thorn than to be part of [the establishment]."

The play will be performed in Japanese, though Berkoff is so familiar with the text that the language barrier should not be an obstacle for him.

"I know where the emotions lie, the color lies, the movement lies. I've also directed it in German, and in Hebrew. I directed it in American, of course, and in Australian--'cause they're two different languages--but actors are very similar all around the world," he said.

As for its relevance for contemporary audiences, Berkoff concedes that he has no qualms about moving with the times, if necessary.

"I have always been ahead of the game anyway. Years and years ahead, though now they're catching up with me a little bit, though not much. An astute observer may say, 'Oh...I've seen that, it's a bit dated,' perhaps, but I don't think so, because as I redo it, anything that's dated I sense and I cut, get rid of," he said.

Berkoff's forthright nature is invigorating, though some people might label him a cantankerous old devil. Yet it is this passion that has resulted in some of the most pioneering and, at times, radical theater of the past 40 years. Even in his 70s, Berkoff's belief remains strong.

"I think I probably have a great deal more [passion than in my youth]--it's peculiar. I feel a lot more deeper and I've become more politicized and I've realized how important this work is, not because it's me, but because I was lucky enough to choose the kind of work that means something to people," he said.

"The Metamorphosis" (Japan title: "Henshin"), based on the story by Franz Kafka and directed by Steven Berkoff, is at Le Theatre Ginza in Ginza, Tokyo, until March 22, (03) 3477-5858, and will move to Okayama Shimin Kaikan in Okayama on March 31, (086) 903-2001; Sankei Hall Breeze in Osaka on April 2-4, (06) 6341-8888; Fukuoka Shimin Kaikan in Fukuoka on April 6, (092) 715-0374; Aubade Hall in Toyama on April 11, (025) 245-5100; and Ryutopia in Niigata on April 13, (025) 224-5521.
(Mar. 12, 2010)

The Cribs (including Johnny Marr) Interview in The Daily Yomiuri Article on 16th October 2009

The Cribs will rock: The Smiths' guitar legend Johnny Marr joins a new family

Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

The Cribs outside Le Nouveau Casino, Paris, in September 2009
Ask Johnny Marr about what he brought to the mix by joining British band The Cribs , and the former Smiths guitarist is very modest.

"Well, I add my guitar playing, it's as simple as that, but I think as an overall concept, what I think I'd like to add is just enthusiasm for what The Cribs already mean," Marr recently told The Daily Yomiuri.

The 45-year-old guitarist from Manchester and his new bandmates--brothers Ryan, Gary and Ross Jarman--sat down to talk a couple of hours before starting a tour that arrives in Japan next week, where they will open for the Arctic Monkeys at the Budokan in Tokyo on Monday, before embarking on their own tour two days later.

It will be the first visit to Japan for The Cribs as a four-piece, having briefly dropped in to play at last year's Fuji Rock Festival. Drummer Ross Jarman is looking forward to the tour.

"I feel like the Japanese fans are similar to our English fans, you know. They're really loyal and they don't forget. For me, it's the one country that I feel fans have got more in common with the English fans," he said.

Bassist and singer Gary Jarman, who, with twin brother Ryan, turns 29 on Tuesday, sees the introduction of Marr's distinctive guitar sound as a very positive move, but is aware of the fine line between maintaining The Cribs' sound and employing Marr's talents to the full.

"[Johnny] doesn't want people to think that he's one-dimensional and [foster] the assumption that he's gonna put all these jangly pop riffs on there, but we definitely don't want to suppress Johnny's characteristics. We want them to be evident on the record because he's such a good player, and it'd be really a waste to not do that," he said of Marr, whom Gary first met at a party in Portland, Ore., where the Yorkshire native now lives.

Guitarist and singer Ryan Jarman sees Marr's recruitment as a progression.

"It's been an important step in the evolution of the band, from not just a three-piece but to becoming a more textured band," he said.

Marr's contribution to The Cribs' new album, Ignore the Ignorant, has elements of his jangly past, but it never overwhelms the listener, and gradually reveals itself after repeated listenings. Was Marr conscious of trying not to play in his trademark Smiths style?

"I would have done in the '90s...It was a process that I had to go through that poor old [bandmate in Electronic] Bernard Sumner had to kind of go along with. But these days, I'm not at all hung up about it. If it calls for it, it's there and everyone's cool.

"It's whatever's appropriate and if sometimes that sounds a little bit like something that I've done in The Smiths, then that's just the way it is, because that's who I am. It's who I am, I'm not f---ed up about it either way," he admitted.

The three Jarman brothers formed The Cribs in West Yorkshire in 2001, recorded their eponymous first album in 2004 and followed it up with The New Fellas a year later. Both albums made it into the Top 100 in the British album charts.

While the single "Hey Scenesters" sparked a buzz in the British music press, it was not until the release of Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever in 2007, and its Top 20 single, "Men's Needs" that The Cribs started getting some widespread recognition.

One of the family

As brothers in a band, the Jarmans are by no means the first siblings to walk on stage together. So, with this summer's rift between Oasis' Gallagher brothers in mind, how is the brotherly love in The Cribs?

"I've been thinking about this recently, and I don't really know what difference it makes being brothers, 'cause I don't know how it'd be different being in a band with your friends. I guess we're probably a little more open with with each other," Ross said.

With Marr on board, it seems that he has been granted honorary Jarman status.

"We talk to each other in a certain way but Johnny's just one of us now--and sometimes we forget that--but Johnny's such a nice guy that he totally understands," Ross said.

For Marr, working with The Cribs in the studio appears to have been an invigorating experience and he is unequivocal over where Ignore the Ignorant lies in his recorded output.

"It's as good as anything I've ever done--and I'm really proud of a lot of the stuff that I've done--so nothing beats Ignore the Ignorant," he said, which is quite an endorsement from someone whose guitar playing on Smiths classics like "This Charming Man," "How Soon Is Now" and "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" defined some of the most memorable pop moments of the '80s.

Nevertheless, Gary hopes that the presence of such an iconic guitar hero does not result in any misunderstundings on future recordings.

"I've written a couple [of songs] for the next record and I'm a bit worried about them, 'cause people are just gonna think Johnny wrote it.

"As much as I want Johnny to get credit for what he's done and for what he's doing, I also don't want people to credit him with doing everything," Gary admitted.

However similar any guitar parts become in the future, there are a few moments on Ignore the Ignorant when old Smiths fans will get a twinge of recognition at some vintage Marr, a fact that the composer is happy to acknowledge.

"If I came up with a riff and the other three guys are smiling, I wouldn't censor it for any reason whatsoever because it's about how music hits you in the solar plexus. And in fact, I wasn't aware that the verse of 'Cheat On Me' sounded like me at all. But I remember distinctly that when I started to play it Ryan and Gary were really smiling and I was like, 'Oh, that's a good riff,' and it's since then that Ryan's said that really sounds like me--but I had no idea," he said.

While "Cheat On Me" is a good track, this writer's favorite number is "City Of Bugs," which has become quite a crowd-pleaser live. Ross also likes the song.

"That was like opening a new door for us, really. We've done similar stuff, but we're really proud of that door that we opened," he said.

Marr echoed those thoughts.

"Right now, we're really buzzing off 'City of Bugs,' for many, many reasons. It feels so good playing it and we thought we'd done something quite original but [it still] manages to be terribly obscure, but is still a progression for the band, and me--I would have only really done it with this band," he said.

While The Cribs' songwriting is a collective process, Marr's presence has energized Ryan as a guitar player.

"Because we've done three records as a three-piece, I was actually thinking, 'Ah well, I don't really know what else I can do as a guitar player, you know what I mean,' and I were thinking, 'Should I have lessons or something, What do I do next?' So, to play with someone else is the perfect way of learning. I've learnt loads this last year," he said.

Marr agreed with this need to progress.

"I always want to develop as a guitar player. I'm not talking about technically, just in terms of going down some new vistas.

"In my personal life and my creative life, and certainly as a guitar player, it's been this horizon with some curve in it and I'm always looking towards it and stuff is falling at my feet as I go towards it, so I'm very, very forward-thinking and it amazes me when some older guitar players would say, 'You get to a certain level and then you plateau.' As a songwriter, that sounds like a really depressing prospect to me, so I'm always looking ahead," he said.

The Cribs play on Oct. 19, 7 p.m. at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo. (03) 3462-6969; Oct. 21, 7 p.m. at Blitz in Akasaka, Tokyo. (03) 3584-8811; Oct. 22, 7 p.m. at Club Quattro in Nagoya. (052) 264-8211; Oct. 23, 7 p.m. at Club Quattro in Shinsaibashi, Osaka. (06) 6281-8181.
(Oct. 16, 2009)

Fast Food Nation film review in The Daily Yomiuri on 22nd February 2008

Dark secrets lurk between the buns

Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Fast Food Nation
3.5 stars out of five
Dir: Richard Linklater
Cast: Greg Kinnear, Wilmer Valderrama, Patricia Arquette, Avril Lavigne, Ethan Hawke, Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Willis


"There's s--- in our burgers." Early on in Fast Food Nation, the words of Mickey's hamburger restaurant chain marketing executive Don Henderson's boss leave him in no doubt why he is being sent to check on the firm's meat supplier.

Director Richard Linklater's film, a dramatization of author Eric Schlosser's 2001 expose of the fast-food industry, is a fine ensemble piece with solid performances by the main cast and some fascinating big-name cameo roles.

The story mainly takes place in the Colorado town of Cody, where all the cows that supply the meat for Mickey's "Big One" burgers are reared before ending up at the UMP
meatpacking factory.

Henderson, played by Greg Kinnear, is introduced to the dark side of his industry and discovers that there's more to his company's flagship product than meets the eye.

Meanwhile, the film also addresses the issues of the workers in the factory, almost all of whom are illegal aliens from Mexico, and their plight is related with compassion and tenderness.

Other Cody residents are represented in the form of the old ranchers, whose businesses have been consumed by the massive meatpacking company, and local high school students, especially those who work in the local branch of Mickey's.

Henderson meets one of those old ranchers, and Kris Kristofferson is perfectly cast as the hard-bitten, cynical Rudy Martin, whose insights into the meatpacking industry are an eye-opener for the marketing man.

The scenes with the students add another dimension, with the call for direct action by some activists at an environmental meeting met with a reminder of how wide-ranging the scope of the Patriot Act in the United States could be. Ultimately, their efforts to make a difference come to nothing, and one of them is left with another dilemma concerning animals that are bred purely to supply the fast food industry.

The final 10 minutes of the film contain some of the most powerful images you are likely to see on a movie screen this year, especially if you have never visited or worked in the killing bay of a slaughterhouse.

Whether the movie will alter people's eating habits is questionable. Immediately after watching the film I may not have been in the mood for a hamburger, but opted for a salad sub, albeit from another fast-food restaurant chain.

More importantly, the film also addresses globalization, animal rights, environmental contamination and dangerous workplaces. If awareness of these issues is raised in cinema audiences, the film will have been a resounding success.

The movie, in English and Spanish, is currently playing.
(Feb. 22, 2008)

Elizabeth: The Golden Age film review in The Daily Yomiuri on 15th February 2008

'Elizabeth' leads 16th-century all-star cast
Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
4 stars out of five
Dir: Shekhar Kapur
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Samantha Morton

As a veritable who's who of 16th-century celebrities fills the screen in Elizabeth: The Golden Age, I even started wondering if we might see a young William Shakespeare soliloquizing before the Virgin Queen. The Bard may be absent from director Shekhar Kapur's fast-moving drama, but Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Walsingham, King Philip II of Spain, Mary Queen of Scots and Sir Francis Drake are all there in varying degrees of prominence to continue the story of England's Queen Elizabeth I, a decade after Elizabeth chronicled the early years of her reign.

The Golden Age takes up the story in 1585, with the Protestant queen facing Roman Catholic threats not only in mainland Europe, with Philip--Spanish Inquisition and all--leading the charge, but also from supporters of her cousin Mary, whom many Catholics believed to be the rightful queen.

Cate Blanchett reprises her title role with a performance that conveys the strength and vulnerability of the monarch during one of the most momentous periods in English history.

Elizabeth is firmly ensconced in her palace, receiving visitations from a series of suitors, hawkers and all-around entertainers.

One such visitor is Sir Walter Raleigh, just back from his trip to the New World, bearing gifts of potatoes and tobacco.

Clive Owen may have been passed over as the new James Bond, but in the role of the dashing explorer, with his tales of exotic exploration and derring-do, he gets the opportunity to play a suave, likeable rogue--dressed in pantaloons rather than a sharp suit.

In contrast to the stuffy, reverential depiction of the Tudor period in films such as A Man For All Seasons, the contemporary light thrown on characters such as Raleigh is one of the refreshing aspects of this movie.

And it doesn't stop with him. Her Majesty has some cracking lines, the pick of them being her saucy retort to Raleigh's announcement that he has named his new colony Virginia in her honor: "When I marry, will you change the name to Conjugia?"

There are exceptions to this ribaldry though, and the film is no worse off for it. Samantha Morton's portrayal of Mary is powerful and emotional, though at times she bears a striking resemblance to Elsa Lanchester as the monster's mate in Bride of Frankenstein, while Geoffrey Rush's depiction of Elizabeth's malevolent advisor Walsingham is evil personified.

The film climaxes with the defeat of the Spanish Armada by an English fleet of ships led by Drake. Blanchett's speech to the troops at Tilbury recreates one of Elizabeth's finest moments, and her rendition ranks with Kenneth Branagh's St. Crispin's Day speech in Henry V.

While some awareness of the historical background to the movie will enhance your enjoyment of the film, events unfold in such a way that it is not essential to have a vast knowledge of English history to appreciate the movie.

For those who can't read Japanese subtitles, though, some Spanish-language ability will be needed for the scenes in Spain as, irritatingly for such a high-profile movie, there are no English subtitles provided. Fortunately, it is possible to keep track of the plot without an understanding of those scenes.

In Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Kapur succeeds in relating the story of one of England's most famous historical figures with wit and compassion. Blanchett's mixture of drama and humor in the title role is sure to enhance her reputation as one of the most versatile actors around these days.

At the time of Elizabeth the producers talked about a trilogy of movies. If they can get Blanchett to complete the set perhaps, audiences will finally get to see the Bard of Avon.

The movie, in English and Spanish, opens Saturday.
(Feb. 15, 2008)

Burt Bacharach interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 8th February 2008

Bacharach: That's what elections are for

Steve Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer




"I think he'll probably go down as the worst president we've ever had."

In a week when the race for the White House in the United States has been building up steam, there's a fair chance that Burt Bacharach won't be voting for George W. Bush's party in November.

"He's leaving such a mess behind, who can come in and clean it up? I really don't know how long it's gonna take. Yes, it's doable, [but] I mean, the reputation of the United States has been soiled basically all over the world," he told The Daily Yomiuri over the telephone from Los Angeles ahead of a visit to Japan for a short tour later this month.

The man responsible for writing the music for numerous pop classics over the past 50 years said that he was driven to comment on the current U.S. administration on his last album, At This Time, in 2005.

As songwriter, he was able to express his thoughts verbally for the first time and approached the task with relish, though some of his lyrical ideas on the song "Who Are These People" never made it out of the studio.

"The last two lines, Elvis Costello sings, 'We've gotta make a change/Before it's too late.' Well, I never wanted 'Before it's too late,' because the way we had it on the record was, 'We've gotta make a change/Or we're all f----d,'--and nobody could sing f----d like Elvis Costello," he explained before adding, "The record company said, 'Well, you know, we won't be able to sell this record in Wal-Mart,' and I said, 'You won't be able to sell this record in Wal-Mart, no matter what the lyric is.'"

Born in Kansas City, Mo., nearly 80 years ago, Bacharach worked with the legendary Marlene Dietrich as a conductor and arranger for three years in the late '50s, though by that time he had already had some success as a songwriter.

When Perry Como's "Magic Moments" replaced Michael Holliday's "The Story of My Life" at the top of the British charts in February 1958, both songs were milestones in pop history, marking the debut of Bacharach and Hal David, a songwriting partnership to rival John Lennon and Paul McCartney or Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

In the 1960s, their string of hits was phenomenal, with Dionne Warwick frequently delivering their songs. "Anyone Who Had a Heart" (1963), "Walk On By" (1964) and "I Say A Little Prayer" (1967) all made the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, though "I Say A Little Prayer" would become forever linked with Aretha Franklin once she recorded her version the following year.

When Bacharach is asked about his favorite compositions, it comes as no surprise when he nominates a couple from that era.

"Well, you have to put 'Alfie' [1966] near the top 'cause it's just a very powerful song. 'That's What Friends Are For' [1985]--I like that one too. 'What the World Needs Now is Love' [1965], glad we wrote that," he said.

Bacharach has every right to be proud of his works, yet he admits they are sometimes the result of a lot of hard effort.

"'(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance' [1962] was a challenge. They're never easy because, you know, it's one of those things, every hole is valuable, there's no filler time...You've got a limited period of time with a pop song, that's what's so interesting about pop songs. Small forms," he explains.

Yet one of the biggest hits for his "small forms" on both sides of the Atlantic in 1969 demonstrates that sometimes a great tune doesn't have to be the result of agonized deliberation.

"I think the fastest song I ever wrote was '[I'll] Never Fall in Love Again,' yeah, 'cause that was during the time of [the musical] Promises, Promises and we were in Boston. The show had started in Boston...and I'd caught pneumonia in Boston so I wound up in the hospital for about five or six days.

"When I got out of the hospital...Hal [David] and I wrote it in the afternoon and it was in the show two days later. And that's where Hal got the great line, 'What do you do when kiss a girl/You catch enough germs to catch pneumonia/After you do, she'll never phone you,'" he recalls.

Though Bacharach will be remembered for his partnership with David, he has worked with numerous songwriters, and he is generous in his praise of two British wordsmiths.

"I've written a couple of things with Tim Rice. He's a great writer. You know, we've never been in the same room. It's very odd we did the main title for Stuart Little ['Walkin' Tall'], I just sent him the melody, he wrote it.

"Elvis [Costello] and I started that way, 'God Give Me Strength.' Bits and pieces, you know, faxes...I like working with Elvis," he said.

Unfortunately, Painted From Memory, the 1998 album he recorded with Costello, barely dented the Billboard chart, though Bacharach has his own explanation for its lack of success.

"You know, it just seemed the record company was being knobbled...so it didn't get the attention we would have liked. It's very like a cult album, a lot of people love this album, I like it a lot."

And as for a partner he would have liked to have worked with, Bacharach opts for another musical heavyweight.

"Alan J. Lerner and I talked at one time about maybe trying to write something. I just wanted to write a hit song with him, he wanted to write a show. He wasn't interested in hit songs," he said.

With his picture gracing the sleeve of Oasis' debut album, Definitely Maybe, and cameo roles in the Austin Powers movies, Bacharach's appeal has endured over the decades, though he is reluctant to think too much about the reasons for his continuing popularity.

"I'm not a good historian delving into why it [the music] exists now. I'm just really grateful that it does," he said.

Burt Bacharach and the Tokyo New City Orchestra will perform at Tokyo International Forum in Yurakucho, Tokyo, (03) 5436-9600, on Feb. 16 at 6 p.m. and Feb. 17 at 3 p.m.; Green Hall in Sagamiono, Kanagawa Prefecture, (042) 742-9999, on Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. and Festival Hall in Osaka (06) 6233-9999, on Feb. 22 at 7 p.m.
(Feb. 8, 2008)

36th International Junior Original Concert preview in The Daily Yomiuri on 16th November 2007

Young talent on stage at Tokyo showcase

Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

There may be a chance to spot the next Hiromi Uehara on Nov. 23, when Bunkamura Orchard Hall in Shibuya, Tokyo, plays host to the 36th International Junior Original Concert.

Uehara performed at the concert in 1993 and has gone on to command an international audience. In September she played with Chick Corea at Blue Note Tokyo and will return to the world-famous jazz club for two concerts at the end of this month.

The young musicians range in age from 9-year-old Yuichi Yoshimoto, from Hokkaido, who will play a suite titled Insect Battle, to 16-year-old Erika Kawamura of Tokyo, whose composition is called Early Spring.

They will be joined by seven other young Japanese musicians from Chiba, Fukuoka, Hyogo, Osaka, Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures as well as four overseas participants from Yamaha music schools in Canada, Indonesia, Mexico and Taiwan.

All the students attend the music classes in their free time, outside of their regular elementary and middle school curriculums.

Unlike other musical events for young people, the event will showcase original compositions by the participants and will also feature an interesting form of audience participation.

Members of the audience who can write music will be invited to pen one musical phrase and drop their suggestion into a collection box.

After the ninth performer has finished, one of the phrases will be picked out and given to one of the 13 performers, who will proceed to use it as the basis of an impromptu composition.

The 36th International Junior Original Concert takes place at Bunkamura Orchard Hall, a 7-minute walk from JR Shibuya Station, on Nov. 23, from 3 p.m. Tickets are priced at 3,000 yen and 4,000 yen. Call (03) 5773-0820 or visit www.yamaha-mf.or.jp for more information.

Ticket giveaway

Yamaha Music Foundation is offering Daily Yomiuri readers five pairs of tickets to the 36th International Junior Original Concert at Bunkamura Orchard Hall in Shibuya, Tokyo, on Nov. 23, starting at 3 p.m. To apply, e-mail dy-arts@yomiuri.com or send a postcard with your name, address, telephone number, age and comments about the Weekend pages to: The Daily Yomiuri, International Junior Original Concert ticket giveaway, 1-7-1 Otemachi, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, 100-8055. The first five readers to respond will win the tickets.
(Nov. 16, 2007)

Dimitra Theodossiou Interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 2nd November 2007

Childhood opera lover has grown up to be a diva
Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Dimitra Theodossiou in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, in October 2007

Dimitra Theodossiou has just said, "How do you say that in English? 'Love at first sight.' Oh yes, OK," and I'm wondering how many other people in Japan can say they've taught a world-famous opera singer a new English idiom.

But when the Greek diva wanted to describe her passion for opera, that was the perfect expression.

Theodossiou was talking to The Daily Yomiuri at a Tokyo hotel the day after her performance in the role of Violetta in Guiseppe Verdi's La Traviata for the Prague State Opera at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan last week.

So was the soprano happy with the production?

"I enjoyed it very much. It was a new interpretation for me, much more intense," she said.

With tenor Daniil Shtoda in the role of Alfredo and under the baton of conductor Enrico Dovico, it is a powerful production of the classic tragedy of how Violetta, a Parisian courtesan, falls in love with Alfredo, a wealthy member of the aristocracy.

Though the production uses traditional visuals, with a focus on light and shade in the costumes, the set is very minimal, with a large white panel supplemented by a couple of chaise longues serving as the backdrop to the drama.

"Sets like yesterday make for more of a performance because you must use your personality, and you can show your personality with a minimal set," Theodossiou said.

It wasn't only the sets on the production that were minimal, as Theodossiou explained.

"Preparation was very short because I just had one day for rehearsal. It was not very long, but if the producer says what he wants then it's much easier to pick it up," she said.

Not that the audience cared how long she had prepared for the role, judging by the emphatic ovation she received. Theodossiou has been to Japan several times and says she always enjoys her visits.

"I think Japanese audiences are the best in the whole world...I love Japan and I love to return to Japan," she said.

"The people are very polite here and the hospitality is very important. I come from Greece and in Greece hospitality is No. 1 for Greek people," she added.

But it's not only the Japanese people that have enchanted Theodossiou.

"I often go to kabuki theater. I like it because kabuki is very different and very interesting. For example, the roles are only played by men and it's totally different from the theater I know, but it's very interesting, and each time I come to Japan I visit the kabuki theater," she says.

And when she performs, the combination of acting and singing in opera is crucial for Theodossiou.

"It's very, very important. Only singing is a little bit boring because after you master the technical side of singing--then you can go much more on the interpretation. If you're acting you can do much more with the role...I want to make the audience cry or be happy," she explained.

Theodossiou was a relatively late starter as a singer, only attending music school after graduating from university in economics, but her first exposure to opera came at a very early age.

"When I was 6 years old, I went to the opera for the first time with my father to see [Verdi's] Il Trovatore. After the performance I came out and said to my father, 'When I grow up, I want to be Leonora.' That was my first encounter with opera," she said.

Though her family were not musicians, their love of music had an impact on the young Theodossiou. That first trip to the theater in Athens would not be the last.

"I went with my father three times a week, because he was a lover of the opera, a freak...he had a friend in the theater so we got in without paying," she revealed.

Four years after making her debut in La Traviata in Greece in 1995, Theodossiou made her international debut in Verdi's Attila at the Teatro Communale in Bologna and has since gone on to interpret some of the most famous bel canto roles. Though she loves all of them, she admits to some favorites.

"There are some roles that suit me, such as [Violetta] in La Traviata, [and the title roles of] Norma [by Vincenzo Bellini], [Gaetano Donizetti's] Anna Bolena and Roberto Devereux [also by Donizetti]. Those roles are special but I like all of the roles I play," she said.

And though Theodossiou is a lover of opera, her home life ensures that she keeps in touch with modern musical trends.

"I have a 14-year-old son, so you can imagine what kind of music is [played] at our home, rap and R&B, I like it," she says.

When asked about how she juggles motherhood and a career as an international opera singer Theodossiou had a candid response.

"It's a big problem because I have very little time at home. We try to communicate as much as possible, by telephone or e-mail or Skype when I can. But now, my son is a little bit bigger and he understands the situation and nowadays it's not as big a problem as it was before.

"When he has a vacation he always comes to the opera. Japan is an exception as he had 10 days of vacation but the flight was too long for him to fly alone. In Europe it's not a big problem because his father takes him to the airport and I pick him up at the other end. In Europe he always comes to my concerts, time permitting," she said.

And when asked about the thought of her son going on the stage, Theodossiou didn't hide her feelings.

"If he wants to that would be great. I'd like to see him as an opera singer, but everyone has to follow his or her favorite career path. I was lucky to be able to pursue a career in something I loved from when I was a 6-year-old girl. If my son wants to be in IT, it's quite OK for me, but if he chooses music it would be the best thing for me because music is always the best thing."

Dimitra Theodossiou will sing the role of Violetta in the Prague State Opera production of "La Traviata" on Nov. 4 at 2:30 p.m. at Festival Hall in Osaka, (06) 6231-2221, and Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan in Ueno, Tokyo, (03) 3538-8188.
(Nov. 2, 2007)

Mary J. Blige Interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 26th October 2007

Chance of a lifetime
Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Mary J. Blige is brimming with enthusiasm, and it's not just because she's looking forward to sharing the bill with Carole King and Fergie when she visits Japan next month.

"I'm really excited, man. The product is so good, I'm just so happy," she says of her new album, speaking by phone to The Daily Yomiuri from a recording studio in Los Angeles.

Blige, whose New York accent remains strong enough even for this British-born interviewer to recognize, releases Growing Pains, her eighth studio album, on Nov. 21 and will cross the Pacific as part of the "3 Great American Voices" tour.

But the 36-year-old reveals that she shares a hobby with many of her Japanese fans.

"Every time I come to Japan I have a good time. I love to shop...and I just love to see what different things they have from [what you can buy in] the [United] States," she says.

In between visits to department stores, she will be sharing the stage with legendary singer/songwriter King and Black Eyed Peas vocalist Fergie, a mouthwatering lineup that covers all age groups and several music genres.

A cynic might be forgiven for thinking that the trio are heading for a mighty clash of egos, but she is looking forward to the shows.

"You know, I love Carole King and I love Fergie...so it should be fun, a lot of fun," she says.

Like many singers, Blige is a fan of King and recorded one of her songs, "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," in 1995.

"She's got a whole album that I listen to. I think a couple of months ago, I was like, 'OK, these songs are great, maybe one day I'll probably try something.'

"She has a song called...well I don't wanna say it because then somebody else might beat me to it--I hate that--so I'm not even gonna say it. It's a beautiful and incredible record," she teased, leaving me searching for a thread to which album she could be referring to.

So how are they going to decide who opens and closes the concerts? According to Blige, it's not an issue.

"It doesn't matter to me. I don't have a huge ego, I'm really not the diva that everybody says I am, not in that sense. I'm a diva when it comes to the hard work that I do and standing up for what I believe. If you wanna call me a diva for that, that's cool.

"As long as I don't go on at 2 o'clock in the morning, I'm cool," she says.

Time was, though, when Blige would not have considered the early hours of the morning such an uncivilized hour to do anything, never mind going on stage.

Blige grew up in one of New York's toughest housing projects and has admitted in the past to experimenting with drugs and dropping out of high school.

But it was as a primary school student that she would get her initial break.

"I did a talent show. I was 7 years old and I sang 'Reunited' in my school talent show and it was received so well and everybody just loved it. From that point on, I had to perform in school talent shows from elementary to junior high to high school," she recalls.

As a teenager, her interest in R&B and hip-hop grew and grew.

"When I was 14 it was really all about serious hip-hop and R&B. I think of songs...that really saved my life...Roy Ayers and "Everybody Loves the Sunshine"...That's the song that really helped me, that song, [Soul II Soul's] 'Keep on Movin'' and 'Be Optimistic' by the Sounds of Blackness. Those three records, man, those three records really helped me," she reveals.

Within five years Blige had a recording contract with Uptown Records and released her multimillion-selling debut album, What's the 411, in 1992.

Her next release, My Life, was acclaimed by fans and critics alike, though she has since admitted that her private life at the time was in a chaotic state, as she fought a battle against drugs and alcohol, among other things.

Through the '90s and into the new millennium Blige released albums at regular intervals, with 2005's The Breakthrough earning global sales of more than 7 million copies as well three Grammy Awards, one for best R&B album and two for the single "Be Without You" (best female R&B vocal performance and best R&B song).

Yet her biggest hit from the record was a cover version of one of U2's most popular tunes.

"I always loved the song 'One.' I was a fan of that record, and I was sitting at Jimmy Iovine's house, who's the CEO of Interscope Records [and producer of U2's Rattle and Hum]... and the song came on and I was like, 'Jimmy, there's something about this record, I have to record this record,'" she says.

The Irish foursome are not the only rock act to have collaborated with Blige, and one flamboyant Englishman has become a good friend.

"I knew who Elton John was and I've been a fan of his since I was a little girl--and he was on television one night saying that he loved Mary J. Blige, he loves what I do. And I was like, 'Wow, Elton John likes me?'

"I'd recorded a song called 'Deep Inside' over one of his tracks, 'Benny and the Jets.' And I said, 'Wow, it would be a great idea if I can get Elton John to play live piano on this and when I met him he was so nice I just fell straight in love with him," she says.

Her partnership with rapper Ludacris on his 1996 single, "Runaway Love" touched on the problems of women who are victims of abusive, a subject close to Blige's heart.

"It's very important to me because I've been that girl, you know, running away from the things that happened to me when I was a kid, and all my life I've been running from that stuff, and I've seen so many girls running away from that stuff so it was only right for me to be on it," she explains.

Blige's stance on women's rights and gender equality has made her a role model for many women. Some female pop stars might balk at the responsibility, but not her.

"I feel really good about it, for one because when I was a child I never seen any woman treated right, ever. Never, ever, ever, and I always wanted to help them, even when I was a kid.

"But I ended up being [one of] them, so I couldn't help anybody so...when I decided to call out for help everyone was like, 'Oh Mary, you're right, we need help, too,' [and] my life started to turn around," she says.

And it was Blige's determination that would offer hope to others.

"I learned that you can't help people by telling them what to do, you gotta help people by walking the walk that you're talking and that's what I've been trying to do," she explains.

Growing Pains finds Blige in a positive mood yet still aware of the need to progress.

"I'm at a point in my life where I have to sustain. The last album was called The Breakthrough and I literally, you know, mentally, spiritually and physically, in every way made a breakthrough.

"I'm in a place right now where I've always wanted to be but in order to stay and maintain this position, mentally, spiritually and physically, I'm forced to grow up very, very quickly," she says.

The title of the album, Growing Pains, was not chosen lightly by Blige.

"I've accepted the pain that comes with growth. I don't look forward to it but when it comes it's like, 'OK, this is gonna hurt but I have to do it.'...So I went to the Webster's dictionary and I looked up the word growing pains and it says, when rapid growth occurs; when you're rapidly growing," she says.

One song, "Work That," on the new album might strike a chord with some of Blige's fans who are approaching middle age.

"That song is based on how...we're not always happy with...our weight or our hair. What I'm saying to people is, 'You know what I've done with my weight and my hair and my body, I'm learning to work with it," she says.

Not that Blige has too many worries about these things, if her latest promotional photographs are anything to go by.

And it would appear that this latest batch of songs are aimed at a more mature audience.

"Another title of one of the songs on the album is called 'Grown Woman.' I've accepted that I'm an adult, I'm enjoying this. I've never been clearer in my life and I've never been so sure about what I wanna look like and what I wanna wear, who I wanna be around," she says.

Her approach to relationships seems to reflect her age on Growing Pains, as she explained the story behind "Roses."

"I'm married but some days it's just not all happy on those days so I said, 'It ain't all roses, flowers and poses,' you know, 'It ain't all candy, this love stuff is demanding,' that's what the chorus is. There's so much fun stuff on here, man, people are gonna have a ball," she says with gusto.

Though the new album has yet to be released, Blige is already thinking about her next project, though her teasing answer to my question about it left more questions than answers.

"I'm already planning my next album and where I'm gonna end up. I can't tell you right now because it's something that I know that other people will be like, 'Oh let me do it first,' and they're gonna be shocked, they're gonna be totally shocked."

"3 Great American Voices," featuring Carole King, Mary J. Blige and Fergie will play Nov. 5-6, 7 p.m. at Osaka-jo Hall in Osaka, (06) 6362-7301; Nov. 10, 5 p.m. at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, (03) 3475-9999; Nov. 12-13, 7 p.m. at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo,(03) 3475-9999.
(Oct. 26, 2007 )

Robert Wyatt Interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 26th October 2007

Grandfather Robert Wyatt sings out against war
Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Wyatting: The practice of deliberately selecting annoying or extreme music on an MP3 jukebox to cause irritation. There can't be many musicians whose names have made it into the online Urban Dictionary, but Robert Wyatt sounds less than impressed with the honor.

"Whilst I'm proud to be the present participle of a new verb...I would never do Wyatting myself," the former member of progressive rock pioneers the Soft Machine tells The Daily Yomiuri by telephone from his home in Lincolnshire, northern England.

"I'm not into the avant garde as provoking or disturbing people. To me, the avant-garde is only valuable insofar as it disinters undiscovered beauty or finds beauty where people hadn't previously looked for it. I'm not the slightest interested in upsetting or disturbing people," he says.

The only people who might be upset or disturbed by Comic Opera, Wyatt's first studio outing since Cuckooland in 2003, are supporters of the war in Iraq.

Divided into three acts, it looks suspiciously like one of those dreaded concept albums that, with a few exceptions, such as the Who's Tommy and Quadrophenia, ended up in bargain bins by the end of the 1970s. The 62-year-old grandfather reveals that the original idea was much looser.

"Once I'd done an hour's music it seemed to fall into three sort of areas of preoccupation, in terms of the lyrics anyway.

"It has lots of different characters in it and I split it up into these three parts. The first one's more to do with love and lust and the second part more to do with [being] out and about pottering around England and having a think and the last bit is..."

Wyatt describes himself as a "lefty" who remembers Sept. 11 as, "the date [in 1973] upon which the United States backed a fascist coup in Chile to overthrow the democracy there and install a brutal dictator called Pinochet," so perhaps it is not surprising that "the last bit" finds him in antiwar mode.

"At the end of the second bit I'm pulled up short by remembering that we're still going around the world dropping bombs on people and going to war with people who never attacked us in the first place.

"I suddenly want to distance myself from Englishness so I stop singing in English entirely for the last third and speak in tongues," he explains.

Yet Comic Opera is not depressing, and the musical tenderness of "A Beautiful War" is a far cry from the ironic antiwar sentiment of the song's lyrics.

Though Wyatt's first love is jazz, he is well aware of the importance of more commercial music.

"I've got a lot of respect for pop music...Really good tunes are noticeable. Whether they come from Tchaikovsky or John Lennon, a good tune is a good tune and I've always liked doing them," he says.

And it was a cover of "I'm a Believer," originally recorded by perhaps the ultimate pop group, the Monkees, that earned him a spot on BBC TV's Top of the Pops in 1974. But Wyatt--a paraplegic as the result of a fall from a window in June 1973--found his wheelchair an unwelcome accessory in the studio of the popular music show.

"The producer of the program--he's dead now so he won't be offended if I call him a bit of a t--t--he didn't think it looked groovy and hip on his hip and groovy pop program," he says without a hint of bitterness.

Though Wyatt has never visited Japan, he has worked with Japanese musicians, none more prestigious than Ryuichi Sakamoto.

"It was a song ["We Love You"] by some English rock group [The Rolling Stones]. I didn't particularly like the original but I thought his version made it better than it almost deserved. I thought he did it beautifully, it's wonderful. It was very nice to work with him," he says.

More recently, musicians with Japanese connections have been appearing on Wyatt's albums.

"A violinist called Chikako Sato--who lives in England now and whose mother I believe is a very important and serious traditional Japanese performer--lived in our little town for a while and played violin and stuff on a few tracks I've done in the past," he adds.

Ironically, Dave Sinclair, who plays piano on "A.W.O.L." on Comic Opera took the opposite route to Sato.

"I used to work with him in Matching Mole and he now lives in Japan and is married to a Japanese woman. Either the country or his wife, or both, are obviously very good for him because he's the only one of all the people I've worked with who doesn't look as if he's aged at all. He's exactly the same as when I knew him in the '70s--it's quite disconcerting," he says.
(Oct. 26, 2007)

Ari Up (Slits) preview in The Daily Yomiuri on 26th October 2007

Gettin' down with Ari Up and the Slits

Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer



"It's party time, not performing."

To the background of jazz music in a coffee shop from a pre-Starbuck's-era Japan in a quiet Tokyo suburb, Ari Up, vocalist of the Slits, said, explaining what audiences can expect of the band on its upcoming tour of Japan.

As one of the first all-female punk bands, the Slits were determined not to compromise their principles in spite of attempts by punk svengali Malcolm McLaren to mold them in his own design.

"Malcolm wanted to turn us into the female Sex Pistols. He had his vision that we were going to be like this, he started telling us how to play, instead of just being a manager," the dreadlocked 45-year-old explains.

The group's debut album, Cut, was released in 1979 and this was followed by Return of the Giant Slits two years later.

Performing with Ari and bassist Tessa Pollitt, who have been in the band since 1976, will be English dub reggae producer Adrian Sherwood.

The Slits plus Adrian Sherwood will play Oct. 26, 6 p.m. at O-East in Shibuya, (03) 5458-4681; Oct. 28, 6 p.m. at Club Quattro in Nagoya, (052) 264-8211; Oct. 29, 6 p.m. at Big Cat in Osaka, (06) 6258-5008.
(Oct. 26, 2007)

Scoop (Woody Allen) film review in The Daily Yomiuri on 26th October 2007

Allen, Johansson magic in 'Scoop'
Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Scoop
Directed by Woody Allen

In Match Point, director Woody Allen moved away from his beloved New York City and onto the streets of London.

And it seems the 71-year-old took such a shine to the British capital that his latest murder mystery comedy, Scoop, is also set against a backdrop of iconic British symbols such as an aristocratic stately home and the Royal Albert Hall.

So has Allen simply transferred Manhattan Murder Mystery to the other side of the Atlantic? At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking so, but Scoop has a far lighter feel, and Allen's casting of Scarlett Johansson as Sondra Pransky, an American student journalist, reveals hidden comic talent in her second film with Allen.

Allen plays Sid Waterman, a struggling magician whom Pransky meets when she goes to one of his magic shows and is chosen to participate in one of his tricks.

Once inside his "magic box," Pransky encounters the spirit of Joe Strombel (Ian McShane), a recently deceased journalist who offers her a scoop on the "Tarot Card Murderer," a serial killer on a par with the notorious Jack the Ripper, who terrorized London at the end of the 19th century.

When Strombel points the finger at Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman), a member of the British upper crust, over the killings, Pransky sniffs the possibility of getting the first and perhaps most important exclusive of her career in journalism.

Pransky and Waterman join forces to investigate the allegations but, in her quest for a good story, Pransky ends up beguiled by Lyman's charm and admits to being a "would-be investigative reporter who has fallen in love with the object of her investigation."

Though the chemistry between Allen and Johansson can never be compared to that of his work with Diane Keaton in the 1970s, the two New Yorkers work well together and Johansson's comic timing deserves to be given more chance to grow in the future. And, as the girl-next-door with attitude in Scoop, it's not hard to understand why the smooth-talking Englishman falls for her.

With a nice twist at the end and a script that is funny without getting too demanding, Scoop is an engaging film that is well worth 95 minutes of anybody's time.

The movie opens Saturday.
(Oct. 26, 2007)

Karl Hyde (Underworld) interview in The Daily Yomiuri on 5th October 2007

A succession of seminal moments
Karl Hyde looks back on Underworld's history
Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

"We've been treating the world tour as the warm-up for Japan."

As the minibus speeds toward Narita Airport on a pleasant late September morning, Karl Hyde, founding member of British electronic dance duo Underworld, reveals the importance he puts on playing in Japan.

In Tokyo to promote Underworld's Oblivion Ball at Makuhari Messe, in Chiba, in November, Hyde was ebullient about the new show.

"We're very much part of [British art and design group] Tomato again so we're bringing some new Tomato films, there's gonna be a Tomato/Underworld installation and art space in the venue...and, as always, the improvisations. No set lists, no rehearsals and everybody, the whole crew, jamming," he says enthusiastically.

And Hyde is nothing if not enthusiastic. After four days of doing the rounds of the Japanese media there were no signs of him flagging, right up to the time he checked in for his British Airways flight to London.

With their fifth studio album, Oblivion With Bells, out Wednesday, the day before the group start the European leg of their global trek in Dublin, Underworld seem busier than ever. So how does the 50-year-old keep coming up with ideas for his lyrics?

"I just remain open. If we weren't talking, I'd just be in the van and I'd be writing all of this that I'm seeing out of the window...you see a color and a tree and a concrete bridge and the back of his head, the lace doily on the back of the seat. Then you hear something else. Then you stop for a moment and carry on again. You just remain open," he says.

Underworld's first album since 2002 has a healthy mix of dance tracks and more ambient tunes that reflect the group's interest in soundtracks. It's the end of a long journey of discovery. "There's never a plan for it to be a dance album or a filmic album or any kind of album--we go on a journey," he says.

The journey involves Hyde and partner Rick Smith collaborating on tunes, sharing computer files and reworking tracks as necessary. "A kind of very egoless conversation was happening over the last five years, things passing backwards and forwards," Hyde explains.

So did the destination measure up to the journey?

"[I'm] really happy with the results, because they're honest and the more I listen to it, the more it surprises me how much it's caught what Rick and I have been doing for the last five years, the film scores and listening to German club music again, which has been a huge inspiration," he adds.

Underworld's interest in German music and film soundtracks stem back to Hyde's formative years growing up in a small country town near England's second-largest city, Birmingham, although the first LP he bought was more mainstream.

"The first album I bought was Simon and Garfunkel's Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme because of the harmonies. I remember hearing 'Scarborough Fair' and thinking, 'The harmonies are amazing,'" he says.

But it was his next purchase that would prove a turning point. "The second album was the score to 2001, because of Ligeti and those beautiful choral themes and 'Lux Aeterna' and 'Atmospheres.' To this day I would say that's a seminal album in my life," he says.

Though his earliest influences were the sounds of Tamla Motown and producers like Joe Meek and Phil Spector, it wasn't until he started listening to John Peel on BBC Radio 1 that he discovered his real passion.

"John [Peel] started playing this electronic stuff from Germany and I imagined Germany as this exotic kind of satellite that was somewhere out there in the east that was generating all this weird stuff and it was moving across Europe and becoming normalized. Then eventually it would get to the U.K., and we would make it into a sound that the Americans could understand and then they'd take it and turn it into something really glossy and global and sell it back to the Germans," he explains.

And perhaps the fact that he didn't visit the home of "Kraut rock" until the '80s might go some way to explain the teenage Hyde's image of Germany.

"For a long time I had this idea of this strange place with laboratories where people were deliberately thinking up obscure stuff to pump out into the world," he admits.

Not surprisingly, Kraftwerk were a major source of inspiration for Hyde, though he had not discarded all interest in rock music. "Hearing [Kraftwerk's] 'Autobahn,' that was a transformation for me. There was that and Hawkwind's 'Silver Machine' and those two records in that era were unlike anything that was being played on the radio," he says.

Hyde got a chance to record in Germany when CBS Records offered his band Freur a contract in the '80s.

"They [CBS] sent us off to work with [producer] Conny Plank in Cologne. That was the first time we met Holger Czukay and heard bands like Kowalski, using power tools along with guitars and electronic drum kit," he says.

And they were also introduced to a new band by Plank.

"He played us this album and said, 'Check this out, I've just recorded this album, it's by a band that used to be called the Europeans and they're gonna call themselves the Eurythmics'.

"Again, that was seminal so we were driving around in this big, old German car playing this electronic fusion music. Funnily enough, at the end of the '80s, our last tour as Underworld MK I, was supporting the Eurythmics on their farewell tour of the [United] States," he says.

And before long, Underworld MK II would be enjoying the kind of fame that Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart did in the '80s when film director Danny Boyle chose to use the Underworld track, "Born Slippy.NUXX," in his movie Trainspotting.

"Trainspotting, 'Born Slippy,' Danny Boyle, Underworld. Those four, they're synonymous. You can't say one without the other,' he says emphatically.

And he's well aware of the importance of that song on the group's progress. "It opened a door for us to a lot more things a lot quicker than it would have done had we carried on on the trajectory that we were. It helped us make the leap to the main stage at the festivals and for the rock promoters to want to start booking dance acts really. It was one of the first crossover records that helped the genre become much bigger," he adds.

One of those festivals that welcomed them was Fuji Rock Festival.

"The first time we played Fuji Rock...they had to close the field off, because they couldn't get any more people in and [I was] thinking, 'Wow, this is Fuji Rock, a famous place, they can't get any more guys into this field.'

"And the last time we played, we headlined the main stage and the same thing happened there. It was throwing it down with rain and they couldn't get any more in the field. [I remember] Watching thousands of people dancing, and this going in waves right to the back where the field curves up, and looking at each and thinking, 'This is a good job, innit?'" he says.

Yet it was another outdoor festival in Japan that Hyde remembers most of all.

"When we played on the slopes of Mt. Fuji at Rainbow 2000...lots of extraordinary memories there, not least of all the sun coming up opposite the stage and there was the mountain, cloudless," he says.

Yet it would take one of Japan's most famous rock music exports to provide another magic moment for him

"One of the guys from the YMO [Yellow Magic Orchestra] had the ambient field, absolutely amazing--another seminal moment--that's something that we want to do. We want to do an ambient field just like he did, it was extraordinary," he says.

Another seminal moment for Underworld. How many more can one group have in their career? Whether another such moment will occur at the Oblivion Ball remains to be seen.
(Oct. 5, 2007)