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Soft Machine Across the World. Part 3

Bullet trains, planes and Osaka. 31 July 2018

I have been so used to waking up ridiculously early that I did not set my alarm clock for the 10am lobby call to give out luggage to the staff taking it to the airport. Well, you guessed it. I woke up at 9.50am. I threw some clothes on and packed my suitcase and charged down to the lobby. It was all fine so I grabbed breakfast (marvellous, but a bit rushed today), and went back to my room as we were not leaving until 11am. Then off to the bullet train to Osaka. Very comfortable, very fast and cool to see lots more of Japan if only through a train window, and at high speed. We passed Mount Fuji, but annoyingly missed it as we must have been chatting. I did still have a photo on my phone of when we passed it on the Softs tour of 2015, so that will have to do!

We arrived in Osaka and the weather was hot. I mean...HOT. The forecast is for it to get even hotter. About 100 degrees Fahrenheit infact. On reaching the hotel we checked in and waited for the luggage. My case was delivered to my room, and 20 mins later John Marshall knocked on my door asking if I had received my case. He had not...Reception did not know about his case either. I went down to reception with him to talk to the staff about this. After much confusion, several anxious calls and Skype calls with interpreters, we found that some cases had been delivered to the wrong rooms and some instruments had been taken direct to the venue. So thankfully nothing was actually lost this time. But for a while hearts sunk, particularly John Marshall's as he had already lost his bags once on this tour. We grabbed a light late lunch and coffees at the hotel. We have many interesting conversations in this band and one we had then was about whether a certain well known musician who some of the guys had played with and who is no longer with us could be said to have had a 'life well lived' and what that actually means. Does it mean achieving great things or being a universally acclaimed pioneer in your field (music in theirs), success whether artistic or financial, personal happiness, or just making the most of what you have and who you are. There were arguments on both sides as to whether this artist could be said to have had a life well lived, and it did make me think about the rather fundamental issue of living one's life and all that that entails.

People sometimes say to me 'How do you get your gigs? Do you have an agent?'. The answer, as far as Soft Machine is concerned is simple - Leonardo 'Moonjune' Pavkovic. Leonardo is an amazing enabler, facilitator, a massive music fan and a man who makes things happen. He has loads of energy, puts an enormous amount of work in, and is very generous too. Without Leonardo I am not sure this band would even exist now. So mucho gracias to Leonardo!

For our evening's entertainment on our night off before the Osaka gig, we all went to see Gary Husband's solo show in Osaka at Mr Kelly's jazz club. He is playing piano, keyboards, percussion and a special hybrid drum kit that enables hm to play parts of it whilst playing the piano or other instruments. On the way there, Leonardo pointed out a bizarre building that he said is one of his favourites in Osaka. It is a high rise office building with a road running through it. The city was building a new raised highway through Osaka and it needed to pass through where this building is. The building owner refused to have it demolished, and eventually a compromise was reached whereby this main road actually went through the building. How weird is that!? We arrived at Mr Kelly's just before Gary went on for his first set. He played two full sets and the music was extraordinary and wonderful. If you get a chance to see his solo show I strongly recommend you do.

Today I got up for breakfast and had a quick shower first. To understand how the shower controls worked you needed a degree in mechanical engineering. I pulled and twisted all the handles and knobs but could only get the bath tap to work, not the shower. Giving up, I clambered under the bath tap for a sort of shower before getting out. On turning off the tap however, the shower spontaneously started working! Oh well...Breakfast was OK but certainly not up to Roppongi standards.

We went to the venue for soundcheck at 2pm and got everything ready for the gig. Billboard Osaka is very like the one in Tokyo but a slightly better layout. The two gigs went very well and the new tunes really felt like they had bedded in, and the set orders were honed too. A great audience, many who bought CDs and waited in an orderly queue for us to sign afterwards. The whole organisation of this tour has been fantastic and the Japanese promoter and clubs superb. A final end of tour drink and now getting ready for tomorrow morning's flight back to London, again via Frankfurt. I do hope this one goes smoothly...

Some good friends are staying with us at home and then off for a family holiday before the next leg of the tour in Norway and Central Europe. Japan has been a blast and I look forward to the next visit whenever that may be.

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Soft Machine Across the World. Part 2

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Life in Tokyo. 29 July 2018


Friday was pretty chilled. When arriving in Japan one expects the crazy night is day and day is night topsy turvy world of jet lag, as so beautifully portrayed in the Bill Murray film 'Lost in Translation' and this is exactly what happened. We stayed up late on Thursday but then I could not sleep. When I did, however, I woke up at 6am. Which is UK 10pm the night before. Eh?! I got up at about 7.30am and ventured to take a shower. I have observed that however many hotels you stay in when on tour in however many countries, you never see the same shower system twice. They are always different. In this hotel there was a shower in a wet room with a glass door. and also windows into the bedroom and facing the high rise blocks opposite. I knew this would mean that water would get everywhere (with additional opportunity for maximum public humiliation) so entered with trepidation. There was a nozzle just above the floor and two hand held shower hoses neither pointing anywhere near the bath tub. With three temperature and pressure knobs, I was keen to control this beast and turned the knobs slowly to make sure I knew what controlled what, and where the water was going to come from. What I did not see was the massive rain shower head in the ceiling that sprayed freezing water all over me. It was a shock, and not a pleasant one. Argh!

Breakfast was fab', if a little curious. Usual eggs, sausage, croissant, juice, fruit and coffee. Yes, but also Japanese cuisine including Miso soup, Chinese porridge, green beans in peanut and sesame sauce, and various fried, pickled and boiled dishes, not to mention the matcha green tea cake, amazing vegetable smoothie...and err...conger eel.. I played it safe and did not try the less familiar dishes, so it was really good. On a previous Japan trip I remember seeing whale meat offered in a breakfast buffet but thankfully not here.

I took it easy during the day going for a short walk in a beautiful local park in Tokyo midtown, reading and meeting up with the others for coffee. We actually all went back to walk round the same park with it's lake, it's rest house and sculpted gardens. There was a deafening roar of insects and one particular large cicada (I think) which sounded like a cross between a chainsaw played through a wah wah pedal and the screeching alien that burst out of John Hurt's stomach in the first 'Alien' film by Ridley Scott. It was an unbelievable sound.

Unfortunately John Marshall's suitcase had still not arrived and later in the day we were informed that the airline 'had lost track of it - they had no idea where it was at all...'. Hats off to John, he took it well and just got on with it, working out where to get new drum sticks from and replacement clothes etc. Later, dinner was in a recommended Japanese restaurant and about ten of us went. We were later to be joined by the New York jazz guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg who was in town playing with organist Lonnie Smith. Cool guy and interesting stories were told about various jazz players on the scene and shared experiences in the music world. We later went to a small bar where there were instruments set up and Gary Husband and John Etheridge had a free form improv' session which I joined in with on the Fender Rhodes piano there. Some fast and furious playing ensued which sounded great to me but the bar owner said 'play something nice, more smooth please....,' so obligingly Gary got on the piano and duetted on the song 'Lover Man' with John on guitar which was beautiful.



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Soft Machine Across the World. Part 1

Return to Japan. 26 July 2018.


And so the big tour begins. On Wednesday, I met up with band members John Etheridge, Roy Babbington and John Marshall at London Heathrow Terminal 2 for our trip to Japan. In fact our fourth trip to that fantastical, intriguing, beautiful and curious country where music is so very much appreciated and up to the minute advanced technology coexists with certain very traditional cultural values. I have brought a book to read by Murakami (Norwegian Wood) which may give additional insight into life in Japan.

We met at one of the many restaurants in the Terminal and whilst paying our bill I received a helpful e mail from the airline 'Your flight has been cancelled'. Oh joy, here we go, thought I. For this trip we were flying via Frankfurt, so there were more opportunities for things to go wrong than usual. We were told to collect our luggage from the arrivals hall baggage claim and ventured to do so. Unfortunately three of our cases never came off the belt and along with several other irate passengers we were told (for two hours) the belt was broken, our luggage was somewhere else half a mile away and it 'should' come on belt four...or seven...or three 'soon'. One of our number (whose bag did appear) had previously decided to upgrade to Premium Economy and he had been allocated a flight on another airline direct to Tokyo, so he went, whilst we waited for our cases. Eventually they did arrive and we were told to go back to Departures and arrange another flight. This took ages but we did it and then got a shuttle to another Terminal from where we were to fly to Paris. We were told that in Paris we needed to get new boarding passes for the second leg of the journey and 'probably' would not have to collect our cases and recheck them in. Then wait the wait for our flight. Well we got to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and walked and walked and walked as the airport is huge. However no one knew about the cases and although I eventually got my boarding pass, two of us were told the flight was overbooked, so it was not definite they would get on the plane! It was now twelve hours since I had left home and we were still not on our way to Japan. At nearly midnight we boarded the plane to Tokyo and I found my seat. Being a tall person, sitting cramped in Economy for twelve hour flights is no fun, so you can imagine my sheer delight at finding out I had been given a bulk head seat. No one in front of me, no having to say 'excuse me' or wake someone up every time I wanted to stand up, and enough leg room to stretch out. That is worth a small fortune and boy did I appreciate it.

So now, after our twenty six hour journey, we are all here in Roppongi, Tokyo. I first came here an amazing twenty one years ago on a JBK tour - with the wonderful Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri, Mick Karn (RIP) and Steven Wilson. It was for a month all round Japan and an amazing tour with other artists such as DJ Krush and Sugizo. It was the first time I toured with Steven Wilson and we have been friends ever since. All the guys were great fun and the music fabulous and I have very fond memories of that crazy time. I have toured in Japan eight times now - the other times being with Gong and Soft Machine. I remember one trip with Gong was to the Mount Fuji rock festival alongside Paul Weller and Oasis. I will always remember seeing Liam Gallagher walk up to Passport control at the airport with the biggest cockiest swagger you can imagine. It could only have been him and it made me laugh.

Last night we went for some sashimi, noodles and tempura at the most buzzing vibey restaurant called Eat Tokyo, humming with young professionals shooting the breeze and relaxing after a day in the office. Curiously there were few mobile phones out, lots of people smoking (where do you see that in restaurants these days?) and it was incredibly loud with the sound of chat and laughter. Then a quick nightcap at a music bar called 'SoftWind' (well we are Soft Machine and I am the wind player, so it seemed logical). The bar was on the fifth floor of a block, tiny and looked like it could hold about 20 people. They often have duos playing either classical music or Japanese traditional music there. The bar owner got very excited when we said we were the band Soft Machine, and after googling us to check our story out, he asked us to sign autographs before giving us all free drinks and cake!

Today we acclimatise and the first gig is tomorrow at Billboard Live, Tokyo. We are playing with a special guest - the incredible talent that is Gary Husband, who is playing piano with us. Really looking forward to it all

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