Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Right..........Time to fill you all in on what I've been doing.
Wednesday Night/Thursday Daytime.
Thirty thousand feet over St Petersburg.

Well, where do I start? it's now Friday, not Thursday as it should have been. The flight was delayed by 21 hours, due to a light dusting of snow on the wings. We arrived at Heathrow sometime yesterday afternoon, Jez, Al and me in a cab on the Hayes Bypass, driving at occasionally ludicrous speeds and catching sight of our 747 as it floated down to a chilly runway. Little did we know exactly how much time would actually be spent on the selfsame plane over the next 10 hours or so. After a stress-free check-in, we drifted amiably through duty free, fielding anxious calls on our mobiles and looking out at a cold but snow-free airport. As we finally got the call to progress to the gate, the weather had changed dramatically. Snow was swirling around the planes as they squatted behind the huge windows of the departure lounges. We wandered onto our flight as the temporary blizzard was abating, with a warning about the possibility of a delay while we waited to be de-iced. While we waited, the delay stretched to an hour. The crew were told to serve dinner and, against all regulations, serve us alcohol as well. And then? Well, thats it really. We drank and waited. Waited and waited. Departure time was 6.15pm. When 11 rolled around, we knew it was all going slightly awry. The rest of the night begins to unravel at just about that point. The crew finally left the plane at about midnight, having told us we could sleep on the plane if we wished, then again, the departure lounge could also be used as a makeshift camp. By this time we were all in a kind of hyper-excited party mood, good vibes flowing with the Asahi, bands bonding and all of the standard rules of engagement vanishing into the icy blackness outside. I can vaguely remember dialing directory enquiries at two in the morning, trying to reach some sort of customer service department: I needed to vent my spleen, despite secretly having a quite exquisite time. I can also remember going to sleep in Economy and waking in Club Class- how'd that happen? At 7am, some 14 hours after walking on to our Boeing Bedroom, they finally roused us from our otherworldly dreams and turned us out into the lounges. A deep and powerful hangover settled over us like the snow on the wing and we went in search of Breakfast. Clutching the vouchers, which JAL had tried to placate us with, we piled into the full English as if lives depended on it. Actually, they probably did. The next four hours passed at a crawl, we eventually decamped to a corridor outside gate 4 where we attempted to relax and unwind, whilst simultaneously trying to maintain straight faces as Tony appeared to be in danger of soiling himself. As the flight actually got inexorably nearer, I actually got a little nervous...it's been a couple of years since I was on a plane and some of my old fears momentarily bubbled to the surface, no doubt buoyed by the dull tired ache that was gnawing at my bones.
But fly we must. JAL 422 eventually departed Londons Heathrow at around 2pm on Thursday, some 21 hours late. The moment when the cabin crew announce the flight time was particularly annoying, the realisation the it would be another 12 hours before this journey would finally end: 48 hours in the clothes we were wearing. After dinner and some Vodka, I grabbed another couple of hours sleep: roughly my sixth hour of sleep in two days. Kansai, here we come.
Getting our Kix at last.JAL 422 finally touches down at Kansai International Airport (or Kix, as the locals call it) at 10.30am Friday morning. It's a beautiful day, the sun is shining, melting away some of our frustrations as we leave the terminal building. Makiko, or Maki, our translator for the weekend, meets us. With typical Nipponese efficiency we are shepherded onto a bus and whisked away to the festival site; by now we're running so late that sound check is already upon us. After all of the privations and problems of the last 48 hours, the very least we expected was a nightmare of technical difficulties and appalling sound- not a bit of it. Onstage, everything runs like a dream. We play four songs and leave with big grins on our faces.
Backstage, it goes even better: the catering is a revelation with chefs on hand to ply us with foody comestibles such as Nigiri Sushi and Chicken Yakitori. Best gig catering ever!!
Another bus takes us away from the Osaka Intex Arena to our hotel in downtown Osaka. Rather confusingly, there appears to be two downtown areas, we're in South downtown, at the Osaka ANA hotel. After a long shower slowly removes some of the grime of our journey, jet lag bites me on the arse: I lie on the bed and fall instantly asleep. However, this being jet lag, I wake an hour or so later to vivid hallucinations, I can hear people having conversations about me, despite them being on totally different floors of the hotel. It's now 6pm, we've agreed to all meet up and go exploring- there's just one problem: everyone is still asleep. It's just me, Sean and Maki who venture out to see what Osaka has to offer the weary traveller on a crisp and clear Friday evening.
Osaka is a vibrant and exciting city, its bustling heart of fun food and frolics is Dotonburi and its to there that we head after exiting the subway. We ooh and aah at the neon and smile at the giant mechanical crabs that festoon the buildings, then start our search for Beer and nibbles.
First stop is the Kirin building in the heart of Dotonburi: they brew on site, which means the Weiss beer we order is incredibly fresh and even more satisfying as a result. We chow down on some spicy shredded Korean squid, watch the world go by and hatch our plot for the night. Basically, we intend to wander around and eat and drink whatever takes our fancy. Luckily for us, Maki is a local, so we are treated to the best food in town. First, some gyosa delicately drizzled with shoyu sauce and accompanied by Kim chi pickle: it doesn't get much better than this. Hang on a minute, it does; next stop is a tiny Takoyaki restaurant, the tiny little balls of savoury octopus are as light as a feather and unbelievably good, i'm in food heaven. A final nightcap of Corona beer and a shot of Old Parr, then it's a cab ride back to the hotel.

Gig Day. Birthday Day. Whatever Day.
The day starts with the rather odd sound of Alan celebrating his birthday with a vigorous early morning workout in his room, next to mine. I can hear him huffing and puffing his way through some sit-ups and what sounds like skipping- either that or he's disco dancing. I grab Al and Sean and we head off to Dotonburi again for a stroll and Breakfast. Upon our return, Jet lag rears its ugly head once more: I fall into a fitful sleep, hallucinate for an hour or so, waking up feeling somehow even more tired. Bah. We drive off to the Intex arena and await our first Japanese gig in nearly 10 years.
While we wait, we play what seems to be the latest fad in Japan: musical PS2 games. There's one in the arcades, which seems to involve playing some sort of giant mandolin, but the game that is most popular is a Drum game. The rules are simplicity itself: the game controller is replaced with a scaled down ceremonial drum and you play along to the song on screen. There are different drum strokes to play at various points in the song: rolls, rim shots and a flourish where you slam both sticks on the drum at the same time. Oddly, it seems as though i'm a better drummer than our own drummer, Tony, which is a little worrying. So at last, it's time to play. We're shit. No really, the gig is awful. It's all a bit bewildering, seeing as the sound check went so well. Some of the blame must fall on our own shoulders: we're tentative which means there's lots of niggling little mistakes, Mikes tuner lead gets pulled out in the middle of the first song: I could go on, but won't. But what also throws us is the audience reaction. For most of the set it feels like they're ignoring us. Applause fades about three seconds after we finish a song. As a confidence boosting experience, this gig is a non-starter. The mood in the dressing room afterwards is heavy, despite Maki making the effort to get Alan a birthday cake. We were planning to spend the time between the gig and our departure to the airport getting stuck into the backstage bar, but our hearts aren't really in it.
Our flight from Kansai to Haneda airport in Tokyo doesn't leave for a few hours so we sit and listen to the other bands. Evanescence are second headliners and seem to be having the same audience reaction as us. Could it mean that it's just the way the crowds are at gigs like these? Hmm, we'll see, I guess.
By the time we leave for Kansai, we've drunk more wine than we perhaps should have; our spirits rise just a little. The flight to Tokyo is great- 50 minutes, no one on the plane; we walk into the terminal about five minutes after landing.
Our base for the next couple of days is the Capitol Tokyo Hotel: it's a traditionally styled Japanese hotel, which means lots of muted beige and screens instead of curtains: it's an oasis of calm, which is just what I need. It's also in Akasaka, which is the district of Tokyo, which we first stayed in, some 13 years ago. Relaxed, and on "home turf" it's a good omen.
In the lobby are our old friends Kim (in fine form and 8 months pregnant!) and Limo. They want to know if we're off out for a drink or some food? Well, it's midnight, we're knackered and pissed off, but you know what? We do want to go out, actually. Jez and Al hop in a cab and read for Roppongi, the rest of us go looking for ramen. Maki finds an all night noodle bar that supplies me with a great bowl of char siu ramen, and then all we have to do is find Jez and Al. We end up at an Irish pub in Roppongi, watching Liverpool versus Everton, drinking cooking lager and laughing at Jez dancing. A glorious end to a day that looked like it was beyond hope.

...So, people: that's part one of our adventures. Part two arrives when I can write it all down.

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