Cam Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – Discovering Japan

This could easily be a whole story of one of my favourite albums of all time “Discovering Japan” by Graham Parker, but, instead, it is about two shows by bands beginning with the letter J that helped shaped the Toronto music scene. Let’s roll back to the end of the seventies.

Japan

At Quality Records we had released the first two albums from Japan in 1978, “Adolescent Sex” and “Obscure Alternatives”. They were on Hansa Records and we had a deal with their distributors Ariola. If you judged an album by the cover they would seem like one of many glam bands: lots of make-up, multi-coloured hair, a dollop of PVC and a boatload of attitude. The albums sold minimally in Canada but we started to see radio support from CFNY. After these two albums they released the single “Life In Tokyo” produced by Giorgio Moroder. It was very dancey but had an underlying funk groove provided by Mick Karn’s amazing fretless bass playing. That song seemed to mark the jumping off point to their new direction. For their next album they sought the talents of Roxy Music producer John Punter. “Quiet Life” was a whole new sounding Japan, smooth, melodic and featuring the now-baritone vocals of David Sylvian. It was to be released in December of 1979.

Quality Record’s Larry Macrae had been building a great working relationship with Japan’s manager Simon Napier-Bell. Bell was an English legend as he managed The Yardbirds and T.Rex. Along with contemporaries Brian Epstein and Kit Lambert they were three of the most colourful and successful managers to ever play the game. Bell would go on to write two fantastic rock’n’roll books and would also guide the career of Wham! Bell thought Toronto was the perfect jumping off point for Japan in North America and arranged to have the band come over for a few days of promotion and their debut North American show. “Quiet Life” was to be released around the time of the show and we needed to get ink.

The House of Lords is a famous Toronto hair salon that has been steeped in rock’n’roll tradition since the late sixties and still carries on in the same tradition today at their shop at 639 Yonge Street. Back in the seventies they used to run all sorts of promotions with record companies and ran great spots on CFNY and CHUM. I still remember one of their radio jingles “Come to the House of Lords and you might see Alice Cooper, Alice Cooper”. Owner Paul Burford and his wife Susan were scenesters in Toronto and every rocker worth their AquaNet would pop by his shop. We realised this was a great marketing opportunity for a lot of our bands and Larry and I would visit Paul once a month and give him all of our cool new releases which he would blast in the store. Paul was a big fan of Japan (and their very avant-garde hair styles) and he jumped on the chance to do a promotion with them. There was a nightclub across the street from the House Of Lords called The Domino which was the first new romantic club in the city and it quickly became the local hang-out for the new generation of androgynous boys and girls who were dancing to the new sounds coming out of England. The DJ was a very young Chris Sheppard who would go on to worldwide acclaim as a DJ, recording artist and radio personality. We set up a party in conjunction with Paul and the club were invitees could come and hang out with Japan, win swag and records and have a few complimentary drinks. The first 30 or so visitors to the House Of Lords on a Saturday morning won invites to the party and Paul also gave away tickets to the live shows and Japan records. It was so successful that kids lined up all night and we made the Toronto Star with mentions of the band, the show and The House Of Lords. A win-win promo.

The show sold-out at The Ryerson Theatre and we added a second show for the same night (November 24, 1979). I was dispatched to the airport to meet the band and they looked exactly like they did on the cover of “Quiet Life”. As they cut a swath across the airport they knew that heads were turning but I am sure they were not expecting the reaction from Starsky & Hutch star Paul Michael Glaser. As he passed the band he blurted out a derogatory remark about their make-up to which they shot air pistols at him.

We spent the better part of a week with the guys and had a great time. Also on the trip was producer John Punter and Larry and I remain in touch with John to this day. His visit with Japan also led to him producing “Arias & Symphonies’ by The Spoons but that is another story (the 30th Anniversary of “Arias” will be released this fall).

Live the band was very interesting. They mostly played material from “Quiet Life” which most of the crowd has not heard and they supplemented their show with saxophonist Jane Shorter. It would be the only show they ever performed in Toronto and with the sad passing of Mick Karn last year we will never see another. Although they recorded a couple of more albums “Quiet Life” will always be my favourite.

The Jam

Although they were lumped into the London punk scene The Jam was always more of a revivalist Mod band. I can’t recall the actual date of their first Toronto show but I know it was at The Colonial Tavern on Yonge Street some time in the late seventies. If I’m not mistaken they were touring in support of their second album “This Is The Modern World”.

We (Quality Records) had the support band The Madcats. Although I was happy that we would get free tickets I was worried that they were the wrong band to open for The Jam. They were a little older, keyboard driven and pretty straight ahead blues rock. They were not well received and bottles were flying during their abbreviated set.

As we had a guest list for the show I was pretty popular with the local punk crowd. Our tables were on a balcony above the stage and had great sight lines (and record company cocktails). I managed to get one of The Viletones a spot at our table. The Viletones were Canada’s punkiest punk band and frankly they sometimes scared the hell out of me. I felt pretty cool having one of them at my table as for the most part they thought major label record folks were assholes. The crowd was pretty feisty after the bottle incident earlier in the night and there was a definite tension in the air. Out came The Jam in their suits and they ripped into “This Is The Modern World” as the crowd surged forward. About 45 seconds after they started a golden arch of beer came down from the balcony and found its target Jam singer Paul Weller. He stopped the show, pointed to the balcony and had the guilty party forcibly removed. It was the last time I was allowed a Viletone at our company table.

Loved The Jam, never warmed up to Style Council at all, but have been happy with the last couple of Paul Weller solo albums.

Steve Jordan

Hats off to Steve Jordan on the announcement of the 7th Annual Polaris Prize. I remember when this was just of dream of his and I am happy it has turned out to be exactly what he originally envisioned. The “Short List” of the ten finalists was announced on Tuesday at The Drake Hotel. I agree with some, disagree with others and there are two that I have never heard but that is not the point. It gets people talking about bands and that is the important thing. You can go to  www.polarismusicprize.ca to have a look at this years crop. The $30,000.00 prize will be awarded in Toronto on September 24th.

While we are on the letter J don’t forget to drop by The Shanghai Cowgirl (538 Queen Street West) to have a gander at the brilliant Joe Strummer portrait which will greet you upon your arrival. It is summer in the city and their back patio is one of my favourite lunch time spots. Also, a tasty late night plate of sweet potato fries helps to get you through the night.

Cam’s column appears every Thursday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com.

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Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, NXNE, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

2 Responses to “Cam Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – Discovering Japan”

  1. “Romantic Club?” Is that Canadian or something?

  2. Wow, Im nearly in tears reading reading this article. My sister who died tragically 3 years ago at Christmas was one of the very excited Japan fans lined up to meet the band at house of lords that day. I cannot thank you enough for posting the article and especially the photo of the lineup! This was the first band she was a huge fan of.

    This brings back so much. So grateful to stumble upon this site.

    P

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