FC Ryukyu – J3 Champions

Posted December 5, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

Okinawa’s only professional football club FC Ryukyu were recently crowned champions of the J.League’s third tier known as J3 and the team will play in J2 next season. At the Okinawa Times Building in Naha last night there was an event to celebrate this achievement and to mark the 15 years since the club’s foundation.  Three Ryukyu players, Kosuke Masutani, Taishi Nishioka, and Kazaki Nakagawa, also took part in a Talk Show and answered questions from the audience.

FC Ryukyu defender Taishi Nishioka

In addition to the players’ talk there was an exhibition of FC Ryukyu photos, shirts and memorabilia. The J3 Championship trophy was also on display.

One of the first shirts worn by the FC Ryukyu team

The road to J2 has finally been completed. Next season will be difficult with more matches to play in the 22 team J2 and long distances to travel with all away games in mainland Japan. For now we can celebrate the club’s success and hope that the people of Okinawa will get fully behind the team next season.

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New Horizons in Japan

Posted November 28, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: A Musical Journey

Here is the third part of A Musical Journey. It’s a long one…

3. New Horizons in Japan

I’m a late developer. I didn’t discover Dylan until his fifth album. It wasn’t until moving to Japan that I began to properly appreciate the traditional English folk music that had been on my doorstep back home. I didn’t take much notice of the burgeoning punk scene either until it was already past its prime: I did see The Clash but that wasn’t until the 1980s. And when I arrived in Japan in the middle of that decade I had no idea a very late encounter with the Sex Pistols was also on the cards. More of that later.

The eighties was the most significant decade for me as I left the UK and moved to Japan. During the early years in my new home I published my first book (on education, not music), got married, became a father, and made the decision to stay on in Japan for at least a bit longer. In the next decade I completed an MA and then moved to another part of the country to take up a university job. Now I’m getting ahead of myself.

It was a hot summer night when I arrived in Japan for the first time. I was here to teach at St. Michael’s International School in Kobe for two years. When I boarded the plane in London for the seemingly endless flight, George Michael was number one on the UK chart with ‘Careless Whisper’ and I was to see him in concert as one half of Wham! a few months later.

Wham! on tour in China and Japan, 1985

As part of my new job it was possible to earn some extra salary by teaching English to adults in the evenings at the night school attached to the international school. A helpful American named Randy was responsible for organising the language classes at the night school but most importantly he introduced me to the delights of the Railroad. This was the name of the bar under the railroad tracks run by one of the language school’s former students. A custom had grown up that after classes every Wednesday evening a handful of staff and students would walk down to the bar in the centre of Kobe’s entertainment district of Sannomiya..

The small bar was tucked away from the busy street up a steep flight of stairs and it seated around twenty or so customers. Never advertised – other than by word of mouth – it became a regular haunt of ours and the owner welcomed us on Wednesdays and other nights too and kept me supplied with food and beer throughout the early days in Japan. At weekends it was often the first port of call on a night out that frequently kept us up until the morning.

On a typical night maybe four or five of us would meet at the Railroad before moving on to the Retreat yakitori bar, then perhaps on to another bar or izakaya and finally to the Second Chance which stayed open until 5 a.m. All conveniently within walking distance of each other in the Sannomiya district. Occasionally the closing time of 5 a.m. was too early for some of us and at these times a final drink was in order at Valentino’s the only bar that kept open until seven in the morning. From there it was into a taxi for the ride home and a much-needed sleep. Such was the lifestyle in eighties economic bubble-era Kobe when there seemed to be money everywhere and an inexhaustible round of parties and good times.

The soundtrack to these nights was the synth-pop that had become all pervasive in the 1980s. A-ha’s ‘Take on Me’ seemed to be forever playing in the background. It was also the first time I bought a CD player. Not having any CDs it was necessary to make a trip to the shop and buy some to test this new technological wonder and the first CDs to grace the machine were the albums Remain in Light by Talking Heads and ABC’s The Lexicon of Love.

Tom Waits was another relatively late discovery though I had been initiated into his world shortly before leaving the UK. Especially impressive was his early masterpiece Small Change with its memorably seedy cover photo and melancholy songs of late night excess and regret. His next album Heartattack and Vine continued the theme. It also contained ‘Ruby’s Arms’, a gem that was just right for those late nights and early mornings. By this time Waits himself was already transforming his early style into a new tougher and more innovative way of telling stories. This frequently involved much clanking of pieces of metal. I liked this a lot too.

Many Western musicians included Japan in their overseas tours and this usually meant a date in Osaka just a half hour train ride from Kobe. Among the many concerts I attended was a visit to see the Pet Shop Boys. I also went to solo concerts by George Harrison and Ringo Starr (though I’d rather have seen the other two Beatles). Most memorably there was another outing to see Bob Dylan, this time with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at Osaka-jo Hall on their 1986 tour.

An essential part of life in Kobe at that time was the English language monthly magazine Kansai Time Out which already had a firm foothold in the foreign community and in bookshops throughout Kansai when I arrived. Not just a guide to what’s on, it also contained many in-depth articles on a variety of topics. The magazine ran for 32 years, publishing its last issue in 2009. One thing it didn’t have when I came to Kobe was a regular music page and so it was that while lamenting this omission one evening in the Railroad I happened to find myself sitting next to the current editor. She asked me to write a music page myself (just one) and submit it. This I did. The article was a mish-mash of reviews of Western albums I’d been listening to plus a report of a visit to see a local Japanese band. It was a bit all over the place but somehow received the editor’s approval and was published in the magazine. Soon a monthly music page was included and I contributed regularly to its features.

Shoukichi Kina (Photo: Heiko Junge)

It was around this time, at the end of the eighties, that the great music revelation occurred when I finally discovered Okinawa and its music through my wife Midori unearthing a couple of tapes by Shoukichi Kina and Champloose. A friend of hers had briefly been a member of Champloose and had passed the tapes on but they had remained neglected and unplayed. I didn’t know it at the time but it’s not too dramatic to say that the course of my life was irrevocably changed.

Until then I had been underwhelmed by the Japanese pop music I’d listened to as it seemed too in awe of Western music and the Japanese rock bands I had listened to seemed pale imitations. Or else there were boy bands such as Hikaru Genji, and innocuous female ‘idols’ such as Miho Nakayama and Kyoko Koizumi (now a fine actor in middle-age). Kina and his exuberant Okinawan-style music was something else and this led to my meeting him for the first time in Kyoto and featuring him in an interview in KTO magazine. Thereafter to the discovery of much more music from Okinawa, visits to many of the islands, and eventually to the first The Power of Okinawa book. And some years later, of course, a move to Okinawa. It was no great surprise that the emphasis in my music articles gradually changed from UK and Western pop to Okinawan music and to other roots music in general.

The arrival of Dominic Al-Badri as the editor at KTO meant the chance for a little more music coverage as he was a music enthusiast with wide tastes. His encouragement led eventually to the idea for a book on Okinawan music. The music section built up gradually so that a page of album reviews was now included every month. In my early days of writing for the magazine I had once contacted more than twenty record companies in Japan requesting review copies of their releases but didn’t get a single response. But now we began to get plenty of review copies and could even afford not to accept tapes any more but only CDs for consideration.

I was able to meet and interview musicians whose music interested me. Among the first, after Shoukichi Kina, was Japanese singer Sandii who made a number of adventurous albums in the nineties with influences from South-east Asia. Then there was Jamaican reggae artist Bob Andy; Okinawan singers Nenes, Yoriko Ganeko, and Yasukatsu Oshima, English folk musicians Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick; and, on a visit back to England, Kate Rusby. Contributing to the magazine also enabled me to write about subjects other than music and so there were features on alternative education, film, literature, women’s football, Shinto, and a travel piece on Nabari in Mie Prefecture where I had moved in 1998 to take up my post at Kogakkan University.

But before the move to Nabari there was the earthquake. At 5:46 a.m. on 17th January 1995 the Kansai area was struck by what became known as the Great Hanshin Earthquake which claimed well in excess of 6,000 lives. For a long time afterwards (and still sometimes now) we measured time in pre and post-quake terms. After three days without electricity and with water in short supply we left our damaged house to stay for the next two weeks with friends whose home was relatively safe from the devastation we saw all around us in downtown Kobe.

I had already seen Osaka band Soul Flower Union a couple of times by then but the earthquake and its aftermath drew me closer. It’s well-known that the rock band unplugged to play for some of the most stricken victims of the earthquake in the hard-hit Nagata district of Kobe. This led to their emergence in an acoustic alternative incarnation known as Soul Flower Mononoke Summit who incorporated chindon street music into their repertoire.

A year after the quake they returned to play at Nagata Shrine and I interviewed them for a KTO feature. Members Takashi Nakagawa and Hideko Itami were welcoming and friendly and for some years Midori and I cooperated with them by translating their original song lyrics into English for the CD booklets of their numerous releases and went to see them play whenever possible. Here was a band that was becoming aware of roots music from around the world and dabbling into Irish, Korean and Okinawan styles and instrumentation. They were not a high-profile band but were always far more rewarding than most of the bigger names – and with a political edge too which quickly found them cast aside by their major record company Sony. Years later, Hideko Itami moved to Okinawa and was very helpful and supportive during and after my own move to the island.

Writing for KTO was not without the occasional mishap. Smokey Mountain were a young band of two boys and two girls from the Philippines. They had visited Japan to appear on national television and came back later to promote their second album release. I was asked at very short notice – the same day I think – if I would go to Osaka and meet them in a hotel where they were giving interviews. Not having listened to them at all I cobbled together a few generalised questions. It did not go down well when (forgetting about their Japan TV appearance) I began by asking them if they had ever been to Japan before. One of the boys answered with an indignant “Yes!” He managed to stretch the word to several syllables.

Possibly worse was the calamity that occurred when I had the task of writing a monthly column to preview upcoming concerts in the Kansai area. These were often of artists I knew little about so had to check the facts. But when it came to James Taylor I was on safe ground, or so I thought, and previewed his visit with a summary of the Boston singer’s past glories. At least one irate person phoned the KTO office later to complain that she had bought a ticket and then been shocked and dismayed to discover the concert was for a completely different James Taylor.  I like to think that at least it opened her ears to some new music.

It was not through the magazine but an acquaintance in London that I got to meet up with two of the UK’s biggest musical icons to tour Japan. A friend in London had introduced me to Pat who was a roadie or ‘guitar technician’ for several high-profile musicians. Over a few drinks in a South London pub Pat said he would soon be coming to Japan with Rod Stewart and would get in touch. I thought no more about it but Pat was true to his word and phoned me after his arrival in Osaka. It was the day before Rod Stewart’s concert at Osaka-jo Hall. He had VIP passes for the whole family but first he asked me to come over to Osaka that afternoon as Rod wanted to get some people together to play a game of football. I hadn’t kicked a ball in earnest for many years but duly turned up in tracksuit and trainers and took part in a full-scale game which found me on the opposing side to Rod Stewart who was far and away the best player on the pitch. I recovered enough to take my seat the next evening at the concert at a sold-out Osaka-jo Hall. We arrived in the afternoon and Pat gave us a backstage tour. After the show, Rod Stewart gave our son Akira (then six) a signed football and uttered the memorable words: “I hope you’re a better player than your dad.”

Pat returned to Japan later that year but this time he was with the Sex Pistols on their Filthy Lucre reunion tour of 1996. He got in touch again. The Sex Pistols were playing four nights in Osaka at a smaller all-standing venue. I missed the first night but went to the next three and even took advantage of Pat’s (or the Pistols’) hospitality by staying overnight after the last date and sharing Pat’s hotel room. A group of us including Pat and three of the Pistols went out a couple of evenings to eat and drink and I was put on the list as ‘interpreter’ so I didn’t have to pay.

The one absent member of the Sex Pistols on these nights out was John Lydon (or Johnny Rotten, I should say) who kept away from the rest of the band except for their appearances on stage. Each night when I arrived Pat ushered me into Johnny’s dressing room where there was always a box full of beers which Pat proceeded to take from freely and give to me as sustenance during the gig. Not that the concerts were over-long. They were just one hour including encores. I ran into Johnny only once. I was standing at the urinal in the backstage toilet five minutes before one of the shows was due to start. He came in and stood beside me. Not a word was spoken by either of us. The Sex Pistols were doing this for the money but it was great to see them and their performances were all I had hoped they would be, full of passion and in no way were they going through the motions.

The Pogues

But these were diversions from the direction I was taking. After a long hiatus from listening to English roots music I was now back there again and it all happened because of being away from home. The discovery of Okinawan music opened up the realisation that all roots music has connections and things in common.

The Pogues were doing with Irish music what Shoukichi Kina was with Okinawan and I saw them a few times in Osaka too, including the last but one appearance of Shane MacGowan with the band. There was an Irish boom in Japan in the 1990s and I could see musicians such as Altan, Mary Black, Sharon Shannon, Mairead Ni Dhomhnaill and Donal Lunny. There was African music too and Mory Kante’s Akwaba Beach album introduced me to another kind of roots music and to concerts by Salif Keita and Youssou N’Dour. I had also discovered the music and culture of the Basque Country but that’s another story.

The rediscovery of English roots in Japan was kicked off when I listened to Kate Rusby’s first solo album Hourglass and I began to see what a rich vein of folk song also existed in my own country. Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick came to Osaka and I interviewed them. I even started listening to the esoteric traditional recordings of Peter Bellamy and wondered why I had ignored them before.

Richard Thompson (Photo: Ron Sleznak)

Back in 1969 I had been at the Royal Festival Hall in London when Fairport Convention unleashed folk-rock on England. Richard Thompson’s work with the band that night and in the decades that followed has been phenomenal and he – like Rusby – is someone who has the gift of being able to write songs that are so much influenced by the English tradition that you cannot see the join. Decades later I saw him twice in Japan. The second time was an evening at Osaka’s Club Quattro where he played one of the best solo concerts I’ve ever seen: just the man and his acoustic guitar mesmerising the audience. On that night I didn’t have to write about him or do an interview and I was just there to enjoy the music. And it was wonderful.

The inevitable eventually happened and after years in Kobe and Nabari I finally decided to take early retirement from my university and move on, and where better than to Okinawa. The music was the catalyst for the move. I had already written a book to introduce it and wanted to update and write a better one with the music and culture close at hand. We moved to Okinawa in 2009.

The Kansai Time Out interviews with Bob Andy, Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick, and Kate Rusby can all be found now in the Features Archive.

Yoko Ishikawa – Live in Naha

Posted November 17, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Live in Okinawa

Iheya Island singer and sanshin player Yoko Ishikawa released her solo debut album in September. The album Shami No Yorokobi was reviewed on this blog. Unfortunately her concert in Okinawa to promote the new release had to be postponed because of the typhoon that hit the island at that time. It has now been rearranged for next Saturday 24th November.

Yoko Ishikawa

Owing to the great interest in this concert it will now take place at the larger Hall A at Sakurazaka Theatre in Naha starting at 18:30. Ishikawa will be joined by the musicians who played on her album and these include Setsuko Kikuyama and Keiko Kinjo. It promises to be a rewarding night at last for one of Okinawa’s brightest young talents.

http://sakura-zaka.com

Autumn in Okinawa

Posted November 8, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Okinawan Life

It’s autumn in Okinawa and today is bright and sunny with the temperature at 28 degrees. Just the sort of day to have a picnic in the park and so that’s what we did. Here are some photos taken this afternoon after our lunch at Itoman’s Heiwasozo no Mori Koen (Forest Peace Park).

 

Kaia Kater: Grenades

Posted October 30, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Roots Music from Out There

Grenades is the third album by Toronto-based singer Kaia Kater. Both of her previous albums were reviewed here and the second, Nine Pin, was one of my favourite albums of 2016. On that album Kater sang a mix of originals and traditional songs from North America, her speciality being her banjo playing and her emerging talent as an interpreter of Appalachian songs and music.

With Grenades she rightly doesn’t rest on her laurels but instead delivers an album quite different from previous recordings. The sound is very accessible and almost lush at times as she surrounds herself with a small band of musicians and the lap steel of Christine Bougie is prominent on several tracks. Kater adds acoustic guitar to her familiar banjo skills and nearly all the songs are her original compositions. The album is produced by Erin Costelo.

What sets this apart most of all is the thread running through the songs which all have poetic lyrics and an underlying connection to Kater’s upbringing and heritage with musical influences evident from Quebec, the Caribbean, and Appalachia. The themes are concerned with personal identity, memory and discovery and they form part of a journey that Kater made between her home in Canada and her roots on the island of Grenada where her father was born.

In the album’s booklet she writes: “My father’s story of immigration was omnipresent in my childhood, in his teachings and counsel. He was quiet but firm in insisting that I had a warm and vibrant home and a plethora of family far from Canada’s wintry grasp. Yet like many people, I have felt alone and out of place for most of my life, stumbling forward blind and rootless. I wrote Grenades to trace the life line from my palm and trace the way home.”

In addition to the eleven songs there are three brief narrative interludes in which Deno Hurst, her father, speaks of the complex situation in Grenada that led to his arrival in Canada as a very young political refugee. In one he speaks of the sheer terror posed by the invading American forces and it’s an oddly chilling reminder of what Okinawans must have felt when American military power landed on Okinawa in 1945.

Despite its serious themes this isn’t a difficult album at all. Kater has grown as a songwriter and creates the most gorgeously melodic choruses, as on ‘Canyonland’. She sings in French and English on a traditional Grenadian melody for which she has written new words, and completely unaccompanied on another song, ‘Hydrants’. There are a couple of slow soulful songs, a masterly title track and there’s ‘Meridian Ground’ which contains lines reminiscent of some of Paul Simon’s best storytelling – “My auntie died in a one room house on the top road / With the candles cold and a smile upon her face”.

Grenades marks Kaia Kater’s continuing development as singer, musician and songwriter. It will make you want to learn more about Grenada but is first and foremost just a great listen.

Grenades is released by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

www.folkways.si.edu

www.kaiakater.com

Tubarama Taikai in Itoman

Posted October 28, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: Live in Okinawa

The 7th Itoman Tubarama Taikai was held yesterday. The contest to find the best singer of the traditional Yaeyama song ‘Tubarama’ was attended by 1,500 people and there were 23 singers in competition. Yaeyama singer Tetsuhiro Daiku was one of the judges. Daiku and Okinawa’s Hajime Nakasone also sang for the audience. The eventual winner was a singer and sanshin player from Ishigaki Island, Kyohei Matsukawa. Below are some photos taken last night.

Tubarama Taikai winner Kyohei Matsukawa (above left).

Discovering Roots Music

Posted October 23, 2018 by powerofokinawa
Categories: A Musical Journey

Here at last is the eagerly awaited (by me anyway) second part of what I’m calling A Musical Journey.

2. Discovering Roots Music

The first time I set foot in a folk club was a week or two after my seventeenth birthday. Until then my taste in music had been largely shaped by the UK charts, pirate radio, and television programmes such as the BBC’s weekly ‘Top of the Pops’.

A blurry distinction is often made nowadays between folk songs and traditional songs, especially by those in America (Japan too) where any singer-songwriter playing an acoustic guitar can and will be labelled a folk singer. This isn’t the case in England where folk songs are more often thought of as having been handed down over generations by the common people and not possessing a known composer.

I was a bit surprised to find the late American ‘folk singer’ Dave Van Ronk also went along with this way of thinking about it in his memoir The Mayor of MacDougal Street. He writes that for about two hundred years up until the 1950s the folk singer was someone who passed on songs learned within a community. And so, crucially, “the word ‘folk’ describes a process rather than a style.” It wasn’t until Bob Dylan and the singer-songwriters of the 1960s that there was a bit of mixed up confusion about the definition. In a recent interview, Tom Rush (who was one of those ‘60s singers), reiterated that for him ‘folk’ means the traditional songs handed down by ear from generation to generation.

That’s enough pedantry about ‘folk’. I’ve usually gone along with the ‘folk means traditional’ camp but there is a grey area too. Nowadays I’d probably call it all roots music anyway for want of a more precise term. Or perhaps: ‘local music from out there’ as it’s found all over the world in every culture, played on many different musical instruments (or no instruments) and sung in numerous different languages.

The folk club I first went to didn’t have any policy about what was or wasn’t folk. Almost any kind of music was acceptable if there was room for the performers to fit onto the small platform that passed as a stage. It wasn’t much like other folk clubs of its time either as there were probably more singer-songwriters than traditional singers on its weekly list of guest artists. And, if anything, the sedate image of the UK folk club where everyone sits in rows of chairs listening to the performer in respectful silence was held in some contempt at the club where I was a regular. The noise from the bar and the largely standing audience also made sure the unaccompanied singer would have a pretty hard time of it.

It was named the Jacquard Folk Club and it congregated on Thursday evenings in the back room of a pub in Norwich. The club was run by two brothers, Tony and Albert Cooper. Tony was fond of organising and had previously been involved with a jazz club in the city, while Albert was a fine classically trained singer who had also developed a repertoire of blues and contemporary songs. The establishment of the folk club gave him a regular venue to belt out these songs every week in his stirring and powerful voice usually accompanied by a 12-string guitar plus harmonica and double bass.

As a folk newcomer and a refugee from the pop scene (although I maintained an interest in that as well) I was listening to many of these songs for the first time and it was a revelation. I was being initiated into the world of largely American roots, blues and Civil Rights songs as a teenager in an English pub: not by the original artists of whom I was mostly unaware but by a local resident singer.

Beer was another discovery. As folk music was frequently played in the back rooms of pubs it was almost obligatory to sample the delights of English bitter. I had long seen people getting so excited about the stuff that they couldn’t guzzle down enough of it so imagined it must have an amazing taste – like strawberries or the cream soda of my childhood. It was therefore with a mixture of puzzlement and slight disappointment that I sipped my first pint. All rather warm, flat, bland and lacking in real tastiness. I soon got used to it though.

Sandy Denny

Sometimes I gave a bit of help at the club on Thursdays and once found myself attending to the needs of Sandy Denny who was the guest that evening. She was just a year older than me but appeared infinitely more composed and confident. I offered to buy her a drink and she immediately called for a large whisky. This was in the days when she toured the folk clubs of England on her own as a singer and guitarist. I was to see her again more than once (albeit from a distance) when she became a member of Fairport Convention who went on to invent folk-rock. She left one of her fingerpicks behind after that first visit to the club and I kept and returned it to her the next time she came back. A few years later she was dead at the age of 31.

Norwich and the surrounding Norfolk countryside was already home to its own remarkable traditional singers such as Walter Pardon and the fisherman Sam Larner. They became and remain a huge influence on younger generations of singers but I was oblivious to their contribution until many years later and didn’t even listen to their recordings until the singers were long gone. A local singer I also discovered far too late was Peter Bellamy who eventually became a favourite – but not until I was living in Japan and rediscovering the roots I’d left behind. When I lived in Norwich he was once pointed out to me by someone in the street as a famous folk singer and appeared as a long-haired figure walking in front of us, no doubt on his way to the shops or perhaps to the library to research some archive field recording.

It was the visiting Americans who often made the biggest impact and there were plenty of them touring England at that time to play an extensive list of venues such as folk clubs, pubs, and sometimes concert halls. One evening Jesse Fuller was the guest in Norwich and I was able to see close-up his vaudeville-style one-man-band show with 12-string guitar and fotdella (his own invention, a kind of foot-operated percussion bass) along with the kazoo that he hummed into on songs such as his classic ‘San Francisco Bay Blues’. He was almost seventy at that time.

Among the numerous other renowned American singers and musicians I was able to see on their visits to Norwich – some of them more than once – were the New Lost City Ramblers, Clarence Ashley and Tex Isley, Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Bill Clifton, Hedy West, Paul Simon, Carolyn Hester, Tom Paxton, and Judy Collins.

Of all the American guests who came to England during the 1960s the one I listen to most often nowadays is probably Hedy West. For a long while the Georgia singer and banjo player was underappreciated and her recordings out of print. A revival occurred after her death and is rightly continuing. When I was still a teenager she came to Norwich and through her Appalachian songs and ballads I was able to visit a world I had only glimpsed in novels by Carson McCullers. Her unadorned vocals and banjo accompaniment have something of the same appeal found in the great traditional singers and sanshin players I was to discover years later in Okinawa.

There was no shortage of rising stars on the UK scene either including singer-songwriters Al Stewart and Roy Harper, and on one memorable occasion, for me at least, there was a visit from Scottish duo the Incredible String Band.

By early 1967, when they came to Norwich, the Incredible String Band had already released a debut album and must have been at work on its follow-up The 5,000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion which came out to much acclaim later that year. It contains the song ‘Painting Box’ with these lines that resonated with me at the time:

“My Friday evening’s footsteps plodding dully through this black town / Are far away now from the world that I’m in”.

The departure of Clive Palmer meant the original trio were now a pair: Mike Heron and Robin Williamson. Their performance that night was probably the first time some of their exotic-looking instruments had been seen in these surroundings, though what seemed to some like hippy psychedelic eccentricity would, a couple of decades later, be routinely accepted as an exploration of ‘world music’.

Mike Heron (right) and Robin Williamson of the Incredible String Band in 1967. (Photo: BBC Photo Library/Redferns).

I don’t recall too much of what they played that night but do remember very clearly the subsequent misunderstanding about accommodation. Heron and Williamson had thought they were booked into a hotel but that wasn’t the case and instead I was asked if I could put them up for the night. I was eighteen and living with my parents, so the pair came back there to spend the night. They must have slept in the same bed in my sister’s vacant room. She had married and left home a few years before.

Listening to Incredible String Band albums now, the vocals on their recordings don’t seem to have impenetrable Scottish accents at all but Robin Williamson’s was enough to confuse my mother when they made their brief stay in our house. After a night possibly spent sleeping in his trousers Williamson came downstairs and asked her if he could borrow an iron to smooth out the crumpled garment. She didn’t understand his accent and he ended up miming the ironing action before all became clear. I think everyone I knew imagined the ISB were destined for bigger things – world domination was on the cards – but despite a longish career the early successes of the first few years were never quite replicated in later days.

On the night that the ISB played the folk club in Norwich a small man with a northern accent appeared with a guitar and asked if he could play. He went on and performed to a very enthusiastic response. This turned out to be Michael Chapman. He almost stole the ISB’s thunder with his songs and guitar skills and a couple of weeks later was booked to play as guest at the club. He soon became a regular visitor to the area and his second album Fully Qualified Survivor contained ‘Postcards of Scarborough’ a song that to this day brings back many memories – even though I’ve still never been to Scarborough.

Chapman soon became a fixture on the folk circuit and went on to a long career with numerous albums. In the 1990s I finally ran into him again in London when I went to see him play at a small club and he was just as good as ever. During the break he introduced me to a white-haired man in the audience. This was Wizz Jones who had been another regular guest a few decades before at the folk club in Norwich.

All this exposure to the likes of master guitarists such as Chapman meant there came a time when as a young man I decided to have a go myself. At least to learn a musical instrument rather than just listening to others playing them, and so it was that I bought a guitar. The guitar style I admired most and tried to emulate was the fingerpicking I’d listened to on recordings of Elizabeth Cotten best known as the composer of ‘Freight Train’. She played left-handed in an inimitable and seductive style of her own. I didn’t achieve anything to rival that but did have some fun trying.

This foray into the guitar world didn’t lead to anything much but for a very brief period – perhaps only a few weeks – a ‘band’ was formed along with two friends and we called ourselves the Unreliable String Band. The USB (as no-one called us) performed an extremely short set comprising some poetry-reading accompanied by guitar (it was a thing back then), a couple of songs, and a sort of ragtime guitar instrumental. The first song we learned was Bob Dylan’s ‘Drifter’s Escape’ chosen because it could be played with only two chords. After a couple of appearances at local venues we called it a day.

Paul Simon at the Jacquard Folk Club, 24 August 1965.

Paul Simon was a still relatively unknown solo singer-songwriter who lived for a time in London and played the folk club circuit around England. He very definitely didn’t call it a day. Before going on to achieve lasting worldwide fame he played to an audience of sixty or seventy people at the Jacquard Folk Club on an evening in August 1965. I was there that night to see him give a remarkable performance with just his voice, acoustic guitar. and a handful of original songs. They included ‘The Sound of Silence’ and his then current single ‘I Am a Rock’.

In Japan audiences enjoy listening to musicians talking in between songs – sometimes endlessly – and regard the chatting, explanations and anecdotes as an integral part of the live experience. This was obviously not the case in Norwich that night when Paul Simon’s not especially detailed account of how he came to write one of his songs was interrupted by a heckler who urged him to “stop the preaching and get on with it”. Simon did just that and blasted everyone away with the rest of his songs and performance.

If anyone eclipsed Simon in my early discoveries in roots music it was Bob Dylan, of course, about whom so much has been written that there is nothing much more to be said. I was a bit late to the party, not discovering his songs until the release of his fifth album Bringing It All Back Home but I soon put that right by catching up with all previous recordings. If it was Dylan who helped draw me into folk clubs and folk songs he was also the one responsible for leading me away from them again with his leap into electric guitars, surrealist lyrics, and rock music that went beyond anything I’d heard up until then.

I didn’t see him live until 1978 when I was among a crowd of more than 200,000 for ‘The Picnic at Blackbushe Aerodrome’ in Surrey. (The previous year I had another first when I saw the great Leonard Cohen in concert in Leicester). I went down by train to London and then on one of the many special trains put on solely to convey people the rest of the way to Blackbushe. I missed the friend I was supposed to meet and spent the whole day on my own listening to all the music culminating with Dylan and his band who played for the best part of three hours. It was completely worth the discomfort of spending the early hours of the next morning on Waterloo station waiting for the first trains and the stinging watery eyes from lack of sleep that occurred when I eventually arrived back home. I’ve seen Dylan at least ten times since then, and the last was in Osaka at a much smaller venue in March 2010 when I was able to stand closer to the stage than ever before.

But as I have already said, it was Fairport Convention who invented the English version of folk-rock by playing traditional songs on electric guitars, bass and drums. I witnessed the unveiling of this phenomenon with their concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London to promote their Liege and Lief album which came out at the end of 1969. (Nick Drake was one of the support acts that evening). As the curtain went up on Fairport a new era of English roots music was born.

The next time I saw Fairport was not until their annual Cropredy Festival in 2001. The band Brass Monkey played at the same festival that year and I was able to speak briefly with member Martin Carthy who I had met and interviewed in Japan a few years before. My move to Japan, perversely, meant I was going to rediscover English roots music after a long hiatus – and many other kinds of music too.