Girlschool - Live in Japan - June 2019
Airports can very boring places and especially boring when you are waiting for people to arrive and for some reason, they have not arrived. It is Saturday June 22nd 11:45am and we are waiting for Girlschool to come through customs at Narita Airport. Our welcome group consists of UPP-tone promoters Hiromi and Yasukazu, their ever-busy assistant Sakura, myself and Girlschool drummer Denise’s brother, Hermien who is along for fun. Unfortunately, not much fun is being had at the moment as we have received a call saying that although the band is in the customs hall, their luggage is still in Russia where they changed planes – not a good start to the trip.
My gig this time actually started a couple of days ago when one of the support bands, The Babes, arrived from Australia and I settled them into Mendips Guest House. They are ecstatic to be playing their first shows in Japan and playing with Girlschool, just one of the many bands that influenced them growing up. They are cool, great to hang out with and I think the Japanese Rock fans are going to love their down to earth music. Also on the bill are NWOBHM stalwarts Venom Inc who will arrive tomorrow, and three local support bands, Hell Freezes Over, Sabbat and Survive. Six bands in one day is going to be hectic but our stage manager, George, is the best in the business so I know I can leave all the onstage/offstage/changeovers to him and that we will start and finish on time.
Back at the airport we go for a coffee as we have no idea when the girls will be allowed into the Arrivals area. We had barely sat down when we received another call that they were now through and wondering where we were. We race down there and I’m relieved to see two guitars with the girls if little else; that saves me adding more work to George’s already manic schedule trying to find a couple of guitars they could borrow. No suitcases though (they took the guitars on as hand luggage) and not imminent in arriving so the only thing we can do is get them to the hotel and try and sort it out there. Welcome hugs help relieve the tension a bit, the journey to the accommodation gives them time to vent their frustration and by the time I drop them at the check-in, the atmosphere is considerably lighter. It’s all smiles when I head off in the late afternoon and I receive an email that night saying the suitcases will arrive tomorrow.
Less than 24 hours later, I’m back at Narita again to pick up Venom Inc. and this time Joe is along for the ride. Joe likes to help out at gigs and stayed over at Mendips last night with myself and The Babes as we had a 6am start. Venom Inc. have arrived and are exhausted as they played Hellfest in France on Friday night and then had to leave straight after the show and took three flights to get here in time. Guess what? Tony’s luggage is missing. He’s ok though and accepts that this is all part of the Rock ‘n’ Roll life style so we head off for the hotel chatting about old times and catching up with each other’s lives. It’s especially good to see Jeff who since I last saw him, suffered a heart attack, died and was revived by paramedics after five minutes. I asked him if he saw a white light at the end of a tunnel and he says ‘No – nothing like that.’
This is show day so we’ve arranged their soundcheck as early as possible and their onstage time as late as possible so they can get some sleep in between. They check-in to the hotel, Joe goes over to Mendips to pick up The Babes and I go to the venue which is only ten minutes away to make sure everyone is ok. Girlschool are already there about to soundcheck and as expected, George has it all under control; there are still no suitcases yet though. Returning to the hotel, I pick up Venom Inc. (I will be doing a lot of this back and forth to the hotel driving today) and take them to the soundcheck where Tony sings Lady Lust with Sabbat – I wish we had recorded that. Leaving them with George, I take Girlschool back to the hotel to await their suitcases and return to the gig. Things go well with Venom Inc. who then of course want to go back to the hotel – I oblige. Time check: 1:30pm; we are on schedule.
Check again for suitcases (no news), grab a burger, back to the venue. Joe has arrived with The Babes and they are high on adrenaline, anxiety and amazement. They only have a very short soundcheck as the doors are due to open at 3pm and it’s now 2:30pm but they are fine with everything. They ask me if Girlschool want to borrow any of their make-up and I said ’d pass the message on. 2:55pm, George is set and ready to go, there is a long queue of fans by the door, Hiromi, Yasukazu and Sakura are at the ticket desk, the merchandise stand is set up and staffed by Monica – another UPP-tone trooper - and Joe has opened his first beer. I look on in envy as it’s going to be midnight before I can have my first one.
The doors open and I go backstage to make sure The Babes are on time and ready and they are. They hit the stage at 3:15pm and the audience love them. The band are quite overwhelmed by the reaction as more and more fans pile into the gig. I can only watch two numbers as I have to get back to the hotel to pick up Venom Inc. but I leave knowing The Babes will become very popular very quickly.
After dropping them all at the hotel, Joe took Tony shopping to get the essentials for the show, fresh socks, underwear and a pair of stage trousers. They slept and I feel guilty about dragging them out of their warm slumber but we have a show to do. I’m not too concerned as I know the adrenalin will kick in once we get to the gig. They sign autographs as we enter Club Seata, always considerate of their fans no matter how they are feeling. The Babes have finished and are being deluged by fans for autographs and photos; they’ve never had an experience like this. Again to maximize time Venom Inc changed into their gear at the hotel and they have just thirty minutes from arriving at the venue until they go on stage. I get a message that the suitcases have arrived which helps me relax a bit and I let The Babes know that ‘Thanks but they won’t need to borrow make-up now’. Venom Inc. go on and play a blistering first three numbers which empties the bar and packs out the hall. It’s berserk. An hour ago they were dead on their feet and now they are coming at you like an out of control freight train. I have to leave again, another trip to the hotel, this time to pick up Girlschool. Not good news on my arrival as only Kim and Jax’s suitcases have arrived. More autographs outside the venue and once safely in the dressing room with beer, wine and Jack Daniels, I go out to catch the last couple of songs of Venom Inc. They’ve whipped the crowd up and The Babes, standing next to Hermien, comment on how good they are. I let Hermien know that only two of the suitcases have arrived and he gives me a pitiful look.
Venom Inc. are back in the dressing room, beyond exhaustion, having given 100% to their show. I congratulate them on getting through and they nod their appreciation. Girlschool are now fired up for the gig, George is still the consummate professional and I tell him it’s always a pleasure to work with him. He thanks me and we agree to meet for a beer sometime. Bang on 8:30pm, Girlschool hit the stage to the opening riff of Demolition Boys. This is my time now. I’m back in 1980, a fan, who has had a long journey getting to the gig but everything is forgotten while those girls are on stage. Likewise, their lack of suitcases and stage clothes are put to the back of their minds as they belt out a set of NWOBHM classics. I enjoy watching the audience watch them. I’ve seen Girlschool over a hundred times in my years but for some here, it’s their first and they are ecstatic. Kim dedicates Nothing To Lose to ‘Glenn, one of the original Barmy Army who is here tonight’ and I feel quite proud that she said it. Tony comes on and sings the Motorhead classic Bomber with them; this is a special night for me and everyone else here.
The show is over but no one seems to leave. Backstage, the dressing rooms are teeming with people, at least half of which don’t seem to have backstage passes. I start to tap those people on the shoulder and ask them to wait outside to give everyone a bit of air. Those that leave mingle with the fans waiting for autographs or head to the bar as I try and organize everyone’s guitars and bags that are going back to the hotel. George and his crew are hampered by fans as they try and push the equipment through the venue so I clear a path to make things easier; Joe keeps an eye on it for us. When the girls emerge from the dressing room, they are swamped. Album covers thrust under their noses to sign, pens shoved in hands and a barrage of questions shouted through the pandemonium. It’s still going on forty minutes later when we have to leave and it’s a struggle to get the bags and guitars from the dressing room to the minibus through the throng but it gets done and then it’s just a case of getting Girlschool and Venom Inc. onto the bus. Easier said than done and I dump the responsibility on Joe whilst I guard the bus with all the luggage. Twenty minutes later, we pull away and another ten minutes later we arrive at the hotel. Still no suitcases.
It’s 5:30am the following morning, Monday June 24th and that is departure day for Girlschool from Tokyo; they are flying out to Australia tonight. I’m awake drinking coffee and planning alternatives for what to do if the two missing suitcases don’t arrive this morning. As the hours tick by, I formulate half a dozen plans, none of which seem better than any of the others. In the end I decided to forego my morning off, head over to the hotel and see what I can figure from there. I arrive around 10am, everyone has finished breakfast and some are having coffee. I check with the hotel staff one final time about the suitcases but there is no news from the airport and unless we hear anything by midday, they won’t be coming today. I talk to Kim and she mentions that when they filled out the lost luggage form at Arrivals, there was some extra paperwork she was given that she gave to the hotel receptionist when she arrived. I asked to have a look and she fetches it from her room. On it, is a tracking number, different to the one I had which was on the lost luggage form Kim filled out. After a few minutes on the internet, I find a worldwide ‘lost luggage tracking’ website and start to reverse input information until I find tracking numbers for Denise and Tracey’s suitcases. I print off a few sheets of paper, grab Denise and Tracey’s original forms and tell everyone that I’ll go out to Narita and see what I can do. It’s now 11:10am and we have to leave the hotel at 4:45pm for Haneda. Narita is at least an hour and a half drive so time is tight.
At Narita, I find the information desk and hand over the forms. I explain what has happened, the current situation and that the band are leaving Japan from Haneda today. The lady behind the counter nodded her head, picked up the phone and within five minutes, one of the baggage staff appeared to see what he could do. I explained it again, he went away and came back ten minutes later with another staff member who was trailing a suitcase - Tracey’s suitcase! I asked about Denise’s but he said he couldn’t locate it. I asked if it had arrived in Tokyo and he replied that that it most likely had but could have been mislabeled in Moscow which is where the bags were lost. We talked for a few moments and then I made a suggestion, a suggestion I cannot repeat here because after talking with his junior in Japanese, who kept looking at me and saying nothing, he allowed me to do it and he shouldn’t have. Suffice to say some forty minutes later, I had both suitcases and was heading out of the car park. It was almost 2pm.
Of course there was an accident on the way back but fortunately I could exit the expressway before I got caught up in the traffic jam and wind my way back through the suburbs of Tokyo. It was 3:50pm when I proudly walked into the lobby with two suitcases to be greeted by…no one. Hermien sat in a corner idling on his phone and told me they had gone shopping. I called Monica and Sakura and told them to get the girls back here ASAP. Wisely, they had not ventured far and were back in a few minutes,
Tracey shed a tear; Denise gave me a hug started asking what had happened but I urged them both to shower and change as we are out of here in less than an hour. I ran through the events at Narita for those that were hanging around the lobby already set to go and right on leaving time, the elevator doors opened and two very happy members of Girlschool emerged with big smiles on their faces. On the way to Haneda, Tracey commented that her first trip to Japan, a country she has wanted to visit for decades was marred by lost luggage. Everyone agreed but reassured her they will be back and I make a mental note to make the next trip a bit more special for everyone in some way. For now though, it was my turn for a big grin as the laughs, the jokes, the insults and expletives came thick and fast; Girlschool banter at its finest and after saying my goodbyes at Haneda and letting them know that I’d be in Australia the following weekend to see them, I drove off into the dusk looking forward to a cold beer at home.
Tomorrow I will drive Venom Inc. to the airport and the following day get The Babes to Kyoto on Wednesday night after their show in Tachikawa. That’s for tomorrow though; for now, there’s nothing more needed than that beer – make it six.