The life on the road is full of coincidences. This one still blows my mind. 2007 and I am touring New Zealand for the 2nd time. I get booked to play the 121 Cafe in Auckland and spend the day hanging out with the awesome barman Shinya. We get on well drinking coffee and talking music and travel. Cut to 2010 and I am playing a club in Chiba, Japan. I’m chatting to this cool guy after the show who speaks great English and plays the Sitar. He mentions living in New Zealand and at the same time we realise the reality.
One year later and I am playing the same club and Shinya and I share the stage together for the 1st time. What a wonderful experience it was. We jam out an improvisation and then I segway into my (at the time) unreleased song ‘Modern Life’. Shinya skilfully follows along like a boss 🙂
OK so this whole thing has come as a total shock. And over the days since the announcement of her passing I’ve forgotten and remembered time and time again. Truth is Chisuzu was the mother of the music venue Toppers but also of a significant branch of the music world in Chiba and beyond.
An accomplished Drummer and all round lover of music in all it’s forms Chisuzu and her Husband Naoshi worked hard and with great respect and patience for the local musicians in order to bring people together and create. I once went for a meal with them where I remember them talking with great passion about their love for the music of many British acts especially Roy Harper. It was clear to me that they had studied these artist with great detail and for them as husband and wife it had become a common bond.
For me personally meeting and working with both of them was a god send. I toured Japan 7 times playing concerts and it was really the selflessness of Chisuzu and Naoshi that helped to make it worthwhile. I felt they really respected me and that is SO so valuable when you are living a transient and often unsure existence.
Chisuzu often encouraged other local musicians to talk to me about collaboration. And this often manifested itself in Toppers and Anga where Chisuzu and Naoshi were consistent in organising events. Through Toppers I had the fortune of working with Bassist Steve Marcotte, Tenor Sax player – Graham Taylor, Sitar player – Shinya Sakura, Drummer – Michael Slaught, Guitarist – Tsutomu Miya and Keyboardist Fiji Hayashi.
Chisuzu remained one of the bright lights in what can feel like a dark and often indifferent world on the road. As I have been working on new material for some time now Chisuzu was one of those people that I was excited to be able to present my new work too as I feel she would always welcome new material and would match the excitement I would feel in presenting it.
As I type even this post it still doesn’t feel as though she has gone. My memories of her are so clear and not being in Japan to feel the difference in person can lead to a surreal sense of disconnect.
My thoughts go out to Naoshi and the family as well as the extended Toppers folk.
Rest in Peace Chisuzu. You will be greatly missed.
Haco is a composer, vocalist, electroacoustic performer, sound artist, and a founding member of After Dinner (1981-1991) and Hoahio. She has created numerous recordings both as a producer and engineer based in Kobe. In her live performances, she uses voice and self- programmed electronics as an organic method. With her “howling pot” performances, which make creative use of feedback, and “Stereo Bugscope,” which captured oscillating sounds emitted by the circuitry of an electronic device, she had developed a new genre of art.
Haco will be bringing new songs from her seventh album Qoosui (Someone Good/Room 40). She uses voice and self-programmed electronics as an ‘organic method’ in her performance, accompanied by video images shot and edited with Mariko Tajiri. Qoosui has won critical acclaim from music and art magazines and has been played on numerous radio programs in Europe, North and South America, Oceania, and Japan.
The grainy photo below is of Myself performing as a member of My Pet Junkie roundabout the turn of the Millennium. Behind me on the drums is long term collaborator Leon Camfield who to this day still performs with me when schedules allow; and stood next to me on the Bass is good friend and one time My Pet Junkie original member Richard Porter.
Richard was an essential part of My Pet Junkie’s birth and he performed with the band for over 2 years before moving on. He Performed on both of MPJ’s EP’s before we signed with Riverrun records to make our first album.
Following Richards departure from the group Julia Bell stepped in to take low end responsibilities and we have remained the same line up since 2001. However Richard has remained a constant pillar of support over the years surprising us by turning up at shows unannounced numerous times between his own many journeys to Dubai and the US among many places.
In 2016 I received a message from richard which read “I thought you might be interested in seeing a guitar my dad has just finished (this is number 5 or 6 I think) his plan for this one is to pass it onto a touring musician who uses it, but then passes it on to another musician and they use it and pass it on and so on and see how far the guitar can travel around the globe.” So Intrigued by this I contacted Richards Dad – John Porter.
He has taken the time to build guitars simply by teaching himself from the internet. He sources the wood from scrap and turns it into something again useful and quite frankly beautiful.
John had just finished building a beautiful new guitar and as it says above he wants it to travel. My brother (who incidentally was the man who got me into guitar) was able to meet him and pick the guitar up for me.
And then suddenly one day – there it was – in my possession…..
Now as much as I love guitars I have over time come to see them as basically a tool for a job. If they need to be slowly destroyed for the sake of making the right sounds then so be it. Not to say I generally mistreat them but I use them very percussively and that does increase the wear and tear no end.
However with this axe I felt it truly deserved total respect and every time I would play it I wanted to be delicate and gentle.
Within the guitars sound hole read a note from John:
“This Guitar is Free To The World”
And so it’s journey had begun. I was honoured to be one of the 1st to play it and so it was next to work out where it would next go.
As always these things seem to direct themselves and no longer had I had the guitar arrive I was contacted by on old friend.
Can you play at my wedding was the request of one of my dearest oldest friends P.
She was due to be married a couple of months later and wanted me to perform a totally acoustic version of the John Martyn classic ‘May You Never’ at her wedding.
I was honoured and scared to be asked and to be performing a piece I loved so much but was also petrified of attempting.
But as the performance was to be totally acoustic and the guitar was not an electro-acoustic. It seemed fated that my performance would be the live debut of this beautiful instrument.
And so it came to be that in the summer of 2016. I performed the John Martyn classic in front of the wedding attendees….
Using my new homemade 6 stringer.
However the story did not end there. P’s new wife Sarah was an accomplished musician herself. She performs under the name Little Sister Blue. Later in 2016 she was due to fly with P out to Japan in order to start a new life. It seemed somewhat fated that this purpose built travelling guitar should start clocking up some miles.
In the same day it had made not only its 1st public performance but also it’s 2nd – With it’s new owner.
Sarah and P would perform a wonderful duet later the same day and so the process of it’s travel from me to her was complete.
The guitar is now living out in Tokyo with Sarah and from there who knows next.
It’s been over 3 years since I last released something new.
However 3 albums were made available for the first time by other artists who had asked me to contribute to their work.
November 26th saw the 1st full length album of Electro group from Italy ‘Zero Call‘. We had collaborated back in 2012 with a track called ‘This College Year’. https://stuartoconnor.bandcamp.com/track/this-college-year-feat-zero-call
Now as 2015 wraps up it’s a pleasure to share this new collaboration.
The song is called ‘Vertebrae’ and was recorded early in 2015.
It is taken from the album ‘Soft Power’. Released through Future City Records.
It can be bought in it’s entirety from these links digitally but hold off if you’re a physical music fan because it will see the light of day in a couple of weeks on 12″ Vinyl.
I had discovered Haco’s music around the time I became professional. It became a soundtrack to my earliest touring memories and in 2010 I was lucky enough to collaborate with her at a concert in Kobe.
This led to a distance collaboration where she reworked and sampled four of my songs into her own album ‘Secret Garden’ Released through Nuovo Immigrato Label. Earlier this year she returned to the UK and we performed tracks from the record.
This is one of the tracks from Secret Garden with a beautiful video by Karen Vanderborght.
Stevie Jones and the Wildfires
Also 2015 saw the release of a long awaited album by UK group Stevie Jones and the Wildfires. I have known Stevie through years of gigging and he remains one of the hardest working musicians. I stopped by in the studio with him and his band back in 2014. Completion of the album occurred in 2015 and it saw it’s release back in October.
His album is called ‘Stratigraphic Heart’ and I play on 2 tracks either on guitar or chimes.
As for my solo work I did re-release 2 albums which had sold out in 2013. They were parts 1 & 3 of the 4 album project – ‘Go Forth Bright Scenic‘.
The Electronic album ‘Go’ was originally on a USB Pen stick and is now out on CD and the more singer acoustic ‘Bright’ was originally released on tape cassette but now also sees the light of day on CD.
Get in touch to find out how to order these or you can download them from here: https://stuartoconnor.bandcamp.com/
So a song that started as a lazy free session with my friend Ollie in Brighton went from having no explicit plan and ended up being released 2 years later on my ‘Bright’ album in 2012.
I then began touring the material and when on the road in New Zealand I had the chance to rehearse for a couple of days. I took this as an opportunity to attempt to make ‘Ons’ a part of the live set through the use of live looping. 3 days later I Debuted ‘Ons’ live at a show in Auckland. Ons went onto be performed in Asia and Europe.
When I returned to the UK this live video was made:
In 2014 I received a message from a musician I respect and admire very deeply. Her name is ‘Haco’ and she had contacted me to request that I send the sound files for ‘Ons’ to her so she can work them into her own music.
About 18 months later I received further correspondence from Haco, She had finished her new album ‘Secret Garden’ and wanted to released ‘Ons’ with her on vocals. Renamed ‘Whitening Shadows’.
In 2015 Haco toured the UK and we performed the song together.
I found it wonderful to think back on the journey the recording had made from Brighton out to Australiasia and then into collaboration in Japan. But the travel did not stop there.
The filmmaker Karen Vanderborght who is based in Toronto had contacted ‘Haco’ expressing a desire to make a video to the song.
And so here it is:
So from 2010 to 2015 and from Brighton to Toronto via Asia what started as an off the cuff jam session has sprouted wings.
Maybe this is not the end of the journey for the Ons. But I must remember it all started with my good friend Ollie.
Sometimes a song just takes on a life of it’s own. I cannot begin to understand it but there is a special something in a recording that cannot be replicated and gives a piece of music it’s own lease of life.
I have been lucky enough to see a song released under my own name (but not written alone) venture from the UK to Japan and then onwards to Canada. In this 2 part blog I will attempt to breakdown the journey of the most well travelled song I have ever been involved with.
In 2010 when touring through the UK stopped at a friends place in the City of Brighton for a couple of days. I was relieved to have a place to stay (sleeping on the sofa in a front room of a shared house) which got me out of the tour van.
I was visiting my good friend and fellow musician Ollie George.
Ollie and myself have been good friends for a number of years. Meeting through music and especially in the early days of my touring career we shared the road.
As our friendship grew we begun to influence each other musically introducing each other to bands and artists that we admired. One of whom was ‘Haco’; a musician from Japan who’s influence had been significant for me. Naturally we begun to collaborate when time allowed; and over those days in 2010 in Brighton we layed down the basics for the track ‘Ons’. It was a very carefree session and we would swap instruments amongst us to record specific parts. Ollie chose the title of the song ‘Ons’ as a reference to Ollie n’ Stu. But since it’s release I toured the Netherlands to discover it translates as ‘Us’ in Dutch. It is also accidentally fits with the abbreviations used by the UK Government for the Office for National Statistics. This too has some lyrical relevance to a degree.
The song lay dormant for a couple of years whilst I was on the road out of the UK. But even in it’s demo form I was hooked to spinning it to myself. Ollie had stamped his mark all over a tune that I don’t feel would have existed without his input. Not only did he compose the original Keys (hook) line. But he also insisted I don’t sing too many lyrics keeping the song simple.
In 2012 I took the session to a producer I was working with called Craig Harris. He added extra keys and drums to the tune tastefully completing it ready for release. It would be released on the album ‘Bright’ in October of 2012.
‘Ons’ was used by college students for a video project:
Please check back for (part 2) in a couple of days time where the story of ‘Ons’ makes it’s way out of the UK round Asia, Australasia and ends up in Canada.
The show back in 2010 was a 35 min improvisation which went on to be released on Vinyl LP in 2012.
Between then and now I released some solo material of which 4 songs were sampled by ‘Haco‘ when she was working on her new album ‘Secret Garden’.
So the collaboration continues moving from a live environment to studio. But the truth be told I am not even beginning to emphasise the extent of influence her music had on me. It was being a big fan of her work that inspired me to venture to tour Japan for the 1st time back in 2009 and to have met her at all was a honour. So to be collaborating is beyond any expectation.
This once again resulted in us being able to join forces for a performance of `1-2-Seppuku`.
To say it was the perfect send off from the land of the rising sun would to be honest be a lie.
I was littered with technical issues and found it hard to relax.
Then to top it off this was a rare time in which a member of the audience was noticeably loud. She was gabbering away in Japanese ignorant or just choosing to ignore the fact this was a acoustic show with an otherwise very respectful and attentive audience.
I wanted to tell her to be quiet but did not want to destroy the atmosphere for the show for others.
Alas I think I made the wrong choice as the situation only ended up frustrating me further.
Still it was awesome to see and share the stage with NolenNiu-de-Ossi once more. A truly great undiscovered gem of a band.
During their set later in the night the same lady with her loud mouth proceeded to run it. I could see how much of a distraction this was being to Yasushi and Toruko from the stage.
I took great joy in telling her to shut the fuck up. I don`t think she fully understood me but she got the message from my tone of voice. It was great to see this bring a smile to NolenNiu-de-Ossi and they thanked my after 🙂
And from there that was it. Tour done and job done. From here I took the train back to Tokyo and got ready for my flight to the next destination.
Socrates is simply a crazy place. Always showing perverse and twistid visuals on it`s TV screen coupled with almost every band I`m lined up next being deep into the world of noise and experimentation.
This was my 2nd time frequenting this venue and was no different.
Sandwiched between Goth, improv, industrial and yep J-pop. I felt adiquatly out of place.
The set list reflected the randomness of the vibe with Electro dirge `As Stubborn as a Sandfly` kicking things off. Also later in the show `One Schizophrenic` made it`s debut live performance. To fill the gaps I was able to loop the cymbals and snare from the house drum kit.
It is rare that any songs from the `Scenic` album get any live air time due to the complex nature of the recordings.