The Japanese Connection part 1: Mr. Katoh interview

In the first of a series of articles focusing on Japan, Yuka from SIS Japan interviewed Mr. Katoh (or Katoh-san as JJ calls him) in the company of JJ.

From his involvement in their Japanese record company, Mr Katoh has been the band’s man in Japan since their first visits to the country in the late seventies and has become a close friend of the bassist over the years…

Yuka  How did you first get involved with The Stranglers?

Katoh It think it was 1976 or 1977, it had already been about a year and a half since I left Warner Pioneer which I worked before I joined King Records.  I spent about 4 months in the US during that period, wanting to become a recording engineer/producer.  One day King Records contacted me and asked me to join them as UA records became part of them.  I casually went along to see them but it turned out to be a job interview and they asked me what I thought about King Records.  I slagged them off saying that they were not selling records that were in charts abroad.  However somehow they hired me.  Rattus Norvegicus had already been released outside Japan then and a person who was in charge of The Stranglers there before me had tried three or four times in their meetings to release it but with no success.  I think the album title in Japanese was really weird, something like Nezumi Kozo!?! (Yuka virtually means a Rat Boy.  Nezumi Kozo is a Japanese chivalrous thief in the Edo period who was said to steal to give the poor).  So I started working at King Records and saw their catalogue where I found The Stranglers and, Electric Light Orchestra who were already very successful abroad.

Y I think there were big paper bags of ELO.

K Well, I then was told that the Stranglers were already making a noise in the UK but their albums were not released in Japan yet.  It was my first time to listen to their music then and I thought their musical quality was very high.  Sound was in a way not that clear comparing with other punk bands then, but The Stranglers had much heavier sound and it was more powerful, almost destructive.  I also found them excellent players and they had really high quality in music construction.  I simply thought ‘They are great!  They will be very successful!’ (Yuka Great judgement!)  So I prepared this hand-written booklet called ‘The Stranglers book’ which was my first job at King Records.  My colleagues thought ‘What’s he doing, not going out for promotional work?’ but I said “We need this kind of things” and started promotion using this booklet. When Japanese release was decided, I received a telex from Kick van Hengel of UA records in the UK saying they could send Mr. JJ Burnel, bass player to Japan for promotion.  We immediately said “Yes, please!”

Y Was that when JJ came to Japan on his own?

K Yes, it was his first visit to Japan and was for interview promotion.

Y Had you met any other band members before?

K No, I only met JJ then.

Y So JJ was your first contact of the Stranglers, right?

K That’s right.

Y I see, so it was the first time for you two to meet and this is the schedule for that visit…

K Yes, interviews all day long, and it was a tight schedule. When JJ was arriving, three or four people including my boss at King Records went to the airport to see him but, even after two or three hours after his plane landed, he still didn’t come out…  We asked the airport staff but they didn’t know anything…  We later found out that they paged us but I don’t think they actually did.  Anyway we waited and waited and finally JJ appeared with a huge bag.  We had no idea what he had in there but it was full of LP records, about 40-50 of them and lots of Melody Makers, the English music paper, with the major Stranglers articles in.  They were all for promotion.  He said “All yours!”  So we asked “Where is your stuff?”  He said “Here.” and showed us a plastic bag from some kind of shop!  He had only his passport in there.

Y Why was he held back?

K I don’t know.  As he had so many records, they might have thought he was going to sell them in Japan.

Y What was the problem?  Do you remember why you got stopped?

JJ Because on the flight over, before landing, there was a landing card. It says reasons of visit, and I just wrote ‘promotion’.  The immigration people saw this and probably thought that this was paid as a work.  So it was a misunderstanding because I put, in good faith, the purpose of the visit was ‘promotion’, so they thought I was being paid but I didn’t have a work visa.  But I wasn’t being paid, so I think Katoh-san or other people from King Records explained that to them.  I was held for a few hours before I was released. In those days the journey was much longer.  We stopped at Anchorage in Alaska so we went the opposite way, we didn’t go over Russia.  It was about 18 hours in those days and I thought they were going to send me straight back to London.  And it was a long fucking journey!

K&Y Good that you could finally come out!!

K We picked him up at the airport and took him to a hotel in Tokyo, and JJ was met by Mr. Tatsu Nagashima, head of Kyodo Tokyo who brought The Beatles to Japan and who was the most globally well known person in the Japanese music industry.  I was so surprised to see him as I didn’t expect such a big figure in music industry would come to see JJ visiting for just promotion.  So we had him go through the promotion itinerary over meal.  JJ then asked Mr. Nagashima if there are problems such as motorcycle gang or drugs.  He answered “No, as Japan is a clean country”. I thought ‘No, no, no, that’s not true!’  We then left JJ to rest but I thought I should tell JJ the truth of Japan.  I called and told him what I couldn’t tell him in front of the big guy.  We became more friendly with each other since then.  After that was a crazy schedule of the promotion for two days.

K By the time all the interviews were over, everyone in the music industry was talking about JJ.  There was a gathering of people from different record companies in Akasaka that evening and everyone was interested in JJ as he was the first punk musician who had come to Japan.  They all wanted to see him so I took him to the party, however it was so boring for him with someone singing some CCR (Japanese pop band) songs on Karaoke.  JJ looked so bored, and when he was asked to give a word, he actually said one word “Bollocks.”.  I translated it into Japanese, and they took it seriously and got angry. So JJ and I left there.

Y So that’s how you got more relaxed with each other?

K Yeah.  I thought JJ must have been so tired after all those interviews so I went up to his room as I wanted to give him a shiatsu massage.  I asked him to lie down.

Y What did you think when he asked you to lie down?

JJ He actually offered me some grass first, and I said “yes please”.  He then came up to my room and offered to give me a massage.  I wasn’t so sure about that (grin)…but I said OK.  A joint, a massage and then I went to sleep.  It was lovely.

K But he misunderstood about the massage and started taking off his clothes.

Y    Top and bottom?

K He first took of his top, and then started taking off his jeans, so I said “No, no, no, you don’t need to do that”.

JJ Yeah yeah yeah! I said, oh…OK!

Mr Katoh & JJ at Keith's house

Y So JJ’s next visit was for Karate, is that correct?

K Yeah.  At first he was staying at my house but it was small and our toilet was a  Japanese style one!  When he first saw the Japanese toilet, he had no idea how to use it. Hahaha!

JJ Yeah, I remember sleeping at Katoh-san’s house.  The bed came out from the wall…

K No, no, no, it was a futon mattress we took out from Oshiire (Japanese style closet). I found JJ quite funny.  When he came out of the bath room one day he had a towel hanging from his head like long hair saying “Ted Nugent!”.

JJ Oh no, I don’t remember that! (laughs)

K When he was at my house, I played various records and among all he got to like African records called Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey and His Inter-Reformers Band, Juju Music.

JJ Ah yes, yes!  One thing that Katoh-san gave me was a compilation tape which I kept for many many years.  He introduced me to African Juju music.  It was Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey and His Inter-Reformers Band.  It was the first time I’d heard of this music and I had the tape for many years.  It was great, really good! It took me a long time to remember the full title, but I thought it was great.

K So on this visit JJ did all the promotion and went back to the UK, but before he left Japan, he wanted to see a Karate Dojo. I took him to one in Ebisu which was introduced to me by a person who was working in King Records.  There were lots of kids and it was not something he was expecting.  He wanted to see dojo for adults so his next trip to Japan was a private one to join Kyokushinkai.

JJ It was 1978.  Their HQ was in Higashi Ikebukuro.

K I took JJ to their HQ and we were going through procedure when Mas Oyama came out.  Someone shouted “Kancho is going out!”.  Then all his deshi (students, disciples) lined up to see him off.  Kancho Oyama brought such a feeling of tension.  He had totally different aura and even I straightened up my back. As I said earlier, because my house was small, JJ was staying in Keith’s in Yotsuya.  It was ARB’s apartment and was nice, big and they had a western style toilet.  In addition Keith was a good cook.

JJ Good cook?  I don’t remember that…

K But even after that JJ came to stay at my house sometimes.  King Records was in Gokokuji near Ikebukuro so I went to pick him up at the dojo after work, we did shopping and took a bus from Meguro to go home. One day he had five-men kumite (fight) or something at the dojo and came back with pain in his chest or stomach.  However he was still going to the training.  A few days later he went to hospital and found that his ribs were broken.  He called his management in the UK and was told to get back to the UK immediately.  So JJ, you left Japan much earlier than you planned, didn’t you?

JJ Yeah, I couldn’t train anymore.

K He seemed to be in agony.

JJ I don’t know who got me a flight but I got a cheap flight on Aeroflot via Moscow.  It was the cheapest flight at the time.

K After that, UA in the UK invited me to their gigs in the UK as a reward for my work.  The Stranglers then were being boycotted by the GLC so they couldn’t play there and I went to a gig in Stafford.  The venue was quite big like a cow palace with capacity of about 5000 to 6000.  Their support band was Steel Pulse.  It was my first time to experience The Stranglers’ live show and it was absolutely awesome!  The first half of the gig was with usual colourful lights and it was good enough, but as Hugh shouted “Black and White!” midway through the show, the lights suddenly changed to the aircraft light, only white light and it was sooooo cool!  That made them look like they were playing in a huge cage.   JJ lifted his leg up high and was slowly turning around as he played the bass – that was just too cool and I was so impressed.  I was introduced to the rest of the band members after the gig for the first time.

Stafford Bingley Hall 1978

Y So you first saw their gig there, and then did they come to Japan for the tour?

K Yeah, but while I was in the UK, JJ said that he’d show me graffiti in London. I was just watching at first but I was afraid. They came by car to pick me up at my hotel and drove to a pub near a desolate roundabout in East Finchley and told me to wait in the car.  I was completely freaked out by that sight.  Then Dennis Marks and Pete Enter who were two heads of the Finchley Boys came out with JJ.  Pete was wearing flip-flops with a bit of afro haircut and was far from my image of punk.  They rolled their eyes at me first and told me to come into the pub but I was awfully scared.  However I went into the pub with them.  What I saw there was a bunch of thuggy-looking guys…(laughs)  I thought, ‘oh no, this doesn’t look good at all!’  Well I got relaxed after a while and I played snooker a bit and we moved to what it looked like an abandoned house where they checked a map.  I didn’t know what the graffiti was and I only had an image of the movie American Graffiti.  I found out what it was when we went to the site and thought this is not a joke.  Then Dennis told me that I should write something in Japanese and gave me four cans of spray.  So I did, and then Dennis told me to sign my name so I wrote my boss’s name because I could see that’d put me in trouble.  When I got back to Japan I got a telex from UA in the UK saying that I need to present myself to the court in London or hire a lawyer.  I was so surprised!

Y What an experience.  What happened to your appearance order to the court?

K Not sure if it was a joke but it was only as trivial as illegal parking.  I was however a bit worried because there was a talk of a Lizard (Japanese band) recording in London and I was worried that I might have problems entering the country then.  I was renewing my passport then though, and as a result there was no problem at all.

Y So you met all The Stranglers and saw their gig then?

K Yeah, that gig is still the best, coolest gig in my life.  It was shocking, almost traumatic.

Y How was their album release selling in Japan then?

K It was going strong and on a rising note in Japan.  The company was reluctant to release the first album as it was turned down many times in meetings before I joined the company, in addition as I was the new one just joined from other company. They at first pressed 1,000 or 1,500 so I was pushing the sales guys.  I told them that there’s no doubt it would hit the chart.

JJ So that was spring in 1978?  I think that Black and White tour was March/April ‘78, somewhere around that.  And then later I went to Kyokushin that year.

K So my memory is wrong…

Y So in chronological order…first JJ’s promotional visit, your visit to the UK by invitation, the first Stranglers’ tour in Japan, JJ Karate visit, then the second tour in Japan, right?

K I think so.  Going back to the album sales, Rattus started with the initial quantity of 1,500 but it got more and more. It soon reached 3,000, then to 6,500 and eventually just over 10,000.  Then the company realised that The Stranglers sell, so the No More Heroes album was their main one right from the beginning and I think it was actually the best selling non-Japanese album in King Records except for the Carpenters.  As the sales jumped up the company’s attitude totally changed. At that time Japanese record companies were not seriously pushing punk bands except for the Sex Pistols at Columbia Records.  There weren’t many magazines which aggressively carried punk articles and even the trade papers said that punk would not be successful.  That really pissed me off and I thought I’d definitely make The Stranglers a great success. So I got together with people from Columbia and Polydor records and organised what we called a video concert for promotion. We didn’t use big venues but showed promotional films at cafe or bars in areas like Koenji where there were some punks.

Y I remember going to some too. So Rattus started from 1,500 and eventually sold about 10,000.  What about No More Heroes?

K It eventually got to 60,000 to 70,000.  No More Heroes already had 15,000 as an initial number but I challenged the Sales team saying the number was too small.  As a result the sales grew even more and it went more with Black and White.  I can’t remember clearly but The Raven probably had 60-70,000 as an initial number.  That was an incredible ammount then and admittedly the biggest number by far among all punk albums released in Japan.

Y I see.  As for singles, why did King records choose to release Sometimes as the first Japanese single rather than Peaches?

K Sometimes was just right for our marketing image that we had… I simply thought Sometimes would be a big hit.  The Japanese market and sense were different to those in the UK so I thought it’d be Sometimes rather than Peaches here.  Also we didn’t have a promotional video for Peaches

Y Then the band came for their first Japan tour in February 1979.  Black and White was already released here then.  Do you remember much about the first tour and how it got decided?

K When their tour was becoming realistic, Ian Grant who was their manager then came by himself to meet with Tom’s Cabin, the concert promoter.  We went to a concert together to get ideas about concerts in Japan.  I think we had a detailed meeting about the tour then.

Y How was the response from the Japanese public when the band first came to Japan in February 1979?

K It was fantastic.  They were regarded as the first big punk band to come to Japan.  We also had a lot of promotion and the band had exposure even in those music magazines and paper that weren’t carrying any punk articles so they were quite well known by then.  When they played at Korakuen Hall, a lot of Japanese bands like the current J-pop bands came to see The Stranglers and they were drawing a great deal of attention.  They particularly thought how JJ played the bass guitar was really cool, and it created a buzz. There were three dates at Korakuen Hall with more than 2,000 audience at the first visit which is not something anyone could easily do.  That proves how strong the momentum and popularity that The Stranglers had was and they were the most successful by far.

Dave & Jet, Japan, Feb 1979

Y The band have described it as their first real experience of fan hysteria. What made Japanese youth go so mad for the band?

K The biggest reason is that they are cool.  That’s it.  Their music/songs are good and they are skillful musicians.  They are so different to what they call guitar punk bands and musically, for example, Toiler has completely unique composition and it’s great.  Musically they were totally in a class by their own.  In addition JJ was doing Karate and  interested in Japan.  They had the biggest influence on Japanese punk bands.  People all liked the Pistols as a fashion icon but The Stranglers were the core in terms of spirits.  JJ’s words also had huge influences. 

Y How were The Clash doing then?

K I don’t think they were being promoted that much then.  They were popular among core fans but they were nowhere near The Stranglers in terms of the record sales.  Sex Pistols were in a different league but it was only one album.  On the other hand, record sales of The Stranglers kept going up each time they released a new album.

Y Do you remember much about the first tour in February 1979?

K I was extremely busy.  I put interviews before and after the shows, etc., just so busy. Now I see this tour itinerary and remembered that the band came to Japan early for the various interviews, and there was a plan for a two day rehearsal at S-KEN studio but I think they could only go there for one day.  They did so much before they started the actual tour.

Sightseeing Feb 79

Y So they worked for a while first and went on the tour.

K Yes it seems.  It says in the itinerary ‘Shinjuku Loft Welcome Party’ but I don’t remember going there.  Maybe we cancelled it.

Y I’m not sure about the party but I think we all went to the Loft without any prior notice…  Did we go to see Lizard there?

K Maybe that was it… When we went to S-KEN studio, I didn’t know anything about it but there were film crew for some reason.  There might have been a rumour that The Stranglers were rehearsing there but we didn’t know why the film crew were there.  (Watch Death & Night & Blood here and Hanging Around here) They were actually making a film called [Tokyo Rockers] with all Japanese bands but they said that they wanted to include The Stranglers in it.  At first we had a fuss with them but I managed to have the band agree for the filming.  At that time their manager was not with us.  He came later to Japan as he was going to New York to get a leather jacket for me.  Do you remember that leather jacket I gave you Yuka-chan?

Y Ah, yes I do remember!  That hard, heavy leather jacket!?

K That’s right.  It was too small for me. Anyway, as Ian was not there yet he asked them to send the film to the UK so that he could check it to give his final approval.  However they didn’t send it to him.  I’m not even sure if they actually showed it officially…  When it was completed, I saw it once at a film editing company. Then the tour started. 

Y So you were just so busy and don’t remember much about it, right?

K Yeah, it was all work.  There was so much to do anyway.  On their second tour later that year, Hugh said he wanted to go to a sauna before every show.  He went everyday wherever they travelled to.  He would eat udon noodle after the sauna.  JJ was saying to him that he wouldn’t be able to play if he had sauna before the show!

JJ Honto (really)? Oh I don’t remember that at all.  But I do remember that Hugh fell in love with a little Japanese girl.

Y Ah yes.  Was it on the first tour?  I don’t remember her name but I think it was a young girl…

JJ  She was VERY young.

Y Wasn’t there a rumour in the UK that Hugh was going to marry that girl?

JJ Yeah.  Well she was young enough.

K I don’t remember much.

Y By the way regarding that leather jacket you gave me, you asked me not to tell JJ about it as he asked Ian Grant with goodwill.

K The jacket was so small for me.  I told JJ about that but he said that leather would be softer and it would fit as you wear.  So I wore it for quite a while but it didn’t stretch to fit at all.

JJ Ah, sumimasen (I’m sorry).  Too bad that it didn’t fit you.  So Katoh-san gave it to you then?  I don’t remember asking Ian though…

K But it was a bit too big for Yuka-chan wasn’t it?

Y That’s right.  It was so hard and heavy but I wore it for a few years at least.

JJ Oh honto(really)? Good.

Y So late now but, thank you Ian!

K Also you gave me the jacket you are wearing on the Rattus album.

JJ Oh did I?!  With the fur collar?  Ah, I wondered what happened to that.(laugh)

K After your promotional visit, I was at Haneda airport to see you off and there you took off your jacket and T-shirt telling me “You wear these.”.  You gave me the red T-shirt and leather jacket you had on the Rattus album.

JJ Oh really, that red shirt too?!

K Yeah, that one with short sleeve.  I was surprised that you suddenly took off your clothes at Haneda airport. Also I can’t remember if it was the first or the second tour but we went down to a bar in Grand Hotel in Osaka.  There was a British heavy metal band…I can’t remember well but one member was bald.  They were already having drinks there but as soon as The Stranglers went in, they quietly sneaked out the bar.

JJ Well it was a wise thing for them to do (laughs).

K However the girls who were with the heavy metal band stayed! (big laugh!)

Jet, Japan 1979

Y So the first tour was a great success.  They were the first punk band to play in Japan and they were awesome and so influential, right?  Then the band made a return trip to tour Japan in December of 1979 as well.  Touring in a country twice a year is rare, was that due to an exceptional demand for the band?

K I can’t remember how that developed but what I remember is that the record sales jumped even more due to their first visit.  I think the second tour was after The Raven was released, right?

Y Yes, with the huge Raven backdrop…

K Yeah yeah!  Before the band came on stage, a light beam came through the Raven’s eyes.  That was so cool! On the second tour, they played at Korakuen tent didn’t they? It was a much bigger venue than on the first tour.

Onstage in Japan, Dec 1979

Y There were many cages backstage and there were actually animals in there.

K That’s right.  Keith tried to make an orangutan or chimpanzee smoke a cigarette and got hit or bitten on his hand.  Keith injured his hand. (laugh)

Y What else do you remember from the second tour?

K They arrived at Narita airport.  I went to see them and they came ou, but JJ was angry.  I had no idea why he was angry with me but the reason was that I didn’ send Lizard’s album (which he produced) directly to him.  When their sample album was ready, a mtual acquaintance was leaving for London the following day and offered to take it as it was much faster than post.  I thought it was a good idea and accepted the offer.  However, JJ was mad with me that I didn’t send it to him directly.  JJ, you were angry all through the tour.

JJ   Honto??? Ah yeah…I remember I was angry about something like that..

Y I remember you were in a bad mood on the second tour unlike the first tour.

JJ Oh, sumimasen (I’m sorry)…(Big laugh)

K I’m beginning to recall many things as I talk like this.

JJ Yeah, me too. Watashi mo (me too). 

Y So your main memory of the second tour is that JJ was in a bad mood, right?

K&JJ Yes, angry. (laugh)

Y Do you remember anything else?  Were there so much differences between the first and the second tour?

K On the second tour they had a different set list…(laughs).  Outside Kyoto University Seibu Kodo there was a bonfire which we were enjoying and, as their equipment was wireless, they started playing the guitar and bass outside, and we could hear the audience roar inside the venue.  There were many barriers in the venue so the band members went in from the back of the venue taking away those barriers.  They were getting rid of the barriers as they played, and it was absolute chaos right from the beginning at each gig.

Y I see.  Was it at Korakuen Hall on the first tour where there was a guy looking like the Nazi and JJ talked to him?  Also when the band came on stage, there were girly screams and they said “We are not the Bay City Rollers!”

K Yeah, yeah, it was at Korakuen Hall.  Wasn’t that on the second night?  The band played Something Better Change as the first track and played it over and over.

JJ Yeah I remember those things.  We did Something Better Change three times in a row because we didn’t think anyone understood what we meant.  And the guy in the Nazi gear – I don’t think he understood what he was doing and why he was referred to.

K Oh I just remember that the security was so strict at Korakuen Hall and JJ asked me to come on stage to translate into Japanese.  However I was not that fluent in English and the whole place was in a frenzy of excitement so I couldn’t hear him clearly.  So I said the gist of his message that was to calm down but that made people even more excited  and some people actually got injured.

Y I remember some audience were shouting at the security “You are Yakuza boy!” but I don’t remember someone was injured.

K Yeah, a girl was taken to hospital by an ambulance.  I went to the hospital to see her later.

JJ Really?  I think it was a bit of cultural misunderstanding.

K There was something similar happened on the second day.  Audience came up on stage one after another at Korakuen Hall and I was sure that I’d be called to the stage again so I hid myself.  But as so many people got on stage, the stage floor broke and there was a hole which we couldn’t actually see because there was a black carpet on stage.  It was so dangerous.

JJ Yeah yeah!!!  I remember it was broken!

K The hole was quite big.  There was turmoil, troubles, happenings all the time and I thought I didn’t know if I could survive. One day during the second tour we had a meeting with Tom’s Cabin, the promoter about 11PM (a Japanese TV programme) on Shinkansen (bullet train).  11PM was prepared to accept the band’s request so they wanted to know what the band exactly needed.  Hugh and JJ explained the band’s idea on Shinkansen.  They wanted the stage made like a dark bottom of the valley with only white light from above.  The band members would paint their faces all in white just like a Noh mask to make the whole stage an image of Black and White.  And at the end they would break the set, or something like that.  So after the tour was over we had the band and all the crew remained in Japan…here, this hand-written ‘20th’ added (on itinerary).  The crew went to the Nihon TV studio in the morning to set up the equipment.  There were so much stuff especially around the keyboard.  When they got everything ready, I went to the Nihon TV studio with the band but what we saw there was just an ordinary set totally different to what we requested in the meeting.  So Hugh and JJ said that was not what they wanted so they were not playing, they’re off.  We all went Whaaaaaat?! A person in charge at the promoter kneeled down on the ground and begged them to play, but they said NO!  I wanted them to play but couldn’t push them hard.  However on Nihon TV side, they were furious as 11PM was one of their lead shows.  A few days after the tour ended, I went Nihon TV to apologise with our director.  I personally didn’t think that we needed to apologise and had a big argument with my boss because the coordinator failed to communicate the band’s request and as a result the set was not the band wanted so they didn’t play.  What’s wrong with that?  However record companies are the ones who ask them for promotions that means we were in a vulnerable position so I eventually went to Nihon TV to apologise.

Y I see there were problems and you went through a lot on the second tour but the tour itself was a huge success, right?

K Yeah, the record sales went up and their popularity was remarkable. 

Y After the second tour, they had The Meninblack after The Raven.

K I left King Records before The Meninblack was released.

Y Following the 1979 tours, were you disappointed that the band didn’t return again in the next few years to keep up the momentum of those first tours?  You left King Records but you could have kept the momentum.

K Oh yes it was disappointing and I missed them.  I had to leave the company of necessity.  But even after that they sent me postcards and letters from the US while they were on tour there for example.  Then when I was working at Tokuma Music, after King, a Belgian unit of a boy and a girl who JJ produced visited Japan and visited me.  We weren’t able to close a contract with them though.

Y Did you work with the band after that in those days?

K I went to see them when they came to play but it was not business.  I was managing  a Japanese band called Stalin in Tokuma and I was busy touring with them.  I think JJ was touring with ARB, right?  At that time Big Country was touring in Japan and Ian Grant was managing them and contacted me.  At the same time Keith also happened to invite me to their party at Shinjuku Loft.  So I took Ian to the Loft and met JJ there.  I went to see The Stranglers when they played at Shibuya Kokaido and in Kawasaki but I couldn’t really even talk properly in Shibuya as there were big guys from JJ’s karate organisation.

JJ Yeah, was it 1992?  I was going for dinner with Kancho Soeno.

K I think I met the band after the gig at Kawasaki Citta.  I said to Dave “Long time no see!” and Dave went “Who are you?”

JJ Dave doesn’t remember anyone. (laugh)

Y Hugh had already left the band when they came to Sibuya and Kawasaki, hadn’t he?

K Yes.  I still remember the article in NME with JJ’s photo with a title “Where are Hugh baby?” as if that’s what JJ is saying.

Y That is this copy.  This is the page of NME Katoh-san faxed to my office out of the blue.  You were at HIP right?  We bumped into each other at some concert.  I went to the box office and somehow you were there.

K It could have been Depeche Mode or PIL?  I toured with them.

Y Maybe.  It had been such a long time since we last met so we exchanged our contact number.  Then a while later this NME article which had nothing to do with our business suddenly came out of the fax machine, asking me if I knew anything about Hugh’s departure.

K I thought JJ in this picture looked so sad.

Y We didn’t know anything about it。

K Well as I speak, I recall little by little but I’m sure there were a lot more happened.  I can only remember rubbish.

Y After that the band didn’t come to Japan for several years.  Did they still send you postcards and were you still in touch with them?

K No.  I was still buying their records though. Then at around 2000, my friend told me about JJ’s interview article in a magazine where he mentioned me at the end of the interview “Kato-san, how are you doing?”.  I was so touched by that, so impressed that he still remembered me!

Y Did you contact him after reading it?

K No because I had lost his contact.  After that I was told that the Tokyo Rockers film that was shot at the rehearsal studio was planned to be released on DVD.  They wanted an approval from The Stranglers and asked me to help them.  I got JJ’s email address from someone then so I emailed JJ and he replied.

Y When I met JJ at the convention in 2001 after years, I think he was saying that he’d heard from Katoh-san too and all his Japanese connection had come back… Maybe I emailed Katoh-san after that and got together again…  JJ, maybe you gave it to me…  By the way did you come to Japan a few times before that?

JJ Yeah, with Shidokan.  Also for ARB and Keith.

Y Then you came in 2004 for your 6th dan grading, and for the animation Gankutsuou project.

K I heard about that anime also from Yuka-chan.

Y Yes, and from around that time Katoh-san started getting involved again.  The band then came for Summer Sonic, Punk Spring, also there was JJ’s acoustic show at Shinjuku Loft.

JJ And also at one point, I went to Shinjuku Loft with Billy Idol!

K I can’t remember that.  I saw Generation X in Tokyo though…

Y By the way live video footage (with the Raven backdrop) which was allegedly filmed on one of the Japanese ’79 tours appeared in the No Mercy video. Do you recall if any of those ’79 gigs were filmed?

K No, I don’t recall anything about that.  When I look at this old itinerary, it seems that there was a TV shoot…oh no, it’s a FM radio.  There was no shooting so no footage…

Y I see.  Well you now see JJ every time he comes to Japan.  Has it been like this about 10 years now?

K Yeah, after Norfolk Coast was released.  When we got together after all those years JJ looked at me and grinned, and asked if I could co-manage the band in Japan.  That’s how I got back again.

JJ That’s right.  It was before Suite XVI was released.

K Oh I remember something from those days.  It was during the second tour, King Records were arranging a dinner with the band, crew and Keith.  We went to a barbecue restaurant in Yotsuya Sanchome that Keith suggested.  When we were leaving after dinner, it was raining and Keith went out saying “I’ll get a cab”.  He has a paper bag with two wine bottles in it and stopped a cab.  However, there was a group of a girl and three men who stopped the same cab just in front of Keith.  He complained that he was first and they got into an argument.  As it was raining, his paper bag got wet and ripped and both wine bottles dropped and broke so Keith got pissed off and they got into a punch up.  I tried to stop them but also fighting in a way.  Then there came JJ and it was all over in seconds!  He didn’t actually punch but did something like sundome (Karate term: stops just before actually punching).  Mind you, the Yotsuya Sanchome crossing is right in front of the police station, and we saw a bunch of policemen and police cars coming towards us.  Oh shit! we thought and said to each other “you know which hotel we are staying? OK, run!”  We all went different streets and alleys and threw the police off the scent.  After we got back to the hotel, we checked everyone was back there.

Y How many of you were you in total?

K Can’t remember exactly but quite a few as we were with King Records staffs.

Y Did any of your colleagues try to stop the fight?

K They probably didn’t know what was going on.

Y Funny.  Now going back to the earlier topic, you have been seeing JJ every time he comes to Japan as a friend if not on business.

JJ & Katoh san, October 2014

K Yes.  Soon after I was asked to manage the band here, Suite XVI was released so I looked for a record company which could release their album.  Also one day I bumped into a friend from EMI Publishing and asked “You used to be in charge of The Stranglers, right?”  So I said “I’m back in contact with them again.”  Then I was asked to contact the band as they wanted to use their music for a commercial.  That’s how their music was used for Hitachi Wooo TV commercial.  It was a live recording of which rights belonged to a German label so I contacted the UK management and eventually the one from the current line-up was used.

Y That TV advert was on for quite a while, but there was no credit.

K I know, there were reasons in industry,,,

Y Starting from Gankutsuou, they became more active around Japan such as Summer Sonic, Wooo CM and Japanese release of Suite XVI.

K Yeah, at Summer Sonic, I was able to see the band’s gig for the first time in ages.

Y It’d been such a long time since we last law the band in Japan so we were both almost in tears watching and listening to them at the sound check, weren’t we?

K Yeah, yeah, we were so moved!

Y Next one was Punk Spring.

K Yes.  They haven’t had a headlining tour yet though.

Y Both of us at SIS Japan will continue to do whatever we can do. You sure have experienced so much.  It was so interesting to hear all these valuable inside stories and anecdotes!  Thank you very much for your time today.

K My pleasure.  I will tell you if I recall more! 

Y It was such a fun interview and we laughed so much.  After the interview Kato-san said “For the past 10 yeas or so I’ve been casually seeing JJ as a friend but as I recalled and talked about what I experienced with him and the Stranglers, I realise again how great the band and JJ are”.

Thanks to Katoh-san for his time, his memories and use of his memorabilia & photos. Thanks too to Yuka for conducting this interview and supplying images for use in the article. Thanks also to Rieko of SIS Japan for her photos. Following soon-part 2: Keith from ARB…

SIS Japan have also published this article (in Japanese) with extra photos & memorabilia included here