Tonight we’re gonna ‘Rock Japan’, the way Expozer did in 1980. Fair play, this is a band that could never have accumulated the funds to ever play Japan, but that’s one of the things that makes this song so special…

I’ve already talked about Jaguar and Tysondog in previous posts, so today I’ll be focusing on another band playing at Garage Dayz Revisited (in the capital on Saturday 27th June 2015). One of the most interesting bands (in my opinion) of the era, Tokyo Blade… The main reason I consider them to be important is because they’re a band that triggers questions, which I feel inspires discussion and heightened interest in the NWOBHM.

For anyone that has heard the debut, Question One should be the typical ‘why are they not better known today?’ The answer in Tokyo Blade’s case is ‘the usual standard NWOBHM issues’, line-up changes, management troubles etc… But there’s always more to it than that isn’t there? I’ll mention some of these more interesting reasons later…

Question two should be ‘what’s the big idea in having an Asian themed NWOBHM group?’ That’s a fucking amazing question, which it would appear no one has been able to offer an adequate reason for. So let’s just dwell on this issue for a bit… There were a surprising number of examples of what I like to call ‘Eastern fetish’ bands, including Chinatown…

Singapore from Mid Glamorgan (I find any song that it uses the late 70s/early 80s term for the female of the species ‘bird’ funny. Here’s ‘Bird With no Wings’ from 1979, it’s quite special!)

Chinawite from Yorkshire (Deliberate spelling error? Perhaps we’ll never know). This is from their 1983 7″…

China Doll from Portsmouth (their 1980 7″ is really upbeat but rocking with some pretty good bass wizardry thrown in).

Samurai (both the Welsh one and the one that became Samurai after using the equally unoriginal name Prowler)…

Here’s the Welsh bunch with ‘Fires Of Hell’ (1984), which I would refer to as a throbbing slab of NWOBHM doom. If you ask me, by not following the Sabbath copyist route they come across as more doomy than Witchfinder General… What do you think?

Tora Tora (according to Wikipedia; the Japanese codeword used to indicate that complete surprise had been achieved. Tora (虎, pronounced [tòɽá]) literally means “tiger”, but in the case of the attacks on Pearl Harbour it was an acronym for totsugeki raigeki (突撃雷撃, “lightning attack”. So now you know…)

Here’s ‘Red Sun Setting’ and it’s B side ‘Highway’, their 1980 7”.

Tony Mills, the singer from Shy had a pretty heavy group called Siam (an exonym ((In ethno-linguistics, exonyms are names of ethnic groups and where they live which have been applied to them by outsiders)) formerly used as a name for Thailand) in the early 90s. Anyway, here’s the title track from 1994’s ‘The Language of Menace’…

Cardiff’s Tok-io Rose (who chose that spelling because amazingly (according to Malc Macmillan there were ‘at least half a dozen’ bands using that name within the UK and elsewhere).

And Saigon, whose 1981 7” ‘times like These’ is so rare very few people have heard it.

Oh, and of course the Triarchy single ‘Save The Khan’ has an Eastern influence, and vocalist, bassist and keyboardist Mike Wheeler is thought to be genuinely of Asian descent…

(Despite there being a Malaysian city called Masai, that Hampshire band’s penchant for wearing safari suits on their embarrassing album cover exposes them as a rare example of ‘African explorer’ themed NWOBHM meaning they don’t qualify for the ‘fetish for all things Eastern’ list).

Seemingly random Eastern references from UK hard rock bands date as far back as 1974 with Shanghai (who used this gloriously ridiculous album cover).

So why did these bands have an obsession with Asia? Some blame Iron Maiden, for their song ‘Genghis Khan’ from ‘Killers’ (1981).

Am I alone in thinking that this instrumental sounds infinitely more ‘Eastern’ than anything done by Tokyo Blade or the other Eastern fetish NWOBHM bands? Interestingly, Tokyo Blade were once called Genghis Khan (what with their original title Killers being somewhat predictably used by a number of other groups) between 1980 and early 1983 (when they had to change their name to Tokyo Blade due to other European bands having caught the Eastern fetish bug a little before they did thus having the rights to the Genghis Khan name)

Iron Maiden’s ‘Genghis Khan’ is a pretty intense piece that really shows off the virtuoso skills of the Iron Maiden machine (especially Clive Burr’s drumming) throughout a series of movements that lead to a quick galloping Mongol Invasion style riff that a more clichéd metal geek might refer to as being ‘as merciless as the Khan’s military machine’. This is the ultimate NWOBHM instrumental, the production is authentically raw (without sounding rough), it doesn’t dwell on solos meaning it doesn’t drag, although at 3:10 it’s long enough to leave an impression, and sound convincingly like a song about Genghis Khan. In my opinion everything about this song is perfect, but it’s pre-dated by some of the other Eastern fetishes above, and realistically the song’s just not significant enough to have inspired all these bands to suddenly adopt an Asian theme.

Maiden were already big in Japan when they released this in 1981. Was the idea of calling the band ‘Tokyo Blade’ an attempt to contrive a ‘big in Japan’ status? There is a rumour that has since been put to rest saying that the name change from Genghis Khan to Tokyo Blade occurred because of pressure from the Maiden management as that band sometimes played secret gigs in the guise of Genghis Khan. This ain’t true though (although it’s a charmingly weird coincidence that Tokyo Blade’s two original names are both song titles from the second Maiden album)!

Although Maiden using this pseudonym may have been partly influenced by the already established tradition of UK bands making Japanese live albums…

Heavy metal was huge in Japan, which is why many bands decided to record live albums there. The earliest example is Deep Purple’s Made in Japan (1972), a project the band invested a large amount of effort and money into in order to make it polished enough to kill the market for bootlegs of their gigs. In the process it redefined the concept of the live album. Judas Priest’s Unleashed in the East followed in 1979, and captured the speed and intensity of Priest in the live environment (although Halford’s vocals were apparently re-recoded due to the originals being ‘damaged’, however it matters not, in my mind the record is a relic to Priest before misinterpreting the NWOBHM trend and making the over-rated ‘British Steel’ in 1980). Things came full circle when Iron Maiden adapted Purple’s album title as a hilarious pun for the ‘Maiden Japan’ EP in 1981.

A fashion developed in Asia for reinterpreting Western rock styles in the 70s, so there were some pretty convincing metal bands in Japan around the time when the NWOBHM was kicking off in the UK. Loudness released ‘The Birthday Eve’ in 1981, and it’s insanely good. Here’s ‘Rock Shock (More And More)’ from that album…

Although their self titled debut came out in 1985, Anthem apparently formed in 1981… This is put to shame by Earthshaker who formed in 1978 (although if they are named after the 1981 Y&T album as so many sources claim, the band must have had a different name prior to this year)! I wonder what these groups may have thought of the Tokyo Blade debut? Do the Japanese find our Eastern fetish strange because they saw it as a mirroring of their own Western fetish that spawned Loudness, Anthem and Earthshaker? Is it insane to wonder if Tokyo Blade’s intention was to flatter a dedicated Japanese audience by trying to acknowledge their culture? If so perhaps this was considered a failed attempt at being derivative (of a developing tradition that already wore it’s NWOBHM influences on it’s sleeves)? If anyone has any information on Japanese perceptions of British ‘Eastern fetish’ bands and they felt inspired to offer some evidence, it would mean so much to me if you could leave a comment at the bottom of this post!

There are a few examples of the Japanese bands working with some well known NWOBHM characters, Iron Maiden’s Adrian Smith had some involvement behind the scenes with Earthshaker’s debut album in 1983, contributing the song ‘Dark Angel (Animals)’ to the record. NWOBHM legend Chris Tsangarides produced Anthem’s 1987 Album ‘Bound to break’ 1988 ‘Gypsy Ways’ 1989 ‘Hunting Time’ the 1992 album ‘Domestic Booty’ as well as Loudness’ very weird but nevertheless brave (and ultimately successful) attempt at surviving the grunge boom, ‘Heavy Metal Hippies’ from 1994… Where the Japanese really put us to shame is in the quantity of albums these bands have released. Loudness have managed 26 full length albums, Anthem 16 and Earthshaker 22. AND THEY HAVE NEVER CHANGED LINEUP! Are the Japanese more committed than the British? Did they have luckier breaks? Or are these supergroups populated by superheroes? None of them seem to have aged much in 35 years, here’s a recent photo of Anthem (OK so the guy at the back may have changed a little

Mind if NWOBHM Anthem butt in here? Back to the UK in 1981, here’s ‘mind if we butt in’…

Phew, I almost lost focus there…

The reason for Eastern fetish NWOBHM could just be as simple as NWOBHM groups wanting to mirror Asian culture because it was considered cool thanks to martial arts and ninjas being featured in movies  and comic books?

OK where was I? Question Three, how do Tokyo Blade albums hold up?

The first two, ‘Tokyo Blade’ (1983) and ‘Night of the Blade’ (1984) hold up really well. The first one in particular is incredibly special. The track-listing of the debut has changed a fair bit over the years. I’m used to the track-listing on my mp3 version (which I think dates from 2011) with ‘On Through the Night’ instead of ‘In The Blue Ridged Mountains of Virginia’, a song where they appear to be dabbling in drunkard bluegrass for some reason. Perhaps a band meeting could have prevented this from appearing on an otherwise perfect record? (it’s possible that I tweaked my own tracklisting in iTunes, so still buy this record if it has ‘Blue Ridged Mountains’ on it, it’s only  just over a minute!). Here’s ‘Mean Streak’.

Pretty incredible, huh? They followed this up just a year later with a record that updated their sound, but retained that ‘shredding’ edge… Some people consider ‘Night of the Blade’ too commercial, which I personally think is insane. Between records they showed progression, but I don’t think in this case that’s a sign of weakness. Personally I prefer the 1997 reissue that has the original vocals from Alan Moore (the band replaced Moore and re-recorded those tracks with new vocalist Vicki James Wright) before releasing the record). Here’s ‘Dead of the Night’ from that record, which throws so much into the pot but still sounds epic in under 4 minutes, which is no mean feat…

(Alan Moore started up his Shogun ((another Eastern fetish NWOBHM group, Wikipedia says ‘A shogun (((将軍, literally “military cop ” or “general”))) was a hereditary military governor in Japan during the shogunate period from 1192 to 1867’, now you know!)) project at the end of 1985. This also featured another Eastern fetish veteran Andy Gwilym from  Chinatown who had also spent some time with the legendary Tyrant from ((my birthplace)) Gloucester)

Following this success, Tokyo Blade ditched their label Powerstation, and following some singles they decided to make themselves look ‘prettier’ with hairspray and make-up, and release ‘Black Hearts and Jaded Spades’ album. Sonically they went in a bit of a ‘sleazy’ style rather than focusing on the more high energy songs, which looking back was probably not the greatest decision. Despite making so much effort on how they looked, they didn’t seem to invest so much time into the general appearance of the album cover…

What were they thinking? What are we supposed to make of this tanned skinhead monkey holding a heart-shaped grenade? OK, so the debut did look a bit crappy,

TB is not a great acronym, what with it Meaning ‘Tuberculosis’. They almost get away with the cartoon demon though.

I’ve always been a bit confused by the cover for ‘Night of the Blade’ though. Look at the warrior’s hands… Are those gloves, or just armour-cuffs that fade into the rest of the airbrushed image? If he’s cutting the flag he’s not doing a very good job of it. Can he move in all that armour? It looks like someone who has been so comically covered in armour that they can’t perform the simple task of cutting a piece of fabric. The ‘Blackhearts’ cover looks airbrushed too, I wonder if they knew a bloke up the pub who ‘could airbrush’?

As with many NWOBHM groups, the band hit a stage of their career where line-up changes became pretty frequent. I’m not doing the Schindler’s personnel list thing today, so lets just summarise by dismissing the next 3 albums for the decline in quality they demonstrate… However a bit further down the line Alan Marsh and Andy Boulton (the only consistent member in Tokyo Blade) got back together with a project called Mr Ice. The recordings of this unit were put out as a Tokyo Blade album in the mid-90s, and this record is pretty damn good. The reason I mention it here is they use the crappy TB ‘Tuberculosis’ logo again in THE WORST ALBUM COVER OF ALL TIME.

Again, would it have killed them to have a band meeting before making these decisions?

Let’s just say a few more things about Shogun. I’m quite fond of the 1986 debut album, despite the crappy drum sound (Bob Richards has played with Adrian Smith’s Untouchables project and even filled in for AC/DC’s Phil Rudd during the recording of the ‘Play Ball’ and ‘Rock or Bust’ videos earlier this year, so this is not representative of his talents) that sounds almost programmed. Thanks to a minimalist album cover it looks infinitely less shit than some of the Tokyo Blade examples. Here is ‘Burning Down The Night’, which I hope you agree is mind-blowing…

One slightly crap thing about the album is the way Chinatown’s ballad ‘Time Will Tell’ appears to have been copied and pasted into the second track…

I tried to rectify this by doing them the justice of showcasing their 1981 single ‘Short and Sweet’ at the start of the post…

One more thing about Shogun, they were a Total Eastern fetish overload. When Shogun split, keyboardist Ian Marshall played with an unrelated band from the Noth West called Tokyo! … If that isn’t evidence for an unhealthy musical obsession with the land of the rising sun (despite playing heavy metal in a decidedly Western style) I don’t know what is…

Question four, how authentic is new Tokyo Blade?

Really authentic. There are tonnes of (quite rightly) positive reviews of 2011’s ‘Thousand Men Strong’. An pretty sturdy line-up from the first two classic albums, with a new vocalist who does justice to the material of both Alan Marsh and Vicki James Wright. Here is ‘The Ambush’…

Phew. I’ll conclude by saying the Eastern fetish thing is such a strange cultural phenomenon, which is best portrayed by the first two Tokyo Blade albums, which if you don’t already have them you should buy immediately, they are amazing.

You can get tickets to Garage Dayz here, you’d be insane not to, we’re lucky enough to be at a phase in the history of our incredible musical niche where experiencing these bands is accessible, affordable, and un-missable. See you at the front…

(One last thing, does anyone know why the 1981 Buffalo 7″ ‘Battle Torn Heroes’ appears to have Asian characters all over it?

It also says ‘made in England’, was this single exported to Japan?)