Interview: Graham Bonnet on new Alcatrazz album | “It will be released in 2020”

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo with Alcatrazz. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Graham Bonnet, one of the best and most iconic voices in rock, has been a frequent visitor to Japan. Recently he was back in Japan for an Alcatrazz tour as well as a guest appearance with Impellitteri. Roppongi Rocks’ Stefan Nilsson had a brief chat with Bonnet about the reformed Alcatrazz. 

More than five decades have passed since his first hit single. But in 2019, California-based Englishman Graham Bonnet is better than ever. Bonnet’s past includes having fronted Rainbow, Alcatrazz, Michael Schenker Group, Impellitteri, Blackthorne and much more during a long and varied career. At 71, he is still here, he’s still singing and he’s still very relevant. In recent years, he has reunited with several of his past bands, including Michael Schenker and Impellitteri. His main touring and recording activities are currently centred around Alcatrazz and Michael Schenker Fest, both highly successful, not least in Japan.

This year you have reformed Alcatrazz. What triggered this after a couple of great albums and touring as Graham Bonnet Band? “Three things: The music of the Graham Bonnet Band sounded like it could be a continuation of the Alcatrazz music. We have Jimmy Waldo in the band. He is an original member as well. Also, new guitarist Joe Stump really helps make this band sound like classic Alcatrazz. Add to this the continued request to perform Alcatrazz music and it seemed like the logical thing to do.”

The reformed Alcatrazz performs quite a few Rainbow, Impellitteri, MSG, Graham Bonnet Band and your solo songs. Did you ever have second thoughts about doing this while performing under the Alcatrazz name? “Alcatrazz in the 1980s performed songs I did with Rainbow, MSG and solo. It’s the same thing, there is just more of it in the catalogue now.” 

The new boy: guitar wizard Joe Stump. What a find! How did he end up in the band? “Our manager Giles Lavery was aware of him and found him.”

Initial Alcatrazz gigs have mainly focused on material from “No Parole for Rock’n’Roll”. Will you perform more material from the other Alcatrazz albums at future shows? “I think some songs from ‘Disturbing The Peace’ will go into the set for sure. ‘Dangerous Games’ we did a couple from two years ago in Japan. It’s hard to play everything but we hope to get to it all eventually. We keep the setlist interesting from tour to tour.”

Will you record a new Alcatrazz album any time soon? “It will be released in 2020!”

Since you reunited with Michael Schenker on stage here in Japan in 2015, both your and Schenker’s careers have picked up. What led to that 2015 reunion where Graham Bonnet Band was supporting Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock and you also guested his set? “An agreement between our manager Giles and the promoter that I would perform with Michael. Obviously, that got everyone thinking and it became Michael Schenker Fest. It all happened at the same time as we were doing the Graham Bonnet Band albums.”

Graham Bonnet on stage in Tokyo with Alcatrazz. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Marty Friedman up close and personal in Shibuya

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Marty Friedman and his guitars, a smashing Japanese backing band, a near-flawless setlist and a Rock Fujiyama reunion. Not bad for a Friday night in Shibuya.

Marty Friedman at Living Room Café & Dining, Shibuya, Tokyo on 5th July 2019

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Billed as “Guitar Spirit of Unagi Night”, guitarist Marty Friedman once again offered his fans in Tokyo, his adopted home town, a very special evening in an intimate venue. At the end of the evening, this show has turned into the best Marty Friedman gig I have ever seen.

Rock Fujiyama reunion with Rolly, Kenny Guy and Marty Friedman. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The evening kicks off in an easygoing fashion with a half-hour Rock Fujiyama reunion. Rock Fujiyama was a TV Tokyo show broadcast in 2006-2007. The show’s hosts included Marty Friedman, Rolly and Kenny Guy and this evening the three men reunite for some storytelling, casual jamming of rock tunes such as “Hound Dog” and “Summer of 69” and plenty of banter. It’s a laidback and very fitting start to a great evening.

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

After a brief interval, Marty returns to the stage with his terrific Japanese backing band. Marty opens the set with “Devil Take Tomorrow” followed by “For a Friend”. The setlist is close to flawless. We get emotional Marty, we get funny Marty, we get rocking Marty and – most of all – we get ridiculously talented Marty. He is no doubt one of the best and most original guitarists in the world right now. It doesn’t matter if he’s playing a ballad or rocking out, whether he’s playing an acoustic guitar (as he does on a splendid version of “Midnight in Paris”) or shredding away on an electric guitar. He’s still top dog, king of the hill, leader of the pack. His all-Japanese backing band consists of world-class musicians with not least bassist Kiyoshi showing us why she’s one of the best in the business. New drummer Senri Kawaguchi looks rather innocent but she’s a beast behind the drums.

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The show is basically instrumental and the focus is more on ballads and calmer songs, although we do get some heavier music as well. Combining Marty’s guitar with a string section consisting of a cellist and a violinist creates magical music. There is so much beautiful emotion in many of the songs performed this evening. The absolute highlight of the evening for me is an exquisite and explosive version of “Whiteworm” from the 2017 album “Wall of Sound” where not only Marty but all the band members get to shine. Another standout moment is a perfect version of “Night” from Marty’s 1992 solo album “Scenes”. Music doesn’t get much more beautiful than this. Other terrific moments include “Lovesorrow”, “Tears of an Angel”, “I Love You”, “Undertow”, “Yuki no Hana” and “Thunder March”. We also get to hear the beautiful “Japan Heritage Official Theme Song” and “Romance no Kamisama”. Among all the good stuff from Marty’s extensive solo catalogue, Rolly makes a reappearance at the end of the show to perform his recent glam-rock single “Eejanaika”. Marty and the band then close a fabulous show with Marty’s version of Sayuri Ishikawa’s classic enka song “Amagi Goe”.

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The sold-out venue, a music, art and dining space in the middle of Shibuya, is excellent for this type of show. People come early and have a bite to eat and a few drinks before the show kicks off. The audience is seated and everyone present is up close and personal with Marty and the band. After the show, Marty joins his fans and spends a long time chatting and signing autographs. Marty knows how to treat his fans well. 

Marty Friedman never disappoints me on stage, but this evening goes beyond that. This is the best show I’ve seen with him. So far…

Marty Friedman on stage in Shibuya. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Thunder marks 30th anniversary by showing Japan how British rock is done properly

Danny Bowes of Thunder on stage in Kawasaki. Photo: Emili Muraki

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

British rockers Thunder celebrate three decades of rock with special Sit Down/Stand Up shows in Japan showcasing great songs, a great band and the exquisite voice of Danny Bowes.

Thunder at Club Citta, Kawasaki on 9th June 2019

Thunder has over the past three decades matured into one of the best-ever classic rock bands from England. I have seen them live numerous times, first in England 22 years ago and then multiple times here in Japan. This band always delivers. They seem incapable of having an off night. This Sunday evening in Kawasaki the band is as solid as ever with a rhythm section consisting of Harry James on drums and Chris Childs on bass, guitarists Luke Morley and Ben Matthews and vocalist Danny Bowes. On this Japan visit, they have brought along keyboardist Sam Tanner who adds some flair with a great overlay of keyboard wizardry. The Japan shows are divided into two sets – first, a sit down semi-acoustic set which, after a brief interval, is followed by a full-on rock set. Thunder excels at both. 

During the Sit Down set we get treated to “Serpentine”, “River of Pain”, “Bigger Than Both of Us”, “Future Train”, “Blown Away”, “Girl’s Going Out of Her Head”, “A Better Man”, “Empty City” and “Stand Up”. It’s a great collection of bluesy, grown-up songs. It’s a nice and efficient way of getting this evening off to a lovely start. The scaled-back versions of the songs really show us how good the songs are and how good the band is.

Thunder on stage in Kawasaki. Photo: Emili Muraki

When the band returns to stage for the Stand Up set, they are ready to rock. Luke Morley is sporting a Flying V-style guitar to show us that now it is indeed time to stand up. They kick off the second half with “Loser” and follow it with “Higher Ground”. This is how proper British rock is done. Danny Bowes is one of the absolute best British voices of rock. Every time he starts singing, I am in awe. That voice, that feeling he has in his voice, is a very rare talent. During a fantastic evening of Thunder music, the absolute highlight for me is “Love Walked In”. But there are many more great moments this evening, including “River of Pain”, “Resurrection Day”, “Black Water” and “Backstreet Symphony”. Basically, there are no dips in this terrific 22-song show. We get some rarely performed songs such as “Once in a Lifetime” and “On the Radio”. They finish a fab evening with an encore consisting of a playful version of Wild Cherry’s classic “Play That Funky Music” and, of course, “Dirty Love”. They may have been around for 30 years, but I hope this band will be with us for many years to come. 

Thunder on stage in Kawasaki. Photo: Emili Muraki

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Interview: Marco Mendoza in Tokyo with Viva La Rock | “I love to entertain!”

Marco Mendoza in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Marco Mendoza is best known for his work as a bassist with bands such as Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy and The Dead Daisies. But he’s also a very active solo artist. When he recently visited Japan with his “Viva La Rock” solo trio consisting of drummer Kyle Hughes and guitarist Conrado Pesinato, Roppongi Rocks sat down with Marco Mendoza at his hotel in Roppongi for a chat.

This is the third time within a year you’re visiting Japan – you did a The Dead Daisies Japan tour last year, a gig with Nozomu Wakai’s Destinia in January and now a couple of shows with your own trio. “Now I’m here with my thing and we are going to go to the moon, man. To the moon! I love Japan. I’ve been coming here since…1991, I’d say, maybe. So, it’s been part of my career for a long time. We definitely have a lot of friends here and we get a lot of support. A lot of love. Even though they are so far away and it’s a small island, there’s a lot of music lovers here, so it’s good to come back.” 

You have been here in Japan many times over the years with different bands, but this time it’s the first time for you as a solo artist. Does it feel different? “It’s always special when I’m doing my own music. I love it! I can’t wait to share my stuff with the folks. I don’t want to sound pretentious, but I think the sign of a true artist is somebody that’s constantly opening new doors of creativity and testing yourself. And you keep pushing yourself. I’m not one to be, my career would attest to it, I’m not one to settle down and enjoy the fruits of my labour, because there’s so much going on. There are so many directions you can go. I’m one of those guys who have dabbled in quite a few. When I get back, I am playing at the Big Potato with my jazz thing, a Latin jazz funk band. I love it, man. Music – you can say I’m addicted to it. Addicted to performing. I’m looking for the next best show, always trying to improve, always trying to reach a new high. When you’re fronting your own band, of course, for me it’s more rewarding. There can also be a little pressure, but I don’t let it. I’m very lucky that I have a lot of things going on. My career doesn’t have to depend on what happens with my solo stuff. My solo stuff is just a side thing that I do for the love of it. And if it flies and it’s well accepted – beautiful! And if it’s not, that’s OK too. I’ll try again whenever I get another chance.”

Marco Mendoza on stage at Club Edge in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Drummer Kyle Hughes (of Bumblefoot fame) has been playing with you for some time, but these shows in Japan are the first-ever with guitarist Conrado Pesinato (Out Of The Woods, ex-Graham Bonnet Band, Alcatrazz, Hardly Dangerous). “I’m very lucky that I get to play with the best players I can possibly get my hands on. In the past with my solo project, I’ve used quite a few players. My friend from Italy, Nicola Costa. Micky McCrystal from Tygers of Pan Tang, I’ve used him for quite a while. But my main guitar player was Soren Andersen. I brought him to LA and I introduced him to the LA scene and a lot of people there, including Glenn Hughes. I told Glenn; ‘This is your cat, man. You’re gonna love this guy.’ He’s very talented. He’s a sweetheart, he’s a good guy. A lovely person to hang out with. An amazing talent – singer, songwriter, producer. I knew that was going to happen – so he’s gone, real busy with Glenn. So, Micky McCrystal came in. Again, the guys that I choose are guys that are busy, they’re in demand. They have other projects like I do. It becomes a bit of a juggling thing. On this last tour, we started March 20th, I believe, in Portugal, in Lisbon, and my main guy right now is Tommy Gentry from Gun. Tommy was tied up with this other project for a week. And the dates were coming in, so I either let them go and wait until Tommy is available, but I decided to go. The way I look at my project is this: if I sell me and my music, if I show up, then I’m fulfilling the contract. For me, the players matter a lot. For the promoters, as long as I show up, I play my music, they’re happy. So, I booked shows based on that. He came with me for a week, then he went back, Micky flew back, Tommy came out. And we did that twice, kind of flipping. When the opportunity came to play in Japan, neither of the guys were available. They’re both tied up. Tommy is right now working with this artist in Sweden. It was a prior commitment for a long time. And Michael is in the studio with Tygers of Pan Tang. So, Kyle introduced me to Conrado. They’re good friends. I looked him up and he’s an amazing player. He lives in LA, so I’m like opening another door because my next step was… Right now, I’m getting offers to do some gigs in the US. I’m hoping that everything is good and everything works well. He’s a sweetheart. He’s really dying to play. He loves the music. For me, that’s where it’s got to start. When we get together, we play the songs together and it gels, it sounds great and I see him enjoying himself, and he really loves what he’s doing, then it’s a go. Now that gives me another option in the US for future dates. I’m getting a bunch of offers for the US, South America, Australia. The other thing that has to be part of who I bring on stage, who I play music with, they have to sing. That’s one of the requirements. Kyle sings great. Micky McCrystal sang great. Tommy Gentry sang great. And now Conrado sings. I’m a big vocal guy. My recordings have a lot of background vocals. I love that colour. I’m looking forward to it. We are going to play, for the first time, tomorrow, at soundcheck. We’re gonna rehearse the set.”

Marco Mendoza in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The “Viva La Rock” album was released last year and you have done quite a few solo gigs since then. Did you expect it to turn out this way or is the success a pleasant surprise? “It’s a pleasant surprise. This is my third album. I think, with the first album, I realised I didn’t do any live gigs. I did not support that album until a year and a half later, two years later actually. I realised I can’t do that. I gotta make time. With ‘Casa Mendoza’, it came at a time when I was really tied up with Thin Lizzy and really tied up with The Dead Daisies, making that transition. Black Star Riders and all that stuff. I really didn’t have time to support that album. Out of the three, it’s not my favourite. Oops, I said it! But this one is very special. I can listen to it now and I dig it. It sounds pretentious of me to say that, but I think the writing is getting better. I think the production is getting better, the playing, the lyrics… Everything about it is growing, it’s maturing. I’m excited about it and I want to play it. The next album, I’m having the same expectations. I’m hoping we’re taking it to the next step. Me and Soren were talking yesterday actually, to get our schedules together to do that.”

With your setlist now, do you focus a lot on “Viva La Rock” or is it more a mixture of your albums? “It’s definitely a mixture. But the main focus, I’d say 70%, if not 80%, is ‘Viva’. Because, again, the songs played live really work well. To the point where, if you’ve never heard these songs, when you hear them live, there’s the energy there, there’s something going on there. You see the people bopping. We haven’t got a lot of radio support and we haven’t got a lot of promo and marketing. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is. I’ve changed the set based on that – what works live? If I show up in front of, I don’t know, a couple hundred people that don’t know the music, and you play for the first time and you look at the reaction, you feel the reaction. You hold on to those songs. When you play some songs, you can tell when it’s clicking or not. You hold onto the ones that click and you kind of discard the other ones or have them on the back burner. One thing that I do insist on doing is not only just play the music. I love to entertain. I love to play with the audience. I’m a big believer in audience participation. I think that’s when it becomes special. When the audience becomes part of the performance in one way or another. So, people walk away with a smile on their face and they go: ‘Wow! We were snapping our fingers, we were singing, we were chanting, we were jumping!’ You know, it becomes a party.”

It seems you are already planning for the next studio solo album with producer Soren Andersen. “Yes. He’s an extremely busy cat. Not only playing wise, but he’s become, in the industry, a big name as a producer and as a mixer. Like big time. The projects that are going to him are unbelievable. So, we’re juggling things. I have this other project, Journey Through Time, so we’re looking at each other’s schedules and it’s looking like December right now. Things are changing as we speak, so him and I are going to stay in touch and I have been sketching out some songs. He’s been doing the same. He knows what works for me. We decided – and I hope we go that way – that we are going to strip things down even more and go smaller production and go for like the Faces sound, go for like the Free sound, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper… Go for the generic five-piece band, four-piece band.”

Marco Mendoza in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Will you record in Denmark again? “Yes, right now, that’s the plan. I told him I had a great time getting away from… As much as I love being home and my family, my wife, my kids, I like the idea of getting out of the scene and being out there in Copenhagen and being very focused. That’s what we did, the whole day – I would wake up, have breakfast, go to the studio and we would spend six, seven, eight hours every day. And the product was great, man! It was very productive. I think there are three or four songs left from that. We did everything in twelve days! I have, I shouldn’t say this, I have the ballad, man! Oh my gosh! I have the ballad that is a radio-friendly AOR, stab-me-in-the-heart kind of, what do we call them? Torch! The torch pop song! I have it! It’s ready to roll and I can’t wait to record it and put it out there. ‘Leah’, the one that I dedicated to my wife, that was given a great response, so much that we decided to do a video.” 

Do you still have recording deal with Target/Mighty Music? “Yes, we have an option. If both parties agree we move forward. We just have to iron out a couple of things, but I think that they did well. What’s good these days? I don’t know anymore. What’s left? What are the other labels that are left?”

Marco Mendoza on stage at Club Edge in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Being involved in so many different things, how do you prioritise? Does The Dead Daisies always come first or is it more complicated than that? “No, it’s not. It’s very clear. The Daisies are my first priority. Absolutely! The reason why you see me working a lot now on other things is because we are taking a break until further notice. We will make an announcement of things to come for the future of The Dead Daisies. Some changes coming, but I think for the best. But it’s definitely my first priority until it’s not, you know what I mean? This is the music business, so I don’t know what to tell you. I move forward. I am very lucky, very blessed that I have so many options at any given moment. My solo thing right now is bopping. It’s just hot! I am getting invited everywhere.” 

You’ve been doing some things with Neal Schon in Journey Through Time which The Dead Daisies drummer Deen Castronovo is also part of. Will you do more things with them? “Yes. Right now, it is looking like the end of October, November into the first week of December. Deen is part of The Daisies too and I think that was part of the reason why The Daisies realised: ‘OK, let’s take a break. Let’s get something together for next year.’ But it’s good. I think we did everything we could. I think we covered a lot of ground. We’ve done a lot of shows. We went to, probably, everywhere we got invited to, including Japan. We’ve been here three times. Wow! Within four years, three times. That’s a lot. With a new album every time. We did four albums and one EP in five years. I think for projects like that, that big and at that level, you need to step back a little bit, let it breathe. Let it simmer if you will, and then come up. I’m like, alright, everything I had on the back burner comes up and I’m like, let’s do this and let’s do this.” 

How do you keep the energy levels up with such a punishing schedule? “I take a beating. Right now, you can tell, I’m a little down. I don’t know, man. I’m healthy, I guess. It’s just the thought of getting on stage here in Japan tomorrow, I’m excited! That gets me excited. You could say I’m addicted to music. I’m addicted to the next performance, the next album, the next recording. And I’m sober now, for 31 years. September will be 32 years of sobriety. I don’t do any drugs, I don’t do any alcohol, I don’t do any tobacco, I do a little bit of sugar. I take care of myself. I love what I do! It’s important.”

Marco Mendoza is taking part of the summer off to spend time with his family, but from August he’s busy again with gigs and other commitments in Europe and North America before it is time to get into the studio again. This hardworking cat is seemingly unstoppable.

Marco Mendoza in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Gig review: Girlschool and Venom Inc – a terrific celebration of NWOBHM

Kim McAuliffe and Denise Dufort of Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

British bands Girlschool and Venom Inc headline a splendid celebration of New Wave of British Heavy Metal in Tokyo. What a great Sunday in the name of heavy metal!

Girlschool, Venom Inc, Sabbat, Survive, Hell Freezes Over and The Babes at Club Seata, Kichijoji, Tokyo on 23rd June 2019

Venom Inc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

We all know what Sundays are for. That’s right – to rock. For those about to rock, we salute you! Metal we bleed! Japanese promoter UPP-tone Music decided to celebrate four decades of New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) with a Sunday packed with great music from both yesteryear and here and now. With a six-band line-up combining two splendid veteran (but still very relevant) British bands with three Japanese bands and a great new band from Australia, this was a proper Sunday in the name of metal music. NWOBHM was always a very diverse scene with bands with very different sounds and based all over Britain – with London, Birmingham, Newcastle and Sheffield among the more prominently featured cities in the scene. Just like the original NWOBHM scene was rather diverse, so is the music this evening in Tokyo.

The Babes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The Babes

Australian band The Babes kicks off the festivities with a high-energy set of what they call underdog rock. With a great EP already under its belt, the band will soon release its debut full-length album. Three of the band’s four members are siblings and they seem to bring that personal chemistry with them to the stage. Despite this being their first-ever Japan gig, they have the Japanese audience with them from the first song. The band looks pleasantly surprised at already having Japanese fans who even sing along. It is a short 30-minute set but it does the trick. What a way to introduce the band to Japan! The set gets this Sunday off to a great start.

The Babes on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Hell Freezes Over

Treble Gainer of Hell Freezes Over on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Next up is young local thrash/speed metal band Hell Freezes Over. It is great seeing this young band continuing to grow up over the past few years. The foundation of their music is in thrash and speed metal of the 1980s and 90s. They retain the attractive roughness and rawness of, say, early Exodus, and perform their metal with great enthusiasm.

Tom Leaper of Hell Freezes Over on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Survive

Nemo of Survive on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese metal band Survive’s frontman Nemo is back in full force following having had to cancel some shows earlier this year due to a serious illness. Seeing Nemo back on stage is nothing short of fabulous. Survive currently one of the best metal bands in Japan is always great. But this evening they are more than great. The highlight of the set is no doubt the terrific “Immortal Warriors” which has now become a band anthem. The band’s new stage clothes and make up bring Behemoth to mind and the visuals add to the overall experience.

Sabbat

Gezol of Sabbat on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Japanese metal band Sabbat has some obvious Venom-style black metal influences in its music. Sabbat’s sound is very much uncompromising early 1980s old-school heavy metal. Time has stood still in the world of Sabbat and that is not a bad thing. Finishing their set by playing Venom classic “Lady Lust” with Tony Dolan on guest vocals is a very fitting finale.

Venom Inc

Jeff “Mantas” Dunn of Venom Inc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Venom Inc is back on stage in Japan for a second time on the ongoing world tour in support of 2017’s album “Avé”. It is, however, the first Japan show with new drummer Jeramie Kling, who adds some proper stability backing up Jeff “Mantas” Dunn on guitar and Tony “The Demolition Man” Dolan on bass and vocals. They open their set with what has now become a Venom Inc anthem – the terrific “Metal We Bleed”. This evening’s set combines classic Venom songs with newer Venom Inc material. We get four terrific songs from Venom Inc’s “Avé” album: “Forged in Hell”, “Metal We Bleed”, “Time to Die” and “War”. The rest of the set is made up of Venom classics such as “Rip Ride”, “Live Like an Angel (Die Like a Devil)”, “Warhead”, “Don’t Burn the Witch”, “Lady Lust”, “Dead of the Night”, “Witching Hour”, “Black Metal”, “Bloodlust”, “Countess Bathory”, and, of course, “Welcome to Hell”. It’s fantastic. The band came to Japan straight from Hellfest in France without much sleep. They’re tired but when they walk onto the stage, they deliver like it’s nobody’s business. Japan loves them and they give us a show to remember. A new album is in the making and will hopefully be released in the spring of 2020. Can’t wait to hear what this trio of scholars and gentlemen in the name of heavy metal will treat us to on the new album.

Venom Inc on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Girlschool

Kim McAuliffe of Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Seeing Girlschool for the first time, my expectations are high. This is a legendary British band with a reputation for putting on great shows. This evening the band by far exceeds my expectations. They are on fire this as they open their set with “Demolition Boys” and, of course, “C’mon Let’s Go”. They have a great catalogue of songs: classic songs from the late 70s and early 80s, but also fabulous newer songs such as “Take It Like a Band” and “Guilty as Sin”. Returning bassist Tracey Lamb adds some great groove to the band. She also sings lead on “Watch Your Step” which gives lead vocalist and guitarist Kim McAuliffe a bit of a breather. In addition to McAuliffe, the band’s co-founder Denise Dufort is still behind the drum kit. Rounding out the current line-up is the “new girl”, lead guitarist Jackie Chambers, who’s now been a member for twenty years.

Jackie Chambers of Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

The band chemistry is great and there are plenty of self-deprecating jokes and comments in the show. The banter never stops. It is part of the charm of this terrific band. When they play “Bomber” (a Motörhead classic that Girlschool recorded for the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” split EP with Motörhead in 1981), Tony Dolan appears on guest vocals. After a terrific Girlschool set (what a great live band!), they are joined on stage by Venom Inc and the two bands perform a playful version of ZZ Top’s “Tush” to close a very enjoyable evening.

Venom Inc and Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Concert promoter UPP-tone Music is really turning into a great niche promoter in Japan with fab shows with bands like Raven, Oliver Dawson Saxon and Anvil. They put on fabulous metal shows which (unlike the sterile shows that are often put on by the big corporations) all have a great community feeling to them with artists and fans hanging out together before, during and after the shows. I hope UPP-tone will continue to put on these great metal shows for many years to come.

Girlschool on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

http://upp-tone-music.com

www.girlschool.co.uk

www.venom-inc.com

Interview: Kyle Hughes – a young English drummer touring the world in the name of rock

Kyle Hughes in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

English drummer Kyle Hughes may only be 21 years old, but he’s already toured with Bumblefoot and Marco Mendoza. With his first Japan tour now under his belt, this drummer has a bright future ahead of him. 

Having started to make a name for himself locally as a drummer in Twister, young and talented Newcastle drummer Kyle Hughes got discovered by former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Bumblefoot. Having toured internationally with Bumblefoot, the English drummer then teamed up with former Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy bassist Marco Mendoza. When Marco Mendoza’s trio recently came to play in Japan during their “Viva La Rock” world tour, Roppongi Rocks sat down with the drummer at his hotel for a chat a few hours after he had landed in Japan for the very first time.

You’re from Newcastle in England. How did you go from playing the local pubs to playing internationally with American artists like Marco Mendoza and Bumblefoot? “It’s crazy and it blows my mind that it’s worked out that way. It’s kind of one of them stories where it’s like – it takes one moment for something to happen and then it just changes everything. Meeting Bumblefoot was actually one of those moments. I was in an original band, which was called Twister when I was… How old was I, 15 when I joined them? They were a bit older than me, mid-twenties and stuff. I got a phone call from the singer. Well, actually, we were in a local club, ironically. ‘Bumblefoot is coming to town and he needs a backing band and we’ve got the gig!’ He was travelling around the world, just kind of going into different, I guess it was music schools and doing gigs with lots of musicians all over the shop. Then he comes to Newcastle of all places and my band, through Peter Mann, who works in the northeast scene. He had seen us play a local gig in Durham somewhere and he got the call: ‘We need a band, who’d you recommend?’ That’s how it works! So, we got the gig. I was 17 and I jammed with Bumblefoot. I loved the material, it’s full of a lot of chops for me to play and stuff. ” He met Bumblefoot for the first time at soundcheck and, there and then, they ran through the whole set. “We went on stage after one rehearsal and just blasted it out. Ever since then we’ve kept in touch and played gigs all over the place – in USA and Europe. I’m very grateful for that. He’s a very good friend of mine. Yeah, crazy experience! It leads on to everything else, to now! That’s how it works!”

Kyle Hughes on stage in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

How did you meet Marco Mendoza and ended up playing with him? “In London. That’s when I, I guess, got the gig if you like. We’d met, he was looking for a drummer and my friend Micky Crystal, fantastic guitar player of the Tygers of Pan Tang – a good friend of mine from home, obviously – recommended me for the gig. Marco was open to the idea, so we exchanged emails and the next tour he called me and said: ‘Do you want to do this?’ I was like: Yeah, why not? Haha! You’re not going to say no. I mean I grew up… My dad’s a bass player and a singer. We watched videos and Marco’s name would pop up with Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy of course. So, I was like: Yeah, I’m in! We just hit it off musically. He’s a great person and here I am in Tokyo, Japan! It blows my mind! I’m really grateful for the friendship and we have a great time on stage. That relationship from the bass and the drums is really solid now. I’ve been in this band now for about a year, so it has to be! Haha!” 

As a younger musician, you’re still only 21, do you ever feel nervous or intimidated playing with industry veterans, or do you just get on with it? “Not really. I was jamming in LA a couple of months back with Mike Keneally and some friends like Bryan Beller. You know, they’re older than me, they’ve been around awhile. But it’s one of them things where I feel once you are kind of in with people and you’re friendly with them, I think that’s the difference when you’re comfortable with someone on a friendly level. This guy is just a normal dude or whatever, just normal people. The more I’ve been in those circles and hanging out with people like that, it just becomes, I guess, normal and you don’t really get starstruck. Obviously, I have my heroes, which if I’d have met, I’d be a bit more… Like Tommy Aldridge, who Marco knows. Haha! Certain people, but in general, it’s kind of like I feel like when you’re in that circle you’re on the same level as everyone and you don’t feel intimated. There’s a reason that you’re there, I guess. I stay humble. I’m always one to work to improve and get better, but I feel when you’re in the same room and you’re going to be on stage with someone, they obviously see you as, I guess, one of them. ‘He’s on my level.’ That’s the way to kind of look at it, which keeps you confident and doesn’t put you in that intimidated spot.” 

Your hometown Newcastle has a proud history of producing some serious musical talent. What’s the secret? “That is a really tough question. But I am going to say this much, and I wouldn’t just say this. Even now I still play gigs locally when I’m not on tour. There are some of the most talented musicians… There’s some amazing talent in Newcastle that some people don’t even know. Some of the best players I’ve ever played with are from Newcastle. I don’t necessarily know why it is, but there is something about… Like for me, here I am now and in a couple of weeks, I’ll be back playing a working men’s club. It keeps you humble. It just brings you straight back down to Earth. I always think that something like that is a good thing. It keeps me in check. It’s the grind of like pulling big bass bins and drum kits up the stairs to get to the gig. It’s really cool and, honestly, I treat every gig the same. There’s something about that, where you play a pub or a club and then you’re given an opportunity to do something like this or when you’re touring Europe or the world, you’re just ready. I started in the pubs and clubs with my dad’s band when I was about 13 years old. I had the training years before I even met Bumblefoot or any of this even happened. I was, maybe not tour ready, but I was ready musically. You learn your craft and that’s for me, anyway, how it worked. I knew what I had to do. Then you get one tour and the next tour and then you just adapt. It’s all a learning experience though.”

Kyle Hughes on stage in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

What’s the highlight of your career so far? “This being one of them. I can’t lie. I’ve always wanted to come to Japan. I feel very welcomed here. It’s amazing! I’m very grateful for this experience. Haven’t even played a show yet! There’s so many – doing my first gig in America, playing at the Iridium with Bumblefoot, that was a highlight for me. Playing my first big gig at a festival supporting Simple Minds – it was insane – with my old band Twister. There are so many… I can’t put it into one. This whole tour has been amazing. It’s the longest tour I’ve done. I’ve played places I’ve never played before. I’ve seen new places. I’m just really grateful for everything. I know it sounds cheesy, but I never want to take it for granted. I wanna be in the moment.”

Marco Mendoza’s shows in Japan are followed by a few gigs in Russia. What’s coming up after that for you? “5th Avenue from Hamburg has called me to do a few shows and maybe Wacken festival and things like that. Pretty much kind of studio things and I have companies asking me to do things. I am just trying to find the time when I am home so that I can actually act on it. And, of course, I want to get back to LA as soon as possible. We played there at the start of the year, me and Marco, and it was great, it’s really working out over there. I feel that’s the place where I want to be. I want to try and maybe experiment with going into something new, stylistically, musically. Just experiment and try something new, kind of like Conrado Pesinato. Doing like a hip-hop R&B thing. That’s kind of what I want to try. That scene, like pop music. Not to go away, or detach myself, from the classic rock thing, it’s nice to do something that keeps you versatile, it keeps you on your toes. There’s something about learning a new style. It’s rewarding when you nail it and do a good job. I’m always one to keep things fresh, for sure.” 

Kyle Hughes in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

www.facebook.com/kylehughesdrums

www.kylehughesdrummer.co.uk

Album review: Neuroticos “Kill for God”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Brazilian-Japanese death metal band Neuroticos is finally releasing its debut full-length studio album some 15 years after forming. The wait has been worth it. This is one crushing metal album without compromises.

Formed in Hiroshima, Japan in 2004, Neuroticos is led by Brazilian brothers Bruno Dias Matsuda (vocals) and Kleber Dias Matsuda (guitar) and also consists of Jumpei Nakamura on bass and Yuichi Ishiguro on drums. I have seen them perform live in Tokyo a number of times and have always been impressed with their crushing delivery of this terrific kind of underground death metal. Neuroticos’ music is always brutal, crushing and without compromises. If you like your metal extreme and hard-hitting, this is a band for you. Neuroticos plays a version of metal firmly based on old-school death metal, but without sounding dated. This is not retro music. This is here and now. They have created their own music based on Brazil’s proud tradition of extreme metal. “Kill for God”, the band’s first full-length album, opens with some haunting church bells and some splendid heavy guitar riffs before the mayhem kicks off. The title track is among the album’s best tracks. It’s like being hit in the face with a metal bar and then dragged behind a getaway car. Fantastic! “Blinded by War” is another favourite track. But “Pray Until You Die” is the stand-out track on this album for me. It immediately knocks you to the ground, helps you up on your feet again, only to kick you to the ground again. Brutal! Overall “Kill for God” is a splendid album and Neuroticos is among the best of the many interesting metal bands in Japan today.

Neuroticos’ album “Kill for God” will be released on 16th June. To mark the release of the album, the band will tour Japan during July with shows in Hiroshima, Osaka, Tokyo, Sendai, Nagano, Nagoya and Sapporo. 

www.facebook.com/neuroticos.official

www.neuroticos.com