Pirates, Gods and Gas Cookers

Somewhere in Tokyo, down an unassuming backstreet, a heavy soundproofed door is levered open; it slides easily, but only after some initial effort.

"This one goes all the way to 4,
cries out Ray Luzier, Korn’s resident drummer – but we have nicked him for a week. The rest of the band duly kick in, and for the first time we hear the soundtrack to our next four days and – ultimately – the muscle and engine behind the 2016 Classic Rock Awards show.

Three hours earlier, we had landed in Japan. Ahead of us was a week of negotiations, rehearsals, photoshoots, blood, sweat and nearly, but not quite, tears. The raw sound of the band was the first indication after months of work that this thing could, NO, would happen. It was a beautiful noise to hear, to say the least. Over the next few days we saw first hand the dedication the house band would put in – but could we deliver the rest of the show by Friday 11th November?

The Cast & Rehearsals (2 days to go) 

Rehearsals had started in LA, but we only caught up with the band in Tokyo. By this point, they were pretty well drilled and were now running through a huge list of songs with the special guests, which included a Scorpion, a Leppard and a few (Hollywood) Vampires. The house band consisted of the DeLeo brothers, Dean and Robert from Stone Temple Pilots (guitar and bass), Ray Luzier (drums), Tommy Henriksen (guitar/vocals) and Jeff Keith (vocals). The band was put together by a tireless Ross Halfin who naturally was on photographic duties for us too.

Rudolf Schenker teaching the band the art of windmilling... er... 30 times in a row.
Jimmy Page meeting Johnny Depp and the house band for the first time.

The moment the band heard Donald Trump had been elected.
Chapped lips, blistered hands, aching muscles are just some of the by-products of being the house band.

The Venue & Soundcheck (1 day to go )

We moved venues and headed over to Ryogoku Kokugikan, the national sumo arena. The stage was being built on the 10th and worryingly overnight to the 11th (show day), leaving precious little time if there were any issues. An army of men and women construction workers including riggers, lighting and sound specialists were all swarming or hanging over or crawling under various parts of the stage to get it completed. We secreted ourselves in an office in the bowels of the arena and let them get on with it.

Dress rehearsals and the moment of truth...
…despite our absolute faith in the band, there were a lot of unresolved issues with the awards that made my bum twitch like a rabbit’s nose. There was no real time for a complete runthrough, we hadn’t seen the final lighting, the script was being amended on a minute-by-minute basis and the stage seemed a long long way from completion.

Actually seeing the venue, the stage and show graphics going up.

Would it all be ready in time?

Day of the Show and 'The Curse'

The rumour before we left for Japan was that the show was cursed and would be ‘under a cloud’; was this a light-hearted cultural jibe or a serious warning from the spirits? It was never made clear, but the weather had taken a turn for the worse, the view across the Imperial Palace and beyond that to the rest of Tokyo made for grim viewing indeed… perhaps there was some bad JuJu hanging over us after all. But we had our own ‘gods’ to look after...

We entered the venue via the underground car park, passing our 12-metre-high wall branding, designed in the UK and manufactured in Tokyo, on the way in. The band were already sound checking and ready for Jeff Beck’s imminent arrival. Johnny Depp had played in his languid style, Phil Collen had shown off his singing skills and Joe Perry just seemed effortlessly cool. Everyone was relaxed and there wasn't an ego to be seen. 

Jeff Beck, recipient of our ‘Icon’ Award, had landed mere hours earlier, done our photoshoot and raced to the final rehearsals. His arrival marked a step up in concentration levels, drums hit that little bit harder, guitars strummed a little more earnestly. Furrowed brows steeped in concentration kept up with Beck’s every inflection and command. Beck seemed pleased with his new backing band. The backing band seemed relieved. An apology from Beck that he had made them rehearse so many songs in the weeks leading up to this point. Their hard work had payed off.

The crowd had started to patiently queue up outside. The rain persisted, would the curse manifest itself? A power cut? An illness? Who knew.

We had been ‘warned’ about the polite Japanese crowds, quiet, studious; Jimmy Page had told us he liked the reserved audience: “it showed they were listening to what you were doing”. The crowd was a mix of exuberant fans, starstruck girls (mainly for Johnny Depp, not us, as it turned out) and what seemed like suspiciously glamourous women with older salary men. ‘Gas cookers’? We’ll never know.

The show itself went well: most of our concerns either didn’t materialise or got sorted out (it will be available to view on TV soon, so I won’t go into details here). Needless to say once we had delivered our work to sponsors, media partners and the team back in the UK we hit our favourite Tokyo rock bar, the Train bar... that story may be for another time.

A great show, with a fantastic line-up of artists held together by an impressive Dave Mustaine as host.

Yoshiki: would he, wouldn’t he play – causing a bit of mild panic for the stage crew.

The players

The house band
Johnny Depp
Jeff Beck
Joe Perry
Cheap Trick
Rudolf Schenker
Richie Sambora & Orianthi
Phil Collen & Joe Elliott

Band Maid
Slot Machine
Sarah Geronimo

Dave Mustaine (presenter)
Jimmy Page (presented award to Jeff Beck)

House band set list

No One Like You - SCORPIONS
Rock You Like A Hurricane - SCORPIONS
Modern Day Cowboy - TESLA
Save That Goodness - TESLA
Misstreated - DEEP PURPLE
Hysteria - DEF LEPPARD
Superstition - STEVIE WONDER
Interstate Love Song - STONE TEMPLE PILOTS
Dancin’ Days - LED ZEPPELIN
I Ain’t Superstitious (Mustaine solo) - WILLIE DIXON
Search And Destroy - IGGY POP
School’s Out - ALICE COOPER
Stop Messin’ Round - FLEETWOOD MAC
Come Together (Robin Zander vocal) - BEATLES
Sweet Emotion - AEROSMITH
Train Kept A Rollin’ - BRADSHAW
Shape Of Things - YARDBIRDS
Becks Bolero - JIMMY PAGE

Further reading
Scott Rowley’s excellent interview with Johnny Depp
and his view of the Japan Classic Rock Awards on TeamRock.com

Tech specs (or boring details):
Apple MacBook Pro (Retna display - running Adobe Creative Cloud CC (InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator and Lightroom)
Fuji Film Xpro2 with XF18-55 + adapted OM2 50mm 1.8
Fuji Film x100
SanDisk 32gb SD cards & Lexar 32gb UHS-II cards
Fuelled by: Galaxy Minstrels (lots of)