The Barbican Centre recently witnessed a celebration of Japanese musical innovators the likes of which London has never seen, starting right off the bat with Yellow Magic Orchestra‘s Ryuichi Sakamoto on Wednesday 20th June. An experimental concoction of electronic and percussive sounds dreamed up with occasional collaborator Alva Noto, the spotlight soon turned on Sakamoto’s former YMO bandmate (and leader) Haruomi Hosono, who helped bring the week of music to a close with a special live show curated by Light in the Attic Records as part of their 16th anniversary celebration.
The show was a chance for folks to see three artists whose music had been re-released by the record label. Starting the gig off was Willie Thrasher and Linda Saddleback, followed by Haruomi Hosono and his live band and closed off by Californian band, Acetone.
We have to start talking about Haruomi Hosono before we get on about the gig. Hosono has been known for many seminal classics such as Cochin Moon, Tropical Dandy, Hosono House, or even Pacific, to name a few. His first ever project as part of the folk-rock band, Happy End and later as the founding member of the legendary innovative electronic music group Yellow Magic Orchestra alongside, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi has cemented his legendary status both at home and abroad. And this was going to be a very special situation, as Barbican had invited Hosono to play his solo material to a London audience for the first time.
For those who haven’t been to the Barbican centre for a gig or event of sorts, the setup is a fairly interesting one. But the concerts have always made their mark as something memorable, bolstered by Hosono’s own brand of stage presence that night. As a musician who has had a career spanning over 50 years, he proved to be a charming figure on stage. Addressing the audience prior to starting his set, he would dive straight into the set with the talent he had sourced from somewhere in Japan to join him on stage.
His set was mainly a collection of tracks and covers that Hosono had translated into what we’ll describe as folk-esque rock renditions for want of a better word. While that might raise a few eyebrows, it isn’t as odd as it sounds. They played a rendition of Kraftwerk’s ‘Radioactivity’, some of his own material, including ‘Sports Men’ from Philharmony – this in particular was met with instant approval from the audience. Giving the occasional back-and-forth, engaging the audience after every song with a little snippet of what the next track meant to him, a witty remark here and there (usually made in Japanese) or an anecdote which I’m sure made the attentive crowd love him all the more.
Credit where credit’s due, the session drummer playing alongside Hosono was especially tight – it was hard not to be impressed as he kept up an infectious swing throughout the tracks, almost effortlessly. While the concert wasn’t an ‘electronic’ music gig per se, (with renditions of the ‘Boogie-Woogie’ in Japanese and English) Hosono did jokingly refer back to this, how he “used to love techno,” but now much prefers playing all the folk and blues stuff.
With decades of experience under his belt and a knack for maintaining an audiences’ attention, his prowess as showman was clearly evident. He did however have a very special treat for those who were attending that day. You guessed it: his mates from YMO had come to see the show and for the finale, he called Takahashi and Sakamoto to the stage. Takahashi joined first, belting out a drum solo to transition into the YMO classic, ‘Absolute Ego Dance’. It was only mid-way through the last song that Ryuichi turned up with a solo of his own, culminating in a spectacular on-stage reunion of a pioneering musical group of the late ’70s. It felt like a rather iconic moment, and it was. Safe to say the concert ended in exceptional fashion. After all, it isn’t often you get the chance to see such a pioneering outfit jamming on stage after so many years.
Photo courtesy of Steve Jansen.