SO THERE we were, surrounded. But where does the story really begin?
The flight over, on some hammer-and-sickle airline, the only plane where I've seen air stewardesses clutching rosaries prior to take off. London to Moscow it was, then on to Tokyo. About fifteen to seventeen hours in all.
But we got there in the end (only five hours late) and the landing still remains clear and vivid in my otherwise shattered brain cells. As the plane prepared to descend, coasting in slowly, the scenery below looked surreal. A thick pall of smog hung menacingly over the capital, the peak of Mount Fuji fighting it's way through all Tokyo's industrial dirt. Nature was still winning, just, in it's battle against technology. When Fuji disappears you'll know that progress has finally taken over.
Before I had time to feel the effects of jet lag we (being me and Watal, Sounds snapper) were shuttled off to another plane for a quick internal flight to Osaka, where I was to meet up with the Rainbow lads.
Sometimes ignorance can be the best thing you know, but in Japan yours truly seemed to be stumbling through with the effect of a rhino on downers let loose in a crystalware factory
I tell you, the bleedin' taxi ride from Osaka hotel took almost as long as the flight. I felt as if we were riding on the production line in a Toyota factory.
My introduction to Japanese food at the hotel was horrific. By now my eyelids were being wrenched open by two Swan Vestas and it seemed that everything I ordered was being dumped into this raw egg concoction, not particularly conducive to digestion. The band had beamed off to Nagoya and would be back in a couple of days giving me some tourist time.
Back in the hotel room, where they provide you with a nifty kimono and even a toothbrush set, Tora! Tora! Tora! was blasting away mercilessly on the screen. A few weeks later, back in Christmas-caked Britain, the same film was on TV, bringing instant flashbacks of my Eastern escapades, as my fag ends hit the ashtray in sync with the Nippon bombers.
Sucker In Osaka
Next day, brisk and early, I dragged my transatlantic torso down into the streets, to the underground which here is comparatively new and spotlessly clean. The people wearing white mouth masks who I thought were surgeons wandering around aimlessly on their dinner break have in fact got the flu. A couple of stops down on the smoke-free tube brings us to a massive underground shopping complex, complete with piped music. Eric Clapton's 'Hello Old Friend' was blaring out in this Disneyland version of Woolworths as we made our entry. Does that mean anything?
The record shops sell bootlegs openly among their legitimate product and even allow you to have an earful before deciding whether to purchase. After spending a couple of hours in this underground metropolis we headed up to the markets where you can choose your own live lobsters (what's the worst job etc) or nip (if you'll scuse the pun) down the road and see a kimono movie. The amusements arcades provide hours of fun with games ranging from picking up a live eel from a tank armed only with a rod, to a development on the tennis machines – a Kamikaze game which involves landing a tin plane onto a US. destroyer before it disappears off the screen.
The first few days were spent getting accustomed to dodging the milling masses who seemed to spew themselves forth from every crevice in this densely populated city.
The lazy sod starts work
You could tell Rainbow had arrived. The hotel lobby was full of chicks wandering around clutching Instamatics and autograph books. In front of the desk was a mountain of suitcases. Against it was a small acoustic guitar with a white tag bearing the monicker 'R. Blackmore'.
The first person I beamed in on was Jimmy Bain, in the coffee shop surrounded by a throng of female admirers, joyfully circling their captive in one corner of this glorified Joe Lyons. He looked as relieved as I did to make some English communication, and we began the proceedings with some of that regular band-been-on-the-road-meet-up-with-someone-from-home repartee.
"What's happening in Britain, man?"
"Not a lot".
Apparently Rainbow had a hectic flight over from Australia, with tales of blood and violence which made the Texas Chainsaw Massacre look like an excerpt from the Magic Roundabout. Including an incident where some respectable person's head was on the receiving end of a Japan Airlines plate hurled by some mysterious looking chappie clad in black.
The rest of the group had retired to their quarters and I didn't really make any contact with the entourage until the gig later that evening.
The gig later that evening...
Joining a band who have been continuously on the road for almost a year can be quite an unnerving experience. Some what similar to walking into an orgy of bachanalian proportions in a stone cold sober state and trying to adapt to the surrounding atmosphere. Only more horrifying.
There are two ways of handling this kind of situation. You can try and catch up mentally and physically, a definite no-no as this could lead to permanent disorders and a possible nervous breakdown. Or try and ease yourself into the situation. Learn the catch-phrases, which invariably crop up on a global ordeal of this kind.
Catchphrase no. 1: "When I was with Blue Oyster Cult...". This precedes any statement describing how things were once supposedly better. Mysteriously originating from a time when Rainbow played with the Cult at a festival and Sandy Pearlman's boys found out Rainbow's pyrotechnics were more stunning than their own. There was talk of stage sabotage involving the thunderflashes. Any plot was quickly cut short when Rainbow's road crew located themselves round the gear, preventing any dirty deeds.
Catchphrase no. 2: "There we were surrounded..." derived from tales told by a section of the crew who spent some time in Vietnam, which made some of the band turn a whiter shade of pale.
Just pick up on these and you're half way there.
Now where were we?
"When I was with Blue Oyster Cult we didn't have to put up with any of this crap", belched forth keyboards man Tony Carey, black mane covering most of the top half of his torso, wielding a bottle of bourbon in grand rock and roll tradition.
"I'm coming at ya!" yelled drummer Cozy Powell, going through some self styled improvised Ju Jitsu motions aimed at Jun, the Japanese promoter's right hand man, who didn't seem all that peturbed. Hardly surprising when you consider that Jun was once Tokyo's boxing champion. It was said that when Cozy tried to kick Jun from behind, while he was engaged in conversation, the guy blocked it without turning round or breaking sentence.
Ronnie James sat quietly in the corner. Looking as if he was trying to catch breath between gigs. "It's been a long hard tour and we're beginning to feel it," were the words he uttered before sinking back into a reflective stupor, occasionally sampling the drink nestling in his palms.
Ritchie Blackmore, keen afficionado of obscure Swedish guitarist Wally Roundhead and part time Prince of Darkness, was using the dressing room next door, proudly heralding "The Bagshot Bullet" on the blackboard outside.
But at this particular moment the Bullet himself, Blackmore, could be located at the side of the stage watching the local support group, collectively known as The Anzen Band.
Anzen means safety.
Arigato means thankyou.
Dozo means please.
Pante Nuido means drop 'em.
Blackmore was hidden in the dark, where only the whites of his eyes and a beaker, generously filled with Scotch, were visible. After brief hellos he quickly vanished to tune up guitars. Rainbow were on soon. It was only 7.30. Concerts in Japan finish at around 9.00 due to transport times.
"RADIES AND GENTLEMEN PLESENTING: TONEE CALEE, DIMMY BAIN, COSEE POW, LONNIE DAMES DIO, LITCHIE BRACKMORE...LAINBOW!!!!!" (me first Nippon gig).
The audience looked pretty ordinary until the band made their entrance. Then some kind of Jekyll and Hyde transformation occured and they became a seething mass of hysteria. Y'see, they like their rock hard 'n' heavy over here. (Kiss, Aerosmith, acts of that chrome-plated genre are among the top attraction. Blackmore has an almost legendary status in Japan, Deep Purple having been one of the first heavy metal bands to break over there.
This was the first time I had seen Rainbow since Hammersmith and they sure sounded tighter...well looser...well, like a band. Their bombastic interpretation of 'Somewhere Over The Rainbow', with added ingredients, kicked off the show and after that, like a meteor let loose in outer space, nothing could stop them.
'Kill For The King' which followed has developed into something more than an exercise in loosening up collective limbs. 'Mistreated', really showed the progress made. Dio's stunning vocal range sounded more confident, the backing was more solid. As Blackmore burst into spontaneous free form runs, Cozy's drums clung on tightly to every single note.
For me it was a good introduction to the tour, culminating with an encore featuring Mr B's guitar mutilation with an added bonus of amp and cabinets thrown over the side. This, as it turned out, was not an act of ecstatic joy. Blackmore was pissed off with the sound.
A fold-up chair went hurtling through the Bullet's dressing room window, accompanied by a shower of glass, and landed at the feet of some startled stargazers.
A few minutes later Blackmore rushed out to announce: "It was the Rabscallion, he's responsible for this damage", to some bewildered onlookers. Labsarrion? Like I said, he was pissed off.
Getting out of the backstage venue after a concert in Japan can be a frightening experience. Blackmore is well aquainted with this and makes a point of devising a new escape route at each performance. Tonight it's a sharp dive into the awaiting getaway vehicle, full throttle to the hotel, down the basement and up the service elevator.
The remainder of the band came in by the proper entrance and were beseiged by a horde of awaiting punters who showered their new found heroes with gifts, a customary gesture of appreciation over here.
Due to the band's sudden explosion of popularity in Japan, it's been decided to record a live album especially for the Japanese market. Mac, their regular engineer and resident of Munich's world renowned Musicland studios, where amongst other, Zeppo and the Stones record, has been especially flown in and put in charge of the affair. Tonight he doesn't look pleased. The record company mobile is currently fully booked and they've had to make do with apparatus put together at the last moment. The band's manager, American Bruce Payne, has decided to take an option on recording the final two gigs in Tokyo as well.
Next day, it's the last of three nights in Osaka (the band played one date there prior to my arrival). By now the stage area looks well lived in. That massive computerised firework display known as the rainbow stands proudly at the front and almost looks like becoming a resident of the place.
The Japanese promoter, Mr Udo (who incidentally, on average, puts on no less than a thousand shows per annum) is worred about the previous night's damage but is promptly assured that neither the rabscallion or any of his cohorts will strike again.
Another evening begins
Fergy, Ritchie's personal assistant, is feverishly patching up the remnants of broken guitars. There's only two whole ones left and the price of a Fender Stratocaster out here is slightly outrageous.
Back in the dressing room Blackmore is listening intently to a Bach harpsichord concerto coming through on a tiny speaker from the concert hall next door.
"If you want something to do tonight, you should go and see that," he said, his eyes never breaking their gaze from that tiny box, concentrating to see if he could recognise any of his favourite composer's works.
Tonight's show is quite a mellow affair, no damage on or off the stage. Yet every night has its moments. Blackmore surprised everyone with an impromptu version of 'Purple Haze'.
"Trower's been trying to get that sound for years", someone from the entourage blurted out in wide-eyed amazement, "while Ritchie does it as if it was a piece of piss!"
It was good to get out of Osaka.
Nothing against the place, just that the hotel confines were getting a bit restrictive and by now all the kids in the city were aware of the group's location and were stalking about the place like vultures awaiting their prey. Even yours truly incurred problems when trying to get upstairs. I was immediately accompanied by a troupe of girlies, grabbing for my key (honest) to which the porter reacted by immediately stopping the lift. This resulted in a day spent in the reception area devising plots and means of getting up to my quarters.
The next port of call was Kyoto, a quaint little place which preserves some of its past history and beauty in the form of temples and suchlike astounding feats of eastern architecture. The Kaikan concert hall is bigger than the place in Osaka and well packed by the time we arrived. After two nights of recording (Mac was by now in Tokyo mixing the results) the pressure was off. This is usually when a band are at their best...or, alternatively silliest.
It all started when Carey went into his multi-keyboard solo which precedes the epic 'Stargazer'. The rest of the band just pulled up chairs to the side of the stage and proceeded to read newspapers. Then when they all got back up and the number started to bubble into motion, Dio entered the stage wearing a gorilla's mask, reducing Blackmore to a helpless heap of laughter. His breath back, The Bullet retaliated by going into a spectacular version of The Shadow's 'F.B.I.' with accompanying dance routine. Who says it ain't fun being on the road, huh?
A day off and everyone went their separate ways. While Ronnie, Cozy, Bruce and other earlybirds went out for an excursion to take in the scenery, Tony and Jimmy (who Cozy collectively calls 'the Glimmer twins') remained oblivious to the world. Later that day, Blackmore and Jun popped down to the local recreation centre to disrupt the peace for a bout of javelin throwing. So when's the rock Olympics?
"Where did you say you were going?"
For some reason no one in this travelling road show could say Fukuoka and keep a straight face. Anyhow that's where we were headed for and this time our means of transportation was the Bullet train, which can clock up over two hundred kilometres an hour. And this baby has got to be the sheer epitome of railway luxury.
"It's the only train where you can dump, drink, eat, shave and make an international phone call at the same time", was one person's assessment of this futuristic piece of transport. What's more, they're right on time too.
As we made our way to the station, in the early hours of the afternoon as far as musicians are concerned, Cozy Powell's tape machine filled the air with the music of Nero and the Gladiators, pushing everyone's hangovers to new levels of pain (these bleedin' teetotallers).
"I'm trying to teach Ritchie these tunes." Cozy's tightly constructed and high photogenic features broke into a grin.
"Whaddya mean?" asked a familiar voice from behind. "I used to play with the bloody band!"
The journey took just over three hours, which included twenty minutes under the sea that everybody missed, especially the people in the bar who were busy signing paper plates under the pseudonyms of Olivia Newton John and Hank B. Marvin.
On our arrival at the hotel an interesting new fact about the city life came to light. For when we got into our rooms we found that there was no way we could open our windows. investigation revealed that you have to phone the porter if you want the windows open, the reason being due to the high suicide rate in Japan. Fukuoka!
Later that very same evening...
Tonight's show is a weird one, what with some guy getting stabbed in the head with a biro and Ronnie incurring temporary damage in the lower regions from a missile hurled at the stage, forcing him to speak, rather than sing, the lyrics of 'Stargazer'.
Later, down in the bar after the show, Cozy, Ronnie and Ritchie sat round a table amid a battery of German beer bottles and proceeded to listen to the rough mixes of the show. Due to pauses and the generally loose structure of those performances, they decided to scrap them and record the last two shows on the mobile.
The rest of the evening was spent reminiscing on ghostly experiences and Blackmore's recollections of his shortlived career at Heathrow airport where he admits he spent most of his time building a guitar. And more recent incidents, including the time he and Ronnie stayed in Jamaica the time the Queen was visiting and they were mysteriously interrogated by some plain clothes guy who as it turned out was checking them out in case they were prospective assasins.
As late evening slowly transformed itself into early morning, the conversation resorted to javelin throwing techniques and a group from the early mid-sixties called Creation who Blackmore believes were the prime innovators of guitar theatrics.
"That guy used to do everything to his guitar. Played it with a violin bow, rubbed it against the mike stand, the lot, long before Beck, Page or me." Apparently he's now driving a taxi cab, somewhere in Germany.
"What's up, you miserable bastard?" A beaming Mr Powell joined a former shadow of myself and Bruce Payne for breakfast. Payne looked quite jovial. Not surprising, seeing as 'Rainbow Rising' was selling about 15,000 per day. He was already making plans for a return tour. The road goes on forever...
Everyone seemed quietly wary about playing Hiroshima. To me the place looked no more horrifying than the end result of a re-development scheme and the only memory of its past lay within the confines of the memorial shrine. The rest of the city is comparatively modern and the atmosphere is anything but oppresive.
The Shikokaido concert hall was much smaller than any of the previous venues, similar in structure to the Hammersmith Odeon. A very sweaty, intimate atmosphere.
Cozy paced up and down backstage, looking genuinely concerned. The end of his solo spot features an explosion, the mushroom-shaped aftermath of which resembles you know what. To avoid any vague possibilities of creating bad feelings he decided to use less gunpowder.
Blackmore was downstairs in his room breaking in his new guitar, strumming out old Yardbird riffs, while the rest of the band dutifully posed for record company photographers for the live album cover.
"Getta load of this", yelled Bain who proceeded to pull down his trousers and moon to the snappers disbelief.
Intense is the only word that comes to mind to describe the evening's performance. The band really got down to creating an atmosphere through their music. 'Mistreated' was exceptionally good, you could actually see Blackmore singing along. Nowhere near a mike, of course.
'Catch A Rainbow' featured some neat vocal interchanges between Bain and Dio and 'Stargazer' built up to an almost terrifyingly powerful climax. Both of the aforementioned works were longer than normal.
Cozy's solo, featuring his hammering accompaniment to the '1812 Overture' went down really well, explosions and all. THE WORD got round real quick.
The Bay City Rollers were staying at the same hotel as Rainbow in Tokyo our next and final destination. So the evening in Hiroshima was spent discussing a plan of attack. The whole thing was approached with tactical approach normally assumed in the military headquarters of the Pentagon. Plans formulated including "Operation Bowel Movement", are too devious and disturbing to divulge at the present moment.
Tokyo, it seems, was the gig everyone had been waiting for. Being the capital it's a prestigious place to play, especially when you're doing two shows at the city's biggest hall, the Budokan, just down the road from the Emperor's Palace. It also marked the end of a year long trek which has taken Niji (Japanese for Rainbow y'know) right across this planet.
Tokyo is a fast city. Overpopulated, buildings and cars almost seemed to be piled on top of each other. Driving here immediately kills your fear of flying. With a radio/TV mast taller than the Eiffel tower, it's awake at all hours, constantly buzzing on that high energy all capitals thrive on.
The Tokyo Hilton is probably the best hotel for bands to stay in. The porters are efficient at keeping people out and they didn't seem even slightly peturbed by the strange combination of Roller and Rainbow fans trying to infiltrate the lobby.
The last day day had all the makings of An Event. Even as we approached the vast Budokan hall early in the afternoon for the band's first show, everyone knew there was something devious planned for the final performance courtesy of the road crew.
Earlier that morning Blackmore had disrupted the plans of two young ladies trying to enter his room.
"They kept knocking on the door, so in the end I leapt out, grabed my javelin and chased them down the corridor."
The mobile had already been set up outside the back of the hall and Mr Udo, who seems to have a permanent smile affixed, was dressed in his best togs, buzzing around, making sure things would run smoothly.
The year's travelling was beginning to show its effects and Cozy was pacing around, painfully trying to remove his blisters while the band prepared themselves for the first show.
It was a warm-up, a pacesetter. The band played well – even on an average performance Rainbow seem to be quite spectacular these days. The band and the rainbow lighting effects seem to have been broken in and Blackmore, in case you didn't know already, is playing better than ever.
In between sets and the band were presented with various awards and albums for record sales and winning music polls, another music biz factor confirming how quickly Rainbow have become an established force.
While the band prepared for their final onslaught, Blackmore was hidden away in his room, making final preparations for the little surprise he had planned for the show.
"RADIES AND GENTLEMEN, LAINBOW!" What a way to wrap up a world tour! The whole band pulled out all stops to make this a night to remember. The giant hall, which dwarfed Wembley, was packed tight. A giant Japanese flag hung overhead, but everyone's eyes were aimed at the stage ahead where Rainbow proceeded to execute heavy metal blitzkrieg.
Earlier on, Blackmore had made a small wager that the crowd wouldn't be able to pass the security, lined up at the front of the stage. He lost. As soon as the group hit the stage, the kids streamed down the aisle like lemmings. A couple even managed to climb on board and join the group.
While some of the security crew began to confiscate the mass of tape recorders held up high above people's heads (they've even caught a few kids filming gigs) Blackmore blazed away, leaping around as if it was his first night on the road.
To me, 'Catch The Rainbow' seems to capture the full spirit of what Rainbow are about. Dio's vocals seem to be capable of piercing your central nervous system, his range and power easily equal Plant at his finest. The whole structure of the sound defies any comparison with Purple. Blackmore's playing seems to be injected with more emotion and drive and both he and Cozy seem to dominate the direction, marking the band's unique sound. Bain's skinny frame is pumping out bass amid this joyous cacophony while Carey's fingers indulge in some frenetic tinkling behind his battery of ivories.
Blackmore has always been responsible for some of the finest heavy rock and Rainbow are taking things one step ahead. But jeez, how many times do I have to keep telling you this? Anyway you'll see for yourself when they come over again later this year. You won't know what hit you.
Cozy's solo was magnificent, proving that there's a huge reservoir of technique behind that neanderthal backbeat. Dio's onstage presence has become more brash and confident, matching his singing ability. By the end of the set with a fast and furious version of 'Still I'm Sad' the audience and group were reaching fever pitch and a proverbial encore was imminent.
'Do You Close Your Eyes (When You're Making Love)'...fragments of The Bullet's guitar showered stage and audience, and seemingly from nowhere a barrage of flour and shaving foam covered the unsuspecting group. It was that damn road crew!
By now the scene on the stage matched the hysteria out front and Blackmore put the finishing touch when his supposedly spare cabinet exploded on cue and he proceeded to throw his whole amp set-up, plus stage monitors, into the crowd. Somehow I feel these boys are going to go places.
Backstage, after the show, it was party time. While the roadcrew took down the gear for the last time, the group walked around dazed, covered in foam and cream. The end of a tour, the start of a new success.
The group will resume work in April when they record a new album, and there are plans for a live album for worldwide release at the end of the year.
Blackmore and Co have proved to me that the magic of Purple and Zeppelin can be equalled and taken further.
So the show is finally over. Energised by Japan's enthusiastic and refreshing attitude to music, I headed back home. We never did get to the Rollers, who seemed isolated on the fifth floor of the hotel.
On the way back, the plane got delayed in Leningrad, where we had our passports taken and were put in the hotel. Proudly strutting about in my Rainbow anorak I tried to console myself with a bevy in the bar.
They wouldn't serve me. What's more when I got back I had to fill out an immigration form...
© Pete Makowski, Sounds, 29 January 1977