Emperor Sting reigns at the Budokan...
It was just 10 days after returning from my California trip back in October that I found myself sitting at my PC at work at 1 AM on a Saturday morning UK time ready to pounce when the pre-sale went live for the Japanese dates.
For so many years I have heard, many times(!), my friend Paul Carter's stories of his Sting trip to Japan many tours ago and I have held the desire to go myself for a long time now so to finish off my most extensive tour so far I decided it was time to go.
The temptation to purchase tickets for several of the Japanese locations was there but for many reasons, not least financial, I merely went for the two Tokyo shows at the Budokan (with a fair idea that another would be added) making the trip worthwhile.
I was very pleased, but surprised, that the purchasing form was all in English, I was dreading being taken to some ticket agency website all written in Japanese that I would not have a clue how to use. I don't think Tina would have appreciated a call from me at one in the morning saying ''Tina, I can't book my Tokyo tickets!''.
And so it was that I took to my bed at 2:30 AM dreaming of another Sting trip to add to my portfolio.
This is the bit in the film where the screen goes black for a moment then reappears on a cold overcast January day in England and the text appears on the screen ...three months later.
There I sit once again in the Departure Lounge of Heathrow Airport waiting for the gate number to appear on the screen for my flight to Narita Airport Tokyo. I'm reading through my Tokyo guide book already planning my schedule of what to do when. My Sting trips are always very busy. I pack so much into them that they are not really 'holidays' at all, in fact I often return to work for a rest!.
I had booked an overnight flight and luckily it was a very 'light load' so I got three seats to myself which meant I could grab some sleep, not much though as I was too excited!.
Arriving at Narita Airport the first thing you have to do is catch the NEX train to the city centre as the airport lies some 60Km from the city. I knew I was going to like this country as not only did the train arrive exactly on time but there are markers on the platform telling you where to stand and the train doors stop exactly on the markers. I like precision.
The next step on my trip was to negotiate the Tokyo subway system. I have been on many a subway system throughout the world, including the Moscow one, so I'm a bit of a 'dab hand' at these subway things. (ANDY's travel tip) The main thing to do is not to panic because then you start making stupid decisions and end up worse that you were before hand.
Choose the colour of the line(s) you need. Count the number of stops (don't try to understand the names of the stations, they will become familiar during your stay). Don't attempt to buy a 'multi' ticket at this point, you can do that later when your more refreshed and haven't got all your baggage to carry round. Just pay for the trip you need to get to your hotel as directly and hassle free as possible. Orientate which direction you need to go by looking at the final station on the line and cross check this with the map. Make your way to the platform and off you go. N.B. I'm available as a travel partner to anyone going to see Sting in a foreign land. Only thing is, my fee is a free trip!!
After a good nights sleep the first objective of my first day was to go and 'suss' out the venue. It was a nice sunny morning, but chilly in the wind and shade. My hotel was only five minutes walk from the Budokan (thanks go to Shigeyo for help in finding this well located hotel). The Nippon Budokan Hall is a hexagon shaped building originally built to house the Sumo wrestling contests of the 1964 Olympic games. Having circumnavigated the building and found the entrance to which Sting would arrive I took some pictures of the Budokan and then set off to visit the Yasakuni shrine, my first of many of Tokyo's shrines.
I returned to the venue at 3:30 to hang around the entrance I had located earlier in the day. With my western looks and having my BND tour fleece on and giving that look of 'I'm allowed to be standing here' helped me to evaded any questioning by the two security guys patrolling the area. My timing could not have been better as 15 minutes later Kipper and Donna turned up. As Kipper got out of the people carrier I walked forward towards him. This was when one of the security guys came rushing across gesturing that I needed an access pass to go any further. I called to Kipper who immediately started to walk towards me. I ignored the security guard and proceeded to meet Kipper half way. By this time the security guy realised that I knew this guy with long curly blond hair and gave up. Kipper was very friendly. He wished me a Happy New Year and we began to chat about different things.
After about five minutes a sleek black car arrived and Sting got out. He looked across at Kipper and I and smiled at me. He didn't look too happy though. Probably the sight of me on his case again didn't help! I didn't like to immediately leave Kipper standing as he had been so friendly towards me so I stood with him for as long as I could but I could see Sting going in through the door so I called his name to stop him and then asked for a photo. He said ''sure'' and then took hold of my camera and began to focus it upon me and Kipper!. Kipper said ''no Sting you know what he means'' to which Sting replied ''just my little joke''. Kipper then obliged by taking my picture with Sting. I wished them both all the best for the show as they both entered the building. I like to get to see Sting on all of my trips, sometimes its not possible though, but this time it worked out perfectly. Mission completed. He knew ANDY-sun was here again!
Now I know the first question your all going to ask. Can I post the photo on the site? Well, unfortunately, the answer is no. Because very good musician and producer Mr Kipper may be, he will never cut it as a photographer, because the photo came out blurred. BOL***KS!!!
Show No.1 Friday, 21 January
My seat for this show simply could not have been better. It was in the middle of the front row of the very middle block. Sometimes I have to pinch myself at how I pull these thing off . But I put myself out back in October by going back into work late on that Friday night / Saturday morning to catch the Fan Club Pre-Sale and it paid off.
The start time for these shows was very bizarre and very different from anything I had experienced before. Tonight's show began at 7PM with no support act. I only had chance to say a quick hello to Shigeyo and her friends before the lights were dimmed and the melody to 'A Thousand Years' began playing. I jumped into my 'seat' and awaited the arrival on stage of the man himself. I must have sat for all of 10 seconds before I was up on my feet celebrating the entrance of my hero.
Looking as resplendent as usual in his Armani tour apparel Sting entered the centre of the stage and commenced the 'curtain raiser', 'Send Your Love'. His jacket was soon removed and flung to one side to the screams of the many female fans. Down to just his black shirt with white collar and unlinked cuffs, which he began to fold upwards, Sting continued with the opening song. During the chorus with his right hand raised and index finger pointing to the sky he gyrated his hand to encourage an increased fever amongst the 9,000 assembled 'Tokyoits', plus a couple of aliens from foreign lands (hello to Martin from Germany if you are reading this. Nice to have met yet another member of the 'lunatic club').
'Message In A Bottle' was to follow. It was great to hear this classic song again. It made me think back to the start of the tour in Miami when the surprise then was that 'Hole In My Life' appeared early in the set. Without getting too deep its kind of cyclical as these were to be my last 'Sacred Love' shows. Even though I don't harbour a return to the past there is still a magic about those songs he wrote whilst in the Police which will never fade.
If anybody had remained in their seats for the first two numbers they were brought to their feet with a rendition of 'Set Them Free' which had everyone dancing and clapping. I was quite surprised that at no point during the show did anybody around me sit down, even during the slow songs such as 'Dead Man's Rope', 'Fragile' and 'Fields of Gold'. I thought being a very strict and conformist nation that the crowd would be more tempered. I was very happy though that my premonition of polite clapping between songs and lots of sitting down did not come to fruition. I had not travelled all that way to sit on my arse!
'Brand New Day', performed in-between the songs mentioned above, again provided an opportunity to clap and dance to this melodic song about the psychological and emotional forces of love. Love, Religion and Victoria's Secret is how Sting sarcastically introduces the meaning behind the title track of the album, 'Sacred Love'. This is the only song in the set which detracts my attention away from Sting and the band as I focus on the scantily clad young women gyrating on the video screens behind. I still remember the two shows at the Hollywood Bowl when the 'lady in red' appeared in the flesh and gave all of us males in the crowd a few very pleasurable minutes of Pole Dancing. And you can guess who was the pole! Gordon, your a canny lad!!
For the rendition of 'Fragile' Sting played a new guitar. The best way of describing it is to call it a skeletal guitar by which I mean there is no body to it. When he plays it you can see his clothes through it. I have never seen a guitar of this design before. Very radical.
Joy again gave a resounding performance in her duet with Sting on 'Whenever I Say Your Name' and Donna takes a leading role in 'Never Coming Home'. These songs demonstrate how Sting has matured over the years. Giving the spotlight to other members of the band is a far cry from those testosterone filled Police days when it was a case of 'how dare you focus on those other two, I'm the f**king leader of this band!'. Oh well I guess we all did things in our twenties which we shudder to think of now. I used to be a Werewolf, but I'm alright noooooowwwwwwwwwww.
Other songs contained in the set which were greeted with an overall increase in acceptance were 'Every Little Thing She Does is Magic', 'Englishman in New York' and of course 'Roxanne', which ended the main set. This song is a 'being' in itself. It has an eternal life of it's own but one which continues to evolve into a better and better form.
For the first encore the now established 'Desert Rose', 'If I Ever Lose My Faith' and 'Every Breath' trio were performed and the evening ended with the calming 'A Thousand Years'.
After the show I met up with Shigemi who I had also been in email contact with in the weeks leading up to my departure. Now normally it would be nearly 11 O'clock at night. But this is Japan and despite it being Friday night it was still only Nine O'clock. My throat was in its usual post first night state i.e. it was very sore from all the singing and needed liquid very quickly. Luckily just down the road from the venue was a western looking bar so I went for a couple of beers to soothe my sore larynx.
It had been a very successful first day and I retired to my bed a happy soul.
Saturday was to be the warmest day. It was a lovely clear morning so I decided this was the day go up the Tokyo Tower. The tower, built in 1958 and designed upon the Eiffel Tower in Paris, is actually taller than it's twin by 13 Meters. There are two observation points, one at 150 Meters and an even higher one at 250 Meters. The views from the tower are very impressive and the real bonus of going on a clear day is the view of the snow capped Mt. Fuji to the west of Tokyo. On my way back from the tower I navigated my way to visit two more of Tokyo's beautiful shrines.
Show No. 2 Saturday 22 January
The concert time today was even earlier, 5 O'clock in the afternoon!, that would be called a Saturday Matinee over here. Despite the earlier start time this was actually the best concert of the three. Who knows why some shows just have more energy and are therefore better than others. We don't know what goes on 'behind the scenes' with Sting and the band but for whatever reason(s) this was a brilliant show. The whole band and crew had smiles on their faces come the end and there were many visible signs between Sting and the band that he was happy with the performance as well. He even looked down at me shaking my hips and gave me a smile and a look as if to say 'this is a good one isn't it'.
I met another Fan Club member at the show tonight. Bling5 from the US. He was caught out by the 5 PM start and we first met as he came passed me to get to his 'seat'. He was in the 'seat ' I had occupied the previous night. I was 3 to the right tonight which, if we had been allowed to take pictures, would have been perfect as the angle removed the old 'Microphone up the Nose' problem.
After the show I took Bling5 to the bar I had visited the previous night and we had a couple of jugs of cooling beer whilst chatting over our Sting exploits. The night carried on however and we ended up in a small bar playing darts with 4 young local lads, one of whom played the bass and so was referred to as Baseman for the duration of the evening. I got the barman to play Brand New Day and as the alcohol took hold the Sting impressions began. We had a good laugh that night and despite the language barrier managed to have a united nations 'piss up'.
Day three was the coldest. The sky was overcast blocking the heat of the sun. In true English spirit however I was not to be deterred from my plan, a walk around the Imperial Palace and its gardens. The openness of the gardens just led to the decrease in temperature and when it started to try and snow I even questioned my own sanity. Many people have questioned this over many years and I have to say that there are times when even I think I am actually mentally insane!
The steaming hot coffee I enjoyed at the Starbucks round the corner from my hotel served as a nice thawing out. Sunday lunch consisted of a McDonalds after which it was time to get ready for the third and final show of my trip.
Show No. 3 Sunday 23 January
Tonight I was 'slumming' it at the end of the row in the next block along. Now for those of you who know me you know that I don't do the 'next block along' so for the first three songs I was on a spare seat observation exercise. I saw two gaps and so at the end of 'Set them Free' I set off myself on the pretence of visiting the toilet. I went to the back of the hall and then proceeded to walk back towards the stage but in the isle one block to the left. Upon encountering the security blokes I quickly flashed my ticket from the previous night with my thumb over the date. I was let through and positioned myself as near to the front middle as I could. I ended up only three rows back. Chipper! I could then enjoy the rest of the show knowing I had pulled off another masterstroke.
By the end of this third and final show the tiredness was really kicking in. There was no energy left for going on anywhere for a drink tonight so I headed straight back to my hotel to soak in a steaming hot deep bath. Ah lovely.
Day four started early with a 6 am visit to the Tsukiji fish market, the largest fish market in Japan. I saw a world of sea creatures. Fish of all sizes and colours, the most ugly Squids, Ells and even red, brown and yellow Octopus. I saw fish being sliced up and their insides ripped out and I also saw fish heads, which had been removed from their body, but were still alive in that they were still breathing! I returned to my hotel for breakfast, and no, I didn't have Kippers!
The rest of the day was spent taking in some more sights. I saw the Tokyo Dome, several more Shrines including the colourful Kanda Myojin and very old but beautiful Yushima Tenmangu. My final full day was rounded off by my traditional visit to the Hard Rock Café for my HRC Classic Cheeseburger and fries, oh, and to buy another beer glass to add to my growing collection of HRC glasses from the major cities of the world. On a table near me sat a chap who looked suspiciously like an old Elvis Presley. So maybe Elvis IS still alive and resides in the Roppongi suburb of Tokyo. You heard it here first folks!
So that was my trip to Tokyo over. My overall impression was a very good one. I liked the fact that there was no graffiti on the walls and trains. School children wore uniforms and weren't smoking. Shops could leave their goods out on the pavement without fear of them being pinched and everybody was so polite and the trains were clean and ran on time.
I returned to Heathrow Airport and sat in a cold and damp bus station, because the heating didn't work. The public address system also didn't work so I missed the announcement of my coach arriving. There were Pigeons flying around peoples heads and graffiti over all the buses that pulled in. Welcome home ANDY to 'Great' Britain.
Well that it for the Sacred Love tour for me. Its been a wonderful experience. Countless shows in nine countries. Thousands of miles and thousands of pounds. From the Radio Two show in London in September 2003 through the two Fan Club shows in Paris and New York, via 5 book signings, a Variety Club of GB celebration to Tokyo in January 2005.
Thanks for coming, thanks for listening, good night, God bless and we'll see you again!
P.S. To the sexy American with the black hair that I met at the venue. If you ever fancy leaving the hubby and kids at home and jetting off round the world with me and Sting let me know babe.
(c) Andy Finch for Sting.com