Big in Japan
|Bill Drummond |
Big in Japan were a punk band that emerged from Liverpool, England in the late 1970s. They are better known for the later successes of their band members than for their own music. According to the Liverpool Echo, Big in Japan were "a supergroup with a difference - its members only became super after they left."
Coming from the same Merseyside scene as Echo & the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, OMD, and Dalek I Love You, Big In Japan started off playing gigs around Liverpool, such as Ruffwood School in Kirkby along with Wah! Heat, but most notably at Eric's Club. Their stage show was unique: lead singer Jayne Casey would perform with a lampshade over her shaved head, guitarist Bill Drummond played in a kilt and bassist Holly Johnson performed in a flamboyant manner which he would later take further in Frankie Goes to Hollywood. It is possible that the name 'Big in Japan' was a reference to fellow Merseyside bandsmen 'Buster' who were chart-toppers in Japan whilst enjoying more modest success at home in the UK.
As an initial idea of Deaf School's Clive Langer, his friend Bill Drummond (guitar, vocals), Kevin Ward (bass, vocals) and Phil Allen (drums), formed the band in May 1977, playing only three gigs, the first of them at Bretton Hall College, in Yorkshire. In August, the line-up grew, joining Jayne Casey (vocals), Ian Broudie (guitar) and Clive Langer (guitar), who quit in September, but not before the band recorded their first song released, "Big In Japan", which appeared in the 7" single compilation Brutality Religion and a dance beat, released the same year. In October, Ambrose Reynolds joined to replace Ward who then left that December, but Reynolds himself quit shortly afterwards and was replaced by Holly Johnson. In January 1978, Budgie (previously in The Spitfire Boys and later member of The Slits and Siouxsie and the Banshees) replaced Allen on drums, and in early June, Johnson was sacked and got replaced by ex-Deaf School Steve Lindsey, who was replaced in July by Dave Balfe (previously in Dalek I Love You), the last member who joined.
Hatred of the band reached such a level that a petition calling on them to split up was launched by a jealous young Julian Cope. Displayed in local shop Probe Records the petition gathered numerous signatures, including those of the band themselves. According to Cope's autobiography, "Of course, Bill Drummond was into the whole thing and told us we needed 14,000 signatures, then they'd split up. We got about nine". In the 1980s, Drummond became manager of Cope's band, The Teardrop Explodes.
The band broke up after a last gig at Eric's on 26 August 1978. During their time, Big in Japan recorded four songs which were included in From Y to Z and Never Again EP, released afterwards to pay off debts. The unintentional consequence of the EP was the formation of the Zoo label, which went on to release early material by Echo & the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes, amongst others. They also recorded a Peel Session on 12 February 1979, with a line-up of Casey, Broudie, Johnson and Budgie; the session was broadcast on 6 March 1979.
Big in Japan left a recorded legacy of seven songs: one on a single, four on their EP From Y to Z and Never Again, and two released on a compilation. As of 2005, five out of these recorded songs are commercially available, on the compilation album, The Zoo: Uncaged 1978-1982.
Jayne Casey would later state:
|"||"We were all a bit too eccentric at a time when punk was quite macho and clear cut...a bit too much for people to handle. We always wanted to be like The Monkees or something. We wanted to be a cartoon, and that's how we tried to sell ourselves to the record companies".||"|
Ian Broudie said that:
|"||"It was more performance art than rock and roll. But it gave me a healthy disregard for musicianship. It's ideas that are important, not proficiency".||"|
A bootleg CD is in circulation which contains all of the material listed above as well as demo versions of "Society for Cutting Up Men", "Boys Cry", "Big in Japan", "Space Walk" and "Match of the Day" and "Taxi". It also contains the audio from the band's performance of "Suicide A Go Go" on their Granada TV appearance of 23 March 1978 (on Tony Wilson's, So It Goes).
Black and white amateur home movie footage of the band performing live at Eric's still exists - excerpts of the band performing both "Big In Japan" and "Cindy And The Barbi Dolls" were used in the BBC Television's Rock Family Trees: The New Merseybeat, originally transmitted in August 1995 and repeated in 1997.