Kenji Kubo – Interview

As The Stone Roses announce 2013 dates in Australia, Dubai, Indonesia, New Zealand and a headline date at the Isle of Wight Festival, many other countries other await news of Ian, Mani, Reni & John heading their way most notably yet to score any gigs are America and Japan.

Looking back to The Roses first Japan tour in 1989 I spoke to Kenji Kubo the Japanese photographer assigned to cover the Mancunian boys in Tokyo and then the next year at their infamous Spike Island press conference and concert. Kenji Kobu’s photographs have until now never been published in the U.K (officially) appearing only in a Japanese magazine’s book publication and Kenji’s own book.

Kenji Kubo

August 1989 and as we wash off the sand and excess’ of a weekend shenanigans in Blackpool, complex plans to hitch our way to Europe escaped with unbounded hopefulness from our 16 year old hearts: we learn the location of The Melkweg, how cold Germany would be in October and how to say “We’re here to see The Stone Roses” in French. It was never going to be a reality, not that year at least; however we bought into it because after Europe was Japan and even we couldn’t fool ourselves we’d hitch that far.

It did not stop a relentless campaign to get as much information about those 1989 Japan dates, swiftly located someone with a Tokyo pen pal and confirmation that along with Paul Slattery, Japanese photographer Kenji Kubo would be with The Stone Roses documenting their Far East adventures. It’d be impossible to explain to post-internet fans the sheer excitement of receiving grainy photocopies of Kenji’s photographs, that would only published in Japan, in the UK that early winter. Just over 23 years later I’m in Tokyo’s Omotosando district drinking coffee and talking to Kenji, first, about his time with The Roses.

Kenji Kubo: I was with them in Tokyo for one week and I thought they were really nice people, they were very friendly, and they were so new – a new generation of band for Japan. It was very difficult to listen to their Manchester accents, I loved Manchester bands so I understood their accents okay, but the Japanese interpreter had problems because their English was so different, so sometimes I interpreted. I spoke mostly to Ian or John and Mani was always friendly. Everyone was nice no one was posh, they were like a gang, everybody was equal, those selling t-shirts, all the staff, like a family that is what I really liked and the way they treated fans, so different not like some old bands, and they were approachable, fun and warm.

What were those Tokyo concerts like?

Kenji Kubo: There were two concerts, in Tokyo; one was at Kawasaki Club Citta and the other at U-Port Hall which was then called Kan-i Hoken Hall. Kan-i was not so good because there was seating and this made a barrier between the band and the fans that was not comfortable. But the stage was quite low and I could take nice pictures, now Japanese audiences are standing, but at that time they were quiet and would not stand when there were seats. The best concert was at Club Citta it was so enjoyable, the sound was very big, heavy drums, heavy bass. I think a lot of Japanese people were shocked because they had never heard that sort of music such a heavy pop sound it was a first in Japan and both Tokyo concerts sold out.

Kenji Kubo – Interview

At the time their debut album had not long been released in Japan, they could not have had a huge following, what prompted all the interest and the sell-out shows?

Kenji Kubo: A guy called Osamu Masui* a Japanese music journalist was pushing them, he thought they were so new: a revolution. He believed, while other journalists never thought much of the band at that time, a lot of the audience listened to him and believed too that this was so new, a change and were very interested. Not so much the style, as there was not so much information about that, we did not know what was happening with their fashion and we were all shocked when we first saw them.
*Osamu Masui is the former Editor in Chief of influential Japanese music magazine Rockin’On and radio DJ who has been an energetic supporter of many international bands in Japan.

How did the audiences react to their performance?

Kenji Kubo: A lot of people thought he (Ian) danced like a monkey and while they did not talk so much, just like other bands, with The Stone Roses we understand what they wanted to say, they did not need to say anything, did not need to tell us something or to state a message I think everyone understood them and their attitude. I could take pictures all the time: the whole show, preparing in the dressing room and after too. My favourites – my best shots were Ian playing the bongos on stage and John quietly playing in like a psychedelic trance with his long trousers that I really like. Not on stage my favourite shot was outside one of the big Japanese record companies were there is a canal, at that time I was photographing with Paul Slattery, he was so kind to me very nice man. Now Paul was taking pictures of them (The Stone Roses) trying to get in the Japanese writing where as I was photographing for Japanese in Japan I did not need to do that and so could get closer shots, they were pulling like all these hip hop moves it was so funny.

Have you published all the pictures you took at that time? If not do you have a plan to publish them in a future book perhaps?

Kenji Kubo: Maybe about 50% have been published; I don’t think there will be another book you see I did not take as many pictures as Paul Slattery in Japan or Ian Tilton at Spike Island. I arrived at Spike Island the day before and I went to the press conference, as well as the show, there I took many pictures. People say they were stroppy but I do not think so because there were many foreign journalists there who did not understand what was going on in England at the time and they had a lot of silly questions, lots of stupid questions and The Stone Roses threw up a barrier it almost became a fight. Paul Slattery tried to relax things by offering everyone lager but The Stone Roses were like ‘No beer we drink only brandy’ I thought that was very cool: at that time they were what 28 or 26? So they and I are about the same age yes I really enjoyed being there and then on the stage taking pictures it was great.

The Stone Roses are by no means your only special series of photographs one example: Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love in 1992.

Kenji Kubo – Interview

Kenji Kubo: At that time a lot of Japanese photographers were not interested in Courtney Love but I was, her band Hole’s first album was produced by Kim Gordon and I really liked Sonic Youth so for me she was important. So a lot of photographers did not want to take pictures of them together, they just wanted Kurt, but I thought they were so much in love, it is nice they are always together, it was very beautiful and they were very nice to me. Like a love story, after Japan, they went to Hawaii and got married.

Earlier this year, many of your Kurt and Courtney photographs were used on a very exclusive range of clothing.

Kenji Kubo: That’s right the designer Takahiro Miyashita is a friend of mine he was originally the founder of Number(Nine), he is now designing as The Soloist. Well Takahiro was very inspired by Kurt Cobain, while Kurt was in Japan he stayed only in pyjamas, even during his one show he wore pyjamas, so yes the designer called me to use those photographs in his designs.

Who else has been special for you? And whom would you like to photograph in the future?

Kenji Kubo: My first pictures were of Gang Of Four, a great punk band, that was when I first went to England and I couldn’t speak English so I thought okay it will be easy to communicate with pictures. I like Black Lips; they have been here (Tokyo) twice very small venues, very small concerts which are best. They are good to photograph because they are crazy, funny and do many strange things so I love them. I’d love to take more pictures of The Libertines they only came to Japan once I’d like to take more if possible.

Well that would certainly be great and no doubt a warm welcome The Libertines would get but it is The Stone Roses, after their incendiary – almost heart stopping triumphant return to Japan after 23 years at Fuji Rock, that hold tight as the most hotly anticipated band to announce gigs and so Japan waits on the edge of its collective seats to see if The Stone Roses revived and live make some very much desired venue dates in Nippon as part of their world tour next year.

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Our Tokyo correspondent


  1. Another prime cut Katie! ;)
    Great interview! Let’s hope you get the dates and venues you wish for.

    One Love


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