Music

Johnny Hates Jazz: Returning to Japan for happier times

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Eighties electro-popsters Johnny Hates Jazz return to Japan this month ready to roll out the hits as part of a tour that has been celebrating the 30th anniversary of their 1988 debut album “Turn Back the Clock.”

In addition to playing classics like “Shattered Dreams,” which catapulted them to worldwide success and reached No. 2 on the United States’ Billboard Hot 100 chart, Mike Nocito says the band hopes to road test new material for an album scheduled for release later this year at gigs in Tokyo and Osaka.

“We have already recorded three or four tracks for the new album and we have one that we have high hopes for,” the 55-year-old American bassist, guitarist and producer-engineer says.

“I think we are going to play this new track … and of course we will play a good chunk of (1988’s) ‘Turn Back The Clock’ and (2013 release) ‘Magnetized.'”

Arguably one of the definitive albums of the 1980s, “Turn Back The Clock” debuted at No. 1 on the British charts, going double-platinum and selling 4 million copies.

Despite the success of the album, songwriter and vocalist Clark Datchler decided to “jump ship” shortly after and the band, which also included Calvin Hayes on keyboards and drums, went their separate ways and completely lost contact.

In 1991, Nocito and Hayes recorded a second Johnny Hates Jazz album, “Tall Stories,” which featured songwriter Phil Thornalley on vocals, but it failed to make a commercial impact.

“I jumped ship prematurely without a doubt in hindsight, but I felt very impassioned about it at the time,” says 54-year-old Datchler, who got back together with Nocito in 2009 to write new material.

“We actually didn’t speak for over 20 years, not a word. It was acrimonious in the sense that I had left when we had reached a bit of a pinnacle and I think we could have gone on from there theoretically, but I think acrimonious makes it sound that it was only anger and it wasn’t only anger, there was also a lot of sadness around it for me, too,” he says.

Datchler was unhappy with the way the band had been promoted by its label, saying one of the reasons he decided to move on was because the group was being marketed toward teens.

“I was very concerned at the time that we were being pigeonholed, especially in the U.K., although I don’t think it was quite the same in Japan,” he says. “In the U.K. we were being pigeonholed as a teenage band and that was not musically what we were and in other parts of the world we were seen very differently.

“We had success very quickly and pretty much globally, and it’s not that we didn’t feel prepared, we had all been in the music business for quite a few years before then, but I think what happens is that it is a very pressured situation and that brings out different parts of different people that otherwise wouldn’t have come to the surface.”

When the band played Japan in 1988, Datchler had been on the verge of leaving and Nocito jokes that events that later followed were straight out of the 1984 mockumentary film “Spinal Tap.”

“I am very much looking forward to it (Japan) this time because the first time I went wasn’t under the best circumstances,” says Nocito.

“Cal (Hayes) and I flew to Los Angeles from Japan after we played there because we were making the video for the next single but Clark flew back to England and came to L.A. that way and stayed in a different hotel.

“Clark and I are good mates now so it doesn’t matter and we have always been good friends but it was a classic ‘Spinal Tap’ moment. As a musician whenever you see these types of films you think ‘I have been there.'”

Datchler and Nocito recorded “Magnetized,” the second Johnny Hates Jazz album featuring the original lineup minus Hayes, but Datchler was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness soon after, and all promotion came to a halt.

“We put so much work into ‘Magnetized’ and it was incredibly disappointing but I kind of feel that it still has some life left in it,” Datchler says. “I think it will take another record from us to get people to rediscover it. That’s my thinking.”

Johnny Hates Jazz plays at Billboard Live in Tokyo on Jan. 22 and 23 and at Billboard Live Osaka on Jan. 25. Tickets from ¥7,400. For more information, contact 03-3405-1133 (Tokyo) or 06-6342-7722 (Osaka).

Cancer scare gave singer a new outlook

Johnny Hates Jazz star Clark Datchler says he went through a “fight to remember the value of being alive” after surviving cancer.

The 54-year-old singer-songwriter said the life-and-death experience provided him with an awakening and a fresh insight into songwriting.

Datchler collapsed while walking with his children on London’s Hampstead Heath in 2013 and was rushed to the hospital with severe internal bleeding before being diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer.

“When you go through that experience, it gives you a whole new perspective on life,” he says.

“It’s a perspective you’ve got to fight to hold onto,” he adds, “because as time goes by, the world starts becoming normalized again. I am like everyone, I just have to fight to remember the value of just being alive at all.”

Datchler says this “awakening” has made him want to write songs that contribute to the betterment of society, but adds that he struggles with his perception that contemporary music has “less and less relevance to society and is more about entertainment.”

Recalling the songs he grew up with from the 1960s to the ’80s, Datchler says it was commonplace to make social statements in those days. As he reflects on how those songs affected him, he says he hopes the Johnny Hates Jazz track “I Don’t Want To Be A Hero,” which was covered by Japanese idol turned enka singer Yoko Nagayama as “Hangyaku no Hiro,” will affect some young people listening even today, and “make them feel hopefully that they are not quite as alone in their despair at what we seem to allow to happen on the planet.”

Returning again to the state of awakening that his close call with death gave him, Datchler says that as much as he wants to make a contribution through his music and express the essence of who he really is, “I find that the world is more stacked against someone doing that than ever before.

“It’s an odd paradox. You are awakened, but the world around you wants you to go back to sleep.”

(Gus Fielding)

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