KYOTO – The boys are back in town, or more accurately, one of them is.
The boy in question is Duncan Reid, former bassist and vocalist with The Boys, an influential punk and power pop band that formed in London in 1976, just as the hitherto unheard sound of punk was flooding the streets of the British capital and beyond.
At The Boys’ first outing at the Hope and Anchor, a well-known pub and live music venue in North London, in October 1976, the crowd featured some future members of punk royalty: Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of The Clash were there, as was Billy Idol.
The Ramones cited The Boys as their favorite band, and among the many acts to cover their songs was Tokyo garage outfit Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, which released covers of “Soda Pressing” and “Sick On You.”
It’s safe to say that Reid, 61 and formerly known by the nickname “Kid,” is no longer a boy, and he hasn’t played with The Boys since they were last in Japan at the start of the decade, but it’s also safe to say he hasn’t lost any of his energy. He’s still very much the bouncy one getting the crowd going.
Although Reid left The Boys in 1981, when the group first broke up, he later re-joined the outfit for a series of international tours, which included Japan in 2000 and 2011. In fact, Japan is a special footnote in Reid’s tenure with The Boys, as his last ever performance with the group was in Osaka in 2011.
Returning to Japan after an eight-year absence, Reid is leading his four-piece outfit, Duncan Reid and the Big Heads.
Prior to a tour of Japan and South Korea later this month, Reid recalls how, to his surprise, in 2011 he was approached by a fan while taking the shinkansen to that final gig in Osaka. The problem, though, was that his interlocutor had mistaken Reid for a different English rockstar: a certain Mancunian from one of the biggest British guitar bands of all time.
“He was absolutely convinced I was Noel Gallagher,” Reid says with a laugh.
Incidentally, the Big Heads’ Japan tour was initially planned as a stopover. Reid says the group originally had offers to play in New Zealand, and around the same time Reid was in contact with Russ Mainwaring, a guitarist with Bristol-based band The Stingrays, who is now living in Kyoto.
“Russ said ‘I’ll organize you a few dates in Japan,’ and then it sort of grew, and he suggested that we also play South Korea,” Reid says. “It grew to about 10 days and we thought, ‘We won’t bother doing New Zealand, we’ll just do Japan and Korea instead.'”
The tour kicks off with an acoustic gig in Kyoto, before moving west to Okayama, back to Osaka, on to Tokyo for two nights and then heading over to South Korea for two final gigs in Seoul.
“Everyone in the band is really looking forward to the Japan tour for a number of reasons,” Reid says, pointing out that, apart from himself, none of the other Big Heads (Sophie K. Powers, Nick Hughes, Karen Jones) have been to Japan. “And although we say we are so bloody good live, it’s just great to play somewhere new, and we know that we’ll blow everyone away.”
While that does sound like lofty self-praise — Duncan Reid and the Big Heads also tout themselves as “the world’s best looking and most exciting proponents of Heavy Melody Power Pop Punk” — the band is also known for the phenomenal energy it brings to its live shows.
In the words of Mainwaring: “In Duncan’s attic there’s a portrait of an aging punk, but also, alongside it, a gold-framed image of a maturing Tigger (from Winnie-the-Pooh), for Duncan remains the world’s bounciest bassist.”
Since Reid left The Boys again in 2011, he’s turned out four albums, with another in the works.
In 2012 he released “Little Big Head,” his first solo album, and then followed it up with “The Difficult Second Album,” this time with the Big Heads, which he formed in 2013. “Bombs Away” followed in 2017 and a reissue of “Little Big Head” earlier this year.
Over the course of those albums, the sound of the Big Heads has “got harder,” Reid says. “My guess is the next one will be even harder still.”
Given the very public and very toxic imminent political divorce between the U.K. and the European Union, it’s probably not surprising that some of those sentiments found their way into the forthcoming album.
“We’ve got a new song on the album called ‘Don’t Blame Yourself,'” Reid says, referring to the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, which split the British population. “It’s very much about the way that the U.K. feels like a great big bar fight, very much full of division and a tendency towards primeval instincts to blame foreigners.”
Reid has also tackled his own history with The Boys, and breaking up with them, in his song writing.
“I left The Boys because of the kind of silly fight that happens in bands, so suddenly I was on my own,” Reid says.
In the song “All Fall Down” from Reid’s first solo album, he sings, “We all came running home again, to go our separate ways. All left losers in the game, with those who loved and gave us praise.”
However, Reid is also quick to acknowledge what he learned and took away from The Boys.
“I say that I went to the best songwriting school that anybody could go to, which is why my songs are so brilliant now,” he says with a laugh.
Growing up, Reid had two loves: music and soccer. He’s been in the music industry since he was a teenager, but he’s also spent significant time away — at one stage he worked in soccer for the English Premier League. Now back making music and performing, he’s able to reflect on the sea changes that have taken place in the music industry.
“It’s changed totally,” Reid says, noting how, in the 1970s, record companies took care of everything, whereas now, “it’s a D.I.Y. industry. You have to make it happen for yourself, and you have to learn everything yourself.”
“On the one hand it’s a lot of hard work, but on the other hand it’s good fun,” Reid says. “You learn to not be an idiot, which you could be before. You could be a happy idiot and everything was done for you.”
Duncan Reid and the Big Heads play Pop! Pizza in Kyoto on Oct. 17; Pepperland in Okayama on Oct. 18; Namba Mele in Osaka on Oct. 19; Basement Bar Shimokitazawa in Tokyo on Oct. 20 and Poor Cow in Tokyo on Oct. 22. For more information, visit duncanreidandthebigheads.com.