Tatsuya Ishii cuts a trim figure in his mid-30s. To look at him now, it is hard to believe that in his mid-teens he had a complex because of his weight. It was back then that he first heard of the Sex Pistols, after his classmate Soma played him the Sid Vicious version of “My Way.”
Tatsuya was blown away. A year on a paper run eventually lifted 10 kilos off his frame and liberated him from his dowdy wardrobe. Suddenly he was able to dress like his hero — Sid.
“Whoever heard of a fat punk?” Ishii posits in his gentle speaking voice. His calm, composed manner also makes it hard to imagine him as a hardcore punk. But he was — complete with spiky hair and a padlock on a chain around his neck.
After high school, Ishii started training as a chef by day. But come Saturday night, he and his friends would head up to Tsubaki House in Shinjuku, where, dressed like their favorite Sex Pistol, they pogoed to the first “London Night” sets spun by DJ Onuki Kensho.
A trip to Seattle in the early ’80s further broadened his horizons.
“It was the beginning of a new life — a free life,” he declares. But Nirvana and the whole grunge scene had not started then, and apart from the odd tour by Black Flag and D.O.A., he discovered, the Seattle music scene was mostly centered around big festivals. That’s when he first heard reggae.
“When I got back to Japan the whole reggae dancehall craze had just started. I liked it because the MC-style vocals gave it a kind of punk edge,” says Ishii. So, not long after he returned, he started DJing at the original Kingston Club in Ikebukuro.
During that time, though, he also continued working as a chef. And it was through those connections that he secured a small basement space not far from the East Exit of Ikebukuro Station, where five years ago, he opened Never Mind (as in ” . . . the bollocks”).
Despite its punk-inspired name, Ishii tags Never Mind as a “soulful, reggae lounge,” because that’s the kind of music he and his staff play. And with Aki, the percussionist from the Japanese band Ska Flames, working behind the bar most nights, too, that music is surely an informed selection. But never loud or abrasive: always mellow.
Here and there spotlights illuminate ska posters and various pieces from Ishii’s Sex Pistols collection. The latter includes a framed cover of the first A&M Records 7-inch pressing of the single, “God Save the Queen.” The Pistols’ contract with A&M was canceled before that record was released, making it an extremely rare item indeed. After much coaxing, Ishii finally told me how much he paid — a queenly 200,000 yen. It hangs near the entrance, appropriately accented with barbed wire.
The overall ambience is comfortable and dark. A well-worn wooden bar seats eight or so. High tables and stools hug the wall opposite. Most customers are introduced by a friend. But, Ishii says, “We also get some curious foreigners from The Black Sheep next door.”
I was lucky enough to meet Soma-san, the high school buddy who first introduced Ishii to Sid. But most of Never Mind’s customers are cool young bloods. Some nights it’s empty; some nights it’s full. But it always gets more interesting as the night wears on.
I was curious: Why all the Sex Pistols paraphernalia when it is really a ska bar? “Because that is where my love of music started, and Never Mind is also a new beginning for me,” Ishii calmly responds.